Local news could follow HD path soon

Up to now, the availability of high-definition content from broadcasters has been limited to high-end episodic television shows, live sports and entertainment events, and converted feature films. At NAB2005, a ground swell of interest in producing local news and entertainment programming was readily apparent simply by visiting the JVC and Sony exhibits. It was there that stations flocked to see demonstrations of two new cameras based on the emerging HDV format.

With prices that start at under $6000 for a digital camera capable of recording 720p or 1080i images on a DV or mini-DV cassette, many said they were compelled to buy one just to tray it out and see how it looks on-screen. Judging by the repeat visits by many independent stations, group executives and their affiliate stations to the booth displays, they were impressed.

While JVC was first to market with a prosumer-level (single-chip) HDV camera at last year's NAB, it's clear that Sony's introduction of its HVR-Z1U camcorder earlier this year, with its three CCD chips and professional audio connections, really jump-started the HDV rush in broadcast industry. The camera has already been used for small aerial segments on the CBS network series “JAG.”

JVC also announced its GY-HD7000U, which uses three 2/3in CMOS CCD imagers, which won't be available until NAB2006. The camera's higher quality and ability to capture both 720p and 1080i images, as well as HD at 24 frames progressive, seems tailored to ENG broadcasters used to full-size cameras. The 2/3in format is being supported by Canon and its new HJ17ex7.6B series of HD lenses.

Looking beyond videotape, Ikegami, Panasonic and Sony continue to battle it out for tapeless acquisition supremacy. But don't expect to see your local news in HD from these cameras anytime soon. Both the Panasonic P2 DVCPRO HD camcorders, Sony XDCAM HD and Ikegami Editcam HD systems announced at NAB will not be shipping production models until early next year. Perhaps later.

For its part, Panasonic introduced a sub-$10,000 P2 solid-state camcorder, the AG-HDX200, with 16GB of flash memory and another larger, more expensive model, the AJ-SPC700. The company said its P2 recording systems, which can capture SD as well as HD images on the same card, have been embraced by a number of broadcast groups. Seventeen stations have already placed orders for the AG-HDX200, even though it's not yet available.

Sony's XDCAM HD recording systems will be used by the ABC O&O station group, Gray Television, NBC (at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy) and some PBS stations. They join the previously announced CBS network.

Sony said it already has sold 6000 XDCAM SD camcorders worldwide, to broadcasters as well as independent producers, since its availability earlier this year.

Ikegami has sold 19 of its SD DNS-33W EditCam3 hard drive recording cameras to KNXV-TV, in Phoenix, AZ, for that station's conversion to digital news production with an Avid Unity shared storage system. At NAB, the company introduced its new Editcam HD camera, which incorporates Avid's DN×HD codec to record a data rate of 145Mb/s to provide 1080/60i, 1080/24p and 720/60p on Ikegami's FieldPak2 removable drives. Ikegami said the camera also will support 220Mb/s recording for increased performance in the future. The camera will not ship until early next year.

Rounding out the “low-cost” production infrastructure necessary to acquire images from the field in HD, HeliNet Aviation Services, based in Van Nuys, CA, showed an HD-capable ENG helicopter that includes a Sony HDCAM camera in a Gyro mount up front and a HDCAM VTR in the rear.

Proving its reliability, the company had one if its helicopters circling above the Las Vegas Convention Center and transmitting HD pictures to a receive site on top of the nearby Hilton Hotel. From there, the signal was sent via fiber to a plasma screen in the company's show floor booth.

E-N-G Mobile Systems had a newsgathering van parked inside the JVC booth to display a complete microwave system that is compatible with JVC's HDV camera and JVC professional HD encoders.

ENG van maker Shook Mobile announced a three-camera, multichannel audio, all-HD digital truck supporting the 1080i format for under $1million. Last year, broadcasters couldn't buy a similar rig for that price.

Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on the professional video and broadcast technology industries.