Choose WiselyWhat’s Your Best Business Move?

Format evolutions are an inevitable part of AV development. So in an increasingly nonlinear world, it’s only logical that videotape, which is inherently linear, be phased out. The question is, what will replace it? Sony and Panasonic, two powerhouses of production equipment, have placed opposing bets—Sony on blue laser optical discs, and Panasonic on secure digital (SD) RAM cards. How does each stack up on operational features, cost of ownership, and return on investment? We asked each company to put their offerings on the table—so YOU can begin to draw up your business plan.

DigitalTV-Television Broadcast: Explain the technology behind your secure digital (SD) card camcorder.

Stuart English, vice president of marketing, Panasonic Broadcast:The SD card camcorder compresses to DV format exactly the same way as a tape-based camcorder, but that’s where the fundamental change comes in. It’s not recording ones and zeros with tape heads, but on solid-state memory. You don’t have to change the architecture of the equipment you have.

DTV: Explain the technology behind your optical-disc ENG system.

Hugo Gaggioni, vice president of strategic business development and chief technology officer, Sony Broadcast: Red laser DVD technology has a maximum storage capacity of about 4.7GB per layer, or around 18GB per double-sided disc. [Each side has two layers.] Given the limits of capacity and transfer speeds, we concluded red laser would not be feasible. The wavelength of blue laser allows us to increase capacity per layer to around 23.3GB—almost five times than red laser [about 90 minutes of DVCAM versus 18 minutes with red laser].

DTV: Explain the advantages of the SD card technology in professional video applications.

English (Panasonic): We have an opportunity, because of the size of the memory, to change the size and shape of the camera. The profile is lower; there’s a reduction in weight of up to 30 to 40%; a reduction in power of 30 to 40%. You’ve got no motors to spin, no tapes to pull, no lasers to power.

Environmentally, the size of the media opening is radically smaller than a tape or a disk drive, so the potential for sand or dirt to get into the mechanism is smaller. Also, solid-state electronics run at low temperatures. Tape is specced at -5° C. [San Francisco-based] Baytech’s solid-state memory recorder [CineRAM] is specced at -20° C.

DTV: Explain the advantages of optical-disc technology in professional video applications.

Toro Suzuki, head of marketing for Sony’s optical disc system: The biggest advantage is that the journalist in the field can start working on content right away. All products can also create a proxy using MPEG-4 compression. All the cameras can hook up with any laptop or desktop and are compression agnostic. We also have “essence recording,” where any type of metadata can be created during shooting and recalled throughout any phase of asset management. The customer doesn’t have to change media, so all the metadata is there.

DTV: What is the business case for the SD-based camera?

English (Panasonic): Operating costs. The revenue stream isn’t really growing, so the issue is how to make the operation more efficient. Nonlinear editing is perceived to be a way of making the workflow more efficient.

DTV: What is the business case for the disc system?

Theresa Alesso, director of marketing, Sony Optical Networks and Products Group: Workflow innovation that tape can’t come close to—being able to tie proxy video to all of your essence (metadata). For example, say you’re at the White House, and you need to go to air quickly. You can review the proxy within minutes of shooting. With tape, you have to get it back to the studio. The reusability of the media is pennies per minute.

DTV: Did Panasonic consider developing a disc-based system?

English (Panasonic): We very seriously studied the option of recording on disc instead of memory. One of the fundamental reasons we didn’t go that route was transfer speed.

If you look at Panasonic SD memory, a 512MB chip has a sustained transfer rate of 10MB; the 1GB chip we are talking about has a rate of 20MB, or 160Mbps. DVCPRO, which uses DV compression, is 25Mbps, (actually 28.8Mbps with audio, video, and timecode). What that says is that even consumer 512 cards are fast enough to record regular DV or DVCPRO.

If you stay with a standard blue laser, it’s 36Mbps, so it doesn’t seem to be fast enough for DV50 compression, unless modified [which Sony has done with a data transfer rate of 72Mbps per head, with some devices having two heads]. Then you have to do something else again to run at 100Mb.

Also, discs are not symmetrical. They read faster than they write. It might support 140Mb playback speed, but not write speed. Then we wanted to have a system that covered standard and high def in the same media, as we know that’s going to be important, at least for network news operations, in the near future.

Also, if you want to transfer off a disc and into the server, what’s the realtime transfer rate? If it is 140Mbps, that’s approximately four times realtime transfer for DV25 compression, and about half that for I-frame MPEG or DV50.

But with our solid-state memory design, we’re offering transfer rates of up to 640Mbps, which corresponds to transfer rates more than 20 times realtime for DV/DVCPRO media, and even in high definition DV100/DVCPRO HD—we’d still be able to support transfer of data around four times faster than realtime. And that’s not with proxy video, that’s the real video and audio stream.

Finally, you couldn’t take the disc and mount it on a laptop. There are no blue-laser drives to read the disc.

DTV: Did Sony consider developing a system with the Memory Stick?

Gaggioni (Sony): We have a long-term, solid-state storage plan, but the cost is very high. Also, transfer speed is improving, but not necessarily enough to handle faster than realtime. And the cards have to be plugged into some sort of connector. How many times can you plug a card in without destroying the pins? This is happening every day. When we say our media can be read a million times, you won’t damage the media.

Suzuki (Sony): Also, timing was the issue for productization; a 1GB card can only store 4.5 minutes at 25Mbps.

DTV: Does Panasonic recommend archiving on SD cards?

English (Panasonic): No. In our applications analyses, most news organizations don’t actually archive. The media is held for seven days, but it’s not archived. And if you are going to archive, you should transfer to a cheaper medium, and that could be tape or optical disk. Our preference is optical disc for a tapeless solution.

DTV: Does Sony recommend archiving on discs?

Alesso (Sony): With an optical disc, you don’t have to dump into anything. There’s no second phase.

Gaggioni (Sony): Discs have a 30-year shelf life in a temperature range equal or better than tape.
DTV: Explain the migration path of the technology from standard to high definition.

English (Panasonic): It’s very simple, because the compression schemes are defined. There is the issue of memory capacity. It might be 2005 or 2006 before HD news is viable [due to current SD card memory capacity].

DTV: Explain the migration path of the technology from standard to high definition.

Gaggioni (Sony): Our laser pick-up allows us a fivefold increase in data-transfer speed. Our data-transfer rate is 72Mbps per head [compared to 36Mbps for standard blue lasers], and some of the devices had two heads.

DTV: How much will the SD-card camcorders cost?

English (Panasonic): This hasn’t been defined but they’ll be comparable to existing camcorder systems—in the $16,000 to $28,000 range.

DTV: How much will the optical-disc components cost?
• PDW-530, a camcorder compatible with Sony’s MPEG-IMX (MPEG50) and DVCAM, with a switchable recording rate of 30, 40 or 50Mbps: $34,000.
• PDW-510, a less expensive DVCAM-only camcorder that records at 25Mbps: $19,900.
• PDW-V1, a battery/AC-powered optical mobile deck with pop-up CD for field or studio applications: $7,000.
• PDW-1500, a compact companion with dual pick-up heads for trucks: $15,000.
• PDW-3000, an IMX legacy bridge with linear capability, also with dual pick-up heads: $26,000.

Sony also offers their optional $5,500 e-VTR card to allow disc recordings to be downloaded to an IMX VTR.

DTV: At the current price/capacity ratio—roughly $40 per 128MB card—the cost of DV quality recording on an SD card would be about $70 per minute. How much does Panasonic expect the media to ultimately cost?

English (Panasonic): The cost of the media is falling, but focusing on media cost is not the whole story. Is the raw media expensive? If you measure it next to the cost of tape, sure it is, but you use it over and over again. Think of the media cost as part of the camera, amortized just like hardware. Just figure it into capital expenses.

DTV: How much will the optical discs cost?

Kenny Akata, Sony Marketing: Under $30 for 23.3GB for 90 minutes of DVCAM, or 45-75 [depending on the transfer rate] minutes of IMX. It can be recorded over 1,000 times and read over one million times.

DTV: How does the Sony optical system differ from NEC Diskcam?

Alesso (Sony): That was a consumer format, DVD-based camera.

DTV: What is the temperature range for peak functionality of the medium?

English (Panasonic): It will have a much wider range than tape-based cameras. We’ll have a firm specification for you later this year.

DTV: What is the temperature range for peak functionality of the medium?

Alesso (Sony): The same as Beta and IMX tape.

DTV: When do you expect to deliver the SD card camcorders to the retail market?

English (Panasonic): First quarter 2004.

DTV: When do you expect to deliver the optical disc line to the retail market?

Alesso (Sony): Fall 2003.

Responses edited for clarity and space.

Deborah D. McAdams is a contributing editor. She can be reached at