Sony Goes Optical

Camcorder Part of new IT-based system


At a pre-NAB press conference here recently, Sony Broadcast Professional announced it would introduce its first non-tape based professional video cameras for the ENG market, based on an optical disc system that promises to be one of the linchpins of the company's new IT-based network that has been under development for the past several years.

The camcorders could help bring about the long-promised disc-based recording capabilities that professional videographers have dreamed about for years. The cameras will offer the choice of recording video with the DVCAM codec at 25 Mbps or the MPEG IMX codec at 30, 40 or 50 Mbps. Optical decks will accept both formats and offer analog A/V, digital A/V and compatibility with i.LINK (IEEE 1394) and Ethernet interfaces.

"Our optical disc system will offer an entirely new paradigm in field acquisition and editing, in moving material at high-speed from the field to the television station to facilitate editing, and by introducing significant new efficiencies to a station's overall workflow," said Stave Jacobs, senior vice president of the broadcast and professional systems division of Sony Electronics' Business Solutions and Systems Co. "Using the optical camcorder itself, customers will be able to mark their good shots, identify them from a picture-stamp storyboard displayed on the camcorder's LCD monitor and play them back seamlessly."

(click thumbnail)Sony's new optical camcorder and recording equipment.
The optical system records both the high-resolution original and a lower-resolution but frame-accurate version called a proxy video and audio. From the camcorder or a battery-operated mobile deck, newsgathering teams will be able to transfer the proxy information to laptop editors or back to the studio at up to 30 times faster-than-real-time, saving precious minutes over the current "bulk feed" approach, according to Sony.

The camcorders capture high-quality pictures with 2/3-inch EX HAD image sensors and 12-bit A-D converters. Features include loop/interval recording on a built-in cache memory; Ethernet or wireless LAN interfaces through optional PC card adapters and a 2.5-inch LCD monitor for playback, marking good shots and re-sequencing clips. Power consumption is indistinguishable from current tape-based camcorders, according to Sony.

The system also includes a battery-powered mobile deck, and new compact NLE decks and studio decks which will transfer proxy material at up to 50 times faster-than-real-time. The camcorders and decks will be ready to ship by the end of 2003.


Disc-based camcorders have been on the market for several years with Ikegami's Editcam and Hitachi's new DVD-RAM-based camcorder, which started shipping in late 2002. Those cameras, however, suffer from lower transport speeds and storage limitations. Sony's new optical disc camcorders are the first on the market based on blue laser technology, which boasts transfer and storage capacities far higher than conventional red laser technology, which is the basis for today's CD and DVD formats.

Housed in a protective cartridge, the 12cm (5-inch) re-writeable disc holds 90 minutes of DVCAM material or 45 minutes of MPEG IMX material recorded at 50 Mbps, 55 minutes at 40 Mbps, and 75 minutes at 30 Mbps. Sony has not announced a price for the cameras or the discs, but company officials said that the re-writeable capabilities of the new discs would radically reduce overall media costs.

"Over the course of a year, a station may use a high-end video cassette 20 or 30 times and then throw it away," said Jacobs. "The optical disc is rated at over 1,000 read lifecycles. Do the math-that's a potential 20-year lifecycle for the media. The cost per use is fraction of pennies."

The camcorders are part of Sony's new IT-based audio/video networking system that will allow producers to more easily identify, transfer and re-purpose media assets. The system relies on IT to speed up transfer rates via Gigabit Ethernet, optical to increase storage capacity, SNMP for remote control and metadata to identify content.

The optical disc does not represent a new format but rather a "storage container" that enables existing formats to be used in an IT-based infrastructure.

That container uses the Material Exchange Format (MXF) standard-now a SMPTE standard(to act as a "wrapper" that accepts nearly all digital professional A/V formats including DV and MPEG and moves them as data files throughout an IT-based network.


Sony officials emphasized that the disc-based products would complement rather than replace current legacy systems.

"Both use the same codecs and both tape and optical work within NLE," Jacobs said. "In addition to the Ethernet and iLINK interfaces, the optical products support legacy AV interfaces. Optical decks and camcorders will work side by side with our customer's existing Sony VTRs-no new infrastructure is required."

Tom Butts

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (, the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.