Tape Gone in a Year?

CBS Videographer comes home from war with a plan for the 'ultimate camera'
Major Manufacturers Look Beyond TapeA snapshot of the future of cameras:

Sony will soon begin delivering the PDW 510 (DVCAM codec) and PDW 530 (MPEG codec) optical disk camcorders. Sony's optical disks are a proprietary format.

At NAB2002 Hitachi showed a working prototype of its DVD-RAM/DVD-RW optical disk camera. The company returned in 2003 with a deliverable model, the Z-4000W.

Panasonic is skipping optical disks altogether in its broadcast line, showing a prototype of a camcorder that records on solid-state media. Expected ready for delivery next year, the camera will record on 4 GB memory cards about the size of a computer PCMIA card.

JVC Professional Products, together with Campbell, Calif.-based Focus Enhancements, developed a dockable, removable recording unit that allows off-the-shelf hard drives to be placed in media packs to be used as recording devices.

The recorder can record in a variety of popular video editor formats.

Ikegami and Avid introduced the Editcam in 1995. The first tapeless camcorder, it used hard drive FieldPaks.

The second-generation Editcam2 features FieldPaks greatly reduced in weight, which can be removed and taken to an edit bay, or edited in the camcorder itself.

CBS News cameraman Mark LaGanga had a front-row seat to the changes in news coverage while covering the war in Iraq. Back in the United States, he's seen new camera demonstrations and has concluded that within the next year, he and others will be finished, forever, with tape.

"When we shipped out of Iraq," he said, "I must have had 50 tapes." Some had been shot during the pre -- war build -- up, but LaGanga and CBS correspondent Byron Pitts needed access to that material as they filed new stories during their assignment.

"We had to transfer all the tape into my laptop," LaGanga said. "And that takes a lot of time. It's a slow process.

"It doesn't make any sense to use tape anymore. We edit the large majority of our stuff nonlinear as it is, and [whether it's disk -- based or solid -- state storage], to be able to give that to an editor or a producer, or myself in the field ... it makes a lot more sense than what we're doing now."

The demonstrations LaGanga has seen since returning from Iraq convince him the change is imminent. Camcorder makers at NAB2003 offered a number of paths to capturing video on nonlinear media.

Sony and Hitachi went the optical disk route. Ikegami/Avid and JVC showed hard drive-based models. And Panasonic weighed in with a camcorder that records directly to solid-state media.

"What I'm excited about, and I think what CBS is excited about, is that it's just a file," said LaGanga. "My personal guess is that it will go with something like an optical disk because of the expense of storage."

LaGanga said the way he and his network cohorts work has a lot to do with that prediction. "It's not like we're like a local news crew where we go out and shoot the story, it airs a couple of hours later, and we can re-use the media again."

That makes the low cost of the optical drive media an important factor. "Archive is a huge issue for us, everything we shoot gets saved, all the logged video, everything," he said. "With optical disk it's a nice feature that we can recycle the disk ...but it's not a big issue for us."

If optical disk media is the short-term winner for LaGanga, he sees solid-state media taking over once the small uplink devices can transfer broadband in real time or faster. His ultimate camera would incorporate some solid-state recording media. "Whether it's going back to the vehicle or whether it's going back to a transmit point, once we can get a fast enough stream going back to our broadcast center, [I'd like] to be able to dump it directly into archive, directly into the server system."

He also looks to the day when those working in video are not stuck with proprietary formats. "It's just a file, so I don't care what medium it ends up on," he said. "I just want to be able to use it easily. We're using laptops in the field, we're using nonlinear in the bureaus, so whatever makes it easier to get it there, ultimately, would work a lot better."

In the meantime, LaGanga said, broadband could help shipping material back. "For example, I give an optical disk to somebody. I happen to be in Kuwait, and I give it to somebody to go down to their version of Starbucks, and they put it in a drive and transfer it on a broadband connection and be done with it."

Another feature LaGanga wants on his ultimate camera has been available on consumer cameras for years: a built-in color LCD monitor. "What we did at CBS was we used a component from March Electronics, a little 3-inch or 2.7 LCD that we have our machine shop mill into a plastic housing for us, a nylon housing."

Now the built-in LCD monitors are making their way into ENG camcorders from most of the manufacturers. Why are the pros the last to get such features? "It seems like [manufacturers] test out some of the stuff on the consumers and prosumers, and eventually get to broadcast, but I think it's a great feature and it makes life easier."