The Case for Nonlinear Camcorders - TvTechnology

The Case for Nonlinear Camcorders

"I remember when people used to actually shoot on videotape!"
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"I remember when people used to actually shoot on videotape!"

Sound funny? Maybe...but if in the not-so-distant future those words leave your lips, you'll be able to count yourself among the more "senior" members of our industry. My condolences to you in advance, but between now and then the gradual migration away from videotape has brought with it a few questions. The first that comes to mind might be "Why?" Why should anyone consider buying a nonlinear camcorder?

Quicker Access to the Nonlinear Edit Suite

Some ten years ago, Ikegami and Avid launched a cooperative effort to eliminate the most annoying and time-consuming facet of nonlinear editing: digitizing video. The idea was to have the camcorder record to a medium that would be readily and immediately accepted by the editor. The obvious answer was to record to hard drives, since it was what Avid editors normally worked with.

The idea of recording video to hard drives was gaining acceptance. After all, production trucks had employed frame stores for years, post-production facilities had been recording graphics to component disk recorders, and even the smallest of stations were beginning to switch to servers for play-out to air.

The first drives developed by Ikegami, which were christened "FieldPaks," were large, heavy, and had a humble capacity of only 2 Gigabytes (and that was with two internal drives!). Today, the second-generation FieldPak fits in a shirt pocket, weighs less than nine ounces, and currently has an upper capacity of 80 GB, which will hold six hours of DV25 video. A videographer can bring a FieldPak loaded with hours of clips and be able to edit with all of them within a minute. This is because the Avid nonlinear editor sees the FieldPak as just as another media drive. Alternately, the shooter has the option of immediately moving his clips to the server at a multiple of real-time playback speed.

FieldPaks mount to Avid systems through several types of inexpensive interfaces. Conventional desktop editors will use LVD SCSI towers that can mount from two to seven FieldPaks simultaneously. For laptop editors, versions of the SAT-110 interface can mount FieldPaks through either FireWire or USB2.

Reliability

One of the tenets of our industry that was hammered into me long ago was that the mechanism inside of a videotape recorder could be compared to a belt sander. Of course this is an oversimplification, but it implies that a tapedeck is a machine with many moving parts that grind away at each other until inevitable failure. Many stations employ several technicians whose main job is to keep videotape transports in working order. Some of their more common tasks include replacing upper drum assemblies, pinch rollers, and belts.

A major promise of nonlinear camcorders is greater reliability. Ideally, an acquisition system would contain as few moving parts as possible. Solid-state media meets this requirement nicely.

At NAB 2002, Ikegami demonstrated the ability to record onto a solid state FieldPak, called a RamPak. It was a seamless integration that introduced the first broadcast camcorder with no moving parts in the recorder mechanism. Ikegami's Editcam camcorder recorded to and played back from the RamPak with ease.

Unfortunately, three years ago solid-state media had two major obstacles to overcome. The first was that its recording capacity was objectionably small. The second was that it was ghastly expensive.

Today, one of the two hurdles has been largely overcome. Ikegami offers a 16GB RamPak that can hold over 70 minutes of DV25 video, a reasonable capacity for news shooting. Unfortunately, since this is at a cost that is still measured in the thousands of dollars, it is still too expensive for most users to consider it viable.

For the overwhelming majority of users, however, hard drives offer the allure of greater reliability at an affordable price point. The hard-drive-based 20GB FieldPak has a list price of only $345. It is rated at several hundred thousand record cycles and comes with a two-year warranty. Thousands are used all over the world in a variety of extremely harsh environments. Most recently, several Editcams have been used by the Armed Forces Radio Television Service in the theater of operations in Iraq.

Reduction of Tape Costs

All television stations are under pressures to reduce costs and improve the bottom line. One way to accomplish this would be to eliminate consumables, like videotape, which can easily amount to over $5,000 per camera per year. Editcam technology offers a station the ability to depreciate the media the camera records to as a capital expense over the life of the camera. For stations that choose to archive off the server to some type of optical disk, it means their stories can go from acquisition, to post-production, to air and get archived without ever having touched videotape.

Features

At first glance, a cameraman picking up the DNS-33W Editcam would be hard-pressed to spot any differences between it and the camera he'd been using. He hits the RECORD button and the camcorder records images along with up to four channels of audio sampled at 48k, but moving to nonlinear acquisition gives him features that would have been impossible with a conventional tape transport.

One pair of buttons that will be new to him will be the PREVIOUS and NEXT buttons. They allow the cameraman to jump from clip to clip in a nonlinear mode.

Imagine the cameraman is reviewing a clip, either watching it play in the viewfinder or on the color LCD side panel. Suddenly, something occurs in front of the camera that he needs to record. Hitting the RECORD button automatically records the video to an empty spot on the disk, ensuring that--unlike tape--he won't be erasing previously recorded material.

One of the most revolutionary Editcam features developed a decade ago is Retroloop. It allows a cameraman to fill a buffer with video, video that is constantly being updated but not saved until the cameraman hits the RECORD button. If he is waiting for the famous perpetrator to be walked out, he can rest assured that he'll be able to capture the event after it's happened.

Other features that add arrows to a cameraman's quiver include time-lapse recording, which can be set from one of two frames to one frame a day. In the animation mode, the camera can record a single frame at the press of a button, easily rendering desktop animation sequences.

Ikegami is first and foremost a camera manufacturer, and in our third generation Editcam, the DNS-33W benefits from the latest innovations found in our studio cameras. Using advanced digital signal processing ICs, precision designed at the 18 micron rule, the camera's horizontal resolution is 750 TV lines, its s/n is 67db, with a sensitivity of f11@2000lux.


In addition to being a great ENG (or DNG, for "digital news gathering") camcorder, is the fact that the Editcam was developed in partnership with Avid Technology. Editcam3 provides instant editing on all Avid NLEs. The DNS-33W Editcam3's tapeless FieldPak2 provides for direct import of video and audio clips into Avid's MC/NC Adrenaline, Xpress PRO, and Xpress DV nonlinear editing systems via an inexpensive adapter.

Given these advantages, it's not hard to see why there is a migration toward tapeless technology for news and other forms of video production. No doubt the phrase "I remember when people used to actually shoot on videotape!" will become a common one in the not-too-distant future.

The DNS-33W Editcam3 will be shown at Ikegami's NAB 2005 exhibit along with Ikegami's new HD Editcam, which utilizes Avid's DNxHD compression and approximately one hour of full-resolution HD recording on today's 80 GB FieldPak 2 media. The HD Editcam will be demonstrated at NAB recording at 145 Mbps; this data rate will be increased to 220 Mbps within months. The 80GB FieldPak will yield over one hour of HD video at 145 Mbps; a 120GB FieldPak is in development.

Web: www.marcommgroup.com/ikegami