January 11, 2010

Panasonic unveils HD 3D camcorder

Panasonic has announced what it claims is the world’s first professional, fully integrated Full HD 3D camcorder. The Wall-E look-alike should start shipping late 2010, and Panasonic will start taking orders at NAB, when more details will be announced. It showed engineering samples of the solid-state camcorder at CES in Las Vegas, last week, and estimates that it will cost about $21,000.

The new camcorder should be simpler to use than existing twin-camera set ups, as its two lenses, camera head and dual memory card recorder are integrated into a single body. The camcorder also has stereoscopic adjustment controls. The twin-lens system allows the convergence point to be adjusted (according to the closeness of the objects being viewed), and there are also functions for automatically correcting horizontal and vertical displacement. Most current 3D camera systems require these adjustments to be made via a PC or an external video processor. The Panasonic camcorder will automatically recalibrate itself, making it easier to react quickly to changing requirements.

The camcorder is also a lot lighter and smaller than most current 3D rigs (although systems from Lux Media Plan [pictured right] and Polecam are smaller still, as both use two tiny cameras). However, the Panasonic model should be ideal for handheld use. Its simpler set up should make it particularly suitable for sports or documentary production.

Most conventional rigs require time-consuming adjustments whenever they are moved or knocked, but as this is a combined unit, the two cameras shouldn't go out of alignment. However, this may mean that it isn't as flexible in getting the perfect alignment for objects at certain distances.

All side-by-side 3D systems have an advantage over larger mirror rigs (where the cameras are too big to sit beside each other) as they don't lose any light coming through the mirror.

The Panasonic's left and right HD video streams will be processed separately and recorded as files on SDHC Memory Cards, with all the benefits that brings (less risk of being affected by dust or adverse weather, or knocks – compared to tape or disk), and reasonable costs compared to other solid-state media.

When Panasonic first showed a rather more curvaceous mock-up of this camera at NAB 2009 (right), it was to have recorded to P2 cards. That mock-up also had the AVC Ultra logo, but Panasonic hasn't stated what format the new camcorder will use. The fastest SDHC cards can record more than 100Mbps, but this could just as easily be an AVCHD device (at 24Mbps) – although AVC-I 4:2:2 would seem to be the minimum for professional 3D production and post.

Power consumption should be less than 19W, and it will weigh less than 3kg.

Panasonic is also developing a 3D Full HD LCD monitor for use on location and a professional HD digital AV mixer for live event production.

Like most of the big manufacturers, Panasonic sees considerable opportunities in moving to 3D, especially for its home theatre systems. It showed several 3D Plasma TV sets at the exhibition, 3D-enabled Blu-ray disc players, and 3D glasses, which will be available this Spring. It set up an Advanced Authoring Center (within the Panasonic Hollywood Laboratory) last February, where 3D movies are authored for 3D Blu-ray.

[UPDATE - Related post: Panasonic 3D camcorder gets AVCHD ]

By David Fox

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