July 14, 2010

What makes an HD camera?

The BBC has updated its commissioning guidelines for HD, with a list of the cameras it considers to produce HD (although that doesn't necessarily rule other cameras out). As all network programmes for the BBC must be in HD by April 2011, anyone thinking of shooting for the BBC needs to check they are using the right camera. There certainly isn't a lot of hope for anyone wanting to use lower-cost cameras (although if you use a camera with at least half-inch sensors and record at bitrates above 50Mbps to a nanoFlash, AJA Ki-Pro or other external recorder, they shouldn't have a lot to object to - check first).

HD programmes can use no more than 25% standard definition material. The following formats are considered to be standard definition from the HD: Summary of Delivery Formats (PDF):
  • All standard definition video formats   
  • HDV from all manufactures
  • Cameras with image sensors under 1⁄2-inch
  • Frame based (intra-frame) recording formats below 100Mbs
  • Inter-frame based recording formats below 50Mbs
  • Super16 film whether transferred to tape in HD or not 
  • 35mm film transferred to or copied from SD tape formats 
  • Non linear editing codecs with bit rates below 160Mbs 
  • Live contributions links of less than 60Mbs (MPEG2)
  • 720 line cameras (except the Varicam AJ-HDC27 and AJ-HDX900)
On the audio front. 5.1 surround sound is not necessarily necessary. "We also take deliveries in stereo and we are working on wrap-around sound alternatives. Sound requirements will be confirmed for individual projects through the commissioning process," it says.

The full list of approved cameras:
  • Panasonic AJ-HPX3700, 2700, 3000 & 2100
  • Panasonic 'Varicam' HDC27F & H
  • Panasonic AJ-HDX900
  • Sony HDW F900R & 900
  • Sony HDW 790, 750 & 730
  • Sony CineAlta F35
  • Arri D21 & Alexa
  • Panavision Genesis
  • Thompson Viper
For use by Independent productions only:
  • Canon XF 300E & 305E
  • Red One
  • Sony PDW 800 & 700
[UPDATE: The BBC has now approved the XF300 and XF305 for use in all HD productions, both by independent producers and for in-house use - it has already bought at least 60 of them...]

[Further UPDATE: For the latest April 2011 list have a look at AF101 wins BBC HD approval]

Mini cameras:
  • Iconix HD-RH1
  • Panasonic HCK10 / HMR10
  • Toshiba IK-HR1S
  • Toshiba IK-HD1
The XF300 is the most affordable camera here (about £6,000 - the XF305 pictured above adds HD-SDI output, Genlock input and Time code i/o for not a lot more). Of the main list, the cheapest are Panasonic's venerable tape-based HDX900 and the P2-based AJ-HPX2100, both about £23,000. Several of the cameras listed are no longer being made.

By David Fox

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