April 22, 2011

Atomos Ninja Review

The Ninja, by Hong Kong/Australian company Atomos, is one of a growing group of on-camera recorders. These devices enable you to bypass the camera’s compression and record at a higher bitrate on those cameras that have non-compressed HDMI outputs (in the Ninja's case) or HD-SDI. [UPDATE: Atomos now has HD-SDI to HDMI and HDMI to HD-SDI Connect convertors that make it easy to add HD-SDI inputs to Ninja] [UPDATE 2: The Ninja 2 has been launched - better display, HDMI output, compatible with new AtomOS 3.0 firmware]


After a couple of delays due to software problems, the Ninja is now shipping and will be joined eventually by the Samurai, which will record using HD-SDI and have a larger, higher-resolution screen.

The Ninja comes in a handy hard carry case. The kit includes two hot-swappable hard drive caddies, two batteries with a dual charger and a docking station for the drive with FireWire 800, USB 2.0 and 3.0 and eSata connections.


PROBLEM 1 

All of these field recorders have three problems they are trying to solve.

First of all: image quality. For example the new Canon XF305 records 50Mbps 4:2:2 while Sony's EX1 and EX3 record 35Mbps 4:2:0 onto their solid-state memory cards. But, they are more than capable of exporting pictures of higher quality via their HD-SDI and/or HDMI sockets (the EX3 doesn't have HDMI, but the newer EX1R does). Field recorders allow you to tap into those higher quality images.

The Ninja records 10-bit ProRes HQ at 220Mbps, ProRes 422 at 150Mbps or ProRes LT at 100Mbps in hardware, and Apple has checked that it is "bit-for-bit accurate" (and gave its approval) according to Atomos CEO, Jeromy Young.

Most DSLR cameras record in H.264, a great codec for a video project ready for upload to the web, but not much fun to edit with. A separate recorder using a more edit friendly codec should make your editor happy and mean less time hanging around waiting for video to render or be transcoded.

PROBLEM 2


Storage capacity. A 32Gb Compact Flash card will hold around 40mins of video at 50Mbps. Most professional cameras can hold two cards, but if you need to shoot a lot of video you will have to keep swapping cards throughout the day. Plus, you typically only have one copy, which can be worrying, especially if you are new to tapeless recording.

With the Ninja you record to a 2.5-inch 9.5mm-high laptop-sized hard drive – disk or solid state. These are not included in the kit but they are readily available. A 500GB drive will give you around five hours of recording time in ProResHQ, 7.5 hours in ProRes422 and 11 hours in ProResLT. Now you can shoot all day and/or have two copies, just in case.

Atomos recommend fast (7200rpm) hard disks rather than 5400rpm ones. If the disk is knocked during recording you may see the Skippy icon – a kangaroo in a yellow diamond – to let you know there is a problem.

If your shoot involves a fair bit of rough and tumble, you should consider buying the more expensive solid-state drives (SSD). At the moment Atomos only recommends Intel SSDs, but new drives come out all the time so it is a good idea to check its checked and approved list.

The drives fit inside the supplied master caddy for protection. If you buy extra drives you way want to buy an extra pack of five caddies for around £25.

screen grab showing 3.99Gb files

During my test of the Ninja I plugged it into a Canon XF105. With its infrared function I wanted to leave it recording the wildlife in my garden all night. With a large battery on the camera and two large batteries on the Ninja, I managed to record for up to ten continuous hours. When I looked at the drive the video had been chopped into 4GB sized files (around 4min 35sec in ProRes 422).

PROBLEM 3 

Power management: Having 11 hours of recording time is no use if the batteries can’t keep up. The Ninja has a dual battery system, using common Sony DV batteries. The two NP-F570 batteries in the kit offer around 4.5 hours of power. But, these are hot swappable, so when one depletes, it will switch to the second, and the first can be replaced. So, if you intend doing a long continuous shoot you shouldn’t have any problems. I have some spare Sony NP-F970 batteries, which still had plenty of juice to spare after being on for ten hours.

Ninja dual battery system

At the moment the Ninja only shows battery voltage remaining – not time remaining. This will be upgraded in a forthcoming firmware upgrade.

Battery info screen

GETTING ATTACHED 

The Ninja with both batteries and drive weighs in at 700g. It has standard 1/4-inch mounts on the top and base of the unit. You may want to buy a variety of 1/4-inch screw-to-cold shoe connectors – especially if they have a ball and socket joint to easily position the Ninja on the camera. I used a small articulating arm to mount the Ninja to my Canon XF305. Which allows you to position the unit exactly where you want it.

An articulating arm to help position the Ninja

You’ll also need an HDMI cable to connect the Ninja to the camera (it's not included in the package). There really is no need to spend a huge amount on expensive gold cables. If the digits go in and come out of the cable you’re fine. That said cheap cables may be OK round the back of the TV, but, might not survive the rough and tumble of being on the road. If the cable falls out during recording you will get the Skippy icon warning. If you are of a nervous disposition you might want to splash out on a locking HDMI cable.

The Ninja comes with a touch sensitive screen/monitor – so it could be used by a director as a video assist or perhaps by the sound recordist to check for a boom in shot.

DSLR users may find the Ninja monitor helpful when doing very low angle shots – when a typical DSLR screen is almost impossible to see unless you lie down on the ground. 

Ninja with Canon EOS7D

The Hague CamFrame

The monitor is there just for a confidence check that you are getting an image and composition is OK. It is not something I would use to help me with focus. But, if they add peaking in a future firmware upgrade DSLR users will find it more useful.

At the moment playback on the monitor is very blocky and stutters. But, Atomos already has that on its to-do list in a future firmware upgrade.

USER INTERFACE

The Ninja interface is easy to master. So, if you don’t like reading manuals you’ll be OK. That said the manual is well written, with plenty of photos to guide you through the set up process.

Ninja Main screen

All the controls are via the touch screen monitor. When you switch on, four round buttons appear on screen - REC (record), PLAY, MON (monitor) and MENU.

Along the top of the screen the Ninja indicates whether there is No Input and once you plug into your camera what resolution and frame/field rate it is receiving.

Next to that it tells you which ProRes codec is chosen for recording. To change it just tap on the screen and it will cycle through the options. In the top righthand side of the screen you can see which battery is being used. If you tap on this you can find out how much battery voltage each battery has left.

In the bottom righthand side of the screen you get an indication of recording time. Tap on this and you’ll get information on the make and model of the drive, its size and an option to format it. Formating will prepare the disk for recording the first time it is used – but it will also delete everything on the disk too.

Drive info screen

I tested the Ninja with several cameras. Using it with the Canon XF305 and XF105 was very simple. Both cameras have a cold shoe mount and a 1/4-inch screw mount – so you can use either way to mount the Ninja. The shortest HDMI cable I had was 2m – which was too long, half that length would have been fine.

We also tried it with our small Panasonic TM700 1080 50p (or 60p US) camcorder, which normally records at up to 28Mbps AVCHD. This non-standard AVCHD format isn't easily editable by Final Cut Pro, so being able to capture it in ProRes should make it much more practical. However, it doesn't seem that the Ninja can capture 50p, instead recording it at 50i (although the pictures are an improvement).

DSLR 

Atomos will have to disappoint Canon HD DSLR users who were hoping to be able to record perfect uncompressed video via their HDMI ports. The video should still be uncompressed (so long as you don't also record in camera at the same time on some models), but it won't be perfect, as it seems that Canon has helpfully included a white square or a red (recording) dot on a corner of the output, which will be noticeable if you try to use it as full HD.

Canon EOS 7D HDMI output with red dot in the corner of the picture

Atomos has asked Canon about this, but it seems that the spoiler may be deliberate to maintain the distinction within Canon between the photographic and video divisions. 


Canon EOS 7D HDMI output with white "zoom tool" box in the corner of the picture

Atomos hadn't detected it when they tested a Canon 7D initially as they shot some footage in a studio with a white background. It was only during beta testing that users spotted it, and further testing revealed the white square on the 7D and the red spot on other models.

Panasonic TM700 HDMI output with 'helpful' info on screen.

However, some DSLRs apparently have HDMI output that is pristine (the Sony Alpha models and Panasonic's GH2 have been reported as working, although we don't have them so can't check). The Ninja also works perfectly with any video cameras they've tested it with, such as the Panasonic AF101 and Sony's F3.

WELL CONNECTED

It has LANC input/output for control (as well as the 4.3-inch touch screen). For audio, it has a mini-jack stereo input, or can record up to six channels of digital audio via HDMI (if the camera supports it), and a headphone jack.

Ninja connections - HDMI, LANC and audio
Atomos are committed to upgrading the firmware on a regular basis. So, features will be improved and added in the coming months.

Menu screen

If you press on the Ninja's menu button and then the Ninja Info button you can check which firmware version is currently running on your unit. The Ninja we recieved for review was on version 1.02. On the firmware download page they were up to version 1.04 so I thought I'd have a go.The first thing to do is download the zip file from the download page.

Then go to the instruction page and follow the instructions precisely.

The two important things to remember are to format the drive, using the Ninja, before you start and attach fresh batteries to the Ninja so that you don't lose power during the upgrade.

Once the drive was formatted I placed it in the master caddy and copied the firmware file over, which took a few seconds.

copy the firmware file to the formatted drive

Then I placed the drive in the Ninja and switched it on. There were coloured bands flashing at the top and bottom of the screen for about and minute (to prove it was doing something) and then it switched itself off.

coloured bands flash during the upgrade

Version 1.04 successfully upgraded

When I switched back on and checked the firmware was the new version 1.04. All very simple and exactly as outlined on the Atomos website.

EXPORT TO TIMELINE

Once you’ve finished recording, you place the drive in the master caddy into the docking station, which can be powered via the mains or by the FireWire connection.

Ninja Docking station


Firewire and USB 2.0 and 3.0 on docking station

If time is short you can edit straight off the drive. In fact if a whole shoot fits on one drive it could be the editing drive and archive all in one…at least in the short term.

But, us nervous types will be backing up all that data. This is all very simple just connect the Ninja drive and drag and drop the ProRes files onto the drive you usually edit from and away you go.

ATOMOS NINJA - PROS:

  • Good value: It costs €795, £695 or $995
  • Well built and should be robust, especially with solid-state drive
  • ProRes is wonderful to edit (not just for Final Cut Pro users, as other non-linear editors can use it too, even on Windows with a plug-in) – you can even plug in and edit from the drive
  • Higher quality video, which might not be easily evident when you just compare the two side by side, but will be once you do anything to the video, especially for something like colour correction, where having the 10-bit 4:2:2 images will allow you do much more subtle colour grading
  • Small – it makes the AJA Ki Pro Mini look like the Ki Pro Maxi
  • Easy to use interface


ATOMOS NINJA - CONS:

  • Uses HDMI, which isn't usually a locking connection
  • No HDMI pass through (so you can't plug it in to a better monitor)
  • No HD-SDI connection (which is coming in the Samurai)
  • Low-resolution monitor (480x270 – compared to 5-inch and 800x400 on the Samurai)
  • Limited playback capability – although this will be improved in future, it's a much lower frame rate than normal (not helped by the low resolution)
  • No XLR audio inputs (unlike some of its, admittedly more expensive competitors)





IN CONCLUSION 

The Ninja is a well built and easy to use device. It has evolved since we first saw it at IBC2010 and Atomos has obviously listened to feedback from potential customers. If you have a Pro camera with HD-SDI you may want to wait for the Samurai. But if your camera has HDMI output this is a cost effective way to back up your video on the fly at a higher quality than your removable flash media.

If you are a DSLR owner you need to check whether your camera will work with the Ninja… or hope Canon relents and issues a firmware upgrade to remove unnecessary on-screen icons.

So, is it worth buying? Certainly, if you have something like a Panasonic AF100/AF101 (although it will only output 8-bit video), any of the Sony 35Mbps XDCAM EX range (including the PWM-F3), or the little Panasonic HCK10 point-of-view camera, all of which have been approved for HD use by the BBC, but only when they are recording to an external recorder at 50Mbps or above. It is currently the least expensive such recorder on the market, and it works well – although there are still some things to iron out.

In the medium term: There will soon be a lot more recorders for you to choose from. The newly announced Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Shuttle (see our review of the Shuttle) will only cost $345 and will record uncompressed video. If you want the best for less, this is it – however, big caveat: uncompressed images are huge. If you are recording for any length of time, you'll need lots of big, expensive, SSDs. It is a great option for certain types of work where you want the maximum quality and don't need long recording times, but if you want a compressed system, to save space and allow you to edit the pictures as quickly as possible, ProRes is a great choice.

Being able to do real-time ProRes compression in the recorder is where a lot of the extra cost of the Ninja goes. The real choice for many then will be between the Ninja and the Samurai (which could ship sometime over the Summer or maybe in the early Autumn). At £929, €1,095 or $1,495, the Samurai is still very good value (about 50% less than the admittedly excellent AJA Ki Pro Mini, with its XLR inputs, both SDI and HDMI, and Compact Flash card recording).

If you have an HDMI camera, you should certainly shortlist the Ninja. If your camera only has SDI, then the Samurai would be your value choice. If you need to do both, then look to: AJA; Fast Forward Video's $2,495/£1,695 sideKick HD recorder/monitor which also records ProRes to SSDs; or the upcoming sub-$3,000 Sound Devices PIX 240 recorder, which can also record using the Avid DNxHD video format (there will also be a PIX 220 that is HDMI only and expected to be under $2,000). And if you want even higher quality recording, then the more expensive Gemini 4:4:4 (under $6,000) from Convergent Designs will be the one to watch. However, except for the Ninja, the Ki Pro Mini, and Convergent Designs' industry-standard 8-bit nanoFlash, none of those are shipping yet.

[UPDATE: Other reviews are creeping out. Here's one by LA filmmaker, James Boyd.]

[[UPDATE: Atomos has introduced new Samurai Blade with a sharper monitor and upgraded operating system (AtomOS5) – it has also cut the price of both the Samurai and Ninja-2]]

By Christina Fox

April 19, 2011

AF101 wins BBC HD approval

Panasonic has had three of its cameras approved by the BBC for HD use, although all of them have features that are not what the broadcaster would normally consider desirable for HD production.

The most notable camera approved is the AG-AF101 large sensor camera, although it can only be used with an external recorder, as the internal AVCHD (24Mbps) codec doesn't survive the rigours of the broadcast transmission chain, particularly when dealing with demanding material, as it can exhibit artefacts. [UPDATE: The new AF101A can record up to 28Mbps internally - still not good enough - and output 10-bit 4:2:2 via HD-SDI to an external recorder]

The AF101 has already been used for HD production by broadcasters, including the UK's Channel 4, and for many commercials. It was used by the award-winning producer/director Fiona Lloyd-Davies, of Studio 9 Films, to shoot a documentary in the Congo for Al-Jazeera Europe, where it recorded to a Convergent Design nanoFlash external Compact Flash recorder at 50Mbps, the minimum bitrate that the BBC also insists on. [See story: AF101's first broadcast production]

"The 101 has been a big hit for Panasonic right across the world. Its picture quality, and particularly its control over depth of field, are excellent for a camera at this price point. It is a leap up from a DSLR with its professional controls, ergonomic handling and broadcast interfaces. To be on the approved BBC HD list is a real feather in its cap," commented Allan Leonhardsen, of Panasonic distributor Holdan.

DoP Paul Lucas, who recently completed a number of TV and commercial shoots using the AF101, believes that "the AF-101 represents a serious step forward for cameras in its class. For those who've been shooting professional video on DSLRs, this is unquestionably the way forward. For mid to higher budget shoots - promos, drama, commercials, there's no reason not to use a 101 next to more expensive cameras, and spend money on glass instead."

The AF101 can be used with a wide range of lenses, from Zeiss Compact Primes, to Canon and Nikon stills lenses via an adaptor.

Panasonic's HPX371 has also been approved for HD broadcast use. It records on P2 cards using the H.264 MPEG4-based AVC-Intra format, and is the most affordable shoulder-mount camera, offering the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, on the BBC HD list (it costs about €8,000 with a 17x HD Fujinon lens). It uses three 1/3-inch CMOS sensors, although the BBC previously stated that sensors should be at least 1/2-inch chips – however, it had already moved away from this requirement by approving Canon's XF300/XF305 1/3-inch cameras late last year.

The AG-HCK10 point of view camera and its AVCHD recorder/controller the AG-HMR10 is also BBC approved, although the miniature camera must also be used with an external 50Mbps+ recorder (the HMR10 has SDI and HDMI outputs). The camera has a 12x optical zoom lens, Optical Image Stabilizer, and a 1/4.1-inch progressive 3MOS sensor. The package costs about €3,500 and is approved for such applications as in-car use or wildlife photography.

Sony too

The cameras are joined on the newly updated list by several Sony cameras, including the new PMW-F3 (along with Sony's EX1R, EX3, PMW-320 and PMW-350, it gains official approval only with a 50Mbps+ external recorder), and the Sony PMW-500 (50Mbps 4:2:2 SxS camera - pictured above), which has apparently been bought in large numbers by BBC News.

The full BBC HD list

Studio Cameras
• Sony HDC1500
• Sony HDC1550 
• Sony HDC1400 
• Sony HDC1450 
• Sony HSC300 
• Sony HXC100 
• Grass Valley LDK8000 Elite Worldcam 
• Grass Valley LDK8000 Elite Standard 
• Grass Valley LDK4000 Elite 1080i

HD Handheld
• Canon XF305 
• Canon XF300 
• Sony PMW-EX1R - with external recorder using a bitrate of 50Mbps or above 
• Sony PMW-EX3 - with external recorder using a bitrate of 50Mbps or above

HD Shoulder Mount
• Panasonic HDX900 
• Panasonic HPX371 
• Panasonic HPX3000 
• Panasonic HPX3100 
• Panasonic HPX3700 
• Sony PMW320 - with an external recorder using a bitrate of 50Mbps or above 
• Sony PMW350 - with an external recorder using a bitrate of 50Mbps or above 
• Sony PMW500
• Sony PDW, 700 & F800 
• Sony HDW F900R & 900 
• Sony HDW 790, 750 & 730

HD Specialist
• Panasonic HPX2700 HDC27F & H 
• Panasonic AF101 - with an external recorder using a bitrate of 50Mbps or above 
• Sony CineAlta F35 
• Sony SRW 9000 
• Sony PMW F3 - with an external recorder using a bitrate of 50Mbps or above 
• Arri D21 
• Arri Alexa 
• Panavision Genesis 
• Thompson Viper
• Red

Mini Cameras
• Iconix HD-RH1 
• Panasonic HCK10/HMR10 - with an external recorder using a bitrate of 50Mbps or above
• Toshiba IK-HR1S
• Toshiba IK-HD1

It also adds that "cameras should be chosen in consultation with the DoP and post production facility."

It may also accept other cameras, possibly under special circumstances or newly-released cameras it hasn't listed as approved, but if you shoot for the BBC it's always best to ask them first.


Related post: What makes an HD camera? 

By David Fox

April 18, 2011

AF101's first broadcast production

A production for Al Jazeera's Witness strand is believed to be the first to use Panasonic's AG-AF101 large-sensor camera for broadcast work.

It is being used for a documentary set in the Great Lakes region of Africa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, about how women raped and abused during the conflict are rebuilding their lives.

The production required a robust, agile camera that could capture the beauty of the environment, and the AF101 was chosen because of its light weight, large sensor size and solid-state storage, according to Fiona Lloyd-Davies of Studio 9 Films (pictured on location in the Congo).

"With no tape mechanism and no moving parts, the camera worked faultlessly in all conditions, delivering excellent results," said the award-winning producer/director. "This is a beautiful part of the world and I wanted a camera that could do it justice. Not only did the 101 bring out the vivid colours of the people and their environment, but its four thirds chip allowed me to adjust the depth of field to great effect."

She wanted to step up from the Sony Z1 or Z5 type of camera, but didn't want a larger camcorder, particularly as she is shooting by herself. She did have a fixer working with her, but he's not a camera assistant or sound recordist. "So I had to find something I could work with on my own," in a very difficult place to work.

It was also "very important to use a format that would be visually very strong and would give great pictures," she explained.

"Some people suggested using the Canon 5D, but as far as I understand it doesn't handle movement very well and doesn't have XLR [audio inputs] or handle sound very well."

As she was preparing to leave for Africa for the first part of her shoot, the London-based hire company she was using, VMI, received its first AF101. "They have been absolutely magnificent. They gave me a huge amount of technical assistance."

Working in the Congo there was no chance of getting something fixed if it went wrong, so it was important that everything was reliable (especially as she didn't have the budget for a second camera body, which she would have liked to be able to bring) – fortunately it was.

The main downside with the AF101 is that it doesn't record at 50Mbps in the camera (it records AVCHD at 24Mbps to two SD card slots, which doesn't meet Al Jazeera's technical requirements), so VMI added a Convergent Design nanoFlash rig to the camera, which can record MXF or QuickTime files to Compact Flash cards. Before she left, she did some tests with the AF101 for Al Jazeera, which they were happy with.

The nanoFlash was attached to the camera's HD-SDI connector, and the resulting 50Mbps broadcast-compliant files were downloaded daily onto two separate rugged drives.

She also recorded simultaneously to the SD cards, which gave the security of a high resolution back-up and ensured that the nanoFlash was in sync with the camera, being set up to record when the timecode changed on the HD-SDI output. When the camera recorded, Lloyd-Davies could be confident that the nanoFlash was recording.

Having an external recorder wasn't a perfect solution. "There were occasions where I started shooting and realised it wasn't connected and had to start again." It was also hard to tell how much time she had remaining on the cards when she was concentrating on operating the camera.

The nanoFlash was powered by the main Anton/Bauer camera battery pack rather than a separate power supply to ensure that she could not start shooting only to discover later that the nanoFlash had run out of power.

"This is a new camcorder with a third party recording device. With limited technical support available in Eastern Congo, we needed to know that it would be fool proof. VMI carried out full testing before we hired the unit and gave us an excellent grounding in operating the equipment and getting the workflow right," she said.

A further problem was having enough electricity to charge the batteries and download all the cards to disk each evening. She was staying at a priest's house that only had a small generator on for a few hours each night, luckily it was just about possible to view and back-up everything in that time. She also had to clean all the kit each night, as the conditions were so dusty.

She needed to remain mobile, so needed to limit the amount of equipment she took. She was also on a tiny budget, "which is why I'm self shooting and doing everything myself."

It is her first time working with solid state and she took two 500GB FireWire drives, backing up to both each night. She had wanted to take larger drives but they didn't arrive in time. The nanoFlash can record at much higher bit rates, but "if I had recorded on more than 50Mbps I would have run out of space." She is shooting a lot of footage, hoping to capture some great moments, and took five 32GB Compact Flash cards, for the nanoFlash, although the most she recorded to on one day was four.

Each card took about 25-35 minutes to back up. She also downloaded the video from the SD cards each evening too.

She used prime lenses, which meant she had to think more about what type of shot she wanted and why. However, "the quality of the prime lenses is fantastic," although she was very mindful of how critical the focus was, especially in such bright sunlight, where the LCD screen was hard to see.

Nevertheless, "it was a really nice camera to work with," she said. "The pictures looked great. I felt I was working with a much higher calibre camera than the Z1 or Z5."

She has also been shooting a project for the BBC in the Congo over the last 18 months, but not in HD.

"I'd love to use the camera again. I think it's a great camera and the quality is fantastic, but it depends on the broadcaster as well," she added.

Lloyd-Davies will be returning to the Congo for a second shoot in May, together with an AF101, to finish the film, and then edit it in June on Final Cut Pro.

Related post: AF101 wins BBC HD approval

By David Fox

April 16, 2011

Lightworks editor goes open source

You will soon be able to get one of the world's leading non-linear editing systems free and use it to build your own editing applications. EditShare is going to release an open source version of Lightworks, an editor with a long and distinguished history.

It has been around for some 22 years and was recently used to edit the multi-Oscar winning movie, The King's Speech. It has also been used on Pulp Fiction, The Departed, Centurion, Shutter Island, and is being used on Martin Scorsese's upcoming 3D movie, Hugo Cabret.

Lightworks has already been available free, as a beta version, since late last year, and already more than 100,000 people have downloaded it. By making it open source, any developer will be able to build on it and include it in other products.

It includes a full set of editorial tools, from advanced trimming and media management, to stereoscopic support and real-time effects, including multiple secondary colour correctors. It has an advanced effects pipeline, making use of the power of your graphics card, and support for up to 2K workflows with real-time effects.

Users reckon it is fast and intuitive. It can support all the major formats, including Red, DPX, ProRes, Avid DNxHD, MXF, and more (although some of them are an extra-cost option). It has: Multicam editing with unlimited sources; Single-click re-sync of whole timeline; Dynamic trimming during playback; Real-time, hardware accurate video vectorscopes and waveform monitors; Multitrack Audio Mixer with full bus routing and multiple mixes; and there is third-party support from the likes of Boris, Combustion, After Effects and Premiere plug ins.

It currently runs on Windows XP SP2 (32 bit), Windows Vista (32 bit) and Windows 7 (32 bit and 64 bit), but promises support for Linux and OSX by late 2011, when it should also gain full 64-bit support.

EditShare bought Lightworks in 2009, and wants there to be lots of people who can edit using the software, which will help retrieve market share (in the early days Lightworks was very widely used, especially for film productions) and sell its commercial versions (capable of handling higher-end codecs, etc).

The company has other hardware and software products, and showed several introductions at NAB, including a new tapeless workflow for multi-cam TV productions. It also has shared production storage, asset management and archiving systems.

By David Fox

Apple reveals Final Cut Pro X

Two of the top three non-linear editing systems showed off major revamps at NAB. Final Cut Pro X, the next version of Apple's market-leader, and CS5.5, a significant upgrade for Adobe's Creative Suite (see previous story for full article), piled up ever more features and workflow improvements.

The upgrades should be eagerly awaited by most professional editors – given that Final Cut has about 55% of the broadcast and post-production market, while Adobe now has just under 20%, having overtaken a gently declining Avid share last year.

Although Adobe has developed its suite at a faster rate over the last two years than Apple – making its system 64-bit last year where Apple is only just about to achieve this – Apple market share is growing more rapidly and it now has more than two million FCP users.

"We are growing more than twice as fast as the non-linear editing marketplace," at 15% per year, compared to about 7% for the market. It leaves Adobe and Avid "in a race for second place," said Richard Townhill, Apple's Director of Pro Video Product Marketing.

"Now we have every major broadcaster on the planet relying on final Cut Pro for mission critical content delivery day in and day out," he told a packed meeting of enthusiastic editors at the FCP User Group’s SuperMeet in Las Vegas, where a beta of FCP X was shown in public for the first time.

"We have a 94% customer satisfaction ratio. That is absolutely incredible. People absolute love working with Final Cut Pro," he claimed.

The power of ten

“We think we have something as revolutionary as when we unveiled version 1.0 in 1999,” said Townhill, unveiling a Final Cut that owes something to the latest version of Apple's consumer-oriented iMovie, in user interface as well as ease of use, but seems to retain all the functionality required of a professional application.

It will also have a new, lower price when it ships in June, although it is unlikely that the $299 takes in the whole Final Cut Studio that FCP is only available with today (for $999). Until Apple says otherwise, it should be assumed that the suite will cost extra. What will happen with the rest of the applications wasn't mentioned at the SuperMeet, although it is likely that they will also undergo a complete revamp. More likely is that the low price of FCP X will mean an end for the cut-down Final Cut Express.

FCP X "will no longer be hamstrung by the 4GB of memory that are available to 32-bit applications and now can take full advantage of as much memory as you can throw at the application," said FCP architect, Peter Steinauer. Going 64-bit means you can handle "larger, more complex projects, larger formats, more frames in memory, deeper and richer effects stacks; basically all of the things that are ridiculously memory intensive now have full run of all the memory you can throw at the problem."

He said that Apple wanted to look at the problems users were having and "address them in new and unique ways that nobody has ever tried before." Although many of the new features have appeared elsewhere before, their implementation has rarely been as slick, and the interface is a radical overhaul for a broadcast application.

It has a completely redesigned interface, with quick access to everything an editor needs to do – although existing keyboard shortcuts and ways of working have been retained if users want them.

Image quality

Apple wanted to ensure users could deliver "the most beautiful, the most pristine, the most interesting content possible," said Steinauer. To that end FCP X is fully colour managed (based on Colour Sync) "so that you can trust that the pixels coming off a profiled device track all the way through your workflow." It also has full floating-point, linear light-based rendering, which means that when you do effects work "we're able to deliver the highest quality possible on the platform."

Resolution independent playback means users can mix formats, from SD to 2K and 4K, "without having to worry about the origin of the media you are working with" – no transcoding necessary. That is incredibly processor intensive, so FCP X is taking advantage of Grand Central Dispatch in Mac OSX to utilise all CPU and GPU cores on the machine, to render work as quickly as possible. It promises to be the end of the render dialogue box, as rendering will be done in the background, using any spare CPU cycles.

Content Auto-Analysis

To get content into the system as quickly as possible and start editing before the transfer is finished, a lot of content preparation will be done in the background. So, it will automatically perform things like media detection (still, audio, etc.) during ingest, as well as image stabilization (including identifying any rolling shutter defects), people detection (one, two or groups of people in a shot), and shot detection (close up, medium shot, wide shot). There will also be automatic non-destructive colour balance on import, so when you start colour correction you have a pre-balanced image.

It also does audio analysis, identifying silent channels, channel configuration (stereo, mono, 5.1 surround sound), and looks for issues with the audio, such as excessive noise or hum, and will automatically fix them if you wish.

To make media management simpler, there is Range-Based Keywording. You can apply multiple different criteria to your media and select ranges within a clip and apply a keyword just to that without having to create a subclip.

These can be located in Smart Collections, which can find the same clip via all the different criteria that applies to it. To save typing, users can just drag a range into any appropriate folder.

Smart Collections and keywording is very useful if you have a long sequence where you might only need a few short clips, such as an interview where you might want to specify a few sentences about the same subject spread over the whole recording. It seems to be quick and simple to do, and you instantly have a smart collection you can click on with all the relevant clips gathered together. "The keywords can overlap, so you can have the same section of media with multiple keywords on it, so it's really powerful for being able to organize your footage," explained Randy Ubillos, Chief Architect, Video Applications. You can have list view or filmstrip view, which can make it a lot quicker to identify the sequences you want.

Magnetic Timeline

Clip Connections mean you can now establish relationships between primary and secondary content. First, the primary audio and video are locked together, including sound from an external audio recorder, so there is no way to accidentally knock them out of sync. Users can also lock audio effects, for example, to a shot, which will travel together if you move the primary clip.

It will also auto-sync matching audio waveforms, in the same way as the PluralEyes plug-in does now, for adding audio from an external recorder. There is much more accurate audio alignment, audio scrubbing is pitch corrected so you get a better idea what people are saying, and audio level adjustments are much simpler. It makes it very easy to locate the word you want an edit to happen on.

For adjusting audio levels, there will be no need to create keyframe dots. There are fade handles that allow you to right click to choose how you fade up or down, and in the middle of an audio level line you use the range select tool (as used when adding keywords) to adjust the line without any keyframing, and the waveform shows if you are getting near to clipping, "so you can visually balance the levels out a lot of the time without even having to listen to it," said Ubillos.

The Magnetic Timeline is a more dynamic way of dealing with media in the timeline. You can slide a clip down the timeline and things move out of the way. "So sync issues and trim collisions are a thing of the past," said Steinauer.

"Your timelines are no longer fragile," said Ubilos, you no longer have to worry about what else you might affect when you move something. There are no hard tracks in the new interface. Tracks come and go as necessary. If you do push an audio track out of sync, you have sample accurate resolution for aligning audio.

Compound Clips

The more complex the project the more unwieldy it becomes and harder to understand, so the new Compound Clips function allows you to select everything you need and collapse that down to a single clip with one keystroke. It allows you to do all the things you would do with a single clip, but it is non-destructive flattening so you can also expand it again to deal with any individual aspect when you need to. "Which allows you to build whole building blocks of a story in your timeline," and rearrange them without inadvertently doing damage, said Steinauer.

Most of what people do is a range of standard cuts, but it can be hard to understand what media you have available to you (for example if you want to extend a shot), and where is the best place to make the cut. The Inline Precision Editor allows you to double click on the seam between two clips and it opens to show exactly what is available, on both sides of the edit, in the timeline. "This vastly simplifies the overall editorial process in the non-linear editor."

If you want to check if shot A is better than B, or effect X is better than Y, you traditionally have to stack a lot of things in the timeline and switch between them (enabling and disabling as you go), or do a lot of replace/edit/undo. It can become a bit of a nightmare. With Auditioning you can assemble the options as you edit, click on the auditions control, which brings up the auditions hub (which uses a Cover Flow-like display that allows you try out different options, and the sequence will automatically reflow to cope with a variety of options). Once you've made your decision, you close the hub.

Editors who had seen the beta before NAB were enthusiastic. "I love the new interface. The Magnetic Timeline is a huge advancement, which lets me focus on editing instead of worrying about sync. Editors just want to make great cuts and Final Cut Pro X makes that easy," commented Scott Ivers, Post Production Supervisor, Trailer Park Post Production.

"Once again Apple brings us a game changer. This program represents the beginning of a new era in digital editing," added producer/director, Dean Devlin, Electric Entertainment.

By David Fox

April 12, 2011

Low-cost recording spells Blackmagic

Blackmagic Design has unleashed two new low-cost uncompressed recorders for studio and on-camera use that could really impact the way people record video. The prices are significantly lower than anything anyone else has shown, and the quality should more than meet most user's demands.

The $345 HyperDeck Shuttle will capture uncompressed 10-bit video onto 2.5-inch (laptop-sized) Solid State Drives. It has up to 3Gbps SDI I/O and HDMI 1.4a I/O. It is small and battery powered for use on location, or can be used with live production switchers. It may not have the touch-screen display of the Atomos Ninja or Samurai, but you could buy a reasonably nice monitor with the savings...

[See our review of the Blackmagic HyperDeck Shuttle]

The Shuttle bypasses the camera's compression and records from SDI and HDMI directly into the highest quality uncompressed video. SSDs are cheaper per gigabyte than other solid-state media and fast enough that users can edit directly from them by plugging the SSD into an eSATA dock, which eliminates file copying. It captures widely compatible uncompressed QuickTime files that can be used with all popular software packages, such as Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, After Effects, and DaVinci Resolve. Of course, there is a good reason why compression was invented; uncompressed video takes up a lot of memory, so you will have to invest in larger SSDs. However, these tend to follow Moore's Law by doubling in capacity/halving in price every 18 months or so. If SSDs seem too expensive now, the Shuttle may be something to consider in the mid term rather than immediately. Also, if you edit on a laptop, or don't have the latest high-spec computer, it may not have the capabilities to handle as many streams of uncompressed video as you'd get with compression - but you can always import and transcode uncompressed into ProRes or some other edit-friendly codec.

The Shuttle is machined out of a solid block of aircraft-grade aluminium and has an internal battery. There is also a USB connection for software updates and settings.

"It's hard to imagine something so tiny can capture full uncompressed 10-bit SDI in HD and play it back, all from a removable SSD disk that you can edit on. It's incredible, and so low cost that everyone will be able to work in uncompressed quality", said Grant Petty, Blackmagic's CEO. "SSDs really are the 'videotape' format for the 21st century, and it seems like every day the disks are getting even bigger, faster and more affordable."

The HyperDeck Shuttle should be available in May and can also be used as a video playback source for digital signage systems or switchers.

[UPDATE: It started shipping June 24, see: Blackmagic HyperDeck Shuttle ships]

VTR replacement for under $1,000

The $995 HyperDeck Studio has dual slots to allow automatic recording onto the next disk when one record disk fills, for unlimited duration recording.

It features "a beautiful user friendly VTR style design" with function buttons, a jog wheel for jog and shuttle, plus external RS-422 control. It has a high resolution LCD screen displaying timecode and transport information plus a colour thumbnail preview of the current clip in record and playback. Crystal look buttons give customers full transport control just like a broadcast deck. It also has Ethernet for transport control and setting changes.

The 1RU device can be used in outside broadcast vans or a master control room, for on-set recording and viewing of dailies, as a video server, or for replays at live events. Users can simply swap SSDs for playback of a massive library of clips.

"This is the recorder that's affordable, the highest quality possible and uses standard SSD media, so it really is the next generation broadcast deck", said Petty. "HyperDeck Studio is the perfect companion for our new ATEM production switchers because you can flip between disks as they fill so you can record virtually forever. It's also a fantastic cart based system for clip playback on live productions and will dramatically raise the production values on live events. It's all very exciting."

The HyperDeck Studio will be available in July.

By David Fox

Panasonic AVCCAM HD camcorders

Panasonic unveiled two new AVCCAM HD handheld camcorders at NAB: the AG-AC160 and AG-AC130.

“These new AVCCAM handhelds offer the longer lensing that customers have been clamouring for in a small form factor with state-of-the art, high-bandwidth AVCCAM, Panasonic’s implementation of MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 high-profile encoding,” said Jan Crittenden Livingston, Product Manager, Panasonic Solutions. “In addition, the AC160 adds the creative flexibility of Full HD off-speed recording and an HD-SDI out.”

They are similar to the new HPX250 (we now have a full review of the HPX250), but record AVCHD to SDXC cards instead of AVC-Intra to P2, with a maximum bit rate of 24Mbps. As they have two SD card slots, they can do relay or simultaneous recording (for instant back up). Both of the camcorders have have three 1/3-inch 2.2 megapixel CMOS sensors and 21x zoom lenses, with three independent rings for zoom, focus and iris, and a fairly wide angle of 28mm.

At 50Hz the cameras record 1080/50i and 1080/25p, 720/50p and 720/25p. At 60Hz, they record in 1080/59.94i, 1080/29.97p, 1080/23.98pN, 720/59.94p, 720/29.97p, 720/23.98pN, as well as in standard definition (DV). The AC160 is 50Hz/60Hz switchable for worldwide use.

The AC160 (pictured above) also features variable frame rates, two channels of Linear PCM audio and HD-SDI output.

The AG-AC160 and the AG-AC130 will be available this Autumn with expected list prices under €4,600/$5500 and €3,900/$4000 respectively.

[[UPDATE: Panasonic has released 18 new, free, downloadable scene styles for both the AG-AC130 and the AG-AC160]]

By David Fox

Panasonic HPX250 records 10-bit 422

Panasonic's new AG-HPX250 handheld camcorder records 10-bit, 4:2:2 1920x1080 images to P2 cards using the high-quality AVC-Intra codec at 100 or 50Mbps.

[UPDATE: We now have a comprehensive review of the HPX250 on this site, as well as a side-by-side comparison of the HPX250 and Canon XF305 on our Canon XF Notebook site]

It is the most compact camera using AVC-Intra, and the lightest at 2.5kg. It can also record DVCPRO HD, as well as standard definition recording in DVCPRO50, DVCPRO and DV, making it particularly versatile.

In AVC-Intra and DVCPRO HD it records in 1080 at 59.94i, 29.97p(N), 23.98p(N), 50i and 25p(N) and in 720p at 23.98p(N), 29.97p(N), 59.94p, 50p and 25p(N). It can record at variable frame rates (up to 30 frames per second in 1080p and up to 60fps in 720p) to create fast or slow-motion effects.

There are two P2 card slots and can record for up to 320 minutes in AVC-Intra 100 at 720/24p, 160 minutes in AVC-Intra 100 at 1080/24p and 128 minutes in other AVC-Intra 100 or DVCPRO HD formats on two 64GB cards.

It uses three 1/3-inch 2.2 megapixel CMOS sensors, with a 20 bit digital signal processor. The 21x lens starts at a reasonably wide 28mm, going to 588mm (35mm equivalent), and has three independent rings for focus, zoom and iris control. It also has an Optical Image Stabilizer. There is a 3.45-inch LCD monitor and high-res viewfinder.

Other features include: Dynamic Range Stretch to help compensate for wide variations in lighting; a waveform monitor and vector scope display; and two focus assist functions – a picture expanding function and a focus bar. It also has genlock/timecode input for multi-camera operation, as well as an HD-SDI output, an HDMI output, and FireWire in/out.

Although P2 cards are more expensive than non-proprietary media, such as Compact Flash or SD cards, they are well liked by broadcasters (where P2 is widely used, especially for news). Features include: instant recording start-up; clip thumbnail view for immediate access to video on all cards; and various time-saving recording modes including continuous recording, card slot selection, hot swapping, loop, pre-record (three seconds in HD and seven seconds in SD), one-shot and interval recording. The camera also has an SD memory card slot for saving or loading scene files and user settings.

[UPDATED: 2/12/11 - The BBC has now approved the HPX250 as an HD camcorder for shooting HD for use by both in-house and independent productions. This makes it the most obvious rival for Canon's XF305 for lower-cost HD shooting - although the P2 cards are more expensive than Compact Flash, but the XF305 costs about the same.]

The AG-HPX250 is available for less than £4,500/€5,500/$6,500.

[[UPDATE: Panasonic has released 18 new, free, downloadable scene styles for the HPX250]]

By David Fox

JVC HMZ1 ProHD 3D camcorder

JVC unveiled its new GY-HMZ1 ProHD 3D camcorder at NAB, and demonstrated its 4K technology in the smallest ever 4K camcorder.

The HMZ1 is an integrated 3D twin lens design powered by JVC’s new Falconbrid large-scale integration (LSI) chip for high-speed processing of HD video. It can simultaneously record each left and right image in full 1920x1080 resolution.

The handheld camcorder features dual 3.32-megapixel CMOS sensors – one for each lens – and delivers 34 Mbps AVCHD recording in 3D (17Mbps AVCHD for each lens) or 24 Mbps in 2D. Video can be recorded with timecode at 60i or 50i to provide smooth motion (for sports and other fast action) or 24p (probably 25p for European market) for a film-like effect. The GY-HMZ1U can also capture 3D time lapse and 3D digital stills.

“With the new GY-HMZ1U, video production professionals get true 3D with full HD resolution,” said Craig Yanagi, JVC's national marketing and brand manager. “3D production can be extremely complex, but JVC’s new ProHD camcorder makes 3D more accessible to independent filmmakers, commercial and corporate production houses, and even educational markets.”

Equipped with an advanced image stabilizer, the twin F1.2 HD lenses offer a 5x optical zoom in 3D or 10x in 2D. Video is recorded to SDHC or SDXC media cards or to the camera’s built-in 80GB internal memory. The 3.5-inch colour LCD touch panel offers glasses-free 3D viewing and built-in tools like zebra pattern (for checking exposure). Other professional features include a handle with dual XLR microphone inputs and a shotgun microphone mount (mic optional).

The GY-HMZ1 will be available in the Autumn, priced under $2,500. In the meantime, JVC's GS-TD1 full HD 3D consumer camcorder is already available.

4K roadmap

The Falconbrid chip is not only useful for 3D, but also for higher resolution 2D work, and JVC was showing two prototype 4K cameras.

The new LSI enables processing, encoding, and recording of 4K2K images, which have four times the resolution of full HD. However, the cameras are not necessarily planned to become products, but are seen by JVC as a way to find out exactly what users want.

“JVC continues to be at the forefront of technological innovation in our industry. Our new LSI technology can handle data-intensive acquisition, which opens the door to exciting possibilities for the production community,” said Bob Mueller, executive vice president and COO. “Over the next few months, JVC is going to invite innovative cinematographers and other production professionals to help us develop 4K cameras, 3D cameras, and other products that deliver outstanding images and improved workflows at an affordable price point.”

With advanced image codecs and other technologies assembled in a single chip, the new LSI’s camera signal processing enables real-time RGB debayering of 8.3 megapixel video at 60 fps. Plus, the LSI requires 40 percent less power and, compared to previous LSIs, cuts systems costs in half. The result is a high-level processor suited to a wide range of professional products – and with all hardware and software integrated into a single platform, products using the LSI platform can be commercialized quickly.

By David Fox

Adobe revamps CS5.5 Creative Suite

Adobe has launched version 5.5 of its powerful Creative Suite post-production package, including major updates to After Effects, and completely revamped its audio software.

The complete package offers what Eric McCashey, its Group Marketing Manager, Desktop Solutions, claims is "the industry's most efficient post-production workflow," which is why it has been adopted by such broadcasters as the BBC, Turner and Hearst.

"It is rare to see a piece of media that has not been touched in some way by Adobe technology," he said.

With CS5.5 Adobe 'is attempting to stay ahead of trends in the industry," and it is changing its release schedule to do that. In the past it has released new versions of Creative Suite every 18-24 months, but it is now moving to every two years, with bigger interim releases (such as 5.5). Its main rival, Apple is expected to announce a complete revamp of its Final Cut Studio suite tonight (Tuesday).

Although Adobe is committed to its Flash interactive and video format, it has recognised that users of its Creative Suite also have to deliver to devices, such as the iPad, that don't support it, which is why CS5.5 will also support HTML5 authoring (including the easy addition of different video codecs), and will allow easier creation of rich, interactive applications for iOS, Android and Blackberry.

Indeed, Adobe is also making use of such devices to allow creatives to create ideas or interact with its desktop software, particularly Photoshop, for which it has created three new iPad apps: Adobe Color Lava (($2.99 - for mixing colours to create a palette in Photoshop), Adobe Eazel ($5 - for drawing and painting, and export to Photoshop), and Adobe Nav ($2 - for controlling Photoshop tools from your tablet, handy for people who don't have a large enough screen for what they want to do).

Audition piece

Adobe's digital audio workstation software, Audition has returned to the Creative Suite, and is now on both Mac and Windows. It will replace Soundbooth.

Audition has been rebuilt and is "much faster and much more responsive," claimed Niels Stevens, Business Development Manager, Video Products, who demonstrated how quick and easy it is to capture a noise print from a clip and reduce background noise from a dialogue track. "It's a really, really fast workflow. Much faster than real time," for export back to Premiere Pro.

It also gains a full surround sound mixer, and there is a new clip merge function, to re-synch the audio from an external recorder to video captured on a DSLR or digital cinema camera. The Merge Clips command can sync up to 16 audio clips to a single video clip.

Warp factor

After Effects features improvements for stereoscopic 3D users, including control over divergence and convergence of pairs of virtual cameras in 3D graphical models.

The new Warp Stabilizer requires no user intervention, being completely automatic. It was demonstrated taking shaky footage from a hand-held camera phone and making it look as if it was on a tripod (either with a slight pan or locked off), with the conversion happening in seconds with minimal loss of quality. It can also deal very well with any skew effects caused by the rolling shutter on CMOS cameras.

Also new are Camera Lens Blur, to control which parts of a scene are in focus, and Light Falloff, to manage how light behaves in a 3D scene.

There is also full OMF, AAF and XML import and export in After Effects and Premiere, and Adobe has improved the Mercury 64-bit playback engine, which now supports a wider range of nVidia CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture) graphics cards, with more effects running natively on CUDA. It has also enhanced its offerings for Red (with Redcine now supported), and added support for Canon's XF format, including the ability to view spanned clips. In After Effects, users can now import CinemaDNG files and export XDCAM-EX footage.

Metadata created in Adobe Story, its online service for collaborative script writing, can be carried all the way through production, and using Premiere's speech-to-text abilities, can be aligned with the video, so you can edit using the script. There is tight integration between the applications, allowing users to move projects easily between Premiere and other editing tools, and iterate quickly thanks to Dynamic Link between After Effects, Premiere, and Encore (for DVD and Blu-ray authoring).

The Media Encoder has been improved to make it easier to use, and to do renders in the background, taking advantage of multiple CPU cores. It supports a wide range of output formats, including FLV, F4V, Windows Media, QuickTime, and other popular codecs such as MPEG-2, MPEG-4, H.264, and (new for CS5.5) AVC-Intra and DPX.

For users creating video or web pages for mobile devices, an enhanced Design Central allows them to test any content on different devices, without having to own them, including how it looks when you rotate the device.

Adobe will also be introducing a new way of paying for the Creative Suite, using subscriptions, which should make it easier and cheaper to add temporary licences for freelancers and one-off projects, although more expensive than buying the package if you require it full time.

Related post: Apple reveals Final Cut Pro X

By David Fox

April 11, 2011

Sony enhances 3D + PMW- F3

Sony has announced new enhancements for its PMW-F3 Super 35mm camcorder, including 3D-Link capability, options for RGB 4:4:4 and S-LOG output and a wide angle, high power zoom lens.

The 3D-Link option (CBK-3DL01) will be available later this year via a firmware upgrade and 10-pin cable connection. This link is designed to provide synchronous remote command between two F3s using only one remote controller, with Genlock, timecode and camera control. Recording can be started and stopped by remote control. The PMW-F3 will be able to be used in any 3D rig that can support the camera’s size.

RGB4:4:4 and S-LOG output capabilities are available through the CBK-RGB01, which also enables Dual-Link/3G-SDI switchable functionality. It comes pre-loaded with four LUTs and five user LUTs for monitoring in S-LOG mode, and also has a planning meta function.

Two new lenses will be available for the PMW-F3: the SCL-P11X15 PL mount wide angle 1.5x zoom with a focal length range of 11-16mm and a speed of T3.0; and the SCL-Z18X140 FZ mount high power 14x zoom, with a focal length range of 18-252mm and a speed of T3.8.

The F3 is XDCAM EX-based, recording to SxS cards. Its Super 35mm CMOS imager delivers shallow depth of field, with high sensitivity and low noise levels (ISO 800, T11; and S/N ratio of 63dB in 1920x1080/59.94i mode), as well as wide dynamic range.

3D enhancements

Other additions to Sony’s 3D range include new application software for the MPE-200 3D processor box, which allows real time analysis and correction of stereoscopic 3D signals. The new MVS-7000X multi-format production switcher is capable of 3Gbps single-link operation suitable for live 3D production requirements. Sony's newly introduced SRMemory offers high-speed, high capacity recording media useful for 3D file-based production.

The MPES-3D01 3D software suite for the MPE-200 allows automatic and manual correction of images, which can "dramatically save on configuration time". There is also MPES-2D3D1 software for converting 2D into stereoscopic 3D, using Sony’s unique algorithm. Also, new 3D quality control software can perform real-time analysis of binocular disparity between left and right images, helping to overcome distortion issues that can make 3D viewing uncomfortable.

When shooting on location, production switchers are an essential component of creating high-quality, compelling 3D content. Following on from the high-end, Sony has developed the MVS-7000X, which has 80 inputs and 48 output, ideal for medium-scale 3D productions. Both products are compatible with a 3G single-link operation which together with optional 3D utility software can help to simplify the set-up of 3D Productions. The new MCS-8M and DFS-900M switchers can also be used for smaller 3D events through a software upgrade.

The MVS-7000X switcher has 80 inputs and 48 outputs, making it suitable for medium-scale 3D productions. Both it and the existing 200-input/100-output MVS-8000X are compatible with a 3G single-link operation which, together with optional 3D utility software, can help to simplify the set-up of 3D productions. The new MCS-8M and DFS-900M switchers can also be used for smaller 3D events through a software upgrade.

At NAB, Sony also introduced the SR-R1000 storage unit, the first memory-based studio deck from the SRMaster product family. The SR-R1000 has four slots for SRMemory cards, which can record at sustained data rates up to 5Gbps. It can be configured with up to four input/output ports, each of which can handle a 3D feed. Simultaneous recording and playback of multiple-streams from a single SR-R1000 makes it useful for studio, live and post production applications. Sony also launched the SR-R1 SRMaster portable recorder, which is useful for small-scale 3D productions.

Related post: Sony TD300 XDCAM 3D camcorderSR Memory lets Sony go beyond HD and Sony PMW-F3: Budget filmmaking?

By David Fox

Sony HXR-NX3D1 3D camcorder

Sony has launched a new compact, lightweight all-in-one 3D camcorder, the HXR-NX3D1, which is claimed to be exceptionally simple to operate, requiring just a simple adjustment of left-right disparity for each scene.

The NX3D1 has twin Sony G Lenses and 1/4-inch Exmor R CMOS sensors that can record Double Full HD 3D content into a single file. A 3.5-inch autostereoscopic LCD panel allows users to view content in 3D without glasses - it can display 2D, left/right or composite images.

It also has a 10x F1.8-F3.4 optical zoom (34.4-344mm - it is 12x, 29.8-357.6mm, in 2D), Optical SteadyShot with Active Mode, 96GB internal memory (enough for 7.5 hours of 3D - at 28Mbps), plus a card slot for SD or Memory Stick cards, and supports two-channel 16-bit 48kHz Linear PCM audio. It can record 1080i 60/50 or 1080p 24 in 3D and 1080p 60/50/30/24 or 1080i 60/50 in 2D.

The inter-axial distance is 31mm. Disparity adjustment can be performed to change the read-out areas of the left and right CMOS sensors so that they are closer together or further apart. This lets users control perceived 3D depth. Disparity adjustment is also possible during shooting using the manual dial. Moving a region of interest closer to the virtual screen enables shooting of comfortable 3D images with the desired feeling of depth. When capturing 3D, the minimum shooting distance is 80cm (at the wide-angle setting).

Output from its HDMI port to a 3D TV is selectable between frame packing with full HD output of alternate left and right images and side-by-side with output of horizontally compressed left and right images packed into a single frame.

It has a detachable handle with a built-in two-input XLR adaptor with selectable Phantom power and comes with an ECM-XM1 shotgun microphone.

It records using Multi-View Coding (MVC) to record left and right channel clips as a single file. These can be edited natively in Sony Vegas Pro 10.0d, without the need for time-consuming pairing. It should also be possible to convert MVC to the Cineform codec using the Cineform's Neo3D/NeoHD as a plug-in for 3D editing on the main non-linear editing systems. The supplied Content Management Utility 2.1 software also enables conversion of MVC video files to 2D AVC files with independent left and right channels.

If you record on the internal memory, the camera can also copy material directly to an external hard disk drive without the need for a computer, and can also access videos stored on the external drive for playback on a 3D HDTV.

The camera weighs about 745g, including battery (or 1,150g with lens hood, battery and microphone with XLR unit). The NP-FV70 battery should last about 190min for HD or 140min for 3D.

It comes with an AC adaptor, rechargeable battery pack, microphone, wind screen, XLR adaptor, lens hood, USB cable (mini-B), component A/V cable, A/V connecting cable, USB adaptor cable (for external HDD), Wireless Remote Commander, HDMI cable (typeC), and application software (CD-ROM).

Related post: Sony + JVC low-cost 3D camcorders

By David Fox