Sony Roadmap

Sony Unveils SR 2.0 Roadmap. Article by Seth Emmons.

Sony’s event last night at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences Linwood Dunn Theater opened with Global Language Monitor’s 2008 word of the year, “Change.” As the word hung alone in the air for a few moments, I wondered what new products we were about to see from Sony. But, Rick Harding, Emcee, wanted to convey more than just a change in technology in this presentation called “SR 2.0”. Sort of like Global Language Monitor’s current favorite (or lament–a word and a number), “Web 2.0.”

As the event rolled on and new products were introduced, an underlying shift in Sony’s understanding of the market and the economics seemed to drive many of the developments. Along with highlights of technical specifications came talk about the return on investment that customers could expect. Each new item was either presented as a “future-proof” product or as a recommitment to their existing HDCAM SR format.

After due recognition of HDCAM SR as the industry standard for mastering, post production and, more recently, acquisition, Yasuhiko Mikami began by introducing SR Lite. With a 220 Mbps data transfer rate, Sony hopes that their new HDCAM SR compression will answer the call for a larger variety of video bit rates and faster workflow, as requested earlier by Sam Nicholson, ASC in a Q&A session with Harding.

This MPEG-4 format (in an MXF wrapper) will be available im Sony’s new SRW-5800/2 Recording Deck. The deck will also record and play back 4:4:4 material at twice real time. Not only does this increase the range and appeal of the format, but all of the new features will be available via a hardware upgrade on existing SRW-5800 decks, decreasing the investment needed by current owners to access the new features.

Before going beyond the world of tape, Mr. Mikami had another announcement to make. Sony plans to lower the price of HDCAM SR (Field) tape stock by up to 25%. This will come as welcome news to productions facing ever-shrinking budgets and post production houses. Fotokem’s Senior Vice President of Technology, Paul Chapman said in a dialog with Harding, “We have really embraced SR.” As proof he cited Fotokem’s current arsenal of 43 Sony SR decks.

Next came the announcement that many have been waiting for Sony to make. They are entering the arena of uncompressed, solid state storage, and they aren’t entering quietly. After introducing Sony’s SR Memory, Mr. Mikami reached into the breast pocket of his shirt and produced a silver, rectangular object smaller than an iPhone. He held it out toward an audience that registered appropriate surprise. We were looking at a 1TB solid state memory card with the equivalent of RAID 5 protection. To put this amount of storage in the proper context, the largest solid state card currently available for Sony’s PMW-EX1, EX3 and 350 cameras is a measly 32GB, yet can allow for up to 100 minutes of recording in HQ mode.

So what does 1TB of storage space mean? Mr. Mikami hinted at it when discussing the data transfer rate expected from SR Memory, a guaranteed 5Gbp/s. Sony calculates that the data size of a 4K RGB image (not Bayer Pattern) to be roughly 20GB. With a 4:1 compression that could be reduced to 5Gbp/s. Ah, I see.

Although some may see Sony as a late adopter of the technology, with the development of SR Memory, Sony appears to be positioning itself for the long haul in the world of solid state. They plan to bring SR Memory to market with the capability of recording not only HD, but 2K, 3D HD, and all the way up to 4K.

While 4K was mentioned in regards to the new media products, when it came time to talk cameras the spotlight was on the SRW-9000. Debuted at NAB 2009 and just beginning delivery in the US, the SRW-9000 combines a 2/3” 3 CCD 1920×1080 sensor camera directly with an internal HDCAM SR deck. This allows for all the functionality of an F23 with a docked SRW-1, including variable frame rate, speed ramping and RGB 4:4:4 capture, but in a familiar, and lighter, camcorder form factor.

After NAB, interest in the SRW-9000 was limited–because F35 camera packages began showing up on episodic television and feature film sets across the country. But with Sony’s proposed roadmap for the SRW-9000, that level of interest may increase dramatically. In order to prolong the lives of the cameras, their flexibility and their extended value to customers, Sony will be offering a series of upgrade possibilities. This also serves to address the industry’s request for a B camera or Steadicam cousin for the F35.

First, customers who purchase the 2/3” SRW-9000 will be able to upgrade to a Super 35mm sized CCD imager, like the F35. This is a one-time upgrade and imagers can not be swapped back and forth. Also, an upgrade is on the horizon to replace the internal tape deck with SR Memory hardware, allowing for solid state recording. SR Memory will also find its way into a unit to work with existing F23 and F35 cameras.

After the event I asked one Sony representative about the company’s support for 2K recording considering the fact that Sony has no announced plans for a 2K camera system. He replied that HDCAM SR’s support of 2K recording had been driven by market demand from users of other cameras that capture 2K or high images. When asked why such demand hasn’t prompted a 2K camera from Sony he had a simple answer, the ASC/PGA Camera Assessment. He believed that the 1920×1080 images produced by the F35 proved to be better than other cameras capturing at 2K and above, and why fix what isn’t broken?

This echoed earlier remarks from Curtis Clark, ASC and Chair of the ASC Technology Committee. Speaking as an individual and not as an ASC representative, Clark stated that the F35 has gone beyond the limits of colorspace and utilizes its great dynamic range to produce an impressive film look.

With these announcements and few hints of any surprises lurking around the corner, rental houses and owner-operators can now better calculate their return on investment from a single camera and better plan for their opportunity to upgrade either the sensor, or recording device, or both, or neither. This represents the first time that Sony has laid out such long-term plans for a single camera, which for many customers should be a welcome change.

More details on SRW-9000: click here

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