NAB 2011: Sony debuts integrated 3D camcorder

Japan: Sony’s NAB stand will feature some new 3D products that will expand the arsenal of options for sports broadcasters, networks, and remote production facility providers looking for more cost-effective and simple solutions to the challenges of the format. Top of the list is the company’s inaugural single-bodied 3D camcorder.

The new shoulder-mount 3D camcorder has dual lenses and packs two cameras into one camera body. With the help of six half-inch CMOS sensors (three each in the right and left eye camera), Sony says the camera will have the right balance between picture quality and having a compact body and users can expect full 1920/1080p performance.

Sony says that two cameras in one body will reduce the need for alignment of the left and right images. And a short inter axial distance of 45 millimeters allows for objects to be shot in 3D when they are as close as 1.2 meters from the camera.

The recording format is XDCAM EX 4:2:0 as well as SxS cards, with two slots for both the left and right signal. That means that there is the potential for six hours of seamless 3D recording with the use of four 64GB cards. The SxS cards can also be used to make backup recordings for 2D operation.

A noteworthy feature of the camera is a new concept in manual controls as the large diameter of the dual lens system makes traditional control locations off limits. Rings nestled within each other are located on the left side of the camera with zoom controlled by the outside ring, focus by the next ring, and convergence by the inner ring. Iris control is located right next to the three manual controls and convergence controls are also adjusted easily via a dedicated control dial.

Sony’s NAB slate

The camera was among products presented by Shoji Nemoto, SVP/corporate executive/co-president, Sony Professional Solutions Group, who unveiled it and more at a special press event from Sony’s Atsugi Technology Center in Japan.

The introductions come in a content-creation and delivery environment facing many challenges and opportunities. While most of TV-station and broadcast-network revenue derives from HD and SD content, delivery of 3D and higher-resolution formats like 2K, 4K, and 8K promise compelling improvements to the viewing experience. Sony’s NAB intros are squarely focused on answering the challenges, creating opportunities, and lessening customer fears about future technologies.

“We introduced HD more than 10 years ago, and there was doubt that it would happen,” Nemoto says, “Today, there is some doubt as to the value of 4K, but we built that, and it has happened in the cinema market. And 3D for sports like golf and soccer is bringing value to our customers.”

3D options

After the NAB Show, Sony will offer six 3D-camera options: the shoulder camcorder is billed as is ideal for mid-distance shots on sidelines, interviews, or ENG; and a 3D Handycam will meet the needs of short-distance 3D shooting, such as goal cameras and broadcast booths.

The MPE-200 multi-image processor will also continue to play an important role for Sony’s 3D lineup. The cell-based processing unit loaded with the 3D Box application can electronically adjust camera angles, rig alignment, image shift, flip flop images, tilt, and tow the cameras in and out. Colour correction is also possible with the unit.

The MVS-8000X production switcher is also getting an enhancement courtesy of the X Frame, providing three mix effects in 1080p with four keyers in 1080p or eight keyers in 720p or 1080i. It also has 80 inputs and 48 outputs and a 3D utility menu that allows engineering to easily set up the input/output link between sources and even swap as needed. The X Frame also allows for 2D graphics to be converted to 3D by using a knob to dial disparity between a left and right image.

And for post production needs, a new 3D Quality Control system allows for realtime analysis and display of 3D parameters. The system looks for errors in four 3D parameters: depth analysis, alignment, colour histogram, and focus. A frame around the incoming video signal is green when all is well and turns red when there is an error. When errors occur the unit notes the timecode and type of error that occurred in an XML file, making it easier for post-production professionals to fix errors.

The company is also going to introduce a 42-inch passive display, designed to find a home in 3D production environments, like sports production trucks, where staffers need to look at multiple 3D monitors. Active monitors that sync with a single pair of glasses are not suitable for that application as it is impossible for staff to watch 3D images on multiple monitors simultaneously.

As for the role of 4K acquisition systems, Nemoto notes that current applications in security systems demonstrate how sports broadcasters could use 4K for current HD productions. “In security, they extract HD pictures out of the full 4K image. We can easily adapt it for 3D theater needs,” he says. “And, as we have scaled volume, there will be a price reduction of the total system, as we can focus resources and have redundancies in development.”

Last week, Panasonic pulled the covers off an archive system for the P2 format, and Sony is engaging in similar efforts for its tapeless format with an XDCAM Archive system that can store 800 hours at 50 Mbps but more than 85,000 hours of proxy video at 500 kbps. In addition, the database can control up to 85,000 hours of offline storage, and an XDCAM jukebox can be used as an online archive for importing and exporting to the archive storage system.

OLED monitors

The developments in OLED will first be seen in the Trimaster EL monitor line that currently comprises a 25-in. and a 17-in. model. The technology has many benefits, but one drawback is that the organic elements within the displays eventually die. Sony is looking to solve that problem.

“We need to add some circuit technology for uniformity control, and we are also aware of concerns about the life of OLED,” says Nemoto. “But we have some experience in prolonging the life of OLED technology and some in-house knowhow.”

A behavioural change

To access some external knowhow, Sony will be working more closely with third-party suppliers.

“We do not want to be proprietary but open to third parties,” says Nemoto. “We are not strong enough in the nonlinear-editing market, so we are open to disclosing our API, and that kind of behavior is a change for our team. But it is needed to deliver all of the value of our products for our customers.”

Key to those third-party developments is the Sony Media Backbone, a software-based system originally designed to help postproduction facilities and movie studios tie digital islands together and track workflows and task completion. Such companies as Amberfin, Avid, BBC Radiant Grid, IBM, and Cinergy have already signed on to be easily integrated within the Media Backbone, and other manufacturers are expected to sign on in the future.

Sony also has the ability to tap into equipment from manufacturers that do not officially sign on, as long as the required metadata content and APIs are available to be built into the Backbone.

In-house teamwork

Along with collaborating outside of the Sony brand will be collaboration inside. Nemoto says that a lot of Sony technologies will emerge out of a more collaborative effort with the company’s semiconductor and consumer groups.

“We want to leverage the consumer technologies and its value for this business as the digital-imaging group can bring some processes together,” he explains. Developments in OLED, battery, and core components can also be leveraged across the Sony companies.

By working more closely with the consumer-products group, the Professional Solutions Group can more easily justify investment in semiconductors, for example, because the same conductors can be used by both divisions. “We look to integrate the same semiconductor devices as much as possible,” Nemoto says.

“For our 2012 products,” he adds, “we will have more teamwork with the consumer group and not only in research and development but also marketing and sales development.”
More Sony NAB news: Sony Offers New Options to Sports-Video Producers on a Budget,

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