Panasonic Bets on U.L.T. for Better HD

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In the run-up to the
National Association of Broadcasters convention in
Las Vegas (April 10-15), Panasonic has just unveiled
a new, lower-cost camera it claims offers some significant improvements in high-definition
image quality. Equipped with a Fujinon 17x HD lens and a new 1/3-inch, full HD
2.2 Megapixel 3-MOS imager that utilizes what the company calls Ultra Luminance
Technology (ULT), Panasonic executive Robert Harris says that the P2
shoulder-mount camcorder AG-HPX370 offers 10-bit, 4:2:2 independent frame full
1920-by-180 resolution
AVC-Intra
recording. That means it is capable of producing high-definition images as good
or better than cameras with more expensive half-inch imagers. He talked about
the camera with HD Update contributor
George Winslow.

MCN: What does your
new camera, the AG-HPX370, illustrate about some of the trends in high
definition cameras as we move into NAB?

Robert Harris

Robert Harris: Certainly,
there is less money out there. The days of selling a lot of $30,000 camcorders
are probably waning. The sweet spot seems to be around $10 grand and we've hit
that with this camera, which includes a lens.

HD is obviously very big and everyone seems to want a 2.2 Megapixel
imager. But in order to get the costs down, all the manufacturers are moving to
MOS imagers. With them, you get some power efficiencies and cost efficiencies.

But the big thing for us was coming up with a way to provide
a really excellent quality MOS imager. With the new U.L.T. imager that we've
developed for this camera, we are getting the performance of the 1/2-inch or
better in a 1/3-inch imager.

Plus, we continue to address some of the issues with the MOS
imagers and we've integrated flash band compensation technology into it.

So we are getting really, really good images, full-HD
resolution images. And, of course, it also has the advantages of AVC-Intra and
all the advances that are being made there.

AVC-Intra is certainly
catching on, not only on the high end but also with our AVCCAM lineup we
introduced a couple of years ago. In fact, we noticed that Sony has introduced
a couple of AVC camcorders and a lot of the
manufacturers are supporting AVC natively.

So, AVC-Intra is being very well supported and has the
advantage offering users very, very high quality but better bandwidth.

We were first out there with solid state file-based workflow
and now, of course, everyone has adopted that. We now sell our 64-Gigabyte P2
cards at under $1,000 with very, very high transfer rates and we've introduced
a couple of new things.

Everyone's been saying "give us a cheaper drive that will
work with Mac or a PC" so we just introduced a single slot P2 card drive [the
AJ-PCD2.] With 64 Gigabytes, on a card a lot of people really don't need five
slots.

We've also come out with the AG-MSU10 P2 Media Storage Unit,
which has a P2 slot and a removable solid state drive. So you can just simply
shoot and put the P2 cards in it. It sucks up all the data at about 4x and aggregates
that on solid state hard drive. Then you can take it home instead of taking a
bag of cards.

I think a lot of the issues with solid state file-based work
are being resolved. You're getting better stuff, more affordably. It is really
riding on the coattails of higher capacity and lower cost of solid state
technology.

MCN: What kind of
advances have you made with the MOS imager in the camera?

RH: The AG-HPX370
has what we call Ultra Luminance Technology, ULT. Basically, we put in a technology
that has ultra low noise level so you can get much higher sensitivity with
better performance. And we're making that available at a very good price, so
there is a cost advantage as well. This is a camera that I think really kind of
leapfrogs everyone at this point.

MCN: In February, you started taking orders
for your first 3D camcorder, the AG-3DA1. What kind of demand are you seeing
for that?

RH: We are still
planning to ship the camcorders, the 3D production monitor and the new mixer
that is capable of doing 3D switching in the September timeframe. When we
announced we were going to start taking orders, we didn't expect a huge number
of orders until we got to NAB, where
everyone could touch and feel it and get all final specs.

But we've been surprised at number of orders we have gotten ...
There have also been a lot of announcements by carriers [for the launch of 3D
channels and services] and everyone is scrambling to get out and make some
content. So we are hearing from a lot of production companies.

There is interest not only in the integrated camcorder but also
in many of our box cameras and other cameras that are used in 3D rigs.

With the success of [theatrical film] Avatar and the success of [Tim Burton's] Alice [In Wonderland], the
momentum for 3D is clearly on. I think that people are accepting it and
certainly the production community is scrambling to make certain they have the
capability to do 3D, which has impact on rental and everything else. This is a
very good thing for the industry.

MCN: In the run-up to
NAB, what are some of the biggest challenges you face?

RH: It is always
a challenge when you had been selling $100,000 decks and then you can get similar
quality for $5,000.

So the challenge is what do you do when the market for the $30,000
camcorder is not so great? You have to figure out how you can add value. What
are some of the solutions you can offer at lower cost and reach a lot more
people?

Certainly, HD has been around the broadcast and production
services markets for a while. But another good opportunity is in the
institutional markets -- the government market, higher education, the churches
and the commercial market. Many of those institutions have not adopted HD. That
makes them a new market, a whole new opportunity, that we are seeing now.

MCN: How do you see
the religious market, which has been a bright spot in recent years?

RH: The religious
market is still pretty good, although with unemployment over 9%, donations are
down. With the support that churches have to provide to the public and
parishioners, some of the dollars allocated to the evangelism efforts may be
held off. So, personally, I don't expect lots and lots of growth this year.

But in a year we may start to see that recover.

Right now, I think the bright spot is higher education.
People are getting advanced degrees and job retaining and so on. I think it
will be a very strong area this year.

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