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New Sony Solid-State HD Products at NAB 2008

Sony continue to go full steam ahead with their professional XDCAM EX SxS solid-state recording system.

To open a high-resolution 1920 pixel version of the photo below in a separate window, simply click on it.

PMW-EX3 Solid-State Interchangeable Lens HD Camcorder
sony pmw-ex3 Well it would appear that there is simply no stopping Sony. Just a few short months ago they launched themselves into the solid-state HD camcorder market with the PMW- EX1. The EX1 has proved to be a formidable smash hit, so much so that Sony’s production line is struggling to keep up with demand.

Sony have just announced (NAB April 2008) something even more spectacular; say hello to the all-new PMW-EX3. The EX3 is basically an EX1, but with the option of interchangeable lenses. There are of course a few other slight differences, which I will come to later.

You’ll notice by the pictures that the EX3 is notably larger than the EX1; it is in fact what Sony refer to as a “semi shoulder-mounted” camcorder. At first glance the EX3 has a vague resemblance to Canon’s famous XL series camcorder, namely the XL H1; but that’s where the similarity ends. The EX3 takes half-inch interchangeable lenses, but with a different mount to that found on Sony’s professional half-inch shoulder-mount XDCAM HD camcorders. Having said that, the EX3 will ship with an included adapter to allow use of standard half-inch lenses (such as those currently used on Sony’s XDCAM HD full size camcorders such as the F330, F350, F335, and F355) to be used; standard B4 mount. And better still, this adapter incorporates the hot shoe contacts like those found on the dedicated Fujinon half-inch XDCAM HD lenses. This will allow information to be passed from the camcorder to the lens, e.g. exposure control. For use in a studio configuration the RM-B150/B750 remote controllers will adjust basic camera parameters such as gain, iris, white balance, pedestal, and gamma through the 8-pin remote connector on the PMW-EX3 camcorder. Why use a different half-inch mount, you might ask. In a nutshell it’s down to ergonomics and rigidity/strength. Due to the size and shape of the camcorder body, the lens mount had to be designed somewhat differently. Because the chips in the EX3 are half-inch there will be no change in focal length when using any other standard half-inch B4 mount lens from Canon and Fujinon. However, there will be a small increase in focal length when using standard 35mm film lenses.

To open a high-resolution 1920 pixel version of the photo below in a separate window, simply click on it.

The EX3 will ship with the same lens that is built into the EX1, with the main obvious difference being an interchangeable version. Sony have also decided to add an optical image stabilizer button on the lens, as opposed to in the menus like that of the EX1.

Another small difference (though to me, personally, this is a very big deal indeed) between the new EX3 and its smaller sibling the EX1, is the addition of a framerate dial set on the side of the EX3’s body. Before all you Super-16mm filmmakers start asking “Can I now do Varicam-style frame-ramping during a shot?” I’m afraid the answer is no, it only works when out of record mode. Sony have simply moved the over/under-cranking feature out of the menus and onto the body itself by means of manual push/dial; right where it should be. This new external Framerate button lights up with a cool blue ring-light around the outside when pushed in for 3 seconds, so you know you are in Framerate mode. Push again and hold in for a further 3 seconds to turn off. For me personally, this is the best thing Sony could have done. If you use over/under-cranking as often as I do you will appreciate the convenience of being able to push this button and dial in the framerate without having to scroll through the menus; thank you Mr Sony!

Like the EX1, the new EX3 records to exactly the same format i.e. three half-inch 1920x1080 CMOS HD chips at a variable bit rate of 35mbps. Similarly the EX3 also has two SxS card slots.

The next thing you’ll notice about the EX3 is what appears to be the biggest viewfinder you ever saw; allow me to explain. What you are seeing is basically the same fold-out LCD screen found on the EX1, only Sony have stuck a huge magnified eye piece on the front of it. Personally, I think this is a great idea as the LCD screen on the EX1 is quite simply the best on the planet. The same can’t be said of the viewfinder found on the EX1, with its rather questionable image quality; and that’s putting it nicely. Sony have decided to throw this viewfinder away (good choice) and turn the LCD screen into the ultimate high-definition viewfinder; eat your heart out Canon XL H1.

To open a high-resolution 1920 pixel version of the photo below in a separate window, simply click on it.

The EX3 also sports an ingenious fold-out shoulder-mount system. Though this does not balance the camera on the shoulder like a conventional full size shoulder-mounted camcorder, it is more akin to that of a shoulder support system hence the EX3 is somewhat front-heavy during hand-held/shoulder use. Not too dissimilar to that of Canon’s XL H1.

The EX3 is not available body only, it comes with a standard lens similar to that found on the EX1. However, Fujinon are also bringing out a dedicated EX3 wide-angle lens.

sony pmw-ex3 lens It could be argued that the EX3 is what the EX1 should have been, but this is not the case. The EX3 is aimed at a different market altogether. Corporate video producers and wedding videographers will be more than happy with the built in lens of the EX1, and its focal range capabilities. Hence they could put that money they save to buying a tripod and lighting kit etc. Independent filmmakers and wildlife videographers will prefer the EX3 and its interchangeable lens options, especially with 35mm adapters from the likes of Letus for example (whom I’ve been informed are making an adapter to fit directly into the EX3’s body), allowing the use of 35mm stills lenses for that film depth-of-field film-look. Wildlife videographers, on the other hand, will appreciate being able to fit telephoto lenses to film that far away leopard for example. EX1 is not redundant or deleted, far from it. EX3 is a different camcorder altogether, not a replacement. Think BMW 3-series and BMW 5-series, different size cars for different people's requirements. The EX3 is an addition to the EX family; expect a smaller (A1 size) camcorder to appear too. And finally, why EX3 and not EX2? simple, Sony don't do even numbers.

Apart from the semi-shoulder shape design, interchangeable lenses, new superb viewfinder design and variable frame-rate dial on the outside, there are a few other little differences also.

sony sxs The audio dials have a plastic door cover, which prevents accidental change in audio levels. Other features over the EX1 include professional BNC connectors for timecode in/out and Genlock in, as well as the usual HD/SDI out. There is also a remote lens socket for studio operation, this controls many features of the lens such as exposure and white balance etc. The rear end of the EX3 looks much more professional due to all these BNC connectors, as opposed to the rather bland rear end of the EX1. Other connectors have been moved to the side of the camera. The SEL/SET push/dial and the CANCEL button have been moved from the back and put in a more convenient place on the left side. The PICTURE PROFILE and CAMERA/OFF/MEDIA buttons have also been moved from the rear end of the camera to the left side. With the STATUS and MENU button also along this same row on the left side, all related buttons/dials are now on the same side of the camera making operation less fiddly than the EX1.

On the right side of the EX3 we now have a BNC MONITOR OUT, an S-video output connector and phono outputs for AUDIO OUT CH-1 and CH-2, as well as a COMPONENT OUT and USB; the latter is now very easy to get to, unlike the EX1, which requires some rather awkward fiddling around under the hand grip. The Audio select inputs and audio level dials on the side of the camera also gives the EX3 a more professional feel. This makes the EX3 the most versatile HD camcorder in its class.

There is also an additional hotshoe adaptor to the rear of the handle of the EX3, as well as the one on top of the built in stereo mic. The rear one is designd for the PHU-60K SxS Professional 60GB HardDisc Recorder. While I’m talking about the PHU-60K hard disc recorder, I’ll also mention that the SxS card door works in a slightly different way to the one on the EX1. To open it you have to push it up a few millimeters, then open it out like a door on hinges; as opposed to the slide-only door on the EX1. This has been designed with the PHU-60K in mind.

The on/off switch is the same fiddly type as on the EX1, still very fiddly and it is hard to nock it into media mode when turning the camera off. Same for the ND filter switch, which is just as imprecise as before making it difficult to select NDs number 1 (middle position). Shame they weren’t improved upon for the EX3.

The SxS card slot is slightly different now as it opens in a slightly different way, there is also a 'gutter' at the top to allow the cable to run out when using the new PHU-60K 60GB hard drive, which attaches to the camera via the back (slot B) SxS slot instead of the unreliable FireWire method. EX1 owners will know there is no gutter for the cable, so I'd recommend putting the lead into the back slot (slot B) and closing the sliding door back until it buts up against it, at least this will leave majority of the internals protected from the elements as slot A will be protected by the sliding door, and slot B will be protected by the inserted card/end of the lead. Finally, a small plastic cover now covers the audio pots so you won't accidently move them anymore.

The tentative recommended retail price of the EX3 will be £5995 inc. vat. This is approximately £1500 more than the EX1.

The PMW-EX3 is due to ship in July for a tentative list price of £5995.

sony pmw-ex30 Sony have also added a professional deck to the XDCAM EX family of products. The PMW-EX30 is a full size professional deck with two slots on the front for SxS cards. Unlike the EX1 and EX3 camcorders, the PMW-EX30 deck has a built-in DV down-convert feature. This means your high-definition footage can be converted to standard-definition directly from the deck and into your edit suite via FireWire. When using USB2 the deck acts as a card reader/writer.

In operation mode the EX30 is not too dissimilar to the EX1 or EX3 camcorders in the way it works e.g. thumbnail menu system. This deck also has an input so it can also record, from an HD/SDI source camera for example or Edicast HD recording. You can also dump clips from one card to another. The LCD display is 3.5 inches. Power is by means of DC operation, which means that it can be powered using V-lock batteries using a Hawk-Woods adapter. Other features include a HD/SDI input, which will be useful for in-car or helicopter recording. This can also be used to feed a non-linear system. The deck also has an HDMI output, useful for hooking up directly to your HD LCD television set.

To open a high-resolution 1920 pixel version of the photo below in a separate window, simply click on it.

The PMW-EX30 is due to ship in July for a tentative price of £3000

PHU-60K SxS Professional 60GB HardDisc Recorder
sony phu-60k Although Sony has 8 and 16GB SxS cards, and the new 32GB card, there is still a need for a device that allows longer, continuous recording times. Sony has recognised this fact, so they are adding yet another device to the XDCAM EX family of products, by means of a new professional hard-disc recorder. This hard-drive recording device can also be used to back up your SxS cards in the field without the need for a laptop. The capacity of the PHU-60K is 60GB; hence the name. The key difference between this device and other similar hard-drive recorders is that PHU-60K connects directly to the EX1 or EX3 camcorders via an SxS lead i.e. the lead comes directly out of the PHU-60K and directly into one of the SxS slots on the camcorder. This is far superior to the somewhat unreliable FireWire method (the FireWire lead can easily be pulled out accidentally during recording. FireWire is an IT connection method and in my opinion is not suitable for use in the field when connected to camcorders) used on other similar devices. The recording capacity of the PHU-60K is 200 minutes at full 1920x1080 HD 35mbps quality, or 260 minutes at 25mbps. These long recording times now put professional HD solid-state broadcast quality recording into the hands of even wedding videographers; not that anyone would want to broadcast a wedding. Long recording durations will also come in handy for those long drawn-out corporate speeches; yawn. Having said that, the hard drive should have been much bigger in my opinion i.e. 500GB as two 32GB cards will give you 64GB anyway, which is bigger; come on Sony.

When attached to a camcorder, the hard-disk unit functions just like an SxS PRO™ card, with thumbnail views available on the LCD panel of the PMW-EX1 or PMW-EX3 camcorders or PMW-EX30 deck. A new “dumping” system is being used to protect the HDD from a 1.5m height drop, and buffer memory is being used to allow recording immediately after powering on. Also, a salvage function enables restoration of content damaged by battery/cable disconnection or accidental powering down during recording.

A 3-D G sensor and the buffer memory allow for stable recording. When the G sensor detects that the unit is being dropped, the head of the HDD is immediately parked to protect the HDD. The content is temporarily stored in the buffer memory and then restored in the HDD when it is operating again.

Another useful feature is the ability to transfer footage directly from SxS cards to the PHU-60K. This is done by simply inserting a card into one slot and the PHU-60K into the other slot and doing an internal copy from A to B. Again, this makes fieldwork a breeze when it comes to archiving as there is no need for a laptop.

To open a high-resolution 1920 pixel version of the photo below in a separate window, simply click on it.

The PHU-60K can also be used as a stand alone hard-drive with your laptop or other computer editing system via the USB 2.0 interface. So it is possible to edit your productions directly from the PHU-60K. Also, when using the U30 (smallest battery) you can achieve 10 hours of operation. The PHU-60K mounts directly onto the back of the camera using the included bracketery.

The PHU-60K is due to ship in July for a tentative price of £750

sony sbp-32 SPB-32 32GB SxS card
Sony have also announced a 32GB SxS card to complement the currently available 8GB and 16GB cards. The 32GB card will store 100 minutes of full 1920x1080 high-definition footage recorded at the highest quality of 35mbps and 140 minutes of 1440x1080 video at 25Mbps. Two 32 GB SxS cards will give you a constant recording time of 4 hours in full 1920x1080 35mbps high quality HD mode. This is more than what most of us will ever need for an entire day’s shooting.

The SPB-32 is due to ship in September. Price to be announced.

Clip Browser version 2
sony vaio The current version of Clip Browser (1.1) does a perfectly good job, but the new version 2 has some phenomenal new features. The Clip Browser software will allow you to bring clips in to your edit system directly from the EX1 and EX3 camcorders, the PMW-EX30 deck, the PHU-60K hard-disc recorder, and of course Sony’s USB SxS card reader. You can also add meta-data in abundance. The new version 2 also has the ability to down-convert to standard definition within the software; a useful feature for those who don’t want to buy the PMW-EX30 deck. You can also “right click” and choose export to MXF, or export to DV. Version 2 of the Clip Browser software is available for both Mac and PC and will be available as a free download from the Sonybiz.net website when it becomes available later in 2008.

Clip Browser version 2 also allows direct import into AVID systems at full 35mbps in MXF format, something currently not available natively with AVID systems. Sony are also working with software plug-in company Main Concept, who are building some additional functionality for Clip Browser version 2. One such function will be the ability to take your 35mbps HD footage and using the Main Concept option you will be able to up-convert it to 50mbps in 4:2:2 colour space directly onto XDCAM HD Professional Optical Disc using the PDW-U1 USB Disc reader/writer. This is kind of a ‘transcoding’ process.

Another function of the Main Concept plug-in will allow you to take any clip from the Clip Browser and to export it as Windows Media, Apple QuickTime, PSP file, iPod file, and even YouTube files. This is a great way of saving video files for multi-media web purposes. No more need to learn the art of compression for the web; nice!

So, native SxS HD footage, DV out, AVID out, Transcode out, and a bunch of web/internet output options too.

blu-ray Clip Browser version 2 will be available in June as a free download from the Sonybiz.net website. Also the additional option modules from Main Concept will be available at the same time, but they will not be available from the Sony website, they will be a purchasable option from the Main Concept website.

Using Blu-Ray discs, it is easy to archive/back up the SxS MP4 files. In Clip Browser version 2, it is simply a case of dragging the native MP4 HD video files directly onto a Blu-Ray disc. Or if you are using Adobe Premiere, you can author a native HD DVD using Encore, then export it directly to Blu-Ray DVD for a native HD Blu-Ray DVD disc in full 35mbps.

XDCAM HD Professional Optical Disc
pdw-u1 If you own a PDW-U1 USB Optical Disc reader/writer, you will soon have some really super cool, and I do mean ‘SUPERCOOL’ writing options; Panasonic P2 users and Digital Stills Photographers read on. When the write capability is added to the U1 (imminently) it will be for standard XDCAM HD formats only i.e. 1440x1080 35mbps 4:2:0 and 1920x1080 50mbps 4:2:2. However, get ready for the supercool bit, later in 2008 Sony are going to release a further free firmware update for the U1 Optical Disc reader/writer that will allow you to back up and archive absolutely any type of file or folder your heart desires i.e. just like a conventional hard-drive or blank Blu-Ray disc. This is brilliant news not only for Sony XDCAM owner/users, who can store their native XDCAM HD and XDCAM EX MP4 files, but it is also brilliant news for Panasonic P2 owner/users, or anyone else who needs a cheap and reliable long-term back-up/archive solution. P2 owners for example can buy a PDW-U1 for £1595 and a bunch of blank 23GB or 50GB XDCAM HD Optical Discs from either Sony, TDK, Fuji or Maxell for approximately £15 each for the 23GB discs or £35 for the 50GB discs. You can then go ahead and drag/drop your P2 MXF HD video files directly onto Professional Optical Disc for safe future archiving (Sony’s Professional Optical Disc has a 50 year shelf life). Digital stills photographers can also use this method for archiving their digital photos, RAW, JPEG, or otherwise. This is a superior (and much safer) archiving solution than the somewhat questionable and risky use of standard computer hard-drives, which we all know can give up the ghost and die without notice.

sony xdcam disc Current XDCAM HD owner/users will already know that blank XDCAM discs have an allocated file space of 500MB. This 500MB (as you know) can be used for relevant production files such as Word scripts, photos, Photoshop files and other relevant files. Sony are basically bringing out a firmware update that will allow the entire disc to be mapped this way; as opposed to just 500MB, which is currently the case. To format the disc this way simply insert it into the U1 and it will be formatted automatically in a few seconds, just like the current formatting method when inserting a blank disc into an XDCAM HD camcorder.

So there it is, Sony has well and truly hit the professional solid-state HD market with a vengeance, making more noise than a Rhino in a glass Green House. The XDCAM EX range is now a true family of products consisting of two camcorders, a deck, an SxS USB card reader, 3 different capacity SxS cards in 8, 16 and 32GB, an SxS Hard Disc recording unit, superb free Clip Browser/Transfer software, and the U1 Optical Disc reader/writer for archiving. And it will only grow and get bigger from here.

UPDATE: 23rd May 2008.
This is a cut/paste from my number one contact at Sony UK.

It’s been a long wait, but officially ‘Discovery Channel’ in the US has given the XDCAM EX PMW-EX1 the all important ‘Silver status’.

This is the FIRST compact camcorder to be awarded this status meaning you can shoot 100% of your programme production with EX for supply to the HD channel. It’s a true indication of just how good this camera is!

We are still waiting written notification, but I think you’ll all agree this is great news!

Obviously with EX3 on the horizon with the same spec, this too will also meet this ‘Silver status’

Best regards,

For further details visit www.sonybiz.net/ex

©2008 Nigel Cooper

Date: 11-04-2008

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