What Format will come out on top !

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Once again Beta v VHS has raised it’s ugly head …this time it’s solid state…P2 v SxS. HD is now catching on in broadcast land and the BBC are specifying more programmes must be shot in HD now that’s fine, the BBC as usual are playing catch up with the independent producers like myself who have been producing HD programmes for over two years now.

The main criteria for all broadcast HD work is 4:2:2 50Mbs minimum spec. camcorders like the new Canon XF305. Canon have caught many other manufacturers snoozing with their astute marketing plan, these camcorders are game changers and the BBC are in the process of buying well over fifty of these Canon camcorders alone.

The Canon’s will be good for fly on the wall, inserts into children’s programmes etc. but most serious DPs are not going to give this camcorder a second glance…so whats the options ?

Surprisingly, there seems to be a two horse race between Sony and Panasonic, both vying for the coveted broadcast market. We have two formats in the running…Panasonic P2 or Sony SxS. Once again Sony have been sleeping and have lost a lot of ground to Panasonic recently with Sky adopting P2 as their main solid state ingest for filming and editing. Taggert made by Scottish Television has recently moved over to P2 leaving the BBC with no clear road other than the new Canon camcorders.

Is it good to pin yourself to one format…good question and one as an independent producer I have already taken, SxS is my preferred option for one main reason…it’s far more flexible. I do not want a format that solely relies on P2 cards nor do I rely on SxS cards because Sony unwittingly allowed an independent producer of card adapters to produce the MxM card adapter (Now the MxR card) that takes easy to source SDHC cards.

You can always source SDHC cards but try getting P2 or SxS cards in the middle of Africa…not only that but SDHC cards are now so cheap you can use them as archive…everything you film on P2 has to be archived onto a server simply because you need the cards back in the pool for the next days shoot.

So why has Panasonic scored so big with Sky Television, Sky had to make a choice and to be fair Panasonic had a ready made 2/3″ solution with the now dated HPX500 camcorders and P2 players, Sony put a lot of time and effort into the optical disc which was not as popular as solid state.

Sony once again have come to the starting line with a product to knock your socks off the PMW-500 but it’s a few month too late, the 4:2:2 50Mbs SxS camcorder has all the right broadcast qualifications but the price is prohibitive at £20K plus lens and viewfinder. I have no doubt that if Sony had the PMW-500 twelve months ago Sky may not have gone P2.

During IBC 2010 in Amsterdam Panasonic announced the HPX3100 2/3″ P2 camcorder which is a tad less than Sony’s £20K and also less spec than the PMW-500 but it’s down to brass tacks these days and in the broadcast world every penny counts.

How does this help the independent producer who has HD programming to produce next year let alone the DPs who have to kit themselves out…well take a tip from me, wait a couple of months…Sony have come to the race late but I think we shall see some aggressive marketing and if I were Sony I would reduce the price of the 500 down to £16K with a viewfinder…let the DPs determine the future of solid state, if enough DPs buy into one format people like the BBC will have no option but to adopt the favoured independent HD format.

Speaking to a few DPs over the last two days we all came to the definitive answer and that is for the edit houses to make sure they can accommodate all card inputs from CF, SDHC to SxS and P2, one company supplies a unit that takes the most common cards used today including P2 and SxS…that’s the Qio MR from Sonnet.

Key Features

Replaces Multiple Card Readers—Comprehensive card compatibility with support for Sony® SxS™, CompactFlash®, Panasonic® P2, and SDXC™ cards (with included adapter)
Fast—Uses PCI Express® bus interface to deliver far superior performance over ordinary internal card readers with USB interface; aggregate bandwidth of 200 MB/sec.
Versatile—Supports a wide variety of ExpressCard®/34 and CardBus adapter cards, including Gigabit Ethernet, WiFi, USB, FireWire®, and more
Built-In SATA Connections—Integrated, fast SATA host controller based on Tempo™ SATA E4P with four eSATA ports supports SATA drive enclosures with up to 20 drives total

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