Panasonic unveiled its P2 strategy for the new year today by announcing the AG-HPX500 – a new 2/3-inch 3-CCD shoulder-mounted HD camcorder that takes interchangeable lenses and offers 11 variable frame rates ranging between 12 and 60 fps. The camera ships in May and sells for $14,000, including viewfinder. And the company’s solid-state P2 recording technology is set to take a big step forward, jumping in May from a maximum of 8 GB to a much more attractive 16 GB on a single card.
A Key Camera and 'P2 Gear'
The HPX500′s pricing is aggressive for a 2/3-inch camcorder, and Panasonic Broadcast officials called it the company’s “key product” for 2007. The CCDs are a new version of the sensor used in the SDX900, with Panasonic’s spatial-offset technology bringing the resolution to HD. Naturally, it can shoot a raft of formats: 1080/60i, 50i, 30p, 25p and 24p; 720/60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, and 24p; and DVCPRO50, DVCPRO and DV. It has eight gamma modes, a chromatic-aberration compensation function, and sports four XLR audio inputs.
The new camera is complemented in the field by the AG-HPG10, a new rugged portable (two pounds, battery-powered, with a 3.5-inch 4×3 screen) P2 HD player/recorder, the P2 Gear. It has IEEE 1394 and USB 2.0 connectivity, making it an especially versatile tool for transferring content or acting as a back-up recorder. It ships in August for $3995.
Plenty of Time For P2?
“The idea of not having enough [recording] time in the camera goes away with these products,” said Joe Facchini, director of product marketing for Panasonic Broadcast, referring to the new roadmap for P2 media capacity. P2 users who have been getting restless over the delayed introduction of 16 GB P2 cards (which were originally tipped for delivery in 2006) will be heartened to hear that the cards are finally slated to begin shipping in May. They will work immediately with the HPX500 and the AG-HVX200, but other P2 products will require free software upgrades to handle the new, higher-capacity cards. The AJ-HPX2000, for instance, won’t be upgradeable to handle 16 GB cards until August – but when that happens, it will be able to record up to 80 minutes of full-frame-rate DVCPRO HD content to cards in its five P2 slots.
If that’s not enough solid-state recording for you, Panasonic vowed to deliver a 32 GB P2 card, again doubling capacity, by year’s end. Combined with the new, super-efficient AVC-Intra codec (an intraframe codec for professional applications, representing a step up from the consumer-oriented AVCHD long-GOP format), which isn’t ready for prime time but should become attractive once third-party NLE support is firmed up, P2 shooters will soon have an awful lot of ways to balance quality against capacity. “They want media-less cameras,” said Facchini when asked about the needs of P2 videographers in the field – for instance, the six camera crews that are slated to cover the upcoming Iditarod dog race with the existing generation of 8 GB P2 cards. “Their ideal workflow would be to put 32 GB cards in a camera and close the door and bolt it shut. And you could almost do that with 32 GB cards.”
“If you think about the AJ-HDX900, which we introduced last summer, it records 30 minutes on tape – and this is a typical HD camera,” said Panasonic Broadcast VP of Marketing Robert Harris. “You far exceed that recording capacity with the existing four card slots on the HPX500 or five card slots on the HPX2000. So this year recording time really isn’t an issue anymore.”
Another Camera, and an LCD Monitor/Viewfinder
In other camera news, Panasonic announced the AK-HC3500, a 2/3-inch, 2.2-megapixel 3-CCD HD camera for studio and EFP applications. The camera’s low-profile design borrows features from the VariCam, and the native-1080i sensors use single-channel transfer CCDs and spatial-offset to generate a particularly high-resolution image (1100 horizontal lines). Officials also highlighted the camera’s new 38-bit digital signal processor. It’s slated for a late summer shipment, with a price TBA.
And the BT-LH80W is a nifty hybrid – a standalone 7.9-inch HD/SD LCD monitor that’s also designed to work as a camera viewfinder (for Panasonic cams and others). It boasts focus-assist capabilities, including a pixel-to-pixel matching function that lets you zoom in to see a portion of your HD image mapped precisely to the screen’s 800×450 resolution. It’s slated to ship in July for less than $3,000.