Panasonic Plans for 2K, 4K and More with AVC Ultra
Panasonic announced a new, shoulder-mount camcorder, the AG-HPX600, this afternoon. Company officials called it "future proof" because recording with new AVC Ultra master-quality codecs will become an option sometime in 2013, as will the use of a new, highly efficient proxy format. The lightweight camera — it weighs less than seven pounds — will ship sometime this fall for an expected list price of less than $16,000.
Panasonic isn't rushing to get a "4K-ready" camera to market. Instead, it's getting its ducks in a row, managing workflow possibilities for its users before rolling out those products. Panasonic's pre-NAB press briefing made it clear that the company is preparing to move decisively into high-resolution workflows, detailing a slew of new codecs within the expanded AVC-Intra family that will come online in 2013.
Panasonic's business development manager, Michael Bergeron, ascended briefly to rock-star status when someone off-stage casually handed him a 4K VariCam to show the crowd (it's pictured at the top of this story). An audible gasp rippled through the room. The reason this story didn't lead with that camera is that it's basically vaporware — you'll be able to see the concept under glass at the Panasonic booth, but the company wasn't even willing to venture a "coming in 2013."
The Many Flavors of AVC Ultra
The strategy for 2K and 4K workflows revolves around real-time mezzanine compression, with a "super-efficient unified proxy" format standing in for the high-res camera original to make 4K "attainable" for new applications, Bergeron said. Here's how it breaks down.
The "AVC Intra" codec contains two familiar classes. Class 50 and Class 100 are the existing 50Mbps and 100Mbps variants of the intraframe-only compression system, and Class 50 has been expanded to support 1080/60p. The newcomer here, Class 200, will be a visually lossless codec supporting 720p, 1080i, and 1080/24p and 1080/60p. Bergeron said Class 200 would be suitable for ingesting tape-based media with no visible quality loss.
The new Class 444, aka AVC Intra444, is a 12-bit codec geared toward 1080p, 2K, and 4K media. It will be carrying 4K footage at about 400 Mbps in the Panasonic booth during the show.
AVC LongG is a 10-bit 4:2:2 codec that produces footage of a similar quality to MPEG-2 at about half the bit rate.
AVC Proxy, which scales from 800 kbps to 3.5 Mbps, depending on the bandwidth available, is geared toward cloud-based production — and probably those same news shooters Avid is targeting with its Interplay Sphere edit-anywhere system. At the highest quality level, AVC Proxy will carry an uncompressed audio signal.
Getting it in the Can
It's been nine years since the P2 solid-state recording format was first introduced at NAB, so you might expect it's due for an overhaul. Panasonic obliged today, announcing the new SD-card-sized Micro P2, due next spring in 64 GB and 32 GB versions. It will support AVC Ultra recording, and an adapter will be available to enable compatibility with existing hardware. Not all existing P2 gear will support the adapter, and the products that do will require a paid firmware update to enable it.
Panasonic says the new design should enable higher-speed, lower-cost media — and you can even use a high-quality standard SD card in a pinch (at bit rates up to 50 Mbps).
But don't expect that 4K VariCam to record beautiful high-res imagery to a single tiny P2 card. According to a Tumblr blog authored by Kunihiko Miyagi, director of pro video for Panasonic, it will record to "a small recording pack that harnesses AVC-Intra444 to its full capability." When we see Panasonic on the show floor later this week, we'll try to figure out if that recording pack is full of Micro P2 cards or something else.
In other news from Panasonic, the AG-AF100 camera is getting a software upgrade that enables 1080/60p and 50p recording in PS mode and puts 2.39:1 markings on the viewfinder (that's the standard exhibition ratio for widescreen or 'scope cinematography). The AG-SFU100 upgrade is due in May for $250.