... And a Few Words About MPEG-2 and AVC-Intra
Even the viewfinder aims to please – at 1920×480, it packs a lot of pixels into a very small space.
The S270U is slated to ship in February for $10,500. That buys you a Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 12x zoom lens (32 to 384mm) and a 1/3-inch bayonet-type lens mount. With an adapter, the camera can also be used with 2/3-inch or ½-inch HD lenses, 12-pin ENG lenses, or even with the line-up of ÃŽÂ± (alpha) lenses for Sony’s new series of digital SLR cameras.
Like the EX, which is an XDCAM recorder that doesn’t record to XDCAM discs, the new S270U is an HDV recorder that doesn’t have to record to HDV tapes. Beyond capturing and recording images as 60i using 2:3 pulldown, the S270U’s native progressive recording mode lets it output 24p and 30p (25p on the European version) via iLink.
Other options to get your footage out of the camera include MiniDV and also standard-sized DV cassettes, which will hold 4.5 hours of HDV footage. A compact flash memory recording unit attaches to the side of the camera, and holds 72 minutes of HDV, DVCAM or DV footage on a 16 GB card. The camera will record simultaneously on tape and flash media; it can record HD to tape and SD to flash; or it can use a “relay mode” to seamlessly switch recording to the solid-state memory when a tape runs out.
Why is it a shoulder-mount camera? There’s still the obvious perception issue: a guy with a big camera on his shoulder looks more like a serious shooter to some people than the guy running around with the Handycam. But it also has to be a big piece of gear to support the oversized DV tapes. “In order to house that standard-sized cassette, this form factor was inevitable,” said Kurachi.
Panasonic’s professional products use AVC-Intra, an intraframe codec designed to avoid some of the problems associated with interframe, or “long-GOP” compression. However, the intraframe variety of codec is significantly less efficient than the interframe version. Ott claims that AVC-Intra running at 50 Mbps is “not even close” to the quality of long-GOP MPEG-2. Sony’s Juan Martinez, senior manager of technology for Sony Electronics showed slides that appeared to demonstrate a dramatic difference in quality between MPEG-2 and AVC-Intra over five generations. Of course, Panasonic’s demos cut the other way, showing high-quality AVC-Intra footage that dusted the MPEG-2-encoded competition.
Sony responds, in turn, by noting that most Blu-ray Discs are being encoded using MPEG-2 long-GOP compression even though AVC is an option, as is Microsoft’s VC1 format. “MPEG-2 is a mainstay” in the compression-and-authoring business, where quality is paramount, Martinez said. And Ott acknowledged that raw picture quality is ultimately a question best answered in a test lab.
The other argument in MPEG-2’s favor is about the sheer complexity of AVC-encoded material. Ott estimated that editing AVC-Intra footage is seven to eight times more processor-intensive than editing MPEG-2. “From a workflow standpoint, it ain’t laptop-ready,” he said. “People are developing NLEs to support AVC-Intra – but we feel that picture quality, through multiple concatenations, is going to be a major issue.”
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