11 Jan

Sony camcorders smash 50 Mb/s barrier

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Sony cameras smash 50 MB/s barrier Sony cameras smash 50 MB/s barrier Sony/RedShark

Sony's PMW150 and PMW200 cameras boast 50 MB/s recording and have been approved by the European Broadcast Union for use - sending a positive message to broadcasters across the world

HD sensors have been fitted to small cameras for over ten years. In fact, you have to go back at least that long to find a sensor that was fitted to a still camera that had a resolution as low as HD. And that's where the issue is: it's the amount of data that HD video produces. To be more specific, there are two problems here: getting data off the sensor quickly enough, and finding somewhere to store it.

And that problem of where you store all that video data hasn't gone away. But it has got better.

Never enough storage

Only two years ago, there weren't any ENG-style cameras that with enough storage to cope with 50 Mb/s HD files from a camera, so, although the quality was there, Sony's previous line of cameras (PMWEX1 etc) maxed out at around 35 Mb/s. Unfortunately this was under the somewhat arbitrary but nevertheless strictly-enforced threshold of 50 Mb/s for long-GOP recording imposed by the EBU, and any camera that didn't reach this level was effectively barred for long-form video production by the major broadcasters in Europe.

Canon has had 50 Mb/s cameras like the XF105 available for a while but for Sony diehards, the wait is now over. Both the PMW150 and PMW200 cameras not only record (to SxS cards) at 50 Mb's, but have also passed the EBU's stringent tests for quality. So broadcasters can now use these cameras in long-form video productions with confidence.

MPEG2 10 bit 4:2:2 1920x1080 at 50 Mb/s

The PMW150 has 3 1/3" CMOS sensors and records using MPEG2 10 bit 4:2:2 1920x1080 at 50 Mb/s, or 8 bit 4:20:0 1920x1080 at 35 Mb/s. The PMW200 records at the same data rates and resolutions but instead has 3 1/2" sensors.

Conducted by Alan Roberts, the tests are available for download here, and are an education in themselves. Most importantly, Alan's investigations reveal what - if any - signal processing is present, and he reveals the underlying nature of the pictures from the cameras.

Important trend

What we are seeing here is a very gradual but important trend: As storage capacities and speeds increase, and prices decrease, it is more and more feasible to record higher bitrates internally. On the face of it this might be a blow to the nascent external recorder industry, but field recorder manufacturers have two reasons to perhaps take comfort: DSLR manufacturers have only recently started providing "clean" HDMI outputs from their cameras, and with more and more cameras moving towards 4K output, that provides a fresh, new market for 3rd party external recorders.

We will be testing these cameras soon. Watch out for the reviews in RedShark.




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  • The headline is a bit deceiving. I do not call a camera that records at 50Mbps "smashing" as is "Sony camcorders smash 50 Mb/s barrier".

    Nothing against Sony, but my Panasonic P2 cameras have been recording 100Mbps for years :-)

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  • That's a fair point. It wasn't meant to be misleading but could perhaps have been explained better. The 50 Mb/s requirement is actually for Long-GOP formats. I believe the Panasonic P2 formats are I Frame-only, which means they are not covered by this stipulation. What has definitely been shattered is the barrier to adoption by broadcasters for cameras with less than 50 Mb/s long-GOP codecs.

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  • This is a great development to the PMW series cameras and they should remain popular. Although there has been a huge exploitation of DSLRs, (often with very poor ergonomics) it should be noted that Sony's so called 'consumer' NEX VG20 was released over 12 months ago at around $1500 body only. With an 18 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, it records 50P HD @ 28Mb/s internally to SD card, shoots huge RAW stills with flip of a switch and offers a 'clean' HDMI output for 4:2:2 SD and HD recording on any external SSD Recorder. An XLR adapter can be made up for around $30 but the HUGE advantage of all the NEX series of cameras is the ability to change lenses with even PL mounts available.

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