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Sat 18 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Action replay

Dubai rental house Atlas TV talks to Digital Studio exclusively about its newest toy - the Sony PMW-700 XDCAM HD 422.

Dubai rental house Atlas TV talks to Digital Studio exclusively about its newest toy - the Sony PMW-700 XDCAM HD 422.

Dubai-based rental firm Atlas TV recently invested in several pieces of kit including the high-end Sony PDW-700 XDCAM HD422 camcorder and the entry-level Sony EX-3.

The PDW-700 XDCAM HD422 has especially caught the attention of the production community because it is one of the first high-end cameras from the Sony stable that comes with an in-built recorder, includes significant upgrades from its predecessor and is designed also for commercial, movie and TV programme production.

This is the first camcorder in a new category of Sony HDCAMS known as the XDCAM HD422. The 422 refers to 4:2:2 colour sampling. The HD 422's predecessors offered 4:2:0 colour sampling.

"With 4:2:2 sampling, the recorded colour is the average colour taken from every pair of pixels in a 2x1 pattern," explains Mike Charlton, partner at Atlas TV. "With 4:2:0 sampling, the recorded colour is the average colour taken from every block of four pixels in a 2x2 grid. The result with the 422 is definitely a better image.

The 700 also brings with it other significant improvements from the previous generation of XDCAMs. For one, it has a bit rate of 50 megabits per second (mbps) as opposed to 35 mbps in the previous XDCAM HD camcorders.

"This again means more data is recorded in each frame and clearly, the result is a better image," explains Charlton.

Another key difference is that the 700 records 1920 lines by 1080 lines while the HD models record only 1440 lines by 1080 lines. Additionally, the analogue to digital, or AD converter is 14-bit as opposed to the previous 12-bit.

"This again means more information is passed on for conversion from the analogue signal generated by the CCD block in the camera head to the digital signal processed as the image is recorded," explains Charlton.

From a work point of view, the old ½-inch chip XDCAM was primarily designed for field operations, especially news gathering. Now, with a screen on the outside in the 2/3-inch chip camera and the ability to crank it up to 60 frames per second, clearly Sony has been remodeling the camera to shoot commercials.

One of the biggest advantages of the new camera is its in-built recording functionality.

"This is the first high-end camera from Sony that has this ability and this was a much desired feature so this makes it very appealing," says Charlton. "This camera has only just come out and we bought it from the UK so I believe we are the only ones who have it here.

Although the camera is designed for recording on dual-layer Blu-ray discs, it is also backward compatible with old single-layer discs. Charlton claims the camera is much more robust than tape-based cameras and can withstand the desert heat. "We have been out shooting all summer when it was 45 degrees and above, and there's been no trouble.

One of the prime differences between this camera and its predecessor is that it uses a 2/3-inch chip while the older one used a ½-inch chip. "You needed an adaptor to use the 2/3 lens on the previous one and you could never really get a good wide shot. Now you can," explains Charlton.

The PDW-700, however, presently only shoots 25P and 50i - the same as the Sony 750 HDCAM. "Sony tells us that by next month, the PDW-700 will support 720P 60FPS and next year, it is saying it will add further frame rates that will then make the camera a serious alternative to the 900R HDCAM. "Not quite an alternative yet!" says Charlton.

Even as Atlas TV has invested in what it thinks is a camera that will be in high demand, Panasonic has announced that a PAL version of its AJHPX3000 will hit the market soon.

As a rental house that stocks both Sony as well as Panasonic, Charlton says Atlas TV is always in a Catch 22 situation, where it tries to gauge the market and buy the camera that will be more appealing to the production community.

"Our problem is keeping up with the formats. If all the people say XD is the format to have, then you have to keep up. And you don't just buy the camera, you have to buy all the accessories in the production chain. That's how it works," explains Charlton.

What Atlas TV often tries to do is buy accessories that could fit on a range of its cameras. In this case, the PDW-700 uses the same HD lenses and power kits as the Sony HDW-F900 HDCAM camcorder and the Panasonic Varicam that Atlas TV already stocks.

"Luckily, it does not need any additional accessories to support it," explains Atlas TV's other managing partner, Cal Barton. "The price of the PDW-700 with the viewfinder and a camera microphone is approximately US $34,000 and up in the UK.We have also purchased P + S Technik's Pro-35 adaptor so that we can use 35mm film lenses with any of our HD cameras as it fits on all.

We have a set of Arriflex Zeiss Superspeed 35mm film lenses to be used with the adaptor for a more filmic look. The set includes an 18mm, 25mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm lens," Barton explains.

In fact, Atlas TV also recently purchased a Letus Ultimate adaptor, which will allow it to use 35mm film lenses with the entry-level Sony EX-3. However, a lens mount ring is needed to use the adaptor but this will not be available until the end of this year.

Rental companies in the Middle East are currently raking in the dollars as rates for hiring kit are a lot more competitive here than in the US or the UK. "People coming out here to shoot prefer to rent locally because every extra kilo of excess baggage costs US $49 so if you have 100 kg of kit, that's a lot of money. There is a lot of cross hiring.

When they come here, they hire our stuff and when we go there to shoot, we use their kit. Or sometimes, companies want more cameras of the type their have. So far, the rental market has been good but we would have cause for concern if other countries started cutting their rental rates," says Charlton.

Sony PDW-700 XDCAM HD422

Three 2/3-inch CCDs for RGB image capture, each with 2.2Mpixel resolution

High definition recording using MPEG-2 422P@HL compression at 50Mb/s data rate

Support for existing XDCAM HD and XDCAM SD formats

4 channels of digital audio

Dual-layer Disc (50GB) and Single-layer Disc (23.3GB) support

3.5-inch colour LCD

Thumbnail operation

Proxy recording and metadata

Compact and lightweight at 4.2kg (without viewfinder, lens, microphone and battery)

Dual HD/SD-SDI output and composite/HD-Y output

Built-in up/down converter and 1080/720 cross converter

HD up-conversion from SDI input (recording)

HD/SD conversion and cross conversion output between 1080 and 720 (playback) Pool-feed input (HD/SD-SDI and composite) option

Ethernet interface

LINK interface

Rental package: US $870

Includes:

Sony PDW-700 XDCAM HD422

IDX power kit

Canon standard HD lens

Canon wide angle HD lens

Sachtler Video 20P tripod

Sony or Panasonic 8.4" HD LCD monitor