I went to the N.A.B. trade show to check out the new developments in HDTV products. As a union, we must keep pace with the technology of HDTV cameras, which now can be used as an origination source for: present 4:3 (1.33) format TV, future 16:9 (1.77) widescreen HDTV, and even film distribution.

Finally, prototype models of the Sony 24 frame HDTV camera are ready and were on display at N.A.B. in Las Vegas. The new 24 frame model is the HDW-F900 and the 24 frame family of Sony products are called "CineAlta". You can switch from 24 (film rate), 25 (PAL rate), and 30 (N.A. TV rate) frame modes. Sony defines the 24 fps as having a 1/48 shutter speed, and categorizes exposure as if it was with a "180 degree shutter". They are really making the most of film terms to apply to this camera. The "24p" relates to 24 frame rate combined with progressive scanning.

There are many different bi-products from the Sony 24 frame camera and subsequent 24 frame post equipment - both for transfer to 24 fps film and to various versions of video. The video versions delivered by the system are distinguished by frame rate, number of scanned lines, scan type, and system cycles - (plus the frame formats of 4:3 or 16:9). The frame rates are 23.97, 24, 25, 29.97, and 30. The number of scan lines can be 480, 720, or 1080. Scan Types are either "I" = Interlaced (first odd lines, then even lines) or "P" = Progressive (all lines at once). System cycles are for North America, 60 and Europe, 50. This diversity of end product creates a universal standard which, up till now, has been a limiting factor with video formats.

Two things are noticeable on the direct output from the 24p camera:
1. Flicker from the monitor screen - this is from the 24 frames repeated twice on a 48 frame cycle monitor, like a second blade in a film projector. This flicker is similar to 50 cycle PAL TV sets. It goes away when transferred to film or 60 cycle video.
2. Strobing or Jitter to movement - very disconcerting when seen on the direct monitor, but again disappears when transferred to film or video with a 2:3 pulldown process, so it will be important to consider having 2:3 electronic pulldown or downconverting to NTSC on the set to keep the producer from freaking out or just to be able to see the final product. Also we have to consider downconverting to NTSC for any UHF monitoring. This strobing is something the camera operators will have to adjust to, just like they have to deal with the flicker from film camera shutter systems. The viewfinder is still B+W, with a choice of various safe area markers. Sony does offer a HD colour on-camera LCD monitor as well as a small portable HD colour monitor - these are especially made for 24p with 48 cycles - previous HD monitors will not work with 24p cameras.

Most downconverters to date are large VCR size boxes. Miranda Technologies of Quebec will be producing tiny downconverters (MDC-800) which will attach to the camera. They say availability by September, but there will be much pressure to get them sooner. There will probably be other manufacturer's versions - it would be great to have them with a built in wireless transmitter. By the way, Amphibico of Montreal makes a very impressive underwater housing for the Sony HD900. Sold with camera, lens, and batteries, it will cost $275,000.

ASA ratings are difficult to pin down because video does not work the same as film - but the estimate is that the camera is around 200-300 ASA at 0 db. Tapes come in 30 minute lengths with existing Betacam SP, and 40 minutes standard HD, but now you can record 50 minutes with HD 24p (for some reason you gain 10 minutes because of the 24 frame capture rate). The original Sony HDCAM 700 could not handle all the menu setting files on its small memory chip. The new 900 has what Sony calls a "memory stick", which holds more files than you can shake a memory stick at! Cost of the HDCAM 900: $153,000 for camera body only - $200,000 and up with zoom, batteries, etc. Previous HD 700 cameras will go down in price.

Demo 24p cameras will be in Toronto this month - "not for sale" prototype versions. Rental companies might have some by the end of May. George Lucas has delayed his new Star Wars (the first big Hollywood project shot on HD) till June or July.

I got a chance to see the new Panavision / Sony HDCAM rig - they have special lenses, have beefed up the lens mount, provide a bigger viewfinder image with glow, and have other film like accessories. They also have a system to record the shooting information on the videotape itself - data from the lens settings and even camera moves! All this is being done by Panavision in Los Angeles - other Panavision outlets will have to wait for systems to be 100% ready and at least for this year, supply will be limited by availability.

Focal length conversion - 35mm to HD:
14mm = 5.6mm, 24mm = 9.7mm, 50mm = 20mm, 135mm = 54mm (close to 16mm?).

There are two Canon HD zooms - the 7.8-144 and the 5.5-50 (they are actually refitted by Optex, UK). Canon has 5 primes from 6mm to 35mm. Optex, who actually works on the Canon primes, continues the prime range with their own 40, 50, 80, 150, 200, 300, and 120 macro. Angenieux has a 5.3-60 zoom. Panavision's two zooms (very large!) are the 9.5-105 T1.6 and the 6-27 T1.6, and later they will have a 6-27 T1.8 and a 25-115 T1.9. Panavision is working on prime lenses - 5, 7, 10, 14, 20, and 35. I heard that anamorphic lenses are a possibility in the future (for 2.35?). All these lenses are designed for the HD camera. If you want to use film lenses, Angenieux is working on an adapter for Ziess 35mm lenses. It won't be available until October, and will cost $28,000+. They were showing the images from this adapter at N.A.B. on an upside down monitor! It seems the image has to be inverted - something not available on the camera yet, but will have to be added. It is physically quite long - 205mm or 8 inches to the PL mount. Angles of view stay the same and I thought I heard someone one say that you gain a stop.

Philips is probably the closest competitor to Sony in the 24 HD format, but they do not make portable on-camera videotape recorders. They are pushing a 2.35 format option from the sizing of the CCD on their 24 frame camera (Sony's is 1.77), but it won't be out for another year. Many companies offer studio size HD cameras or units wired to separate recording decks. If they do use a recording deck built onto the camera, I believe they digitally compress the image information more than Sony. Ikegami has a one piece HD camera in development - the HDL-V90 which uses DVCPRO tape - no 24 frame. Panasonic is pushing 420p and 720p which are lower end HD formats, but still deliver very good progressive scan pictures. They use DVCPRO tapes and have no plans for 24 frame. Hitachi has HD models, but no 24 frame.

If the Sony HDW 700 camera (available over the past year - with normal 30 frame video) was close to 35mm film, the 24 frame camera product is much closer. Interlace pictures look more like "video", but the progressive scan and the 24 frame capture of the new camera looks more like "film". I would say that Sony's 24p is very impressive and with the cost saving on stock, process and transfer, it will definitely be a competitive option to film, especially on lower budget Super 16 shoots. Not so much for reasons of image quality, but the Super 16 budgets are more under competition from HDTV. The exact saving on HD has to be looked at closely - producers might save on tape, but equipment rental will cost more, you have to downconvert your tapes, and tape to film transfer is an additional cost if you are considering theatrical release.

With use of soft filtration, additional filmlook option in post, and proper image manipulation (use of internal menu settings), the 24p picture quality (on HDTV monitors) is very film like. I hope to shoot some tests at William F. White comparing 24p HDTV transferred to 35mm versus Super 35mm print.

HD formats will still keep changing and there will be a few versions - so, as with any tape format, HD is not as "future proofed" as film, which can be transferred to any format. Although the high quality HD image will go much farther in upgrade transfers. A lot of lower end HD options (480 and 720 line) look very good to the average viewer - certainly better than the present NTSC. This might cloud the issue of consumers wanting to support and pay for full 1080 line HDTV.

By the way, the facts presented in the article are, like the fast moving HD technology, subject to change moments after you read them!

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