Sony’s pre-NAB Sunday press conference came with welcome announcements and some unexpected news. Designated the all-encompassing tagline of “4K for 2K, 4K for 4K, 4K for all”, the main theme of the speech was that Sony delivers 4K solutions from acquisition to distribution.
Kicking off with acquisition, Sony unveiled a raft of updates to the F5 and F55 that will have owner/operators celebrating. The unexpected news was the unveiling of an upgrade path for F5 owners wanting to turn their camera into an F55. This paid-for upgrade will add the F55 sensor, colour filter array and 4K internal recording capability. Rumor has it the upgrade will be available in 3rd quarter with cost TBA.
Next it was announced that free firmware upgrades will continue, although no further information was given as to what features we can look forward to in the future. Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHD had already been announced previously and no new information was offered apart from reaffirming that this will be a paid-for hardware upgrade for those that want it.
The recent #NewFTransformed twitter campaign hinted at some sort of shoulder mount option for the F series cameras, which left some commentators speculating that it might be a new camera. Thankfully, it turned out to be a new shoulder mount dock that adds switches and ergonomics reminiscent of an XDCAM shoulder mount camera. For example, the dock places the gain, white balance and Knee switches in a familiar position at the front left of the camera.
The rear audio I/O box places the XLR inputs at the rear of the body with space for a slot-in receiver.Sony say this form factor is perfect for documentary use. It looks like a very usable solution that might eliminate a lot of the gaff-tape and velcro solutions we’ve seen our customers resort to for EFP and Reality TV work.
A few new cameras were revealed, although details on some were sparse. Two new XDCAM cameras were shown in the 60 minute power point presentation; The entry level handheld PXW-X180 and the shoulder mount PDW-850. Both shoot XDCAM 4:2:2 with the X180 capable of shooting AVCHD and XAVC to Sony’s QXD card technology. The X180 replaces the traditional filter wheel with a continuously variable ND, giving the operator finer control of ND compensation.
More time was given to the launch of the A7S alpha mount DSLR camera. The “S” designation alludes to the camera’s high sensitivity of ISO 409,600 – For those that noticed, the disclaimer at the bottom of the slide said the highest sensitivity in movie mode is ISO 102,400. The camera features a 4K UHD output (bit rate not mentioned) for output to an external recorder. Internally the camera can record 720P up to 120 frames per second, and a consumer variant of XAVC at 50Mb/s. There will also be an XLR input box as an optional accessory, so not quite a GH4 competitor but an acknowledgement by Sony that the divide between what is consumer and what is professional are blurring.
4K live production got a nod with Sony announcing that the MVS 7000x/8000x switchers will be upgradable to 4K capability and the demonstration of stitching two 4K sources together for sports coverage and replay. Video over IP was discussed, accompanied by lots of flowchart graphics outlining that Sony plans to license its IP technology to others. This was followed by talk of a content distribution service and the mentioning of nine new 4K consumer sets due to be released this year.
Sony’s roadmap is firmly planted in making 4K accessible to everyone, from professional to consumer. For our industry it means a greater emphasis on 4K content creation in all areas of production – corporate, broadcast television and cinema production. Although the delivery systems and consumer demand aren’t quite in place yet, they are coming. Therefore this NAB conference will most likely emphasise that shooting 4K now is about protecting for the future.
by Michael Curwood