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format dilemma

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Kim Rowley
format dilemma
on Jan 13, 2008 at 9:21:16 am

I am cross posting (posted on the Media Formats forum) only to hopefully get a wider discussion going.

I work in a fairly small (10 person) AV department of a non profit international organization. Our department has existed all throughout the 1 inch, UMATIC, Beta, Digi Beta change eras. We do both production and post production (FCP) and all finished programs are output and archived in Digibeta. We've always strived to reach good quality and employed sound production values for each project trying to make the most informed decisions possible when it came to making big purchases. So far - knock wood - we have not been disappointed in the various format roads we have chosen to pursue. We have over 15,000 tapes in our archive and catalogue not only finished programs but also all the original rushes. The older tape formats are being transfered little by little to Digital Betacam. Being a worldwide organization our finished products are distributed on DVD anywhere from New York to Manila. Eveything pertains to the organization so there is no "profit" in the traditional sense.

In addition multicamera live shoots which finish on DigiBeta, we have been doing our solo camera shooting with a Sony DVW 700 for the past 10 years and it's time to change the camera. Enter dilemma...

Where do you go from here? At this stage in the technical era things seem so volital and it's no longer a matter of simply "getting a new camera" but rather embracing a whole new way of working and hardware that it takes to get the job done. We had Sony's HD CAM over for a "test drive" and while we saw stunning pictures, the simple fact that the Sony salesman also had to bring the HD VTR and HD monitor to appreciate the quality makes even more real the fact that a future down that road is incredibly expensive and unrealistic for us. We have 4 edit bays so would eventually need other VTR's and then HD monitors, etc etc... I stated that I work for a non profit organization since our "client base" doesn't necessarily provide motivation for the HD technology at present. As I said, our end users are all over the world and in some parts of the third world especially, the transition to DVD has just been made only now.

Though Sony is running sort of an "anti SD" campaign, raising prices on their SD gear to make it "silly" not to go's just seems to be a pretty scary moment in time right now.

We are looking at the P2 technology too and that is attractive because 1) the picture quality is great and 2) you don't need the expensive VTR's to ingest the material into the edit system. It could prove a "softer" entry to the HD world. I am unclear as to what's needed however if I shoot in the highest format and then downconvert to SD. I have the AJA I/O not HD.

The big quandry there is the whole archive issue. What are people using the solid state tecnology doing to archive all the rushes?

The disc based XDCAM is interesting since the media itself is cheaper but will it go the way of Beta SX? It doesn't strike me as an enduring format for the long haul, but I may be wrong...

Would it be crazy to go with a SD Digital Betacam camera for now? I feel the DigiBeta format will be around for at least another 10 years. We still have a Beta 75P that still sees work! That too was a real workhorse. We have no immediate "need" necessarily to go HD, but want to make investments that make sense also for the future.

I know there are no clear cut answers, but I feel it is more difficult than ever for those of us with limited funds to make an "enlightened" decision. Which camera to buy today affects the future direction of the whole shop. We don't want to mount the wrong horse. Things are changing too rapidly and too many factors influence which formats will be in for the long ride.

I don't normally like long posts, but I wanted to be as clear as possible.

Anyone want to chime in with their thoughts and/or exerience?
Thanks in advance.

Dual 2.7 GHz G5, 4GB RAM, ATI Radeon 9650, Xserve RAID, AJA IO, 2 20" Cinema Display, FCP 5.1.2, OS X10.4.8

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Bob Zelin
Re: format dilemma
on Jan 13, 2008 at 4:15:44 pm

Kim writes - "where do you go from here". What a great question. This is the # 1 question asked by every facility. No one knows the answer to this, and the number of formats that are being introduced are becomming greater and greater.

I have been doing this since 1978, and have been thru Quad, IVC 1" Helical, 1", 3/4" , Beta, Beta SP, D2, D1, D3, etc, etc.

Now, there are zillions of flavors of HD, and with the very recent introduction of Sony XDCam EX, Panasonic's AVC Intra, and Red's Raw 4K codec, you can see the madness is only beginning. AND WAIT - in 2009 Hitachi will introduce 4TB SATA drives, but the "futurists" all want to switch to solid state flash storage.

This is the answer - there IS NO PLAN for the future. You choose what you can make money with now, and you prepare to change for the future IN THE FUTURE by spending more money. If someone says "this is not an acceptable answer, I need a 10 year plan right now" - tell them that THEY ARE IGNORANT AND THEY ARE FIRED", because any expensive decision they make will be obsolete in 4-5 years.

You buy what your clients demand - anything from HDV to HDCam SRW series. And if you can't afford an SRW, or D5, or "the next thing" - you go out and rent it. Universal Studios is converting over their tape storage to FW800 drives. Do you think that FW800 drives will work in 6-7 years ? What happened to all those ZIP disks. Most people can't even get their "old" SCSI drives to work (and those are not old, and are still being sold).

Now get back to work, make money, and stop worrying about this.

Bob Zelin

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Thax Clave
Re: format dilemma
on Jan 14, 2008 at 4:29:28 pm

As they say.

If you have a dilemma,

make dilemma-nade.

Drink up!

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Mark Suszko
Re: format dilemma
on Jan 14, 2008 at 5:59:03 pm

This is just me talking, my own opinion for what it's worth.

Did you notice, anybody with about four grand can build one hell of an NLE suite today, except for the DECKS. Digibeta decks and HD decks in various formats are the most expensive part of the suite now. Digibeta is getting pretty long in the tooth although it is still a broadcast staple. The prognosis is the decks and media will get more and more rare over time, and costs associated with using it are going to go up.

The XDCAM format gives you "affordable" (compared to P2 cards) storage in a disk-like format which sort of emulates tape cassettes, in that you can afford to put the disk casette on a shelf as it's own archive. P2 users can't affordably or practically do that wth the cards yet, and will be shooting with external firestore units on the cameras and archiving on hard drive packs which will then sit on a shelf as the "archive" and/or be dumped into a larger storage array.

Will XDCam turn out to be another version of Panasonic M2? If it does, you'll have expensive and ever-harder-to-get legacy format-specific players and recorders to buy and maintain until you transfer everything over to holographic cubes or quantum foam or whatever the heck the next thing is.

This is where the dirt-simple, plentiful, and cheap hard drives the P2 guys use may be a better deal, because you'll have lots more resources available for the obtaining, playing and upkeep of those drives, they are cheap and getting ever cheaper, so you can afford to mirror the data for a more secure backup in case one whole drive fails. Where the XDCAM relies on a specific, proprietary type of media and hardware, P2 uses the cards but is actually agnostic as to what you record it on, anything with the data rate and capacity suits it just fine. Ergo, Firestore, Citidisk, etc. Also, we keep hearing promises of cheaper, more modern cards and from multiple sources other than Panasonic, which is good news for keeping prices competitive and having alternate access to mroe media. Sony likes keeping things proprietary (memory stick, anyone?).

You would use P2 cameras backed up by portable hard drives so the P2 could be used for fast-turnaround work and the drives as backups and archives after being used for a first edit on long-form jobs.

Your biggest issue becomes keeping software and computer hardware around to be able to recognize the p2 data, but there again you have an advantage we didn't in the tape days until digibeta: bit for bit lossless clones anytime you need them.

I think we have to wean ourselves from thinking in terms of any one particular physical recording media and concentrate on thinking of everything in terms of creating, handling and storing just a data stream, and the wrapper for that data can be quite mutable as long as the data can still be read. In a sense, you don't pick any one future format: you pick ALL of them.

How you parse that into a 10-year purchase plan, I'm not sure, but I think it would have to start with lots of removeable drive modules and a central SAN that can grow exponentially. The larger amount of money will eventualy be spent on just converting the remaining legacy media over and over until a "standard" emerges. I would hate to lock into a particualr physical format right now, if it was my own money I'm spending.

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Tom Matthies
Re: format dilemma
on Jan 14, 2008 at 8:58:10 pm

For what it's worth, we have been shooting on Digibets for the last 8 years or so. We currently have and use both a model 700 and a 709 that have been very reliable and are true workhorse cameras.Recently, in answer to the HD demand we have been renting an HDCam out of Chicago when needed. Finally, we decided to buy our own HD camera. While the 950 is one heck of a good camera, it's also a little pricey for our company. We decided to go with a Sony XDHDCam instead. Even though is is an mpeg based camera, we thought it looked pretty good and would work for what we need it to do. It also has the added advantage of a variety of frame rates for shooting and includes both over and under cranking abilities.
With some reluctance, I finally convinced out shooters to not just "save" the XDCam for HD projects but to also use it for SD projects as well. We simply shoot everything in HD now and downconverto to SD when needed. The work flow works well. The files can be imported directly into the Final Cut system for HD and brought into the legacy Avid Symphonys via SDI in standard definition. To the Avids, the deck works and looks just like a vtr and capture is down the same as with tape. It's been very painless for the editors so far and we've had no problems at all.
As for archiving, we still master to Digibeta, but I suppose that we could simply lay the finished "master" back onto one of the XDCam disks as well. As for storage, the discs take up much less space than Digibeta tapes and actually cost less as well.
As for HD XDCam's "legs"...who knows for sure. Sony has a pretty big investment in the format. I don't think that it's going to disappear in the near future, but one never knows in this business.
The HD XDCam format does what we need it to do today and it's working well for us and is reasonably priced to boot. Is it the same as the HDCam? Nope. Does it cost 100K? Nope. Does it do what we need it to do? Yep. The Digibeta cameras are being used less these days and the XD camera is being used for both HD and SD projects. Everyone, including the clients, is accepting it and it just works. I guess that it's all one can expect in such a dynamic and fluid business as this one.
I think that once you got used to the format and especially the camera itself, you won't be disappointed.

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Kim Rowley
Re: format dilemma
on Jan 23, 2008 at 8:31:09 am

Just wanted to thank all that took the time to respond. It gives additional thinking points.
All the best, kim

Dual 2.7 GHz G5, 4GB RAM, ATI Radeon 9650, Xserve RAID, AJA IO, 2 20" Cinema Display, FCP Studio 2 (6.02), OS X10.4.11

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