Panasonic's P2 Wins an Emmy
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Panasonic Corporation's P2 recording format was recently honored with a Technology & Engineering Emmy® Award for its "pioneering development of removable solid-state media for video camera/recorders."

I was at the NAB 2003 press conference when Panasonic introduced P2, and I recall how the normally staid crowd of journalists (who make a point never to applaud) gave the new format a standing ovation. The concept of a file-based recording format had long been seen as a way to tremendously improve the workflow's speed and efficiency, but it also seemed like a goal just out of reach…until Panasonic's P2.

Panasonic AJ-HPX3700. Please click on image for larger view.
Panasonic AJ-HPX3700. Please click on image for larger view.
"When we launched P2, there was a lot of skepticism about solid state," recalls Panasonic Strategic Technology Liaison Michael Bergeron. "People thought it would be too expensive, wondered if it would be reliable enough and wanted to know if there was going to be a real gain by recording to files."

The productivity gain hoped for would be a quick and easy download from camera to nonlinear editing system. "But to live up to its potential, those files had to be accepted by those downstream systems," says Bergeron. "Also, we had to not only make it as reliable as tape but we had to make it more reliable than tape for anyone to be comfortable with it."

Nine years later, P2 cameras and recorders are ubiquitous with, says Bergeron, "over 220,000 devices in the marketplace." "Now almost any new camera that comes out records on solid state and there's a pretty high comfort level in using even consumer-level cameras," he says. "That's due in part to when we built P2, we had a lot of redundancy built in. They operate like a RAID-5. So we had no issues with customers losing footage. It helped them to become accustomed to and comfortable with using solid state."

"I have to thank Moore's Law for the price of solid state dropping," he adds. "But we proved it could be done and done reliably."

P2's many customers have used the cameras in extreme environments, difficult conditions and consistently used it to download the footage on cards to NLEs, all without problems. The cards record in universally interchangeable MXF data files and are immediately usable on both PC and Mac computers that are properly configured.

Bergeron notes that the initial P2 platform was built to be both flexible and robust, which allows Panasonic to expand its capabilities. "We've changed the architecture and the card to some extent, but the interface is still the same," he says. "The P2 file used to record SD is the same file structure that we use for HD and AVC-Intra HD, and the metadata file we initially spec'ed for P2 is the very same one that we use for our metadata features now. It's the one that makes it possible to link left and right files in 3D, for example."

Broadcast ENG crews that needed the speed and efficiency of producing news were the first to gravitate to P2 cameras. "Those were the folks really asking us for something not linear in acquisition and interested in something that would reduce their maintenance budget," he says. "This allowed them to go from camera to air very quickly as well."

Moving to HD recording in a small camera was a challenge. "We skipped the HDV step," notes Bergeron," And as we didn't get involved in HDV, we didn't have a low bit rate recording scheme, but we didn't need it with P2 cards. They could fit onto a small form factor, which is how we got into the handheld camera market for HD. Once we did that, we got into the production market. Productions got the benefits of variable frame rates, and we could create cameras that worked more like film."

Panasonic Strategic Technology Liasison Michael Bergeron
Panasonic Strategic Technology Liasison Michael Bergeron
Varicam's most high-end camera is the AJ-HPX3700. "This is the first camera that had all the cinematography features in a full-sized 2/3 inch CCD imager and was using AVC-Intra recording," he says. "We've been selling a lot of the 3100 lately as well because it's introduced many new metadata features."

Next up for Panasonic's P2 is the move to AVC-Ultra…still on the same P2 platform. "AVC-Ultra uses the same H.264 compression and we're opening that up to both lower and higher digital rates and additional formats that are becoming more popular," says Bergeron. "On one end, we're looking to support 2K and 4K and 4:4:4, and at the same time, we're going to have a Long GOP version to get some really low data rates."

Tests have shown that Panasonic will be able to deliver 4K at data rates similar to D-5. "And we think we're going to be able to get compression similar to AVC-Intra down around 25 megabits," Bergeron reports. Those test results - and perhaps more - will be on show at NAB 2012.

If the Emmy is awarded to technologies that have materially impacted the way that TV has been produced or transmitted, P2 is richly deserving of the award. With the AVC-Ultra, Panasonic is launching the third generation of codecs on the same platform, one that is likely to be around for many years to come.

EMMY® is ©National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Emmy® and the Emmy® Statuette are the trademark property of ATAS/NATAS. Title image: Accepting the award are Kunihiko Miyagi, Director, Professional AV Business Unit, AVC Networks Company, Panasonic Company (center) and John Baisley, Executive Vice President, Panasonic System Communications Company of North America (right).