Is it really, finally here? Panasonic's existing entry-level, shoulder-mount 2⁄3-inch-CCD broadcast camera, the AG-HPX500, has long been a staple in news, event and sports markets. But for those interested in cutting-edge video tools, the AG-HPX500 is based upon relatively ancient technology. Essentially a shoulder-mount, 2⁄3-inch-CCD-sensor version of Panasonic's venerable AG-HVX200A, the HPX500 has enjoyed a good run, but has faded into the background over the past few years. Newer, smaller P2 cameras such as the AG-HPX250 and the shoulder-mount AG-HPX370 have bypassed the older, abbreviated raster CCD and DVCPRO HD technology used in the HPX500 with full-resolution 3MOS imagers and the sophisticated full-raster AVC-Intra codec. But both the AG-HPX250 and the AG-HPX370 use 1⁄3-inch imagers. But what about users who want the superior low-light ability and inherent cleaner signal of a 2⁄3-inch-sized sensor?
With a targeted list price of less than $16,000 (body only) and less than $18,000 with the inclusion of the new AG-CVF10 color viewfinder, the biggest headlines about the HPX600 focus on two primary features: ultra-low weight and efficient battery usage. According to Panasonic, the AG-HPX600 body, minus battery, lens and viewfinder, weighs in at a mere 6.6 pounds, extremely light for a shoulder-mount 2⁄3-inch camera. While Panasonic has yet to release battery and power consumption figures, other recent Panasonic cameras like the HPX370 have shown remarkable improvements in power efficiency, allowing longer shooting times with smaller, lighter battery systems. The AG-HPX600 utilizes a single new MOS sensor that offers excellent image quality and power efficiency with a sensitivity of F12 at an S/N ratio of 59 dB. Continuing the feature list, the AG-HPX600 comes standard with two P2 slots and an SD card slot, a 2⁄3-inch lens mount and the capability to record AVC-Intra100/50, DVCPRO HD, DVCPRO50, DVCPRO and DV. The camera is world-standard switchable between 50 Hz and 60 Hz modes. The AG-HPX600 also features Dynamic Range Stretching (DRS), Chromatic Aberration Compensation (CAC) and Flash Band Compensation (FBC).
Based upon review of Panasonic's latest cameras, most of the features listed here have appeared on other camera models at various price points, so what about the new, innovative stuff that will really set this camera apart from its competitors? Where does the AG-HPX600 stake its claim and break new ground?
THE INTRA AND ULTRA FORMATS
While full details are still to come, Panasonic made a few announcements at NAB 2012 regarding some of the AG-HPX600's new and interesting features. One of them, optional upgrades, will allow the AG-HPX600 access to the new AVC-ULTRA family of codecs. So what exactly is AVC-ULTRA, and how does it compare to AVC-Intra? The AVC-ULTRA codecs aren't available yet and the specifications are still fluid, but Panasonic has released the following breakdown of the variants:
• AVC-Intra Class 444—12-bit, 4:4:4, bit rate TBD
• AVC-Intra Class 200—10-bit, 4:2:2, 200 Mbps
• AVC-Intra Class 100—10-bit, 4:2:2, 100 Mbps
• AVC-Intra Class 50—10-bit, 4:2:0, 50 Mbps
• AVC-LongG—10-bit, 4:2:2, 25 to 50 Mbps
• AVC-Proxy—800 kbps, 3.5 Mbps
There are disclaimers from Panasonic that the bit rate for AVC-Intra Class 444 is "under consideration" and that AVC-LongG is "approximately 1080/60i." Panasonic's specifications also state, "Not all AVC-ULTRA formats will be supported in the HPX600" and that "optional functions will not be free," so take those caveats into consideration as you evaluate the camcorder.