A Decade of Vanguards, #10

Panasonic's first solid-state camcorder, the AJ-SPX800.

Panasonic's first solid-state camcorder, the AJ-SPX800.

This post marks the first in a series on the millimeter website wherein our editorial team reveals its selections of Vanguard Awards for the past decade. Unlike with past Vanguard Awards cycles, for this January 2010 edition we've chosen to focus on technology trends rather than specific products, and a whole decade rather than a mere 12 months. After a heated conference, our editors and writers came up with a list of 10 trends of the Aughts that most dramatically shaped the way film and video productions happen today. Past, after all, is prologue.

These winners are listed in no particular order. Today we reveal our first selection; check back next week for more.

P2 cards have doubled in capacity several times since their introduction.

P2 cards have doubled in capacity several times since their introduction.

Solid-state Media

It's tempting to argue that the adoption of solid-state technology as a video-recording medium was inevitable. After all, Kryder's Law (a version of Moore's Law for magnetic storage) had us expecting the inexorable march toward smaller and more capacious storage. But NAB 2003 had Sony and Panasonic unveiling wildly different nonlinear recording technologies on the same Sunday afternoon: Sony introduced XDCAM blue-laser disc recording, and Panasonic countered with P2 solid-state media.

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At the time, Panasonic's gambit seemed a little wild. Its first P2 "camputer" (as Panasonic called it at the time) wouldn't come out for another year. Moreover, the initial price for media was extremely steep, and capacity was tiny compared to today's offerings. With five slots for 4GB cards, the SPX800 would have shot only 20 minutes of DVCPRO HD per card load. (This was, however, an SD camcorder.) P2 cards initially cost a whopping $500 per gigabyte. But the company insistedthat the capacity would double every year as prices held steady.

Sony's professional SxS solid-state media for its XDCAM EX line.

Sony's professional SxS solid-state media for its XDCAM EX line.

Sony, meanwhile, was first to market with XDCAM. Spinning discs, well under $20 each at the time, were a lot cheaper than the competing solid-state cards. They could be passed around a facility, sit on a shelf, and even become casualties without incurring a huge hit on the bottom line. News stations found them much more attractive. Sony also understood at the time that solid-state media's trump card over spinning discs was the ruggedness that comes with having no moving parts, so the company made its XDCAM discs as sturdy as possible.

We all know what happened next. Panasonic's projections about capacity and price turned out to be right. At NAB 2005, the company previewed a groundbreaking small-format HD camera that recorded to P2: the HVX200. Despite finding success with its XDCAM format, Sony eventually followed suit and developed its own professional-level solid-state media, known as SxS. The future was by then clear. Many professionals still haven't mastered the workflow of offloading and clearing cards—it's inherently a more volatile process than dubbing a tape—but they're not longing to return to the days of tape transports.