P2 Tapeless Workflows

P2, the Explosive Growth

Panasonic's P2 technology was launched in 2004. It has been widely adopted by broadcasters including Reuters, BSkyB, and BBC as well as the host broadcaster at the 2012 London Olympic Games. According to a 2008 statement from Panasonic, "throughout Europe, fully 80 percent of the broadcasters that have made the switch to tapeless production methods have chosen P2 and P2HD as their acquisition format."

What is P2?

P2 is Panasonic's solid-state tapeless format. It provides users with very high quality HD recording onto reliable, pocket-sized, durable media that connect instantly with editing and ingest systems, for a fast, file-based IT workflow. It can record DV, DVCPRO, DVCPRO25, DVCPRO50, DVCPRO-HD, AVC-Intra.

Long recording times

Cameras, such as Panasonic's AJ-HPX3700 which holds up-to 5 64Gb P2 cards, can record continuously for over 6 hours. Moreover, its card slots are hot swappable so the camera can potentially run for days on end. And being without tape mechanisms or moving parts, there's no ageing heads so there's less potential for dirt or dust in the cameras. Tapeless camcorders therefore go longer between services - saving money and time.

Fast Transfers to Post

A crew shooting with a 16GB E series P2 card in AVC-Intra 100 720/24p can transfer data into post at a rate of 20:1 - 40 minutes of video can be imported in under 2 minutes. Productions routinely save hours on ingest and digitizing with P2.

Archive

As camera teams become accustomed to tapeless production and are free of the fear of running out of tape stock, there is often a dramatic surge in the amount of footage created. Whether a production unit needs to free up space to re-use a particular P2 card or not, it is best practise to transfer the data to a separate, secure unit and make copies of all content.

Because of this constant recycling of cards, productions need to adapt their way of working. Best practice includes:

  • Cards should be labelled for easy identification
  • When not in use, cards should be securely boxed
  • Where files span multiple cards, they must be transferred to archive consecutively to avoid incomplete clips
  • P2 have a write protect switch on them; activate this feature before placing a card into any reading device. This indicates the card is ready for ingest and also prevents computers inadvertently writing back to the card

Explaining Metadata

P2 clips are captured as files. They are appended with additional data that can speed up post production and allow for fast and accurate archiving. Meta tags are automatically created in-camera such as time, date and camera name. Technicians can also modify metadata parameters to capture the specific information they need - location, episode, camera operator, programme id, scene number and much more etc.

Editors and media managers can then easily search for the clips they need. This functionality cuts editing time and for future programming, metadata avoids the pain of reviewing every file looking for the right clip.

Data Transfer

P2 cards can be simply inserted into a laptop for fast transfer. Copies can be sent to external hard drives as a backup. The Sonnet portable storage devices, for example, incorporate fast interfaces with RAID technology for total security.

It may be tempting to drag and drop files from the camera onto the machine. This is inadvisable as crews can damage the delicate file structure of the card. Equally, this approach does not support importing spanned clips, where clips spreads over 2 cards. Although certain editing software can import data from cards, the reliable, the trusted approach is to use Panasonic's free P2 contents manager software. This programme also allows users to view footage and to have immediate access to the metadata.

Dedicated transfer and storage devices are popular tools for archiving data. Tools, such as the Panasonic HP-G10/G20 or the Panasonic Rapid Writer are user-friendly, fast and efficient. If importing from a number of P2 cards or from a variety of media, Sonnet's Qio offers a highly flexible solution for laptops. New from Panasonic is the AJ-SF100 software that archives P2 content to highly affordable and very high capacity linear tape, hard drives or Blu-ray. Importantly, it acts as an archiving device, allowing crews to search footage metadata and quickly view proxy files.

Lastly, some Panasonic cameras (such as P2 models, such as HPX-3700) can be used as P2 playback devices to record direct to HDD. Unfortunately they are quite slow.

Avoiding common mistakes

P2 and P2HD are mature, well-tested formats. However, new edit systems, newly and even hurriedly released by manufacturers must be tested before clips are imported into their media bin. Software programmes can corrupt material or flash unexpected error messages - make sure your editor is compliant before working on the content. When content is mission-critical (when isn't it?) nothing should be left to chance. Test all procedures and systems in advance and plan how to ingest and edit in post before the shoot.

Action

As long as the individual steps have been thought through and tested, the process itself is now straight-forward. With a labelled memory card full of clips (complete with metadata), a device ready to store the data and the format tested to ensure that it is post-ready, the transfer can take place. The final stage is quickly to test and verify the media before it is used again.

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