Get the Picture with P2
Douglas Spotted Eagle/VASST Instructor 2006 Sundance Media Group

HDV:What You NEED to Know

 

The new Panasonic HVX200 is a revolutionary camcorder, in that it is an affordable HD camcorder whose main unique feature is the storage of HD data at a variety of frame rates and resolutions on a solid-state media card known as "P2." In other words, it's tapeless for HD recording. These cards may be placed in the camcorder in a group of two, allowing for a variety of recording times  varying from four to sixteen minutes dependent on user-selected frame rate and resolution.

The price point of the camcorder brings it into the realm of affordable HD/low-cost HD, being in the same cost category as the Sony HVR Z1U and the JVC HD100. Adding a couple of P2 cards puts the HVX 200 in the same cost category as the Canon XLH1. Given the price and features of the HVX 200 camcorder, it's easy to assume that a number of Vegas users will want to work with this product. The main thrust of this tutorial is about getting the media into Vegas, but a bit of background seems important, without attempting to provide a review of the camcorder.

When our HVX arrived, we shot as much video as we could in the 16 minute allotment of time the P2 cards allowed us in 720p, 24 frame native mode (there are lots of modes for this camera, but maximum recording time is found when using the native modes). Once the cards were full, we were ready to transfer the video from the P2 card to the computer hard drive.
We'd already loaded the drivers included on the disc that comes with the camera, but for some reason we could not read the P2 cards when placed into the PCMCIA slot on my Sony VAIO. We decided that we'd try loading the media on my Apple Powerbook, and suffered the same fate. It was a rather disappointing start.
(explained below)

~Simple Is as Simple Does....

OK, it's almost embarrassing to explain the problem. On the P2 card is a record protection switch. We knew the record protection was definitely off, as we could see video in the thumbnails displayed on the camcorder and the camcorder would play files back with no problems. Yet for some inexplicable reason, this protection was preventing the laptop from seeing the card. Merely moving the protective tab to the left and back to the right again, made it so the card could be read. Go figure. Once that was done, the card was completely readable by both Mac and PC laptops, and try as we might, we could not reproduce the problem. Had we been smarter, we might have tried recording and reading both cards instead of just one.
We never could get USB 2.0 to work on our PC, nor could we get Firewire to work with our Powerbook. A phone call to our local Panasonic dealer (from whom we got the camcorder) told us that very few users are successful in USB 2.0 transfers, and that they've had a lot of calls about Firewire to the Powerbook. On pages 77 and 82 Panasonic's manual states that USB2.0 transfers are guaranteed on the PC, and Firewire transfers are guaranteed on the Apple platform, but that Firewire isn't guaranteed on the PC, nor is USB2.0 guaranteed on the Apple platform. Regardless of the mode the camcorder was in, we could not achieve transfer to either the Powerbook or the Sony VAIO. Either way, after a couple hours finagling drivers, switches, and frustration, we were set to go.

The Vegas Connection...

~Dropping into Vegas

Sony Vegas does not have native support for the DVCPro HD format that the HVX records to P2 cards (most NLE's don't). So how do you get this footage into Vegas? Here's the workflow, which is what this article is supposed to really be about.

1. Record to P2 with the HVX.

2. Place the filled P2 card into the laptop PCMCIA/Cardbus slot or into a P2 reader (or use USB or Firewire if you can get it working. Panasonic Tech support confirmed today that this is often problematic).

The P2 viewer allows you to create voice or text notes, read metadata, input quite a bit of information about the shoot or media, and view the media on the P2 card with both audio and video playback.

3. Open the Panasonic P2 Viewer software and choose which clips you want to keep or delete. The P2 viewer does not offer choices that help save or transfer files, it's merely a way of looking at the file, inputting metadata, and viewing existing metadata. Delete clips you don't want. And here is one place you can delete all media from the card if you wish. Use this application to make notes, voice references, text data, etc. to be saved off with the file for search and find functions, shoot notes, etc. This is one of the beautiful features of this camera, until now found only in very high-cost camcorders.

4. Transfer the clips you wish to keep to the computer hard drive. The transfer is slightly less than 1:1. (four mins of vid = 3.5 mins of transfer)

5. Wipe the P2 clean so you can shoot more with it again.

Getting the footage into Vegas (and most other NLE's) requires more effort. Vegas does support MXF full resolution import to the timeline, but only for XDCAM, not XDCAM HD or P2, so you'll need to convert the footage in Raylight before Vegas will read it correctly.

~Enter RAYLIGHT....

Raylight is a software conversion application available from the good folks at DVFilm in Austin, TX. Raylight can be used for conversion of the DVCPro HD media found on the P2 card, to a format that Sony Vegas and other NLE's can properly read for editing and output. Download the demo to try it out for yourself. They also offer a demo .MXF file from the HVX that you can work with. You can also download an .MXF file here.

When you install Raylight, you'll find a file in the Raylight folder called "RayMaker.exe.

Copy this file to the folder(s) where your MXF files are, and double click the RayMaker.exe icon. This will open the converter, and it will convert all files in the folder. If you've shot footage using 24p, it will offer the opportunity to remove advancded pulldown at conversion.
There are four options to remove pulldown:
-y (yes) - remove 2:3:3:2 pulldown from this movie clip
-n (no) do not remove pulldown, i,e. the because clip is 30P, or 24P w/normal pulldown
-Y (yes,all) - remove the pulldown without asking, for all remaining clips
-N (no, alll)- do not remove pulldown and without asking, for all remaining clips

RayMaker cannot remove 3:2 pulldown. Do not use 3:2 pulldown if you want to edit at 24P.

You may also convert individual files by dragging and dropping an MXF file directly on the Raylight icon, similar to a droplet.

The file will begin to convert. The conversion is fairly fast, so while the conversion is not the most efficient workflow, it's quite functional and not a lot different than converting HDV to CineForm file format using either CineForm Connect HD or VASST GearShift.

One caveat with the Raylight process is to be sure you never move the MXF files from the folder used for the conversion. The Raylight converted files need to reference the MXF files. If they are deleted or renamed, the Raylight links will be lost. If you need to move, rename, or change drive letters for the files converted, you'll need to re-convert the files after they've been moved.

In the options for Raylight, you can select one of three different conversion qualities. Red, or the lowest quality, isn't useable for anything in terms of quality but will give fast playback. Yellow or blue are what you'll want to use for actual HD output, and you'll want a reasonably fast computer. A dual core AMD 4800 played back the yellow grade files with no problem, and the blue grade files playback at nearly full frame rate. The webpage for Raylight indicates that they'll be working with CineForm fairly soon, so this should allow for high quality images with high quality playback frame rate. My own tests and those of CineForm have shown the CineForm codec to be of higher quality, especially better for compositing and multi-generations, so this is exciting news.
The nice thing about the Raylight conversion, is that you can switch on the fly from one playback quality to another. If for instance, you find playing back in Blue is boggy and slow, you can switch to Yellow, or Red for basic editing, and then back to blue to check colors or other critical detail such as mask edges, aliasing, etc. The little GUI you see above is the speed control. This works somewhat similar to working with HDV on slower computers and using the VASST GearShift application.
You'll also note the Raylight files are much smaller than the original .MXF files. This is because Raylight is only making a low resolution reference frame to the .MXF file, and in fact, uses the .MXF file frames for Yellow and Blue editing modes.

Once done, you're good to go, the HVX footage will appear on the Vegas timeline, and it's ready to edit. The overall workflow isn't much different than working with HDV, other than with HDV, you can choose to edit natively (not recommended) or to use the CineForm codec to edit with. CineForm is by far the most efficient means of working with either HDV or DVCPro HD, so we can only hope CineForm will shortly be available in the Raylight package.

To export, you'll want to use the BEST setting in Vegas for good results. This does slow renders a bit, but is well worth the difference in quality. One experiment we tried is converting the 720p files to 1080p30 in Sony Vegas, and at BEST setting, it still went fairly fast on an AMD 4800 dual core system, and the quality was very good when viewed on an SXRD 60" monitor and a Sony 234B monitor.

Overall, the HVX-200/P2 transfer experience started out a bit rocky, but once it was all set, it was all smooth. As third-party products come onto the market, it's likely that the workflow will streamline itself a bit, and become more efficient if the P2 format catches on in the advanced hobbyist or low end professional markets. As tapeless formats begin to take hold, the process of converting, transferring, transcoding, etc for a while. Given the speed of change on the part of the camcorder manufacturers, shifts in standards and hardware, it's not reasonable to expect NLE manufacturers to be completely up to speed all the time. Additionally, some of the codecs and SDK's come with high costs that software manufacturers may not be willing to immediately invest in, which is another reason I expect transcoding and conversions to be common in the short term. In the case of the Panasonic, Sony, and other camcorders that offer .MXF (Material eXchange Format) file formats, even though these formats share an extension, they aren't exactly interchangeable. Metadata from the various formats isn't entirely cross-compatible, further making it a challenge for NLE manufacturers to be on top of all the formats. So, while converting the files might seem like an additional step, it will likely be with us for a while.

 

Happy editing,
Raylight converted files on the Vegas 6 timeline. Playback in Red Mode is real-time, as is playback in Yellow Mode. Blue Mode plays back at approximately 15fps.

 

**
~The rest of the story....
The next morning, we called Panasonic tech support, and in the first call, we were told that "the P2 cards cannot be used in a laptop PCMCIA slot." Our response to Panasonic tech support was "Please put me through to someone who actually knows about this camera." And the next sound we heard was the dial tone as the service tech, apparently being unhappy with my question, hanged up on us. After seven calls to Panasonic tech support, we had made zero progress. We had been told by a different tech support person that "P2 cards are Mac-compatible only." I guess the tech support people need to read page 77 of the HVX owners manual where it is very specific about P2, PC, and Macs. The comment from one of their tech support people about P2 cards not being laptop compatible was akin to calling Ford Motor and being told that our car shouldn't have four tires. We decided it was time to go it alone, and did the next best thing, we searched the web, and after a lot of digging, found (somewhat hidden) pages on Panasonic's international websupport pages, additional software in versions different than what we had on our disc. (just try finding these pages on your own, they're buried deep) We downloaded that software, and installed it. Still, no go.

OK, now it's time to call Panasonic again. This time, I asked my assistant to call the product manager. The product manager wasn't available, so we ended up talking to a man named Alex. I mention Alex, because this guy was the epitome of great customer service. He didn't have all the answers, and isn't a support person, but knew more about the camcorder and P2 than both of the tech support people we'd talked with. Alex told us "If I don't have the answer, I'll find someone who will." Lo and behold, he did. Our sincere thanks to Alex.
What was even more impressive is the fact that not only did Alex get us going entirely by accident, but he made sure that several follow up phone calls were made to us throughout the day. We hope the Panasonic product management team can be sure that their tech support is as well-informed as the person answering the phone when you call Panasonic Professional Broadcast sales. Nods of sincere appreciation to Alex, Jim, Doug, and Jan at Panasonic for being sure we were well-covered, following up on us throughout the day.

*** You can also find current information on P2 at P2Info.net.

 

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