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BBC to Lay Down the Law: Sony PMW-100 Will Not Be Certified

07.16.12 @ 7:00PM Tags : , , ,

Awhile back I had talked about the advancements that Sony was making with the low-end camera division, and how that would likely lead to a better codec on the still unannounced Sony F5 (if you believe Sony’s product line, it’s coming). Turns out Sony’s insistence on putting such a high-end codec in a low-end camera may have been all for nothing for a huge segment of users. Historically the BBC has been very difficult and strict on standards, and they’ve required cameras to shoot at a minimum of 50mb/s. Sony added this feature to the PMW-100, but it seems the BBC is not just concerned with bitrate.

Here is what HD Warrior had to say about the situation:

A source within the BBC has just informed me that the PMW-100 will not get the HD stamp of approval although they would not go any further with specific details…So where did the PMW-100 go wrong…simple, the 1/2.9-inch type Single-chip Exmor CMOS does not come up to the spec for broadcast it’s a tad bigger than one third inch but not having three chips was always going to be it’s Achilles heal.

Turns out that the single sensor will not be enough for the BBC to approve the camera. This is a problem for Sony, who surely added the 50mb/s feature specifically so it could compete in this market. Here is what the BBC says about these matters:

The BBC uses the EBU’s Recommendations for high definition cameras.  The current document EBU R118 gives details of camera criteria and how they can be tested.  The site also has recommended set-ups for all cameras currently tested…Cameras usually have a minimum of 3×1/2” sensors or 1×1” and a recording format of a minimum of 50Mbs inter-frame or 100Mbs intra-frame.

This isn’t to say that the PMW-100 is not a good camera, but there are plenty of good cameras that have not passed the certification process. There are some strange inconsistencies in the camera list and in the specifications, but if you’re trying to get something onto the BBC, there’s no way around these specifications.

It’s also interesting that the standards have remained so high for the BBC while American stations literally allow anything and everything as long as we can see the picture. Video from almost every camera out there has made its way onto a television screen at some point in the U.S. Is this saying that Americans don’t care about quality, or maybe those from the U.K. are a little too strict? Maybe there is a middle ground somewhere?

What do those from BBC territory think? How does this decision affect you?

Link: BBC – Production and Delivery Standards

[via Notes on Video & HD Warrior]


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Description image 66 COMMENTS

  • The quality of of video on US stations is, much of the time, abysmal.

  • I work on two of the most popular shows on Discovery and we still shoot on Sony Z7U’s to mini DV tape, HDV style.

    • Austin Mace on 07.16.12 @ 8:37PM

      As an avid Discovery Channel fan, I must ask what shows (and use my self control not to beg you to put my name in the hat for an internship :) ), that’s really awesome! Jeff Conroy of Original Productions went to my school (Miami University).

  • The big question on my mind is whether the BMC will be broadcast certified. I’ve got a feeling the sensor won’t be large enough…

    • sensor shouldn’t be a issue

    • john jeffreys on 07.16.12 @ 9:29PM

      most of the camcorders used in TV production and broadcast are much smaller sensors, 1/3″, 2/3″, etc. The BMC should be fine.

      • Well, based on the post above, “Cameras usually have a minimum of 3×1/2” sensors or 1×1””. If the BMC has just a single sensor, and it’s 16.64mm in width, rather than 25.4mm, wouldn’t this disqualify it?

        • The thing about sensors is they are not all measured the same way a 1/2″ or 1″ video camera sensor is a sensor that will fit inside a 1/2″ or 1″ image circle. A 16mm cinema camera sensor is actually a measurement of the width of the sensor. So, a 1″ sensor on a video camera is really only about 13mm wide. It has to do with the way they measured analog imaging tubes back in the day. All that to say, the BMC sensor at just under 16mm wide will be plenty big enough to qualify.

  • The other thing I’ve always been unclear about — does this specification only apply to material the BBC is commissioning? How much do they care about the cameras of bought-in programs? Surely they wouldn’t be averse to broadcasting the final episode of House just because it was DSLR?

    • “Surely they wouldn’t be averse to broadcasting the final episode of House just because it was DSLR?”

      Perhaps not, but Channel 4 has the UK rights, so they might object!

      • The BBC and channel 4 both require independent production companies to use full 1080p 50mpbs footage in their programmes. I think there is a (but don’t quote me on this) 25% allowance on non-full HD (DSLR, Gopro, archive etc) footage in any given show.

        I’m don’t have a definite answer for why the standards are so high, but I imagine it’s there to future proof archive footage.

  • The BBC are being overrun by engineers who “need” expensive technical specifications to justify their inane tests. If you can see the image, you can broadcast it! Content is why people watch TV/movies and content does not give a crap about technical specifications. I use a “out of spec” canon 7D, which is vastly superior to the Ikigami 79D Three TUBE video camera I first used with a 1″ “portable” recorder. $100k decades ago.

    The BBC has their collective heads up their butts where this is concerned, not every program can shoot with an Alexa or a Red, and the BBC (probably) does not pay enough for a lot of independently produced programming to warrant “in spec” cameras to be owned by many shooters.

    I do not think anyone is advocating to shoot “Downton Abby” on a flip cam, but for documentaries and a lot of other programming the small 1/3″ single chip cameras are perfect choices for the material and the budgets producers have to work within. When the BBC, or any other broadcaster dictated the “spec” they can also provide the entrapment as well, gratis!


  • Oh, one more thing. The “out of spec” Panasonic GH-2, Canon 7D, etc. are used to make MOVIES! Shown in theaters! Perhaps the BBC engineers should take a look at the Zacuto test films which show that it’s not the cost of the equipment that makes great pictures anymore, it’s the people who use it.

    • Michael Locke on 07.16.12 @ 11:10PM

      Here, here MalcolmM! Professionalism starts behind the camera. The US has “broadcast safe”, but doesn’t care as much how you get there. I love standards, but hate limitations. When bit rates and sensor sizes define “broadcast professional” , the professional operator’s hands are tied needlessly. And sadly, there’s no standard for content, as reality TV proves.

    • There have been several BBC documentaries recently that used DSLR footage (eg The Secret History Of Our Streets, Horizon). You can also see DSLR footage used increasingly in news and current affairs programmes.

      There was also an excellent drama on BBC4 last year called the Road To Coronation Street (it was about the origins of a soap opera called Coronation Street that started in the 1960s), that was largely shot with a 5D.

      Take the engineers’ dicta with a pinch of salt!

      • Yes, and sadly The Secret History of Our Streets looked really rubbish!

        I mean, the doc was great, and the choice of shots was very good… but the picture always looked muggy, and often out of focus (or the subject moving in and out of focus)… it was pretty shoddy camera work in my opinion, and I’m surprised the Beeb were cool with that. Must have captured to an external recorder…

        • “Yes, and sadly The Secret History of Our Streets looked really rubbish!”

          Yes, I thought exactly the same; some of it was really, really bad, wasn’t it?

  • Seems like there are inconsistencies in the BBC requirements. I believe the Canon XF300/305 cameras are on their approval list. They shoot 50mb/s but have 3×1/3″ sensors, not 1/2″ as indicated in the requirements.

    • Indeed, XF305 is certified.

      Also, they are ok with occasional use of EX1/EX3/EX1R (even with the 35 MBps internal codec)… on shows like The One Show.

  • If it is anything like the 50mb/s in the Canon XF105 then it is 100% understandable for BBC to have rejected it. I ran some tests on the Canon and the variance in quality between 35mb/s and 50mb/s was miniscule.

  • Maybe instead of being overly concerned about “technical specs,” broadcasters should be more worried about how to retain audiences that continue to flock to alternative sources of viewing. As others have mentioned, content it king. Who cares what bit rate your programming was recorded in if no one is watching it. Good old government intervention. What will they think of next? Muting a Springsteen concert before 10:45pm. Oh wait, never mind.

    • “Good old government intervention.”

      Just to be clear, the BBC is not a state broadcaster; it is separate and independent of government.

  • Due to the unique way the BBC is funded. Anyone with a TV set in the UK pays the BBC an annual fee. This gives the BBC a huge advantage in terms of money-for-nothing. They can make shows like Teletubbies and Doctor Who using UK money and sell them abroad for tens of millions. We who pay the annual fee see zero return because we are taxed by the BBC, we are not shareholders nor stakeholders. Incidentally, even if you have a TV set but never watch BBC programming, it’s illegal to dodge the TV licence fee. They also want you to pay it if you have no TV but do have a computer (think iPlayer).

    So the BBC can dictate its broadcast standards to the highest degree because it doesn’t have to worry too much about return on investment.

    However, I am a firm believer in “content is king”.

    • I’m happy for the BBC to make money from overseas sales if this means we don’t have to watch adverts!

      • Lucas Adamson on 07.19.12 @ 4:10PM

        I would hate to lose Radio 2, 3 & 4 to a freakin’ advert ridden bunch of crap. I am not a huge BBC fan, but no ads is worth every penny.

    • Unless you are a shareholder in ITV, Sky, etc, you are not seeing a return on what you pay indirectly by buying goods which are advertised on those channels. At least with the BBC it is transparent and the fee, at less than 0.5% of median income, seems pretty good value to me.

    • JC Monaghan on 07.17.12 @ 2:17PM

      The BBC is funded by license fee because it provides a public service. Its most obvious service is the news it provides our electorate and its educational and documentary programming. You can’t have a functioning democracy without a well informed and well educated electorate, and the BBC is vital to that.

      While the most visible things the BBC contributes to your life are just 8 award-winning, world-renowned television channels, a multitude of award-winning radio stations and one of the biggest, free, information and news websites on the planet, one of the less popularly-known clauses in the BBC’s Royal Charter is that it further the technological enhancement of the whole broadcasting industry. Pretty much every single technological leap in the last 90 years of television and radio development, production, and delivery was at least connected to the work the BBC R&D team did. From the conversion from 405-line to 625-line tv, the launch of colour, film and tape recording, freeview, HD, caption generation, teletext, Pierro, and the iPlayer, the BBC has consistently improved our industry throughout its entire life, and it continues to do so.

      While you might not like being forced to pay £12 per month, this is the only way to do it. By having the license fee separate from general taxation, it means that the money never touches the government’s hand, ensuring that the BBC are in a powerful enough position to break news stories of government failures and corruption without fear of reprisal, it also weakens the position of government in trying to manipulate news coverage. Keeping the BBC bound by a Royal Charter means that it cannot abuse its privileged position – it must fulfil every clause or it will lose its funding.

      • Lucas Adamson on 07.19.12 @ 4:16PM

        Yes it’s a great system, and worth every penny, but they are actually a bunch of government arse kissers, especially since Greg Dyke got the sack over Iraq WMD reporting.

        Scared of the Govt. pulling the plug on their special deal? You bet they are.

  • Despite their sophisticated standard, BBC’s footage sucks!

    • Eh?

    • WTF?!

      Have you watched Planet Earth, Human Planet, Life etc etc?

      • Quality doesn’t mean just 4.2.2. 50Mbit, 3 sensor…. I prefer more dynamic range, no aliasing and moire and one big sensor rather than 3. The BBC is very sophisticated but not in the right way.

    • Daniel Mimura on 07.25.12 @ 7:29PM

      Woah! Watch an F1 race and then watch an American market share equivalent like an NFL game or NASCAR…the BBC makes the best footage, the highest quality pre-race footage, interviews…etc…it’s night and day.

      American broadcast is crap, but then again, most of it is targeted to an undiscerning demographic, so they don’t generally have to dress up their content.

  • I used to work for a sports governing body and I shot interviews and action using an EX1 and a 550D. They took my content for their own shows all the time without mention of the bit rate or codec. But then ask most of the producers about bit rate and they’ll shrug their shoulders.

  • Maybe the BBC should raise the standard of content before trying to dictate what people shoot with.

  • The POV cameras that the BBC’s Top Gear uses for in car footage…which is at least 30% of their content…are NOT 3 chip sensors, nor do they output 50Mb/s.

    THat show is viewed by 26 million people and is their most popular program…so I can understand their desire to control the cameras used to provide content. That was sarcasm in case you missed it.

    So this seems ridiculous.

  • “Is this saying that Americans don’t care about quality,”

    Walmart is the largest department chain in ‘Merica. Where you can buy an $6 t shirt….who’s thread disintegrates in 5 washes, but it’s only $6, so I can buy lots and therefore it’s AWESOME!

    So….um, yeah. Americans gave up on quality a long, long time ago.

    I blame the hippies….

    • It’s the fault of everybody who has embraced globalization (and it’s left-wing sibling, globalism).

    • Daniel Mimura on 07.25.12 @ 7:32PM

      Uh…how about blaming…WALMART?

    • You’re grinding the wrong axe, sean. The success of Walmart and the relative quality of BBC-vs-American broadcast TV have zero-squared to do with one another. Do you steer all your conversations into anti-American cul-de-sacs? You must be a tedious dinner guest.

  • If every broadcaster could do the same like 100 mbit intra frame 422 and 10 bit with 12 stop DR, I would be all for it. Everyone is criticizing some broadcaster for trying to put some standard and quality threshold while the big camera manufacturers are trying to keep us in the stone age of technology.

    Anyone complaining about the BBC when a hacked $ 700 photo camera is putting 150 mbit intraframe images and a very small video card manufacturer is releasing a 12 bit 2.5 k raw camera for $ 3000, have to look at those big Japanese manufactures putting 24/35 mbit 8 bit codec in 2012. What will be comical is when everything will be shot on an iphone/youtube quality and people here will be complaining how they are out of job because the level will have gone so bad that cellphone will be good enough .

  • I think something needs clarifying here. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this rejection is to use the camera as an HD camera. It isn’t rejected out of hand; it just won’t command the higher rates higher end HD cameras can, and instead will be treated as an SD deliverable. I don’t think the BBC engineers are just jobsworth out to stifle creativity; some footage can look great on a studio monitor whilst it’s being cut, and fall apart at delivery, or in this case, during broadcast conversion. I agree as an industry we should all be aiming to tell our stories compellingly, but does wrapping it as well as possible really hinder that?

  • I’ve worked on lots of tv series shot on a mixture of XDCAM, HDV and most recently we did a show that included lots of Nikon D7000 footage (something like 18mbs/sec). Everything gets colour corrected and dumped to an HDCAM and the broadcasters have never rejected any of our stuff. A veteran of the industry once told me they just list an qualifying camera in their proposal and the shoot whatever. I think with more digital delivery and moving away from HDCAM tape bit rate as a concern is sort of going out the window anyway. Codecs and software are getting better all the time and perhaps don’t require as high of a bit rate as they did a few years back.

  • It seems ridiculous to me that footage should be disallowed based on the bit-rate and sensor size of the camera. Shouldn’t they just watch the footage and decide whether it is good enough to qualify? I would bet that they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between footage from some of the disallowed cameras and some from allowed cameras.

  • Wow. that’s some mightily poor discourse.

    I’ve worked with those BBC engineers for many years. Their job is to ensure that once the signal’s been pumped out via 7mb HD satellite down to 1.5mb SD cable and the remnants of over the air broadcasting that it still looks good. Its in the name of public service – and IMO its a good thing. It teaches good habits.
    By the way, its not the only UK body that tests on-air video. All commercials/promos on ALL channels must also pass strict audio and video tests. Working now in the US, people look at me funny when I tell them that.

    Many GoPro and 5D shots have gone to air on the BBC. They are ‘specialty cameras’.
    I think DSLR on PAL looks pretty horrendous once crushed for transmission (and I shoot a ton of it). That’s a lot different than seeing it projected from a file or off Bluray/DVD. Its like 16mm: good enough for ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, not good enough as an HD aquisition format for the Beeb. (Would they still show it? Of course. They just would prefer you shot in something else natively).

    Bought in programmes must also pass by the way, although they allow a lot more leeway. If the owner has done a decent job with the teleconversion online, it will pass, bearing in mind that most bought in shows have to be PAL converted in the first place.

    The UK is mostly an over-air 1080 digital delivery system, subject to incredible interference.
    The US pumps mainly 720p HD via cable. Much lower data rates on a much more ‘secure’ delivery platform. 1080p on Verizon Fios here in LA on the right show looks INCREDIBLE on a good TV. It should – its coming in at almost 12mb a second. But a lot of it is scaled up from 720.

    As to them making judgement calls on content, they do so all the time. However, its a very narrow band of grey. :-)

    • Lucas Adamson on 07.19.12 @ 4:22PM

      Something you said makes no sense to me. If the signal gets crushed to 7Mb, how does DSLR footage degrade worse than video camera footage again? In my experience, that is complete nonsense, both technically and experientially.

  • It is true that the BBC often sets the rules in the UK and the rest of the industry has to follow. Often clients respond to questions about what they what by saying they want ‘BBC quality’. It is a pain sometimes, but aiming high is not a bad thing overall.
    Specifically regarding this camera, we should wait until the BBC publishes its test results. There may be other issues affecting it aside from those HD Warrior flagged. But the basic rules for HD are as set out above: 50mbps, 3 sensors. But there are exceptions: speciality cameras, as Mark says (the AF101 is approved, with an external recorder), and for news, where 35mbps is ok. In the regions, (ie local news) BBC crews have PMW 320s – 35mbps and 3x 1/2″ sensors – the official minimum. And there is plenty of EX1 footage on air too, especially where the reporting team needs to travel light.
    But this is for HD, and there’s still SD (usually DVCAM) in use. To further complicate matters, an HD programme can have 1/3 of its content in non HD, be that archive, US NTSC, GoPro etc. So certainly we might see PMW-100 footage crop up on our TVs.
    In a buyer’s market, though, we have to give the customer what they want – and as a producer my advice to clients commissioning B roll, for example, is to film on the best kit their budget allows. Even if it ends up being dumped down to Beta tape!

  • My guess is that if they really want a programming submission enough, they’ll simply overlook any ‘deficiencies’. They make they rules so they can break em. Viewers won’t see they cheated on their own rules; they’ll just see substandard video – relative to other programming on the BBC.

    The U.S has many, many more national broadcasters than available in the U.K. The hyper-competition for programming content in the U.S. leads to a more lax set of standards re quality.

  • PJ Palomaki on 07.20.12 @ 5:02AM

    I think the whole point of the BBC specs is to push the image quality up, not down. If you really wanted to use 7D or 5D there’s really no way of anyone telling, just tell them that you used 5D MkIII and that the filters you used in edit must’ve mushed the image quality a bit if they start pixel peeping.

    Besides, if you use Alexa with horrible consumer lenses (if you managed somehow mount one) which makes it look like shooting through a bottle – that would be far bigger ‘crime’ than using 5D with decent glass.

    Like I said they’re trying to push the quality but if you really really wanted to get past the specs, you can cheat. And also, it then means that you don’t get the producers kids running around with 550D and try to put that on the programme.

  • Funny though , because no matter what format you shoot and deliver in , by the time your film is transmitted by Sky or NTL (in the UK) it is compressed to hell and looks worse than when you delivered it !

  • The double standards (no pun intended) at the BBC are extraordinary. whilst insisting on 50mb cameras from freelancers and production companies the bbc themselves shoot loads of material on PMW 500 and using the adapter downgrade to 35 mb with sd card- I cant see them ever using SXS cards because of cost and keeping track of them

  • Seems everyone is missing what the BBC has said. The majority of the video must be shot on a camera that does 50 mbs. in a 4:2:2 color space. These cheaper cameras do 4:2:0 which puts them out of the running.

    • This camera can do MPEG2 50mbps 4:2:2 at a constant bitrate. That’s why it’s kind of big deal – because Sony put this professional codec (which they did not put in their FS100) in this lower end camera and it still won’t get past the BBC.

      • Sorry Joe you’re not correct.
        You can use the PMW-100 as a second camcorder as long as it does not go over 25% of the show’s content.

        • I’m not sure that changes anything – you can use the GoPro on shows as well, but the camera was designed to pass these specifications and it won’t.

  • Hi

    I normally don’t comment on issues like this but I would like to know if anyone here has actually worked with this camera? I actually spent a couple of days playing with it trying to get a good image out and was very disappointed. It reminded me of the older HDV cameras (not just in recording but looking directly out of the SDI port) with the noise and poor over all image quality (resolution and color). Interestingly enough I had a chance to compare it with their newer Exmor cameras (NX30 and NX70). Even using only the AVCHD recordings I was able to get cleaner images with better dynamic range than the images from the PMW 100. Maybe there’s a reason why there wasn’t much fanfare from Sony about this camera. I really wanted to like it but in the end it fell short so it doesn’t surprise me the BBC made the decision they did.

  • German public television channels ZDF and ARD recently gave out their new HD guidelines and they won’t accept any camera with sensors smaller than 2/3″. In addition to that, they also want a codec with 50Mbit or above, plus they will not accept “professional” grade lenses! That means you will have to shoot on broadcast grade lenses which are usually 25K EUR and more for 2/3″ cameras.
    That is really ironic because they pay less and less, but now require the highest grade equipment even for standard eng news shooting. However they never really enforced these rules for smaller eng work in the past, so I guess they will only enforce these HD guide lines strictly for higher end productions.

    I think it is a good thing that the broadcasters try to keep their production value high, but they should also pay accordingly so that a freelance cameraman can afford to buy more expensive high quality cameras.

    • P.S.: what I also find ironic is that you cannot use a Sony PMW 350K for the big German channels (don’t know about the BBC). This camera is a really high grade 2/3″ HD camcorder, and its only flaw is its 35 MBit codec. However if you don’t grade excessively, this camera has a much better picture than say a Panasonic HPX 500 which has a 50MBit codec but a horrible color reproduction.

      They have to draw the line somewhere, but they don’t consider the price. In their minds every freelance cameraman can easily buy a 50K camera and a 25K lens. And then they pay him 250 for half a days work… something doesn’t add up in that equation.

  • It’s funny how networks like the BBC and others.Whinge about cameras not being up to speck.Yet compress the hell out the transmission signals not to mention only a 4:2:0 sampling narrow bandwith etc.Thats like me asking my cameramen to shoot on Red Epics or Sony F-65′s but giving the client a VHS tape.