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I see Red

4 May 2006

After a pre-show build up on message boards and blogs that firmly put the hype back into hyperbole, the RED Digital Cinema Camera Company finally unveiled its first product, the RED One, in Vegas, writes Andy Stout.

The company’s avowed intention behind the RED camera system is simple: to design and build a high performance digital cine camera with the quality of 35mm film and convenience of a camcorder. Whether it’s any closer to that aim or not is still difficult to tell after NAB, though rumours of 100 orders plus by Monday lunchtime at the show suggest that more than a few people are convinced it’s on the right track.

There’s a pioneering, frontier feel to the high-end digital camera market at the moment which conjures up the spirit of the heady early days of non-linear editing or 3D. The high-end seems to be all to play for and there’s a growing suspicion amongst an increasing number of eager start-ups that the established players are either locked in to older technologies that perhaps aren’t best suited to the task or are simply too compromised by servicing the lower end as well. And the factor that has given RED’s own digital land grab extra impetuous is that the man behind the company is Jim Jannard, flamboyant founder and chairman of sunglasses and sportswear firm Oakley. With heavyweight cinematographers weighing into the debate over specs, possibilities and implications, it sometimes seems that this area of the industry is as much about personalities as it is about technology.

However, key to the camera working is the Mysterium CMOS sensor. The company’s keeping specifics close to its chest (unlike manufacture, which it’s punting out to an unspecified fabrication house), but what is known is it will be in Super 35 optical format, 24.5 x 13.7 millimetres, with over 11Megapixels contributing to the image, allowing a proposed 60fps in 2540p (4520 x 2540 pixels, above and beyond the 4k spec for digital cinema). This will give cinematographers the ability to see outside the frame, which is perfect for setting up lead-ins.

Formats it will shoot include 2540p, 4k, 2k, 1080p 1080i (both 50 and 59.94 frame rates) and 720p at between 1 -120fps. It’s going to use a proprietary wavelet-based compression system, dubbed REDCODE, to record onto either hard drive or multi-gig Flash-based storage when recording internally, or will be capable of external recording via a dual HD-SDI interface. It will mount either 35PL and Super 16PL lenses, while B4 mounts can be used as well if the sensor is cropped.

According to RED it’s extremely modular and scalable (bloggers have often referred to it in the same breath as the Swiss Army Knife), able to shoot what’s required on what’s required for any specific job from d-cinema to ENG (a lightweight magnesium alloy body weighs in at under 7lb) to HDTV.

NAB saw the price being set for the RED ONE camera at $17,500, while Jannard has been making noises that production models will ship in Q1 or Q2 next year. How likely that is or isn’t is the real unknown quantity at the moment, which is where the other similarity to the early days of NLE in particular becomes quite startlingly apparent. Then it was just vapour software, now it’s potentially vapour hardware too.

» www.red.com

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