Panasonic debuts first consumer 3D HD camcorder

Stereo lens adapter plus smart processor turns lightweight 2D unit into effective 3D video solution.

Panasonic used the broiling, hectic setting of the U.S. Open tennis tourney in New York Wednesday to showcase the capabilities of its first handheld consumer-grade 3D camcorder. On a day so hot and humid that one athlete, Victoria Azarenka, collapsed and had to withdraw from competition, Panasonic showed how the US$1,400 Panasonic HDC-SDT750 handheld unit could record clear 3D video without the large and heavy hardware usually connected with 3D videography.

The camcorder, available in October, comes with a removable dual-lens 3D conversion attachment which turns the 2D AVCHD-standard (Advanced Video Coding High Definition) 1,080p HD unit into a 3D recording system. The 3D content can played back by connecting the camera to a 3D-capable HDTV with an HDMI cable or by inserting an SD card with 3D content into the appropriate slot on a 3D HDTV or a Blu-ray player connected to a 3D TV.

The unit records 2D video in full 1,920-by-1,080-pixel resolution at 60 frames per second but records side-by-side, right- and left-eye 3D video at 960 by 1,080 pixels. For the consumer, the experience is the same: Just point and shoot using the camera's 2D display.

Compared to the professional-grade, $21,000 Panasonic AG-3DA1, which can record 3D video in full 1,080p resolution, the HDC-SDT750 is far smaller but shares some of its larger sibling's technology. For example, it uses Panasonic's 3MOS sensor system, which records the three primary colors separately on individual 2.53-megapixel sensors, explained Christopher Rice, senior product manager for Panasonic Consumer Electronics Co.

During the National Tennis Center press event, Rice turned the HDC-SDT750 on the press, who were able to see themselves in 3D on a large HDTV connected to the unit with an HDMI cable. The 3D effect from the small unit was clear and convincing--some of those closer to the camera tried to reach out and virtually shake their own hands.

Once the 3D adapter is attached, the camera goes into a short configuration mode where the 3D perspective settings can be adjusted if necessary. Rice noted that the camera can't zoom while in 3D mode since that would require the lenses to pivot individually in order to maintain the correct perspective for 3D recording. While in 2D mode an additional level of image stabilization kicks in once the unit's Leica Dicomar lens, which supports optical zoom up to 12X, zooms past 10X.

Included with the unit is an HDMI cable and Panasonic's HD Writer AE 2.6T video editing software, which can burn 3D videos onto solid state or disc media or can take the left-eye image alone and save 3D videos in 2D format.

The U.S. Open, televised by CBS Sports, will be shown in 3D over the Labor Day weekend and during the final weekend. Unlike baseball, football and other sports played on a large field, tennis offers relatively little room for extra 3D cameras to be placed on the sidelines, said a CBS representative.

"The toughest part is finding those camera positions," said Ken Aagaard, executive vice president of engineering operations production at CBS Sports. "It's an experiment."

The solution, he explained, is that the high-end, professional 2D TV cameras used on the court will have "shadow" 3D cameras wired to them which will record from the same perspective in 3D. He said the Panasonic AG-3DA1 would be used for 3D walk-around shots on the grounds during the U.S. Open.

"To me, ultimately it's all about lifting the human spirit," said Eisuke Tsuyuzaki, chief technology officer at Panasonic Corp. of North America. "It's all about the consumer being more immersed."

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Tags consumer electronicsDigital camcordersPanasonic3D cameradigital videocamcorders3d TV

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Robert S. Anthony

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