P2 Overview
by Jarred Land

Dry lube? Wet lube? Should I stripe my tapes? Can I reuse my tapes? Should I store them standing up or lying down? My tape wont eject! Smoke clogged my heads!!!.. help!

All those hassles. Gone. Welcome to P2.

We all knew it would eventually happen; the day we could kiss tape goodbye. Panasonic over the last few years has quietly (well ,not so quietly) been offering a Solid State solution labeled P2 to it's broadcast market. Now, with the introduction of the HVX200 prosumer HD camcorder, P2 is ready to hit the mainstream.

What is P2?

P2 Cards are Memory cards in a PCMCIA format, roughly the same size as a credit card. P2 Cards house 4 high speed Secure Digital (yes, the same cards that digital still cameras use) laid out in a raid array. Currently in 2gb and 4gb sizes, an 8gb version will be released in the next few months. By being solid state and in a metal shell, the P2 cards are the most durable Video storage medium available. It's main competition, Sony’s XDCam Blue Laser, is a disc based format, which can't take even a fraction of the 1500g's of shock the P2 cards can, let alone scratches, dust, dirt, etc.

By using SD cards, Panasonic has guaranteed an easy roadmap for future expansion, as normal high demand SD cards increase in size and decrease in price, so will the P2 cards. This relieves the sole burden (read cost) of Panasonic developing increased capacities in the future.

How much can it hold, and how much is it going to cost me?

P2 card Recording Time Reference
Category Capacity
Approx. Recording Time Data Transfer
Speed*3 (Max.)
2GB P2 card 2 GB 8 min. 4 min. 2 min. 320 Mbps
4GB P2 card 4 GB 16 min. 8 min. 4 min. 640 Mbps
8GB P2 card 8 GB 32 min. 16 min. 8 min. 640+ Mbps?

Pricing is currently approx. $1700 for a 4GB card. I expect this to come way down by the time the camera is released, perhaps to the $1200 ball park and the 8GB card will fill the $2000 position. Now before you have a heart attack, remember that this is not tape, you must look at the cards as part of the camera, as a reusable storage medium. $1700 is a lot of money sure, but 2 months ago I shot a HDCAM feature where every 60 minutes of tape cost us $100. We spent $3200 on tapes, which are now sitting on my shelf and probably will never be used again. P2 Cards can be re-used 100000s of times, without any loss, and archiving can still be on tape or even better, on Hard Drives. One Large Hard Drive can hold a whole shelf worth of Tapes.

4 minutes? are you nuts? Everyone will be mad waiting for me to offload!

Welcome to Hollywood. Film cameras use rolls of film, and a 400 foot mag just so happens to hold 4 minutes of footage as well, so many productions are used to waiting for a reload. In dramatic content a take usually only lasts less than a minute, so it wont be disruptive to the flow. If you have 2 cards, There should be no problem rotating cards, shooting with one while dumping the other. If your project requires constant recording for longer than 4 minutes, You will be able to rent additional P2 cards from rental houses, the savings of not buying tape will offset this expense.

Unload? How do I transfer the video?

There are many options, but since the P2 cards are PCMCIA cards in design, they can slip right into your laptop on set and you can unload them. Panasonic also makes a USB2.0 docking bay that can mount externally or into a 5 1/4" drive bay on your desktop editing system. Another option is Panasonic's new portable HD bank, which has a P2 Slot and a HD about the size of a small paperback that you can use to transfer an entire P2 card in less than 4 minutes.


Ok. So what happens when I plug the card into my system?

The P2 card shows up as a Drive, just like when you slide in a small SD card. On this card is MXF files, a folder based format that contains folders for each clip, and in the folders are separated video, audio, voice memo, timecode, and all sorts of other clip specific information.

MXF? Folders? How do I review clips? Will me NLE see it?

Panasonic ships with a viewer program to view the MXF clips, and there is a codec to play the video only within windows media player. AVID and APPLE's NLE's will recognize MXF clips right out of the box, and untill the other NLE's support MXF, you can use Firestore's format converter to convert MXF AV files into normal NLE formats.

More Information:

Panasonic P2 Flash presentation

Panasonic P2 Series Information PDF

Panasonic P2 magazine ("Beyond") |issue 1| |issue 2| |issue 3|

Panasonic P2 Website

DVXuser P2 Workflow forum

Apples Final Cut P2 support PDF

Avid P2 Support Press Release

P2 in Athlens Video