Silicon Imaging SI-2K Camera

The Silicon Imaging SI-2K is a single sensor CMOS camera that mimics 16mm film camera optics.  It uses a bayer pattern to derive RGB images from a single native 2048×1152 pixel sensor.  These images are transfered uncompressed over a Cat6 ethernet cable to an Intel based computer system, which compresses the image data using Cineform RAW wavelet based compression.  The resulting data rate is low enough to be saved to a single 2.5″ hard disk.

When used with just the sensor, the SI-2K is an amazingly small and light imaging device for use in the tightest places, but it must be tethered to a computer system within 100 yards.  Usually the lens is much larger than the imager.  If an all-in-one form factor is desired, there is a full-sized camera body that can be attached to it, which contains a fully functional PC, running Windows XP Embedded.  The data is then saved on removable hard disks, that can be hot swapped via the internal USB interconnect.  With 300GB 2.5″ hard disks available now, you should be able to get 4 or 5 hours of footage onto a single drive.

Once the Cineform RAW footage is on disk, it can be edited in that codec on most popular NLEs with Cineform’s Neo2K product.  For best performance, you can use Prospect2K in Premiere Pro to edit with accelerated playback and rendering.  The RAW files are debayered in real time by the software, and edits or exports are rendered to regular Cineform 422 or 444 files, which work seemlessly together.

The SI-2K, when processed at the highest quality, generates a 10bit log RGB image at up to 2048×1152 pixels.  The colorist I work with has been very pleased with the dynamic range the images retain by the time they reach him in color correction.

Its small size gives this camera a few unique advantages.  Like the Iconix, it can capture stereoscopic footage without the use of a beam splitter, since the cameras can be mounted so closely together, side by side.  ParadiseFX has also recently developed an interesting application for the cameras, in their 18K wide 360 degree surround 2K360 video capture system, utilizing nine cameras running in parallel.  It has very limited and specialized uses, but will be much cheaper than any similar solution.  The next logical step is the inverse of this, with a ring of cameras pointing inwards, allowing time to be frozen while the perspective changes, like in the famous shots from The Matrix.

There are a few issues to be dealt with in using the camera though.  No matter how you configure the capture setup, you are using a Windows PC as your capture device.  This entails almost all of the same possible pitfalls of any other direct to disk recording system.  Your camera has to “boot up” and could lockup, crash, or even theoretically get a virus, if you network it to offload capture files.  Eventually you will probably have to reformat and reinstall the software as performance declines.  Silicon Imaging says they are currently working on a USB Flash based solution to that problem.  On the positive side, it makes it much easier to update the drivers and software, to add functionallity to the system as it continues to be developed by Silicon Imaging.  For example support to capture directly to Quicktime wrapped .mov files was recently added.

This is all around, a very creative and innovative imaging solution from Silicon Imaging, but they are still developing it into a smoother running product.  It has many possible uses that it is uniquely well suited for, but one needs to be ready to compensate for its limitations as well, as with any imaging solution.

About Mike McCarthy

Mike McCarthy is a technology consultant, with extensive experience in the film post-production industry. He started posting technology info and analysis at HD4PC in 2007. He broadened his focus with TechWithMikeFirst ten years later.

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