One of the joys of NAB is finding new products that upset the established hierarchy with a totally new approach to solving a problem. The Poddio field recording application from Vancouver-based VeriCorder Technology is just such a product. The firm was founded by Gary Symons (president) and David French, both longtime field reporters who helped develop the first wireless field reporting kit for CBC Radio news.
Poddio is a software application for the iPhone that permits capture, editing and distribution of field reports without any external equipment. David French, VeriCorder VP of business affairs, spoke with Broadcast Engineering about changing the way field reporters work.
Broadcast Engineering: Tell us a little about this new product.
David French: It’s called Poddio, and it’s a game changer. Basically, it’s a $10 application currently available on the iPhone Apps Store. It works with either the Apple iPhone or 3G Touch, and essentially it allows you to perform the three principal functions of field recording: you’ve got to capture your audio, you’ve got to edit it down to a usable sound file, and then you’ve got to get it out of the field and back to the studio.
Broadcast Engineering: How does this change the game?
David French: Currently, in the broadcast market, each of those principal functions has dedicated pieces of equipment. This equipment can be pretty expensive and bulky. It occurred to us that it should be possible to put all three of those functions into a single unit. Our goal was to reduce by two orders of magnitude, in terms of both the cost and the weight. Because, believe me, covering forest fires after a 36-hour shift, packing 40lbs of gear, you know there’s got to be a better way — no question about it.
So we came up with some ideas, sat down, wrote up some specifications and found some coders to write a program. We put the iPhone through all kinds of bench tests to find out what kind of system was actually in that box, to see if it would meet the specifications of broadcast journalism. And yeah, it does. It’s a great consumer product that has a decent sound system in it.
Broadcast Engineering: How is recording accomplished?
David French: In dealing with Apple, it’s no surprise that they like to keep things pretty close to the vest. But the simple fact is you can record with it. It gives you good, decent sound. If you go in through the headphone jack, hidden in the hardware there is a microphone connector. And in the bottom of the synch unit, the 30-pin connector, there’s also a microphone and line in/line out functions.
What we have is an application that records. Then we designed and built a single-track audio editor that allows you to access multiple files. For example, a news reporter can put together a two-clip voicer in about the same amount of time it would take most reporters to set up their gear.
Broadcast Engineering: How does that work in practice?
David French: If you want to file a 40s piece or a 15s clip out of a news conference, all you do is record it, then put on a set of headphones and edit on screen using touch control. There’s a cursor that follows the audio, you touch to hit the ‘mark’ button and it will split the track there. You just move your finger across to select the block of audio that you want, drag it down into what we call a track bar. Then you can record your voice intro, insert your clips and save. You can flip the audio blocks around as you wish, just by dragging your finger on the screen. It lets you compose and record a two-clip voicer in about three minutes.
Broadcast Engineering: How about distribution?
David French: The Poddio app has four different ways of sharing the files off your phone. You can transfer files to your laptop via your WiFi networks, or transfer them wirelessly to other iPhones. Our pro version, which isn’t yet shipping, will let you transfer files live on the Web, either by e-mail or FTP. The editor back at the station types the URL address into his browser and, bang, sees all the files on the phone. He just downloads them and is ready to go. Done.
Broadcast Engineering: Are the files broadcast ready?
David French: Of course. The files are in uncompressed WAV format, 44.1kHz and 16 bits, so they’re compatible with almost any newsroom sound system without conversion.
Broadcast Engineering: Broadcast WAV files are pretty big. Are there limits to file size and battery life?
David French: If you use it really intensely, your battery life will be shorter, but that’s true if you play loud music or talk on the phone all day as well. In development, we spent a lot of time thinking about things like memory leaks, battery life, bandwidth, compression and optimization of file usage. Uncompressed WAV files do get really big, really fast — about 5MB per minute. So we optimized the waveform that it displays and how the program samples the audio files. Currently, the iPhone will handle a one- to two-hour WAV file without causing the user much grief.
Broadcast Engineering: Do you use the built-in mic on the iPhone?
David French: You can if you want to, but we also designed a little microphone that plugs into the headphone jack. It’s called the VeriCorder Mini Mic. We spent about six months looking for a mic that would give a reasonable broadcast frequency response. We found a little condenser that does 20Hz to 16kHz. I’ve held a lot of broadcast field mics in my hand, Shure, Electro-Voice, you name it, and sonically, this thing is definitely in the neighborhood.
Broadcast Engineering: The project sounds pretty involved. What was your motivation?
David French: As a broadcast journalist for 27 years, I’ve worked as an investigative reporter and field reporter under some really nasty, ugly conditions at times. In my reporter’s kit, I’ve got my Marantz recorder. I’ve got my laptop computer with Adobe Audition in it and an air card. And then I’ve got this mass of cables so I can connect anything under the sun. It looks like a rat’s nest after eight hours of work. So we wanted something that was not that way. We wanted something that was borderline military hardware grade, and this does it.
The goal was, instead of the engineers giving us our gear and telling us, “Here you go, boys. Now go figure it out; make it work.” This time, we hired our own engineers and told them, here’s what we really wanted — something that will fit in a shirt pocket that lets you put together a real vast voicer in the field and get the thing out the door and on the air without any hassle.
Broadcast Engineering: Are there plans to expand beyond the iPhone?
Absolutely, we want to transfer this to other smartphone platforms as well, as long as those platforms have an operating system, audio system and hardware system that will meet the requirements for doing quality fieldwork.
The application for sale right now is the consumer-grade version. We do have a professional-grade version in development. It will have two tracks of recording and several new capabilities like volume control, all user defined. We expect to deliver that in just a few months.