07.18.2006 08:00 AM
Even at HD data rates, a file-based news workflow can be a reality

HDTV will take you places, and that’s exactly where “HD Technology Update” caught up with WRAL-TV chief engineer Pete Sockett, who was on his way to cover the Parade of Sail procession of tall ships sailing from the Atlantic Ocean to the ports at Beaufort and Morehead City, NC.

Driving through a pouring raining as part of the station’s caravan of personnel and equipment heading out to cover the spectacle in HD, Sockett reflected on the latest high-definition first for the Raleigh-Durham, NC, television station: a HD file-based workflow.

While speed and cost savings played into the rationale for moving to a file-based HD workflow for news, it was the sheer number of outlets for the WRAL’s news product that drove the decision.

HD Technology Update: WRAL is a leader in local production and broadcast of high definition. You’ve been doing HD news for years, but now have moved to a file-based workflow. Can you discuss some of the challenges HD presents in a file-based news production environment?

Pete Sockett: The newsroom was tape-based. So, we’ve never had a nonlinear SD system. The big joke at the station is we skipped the ’90s. We went straight from analog to HD.

When we put this together, the bandwidth requirement was on the low side of Gigabit Ethernet. We developed a dedicated LAN just for the BitCentral Précis news system. We don’t have desktop editing throughout the newsroom, but we do have desktop browsing of all the stories in the system.

Basically, we are running 12 edit stations, and the system is divided into three major components. One is the raw video server, where we ingest into the edit suites. We ingest with a Panasonic 100Mb/s DVCPRO codec, and that feeds the ingest server. All of the material is edited at 100Mb/s. When the story is completed, it’s attached to the rundown and decoded down to 37.5Mb/s. We had to use some pretty powerful machines, each with a dual processor (dual core Opterons), in the edit suites. That is the newsroom setup.

Then once the story is coded to 37.5Mbs it’s compatible with the ENPS. The rundown is then sorted. We can change the order on the fly. And then once the story is encoded 37.5Mb/s, a proxy version is created that can be viewed anywhere on the LAN.

That’s all done in the content server. Basically, you attach your story from the edit source to the content server, and then the content server hands it over to the play-to-air servers. We have redundant play-to-air servers, three channels each, that hold the stories that play to air. They are BitCentral servers. We use Canopus Edius editors, but the rest of the system is BitCentral equipment.

HDTU: What do you acquire with in the field?

PS: We have 29 sets of DVCPRO HD cameras in the field for tape-based HD.

HDTU: Did this new HD file-based workflow allow you to reduce the number of tape machines in the station and realize savings in budgeting for less tape stock and reduced VTR maintenance?

PS: In theory it will. I haven’t pulled any tape machines out of the edit suites yet.

I currently have 90 tape machines that will playback HD tape and two servers. There’s a little redundancy that helps you sleep at night knowing that if you lose a tape machine you’ve got 89 more.

We build all of our edit suites so you can go tape-to-tape, as well as ingest and nonlinear edit. Ultimately, we could play to air either from tape or from the server. The tape machines all appear on the switcher.

The reason we went nonlinear was not even the desire for the faster speed of getting the video on the air. It was because we do so much with all of the businesses and channels we run that we needed to get our material into a file base.

We have a 24-hour news channel, which we’ve had for four years now, that plays back to back our second channel on digital. It’s also on the local cable where we record the noon news while it’s on the air. Then we play it back to back throughout the afternoon and mix in other programming. We hope to launch it as an actual wheel that will look more like cable news. We also reread the intros and exits. These are the stories that have been edited for Channel 5, packaged in 15–minute wheels that will sit there and automatically run 24/7.

HDTU: While you currently acquire with tape, can you foresee the day when your file-based workflow starts in the field and you can rely on IP technologies to enhance your contribution options?

PS: Yeah, that’s a given. When you can walk in with that material and you are editing, you’re not digitizing anymore. That changes the dynamic of what you’re doing with the material.

I am running the same Edius software at my house as we are running in the edit suites at the station. So, I could sit there and edit a story, and if I had a VPR (virtual private network) to the station, I could attach that story from my house to the rundown.

The biggest trick is we are still doing final product at 37.5Mbs. It’s a little big for publicly available bandwidth. But that’s going to change. We are absolutely looking toward that. At this point we are doing it in smaller steps.

HDTU: You are in somewhat uncharted waters with a file-base d HD workflow.

PS: This is the first station system I know of that has launched an HD file-based newsroom with complete integration, with the active rundowns. Now producers can make all of their changes in the ENPS so that the rundown is reflected on the server.

We did this as a partnership with BitCentral. Today, we are doing half of our newscasts off the BitCentral system. The other half is on tape. We find little issues here and there and want to keep the windows open for making changes as we grow our file-based workflow out.

HDTU: Why don’t journalists edit on the desktop? What was the thinking there?

PS: Two things: we have editors and the shooters’ editing. So, basically anybody but the producer and the journalist can edit at his or her will. But with the desktop, the issue is that there aren’t HD proxy editors available yet.

HDTU: What about HDV, especially for certain field applications?

PS: For certain field applications, absolutely, for those places where a large camera is inconvenient, too intrusive or you might loose it. For instance, I don’t want to send a big camera to Iraq, so we’ll send an HDV.

The other thing HDV will give you is that FireWire output easily wraps as an ASI. You could the 25Mbs stream and use that as an Ethernet connection to get it back to the studio. There are some things we want to try, but we just haven’t had the time yet.

HDV will have niche applications, but as a true HD format, it doesn’t cut it. We did a shoot out when selecting our equipment. We went through a process of deciding on rates, and we selected 37.5Mbs. We A/B–ed 25Mbs to 37.5Mbs on the 50in monitors in the control room, and I would say virtually everyone could identify 25Mbs and 37.5Mbs images.

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