Stations' news divisions consider pros and cons of new formats
When it comes to editing news in the field, there have never been so many enticing options. But for many stations, the confusing part is deciding the best choice for acquisition.
The existing challenge is not turning a laptop into a portable NLE, but getting the video into the laptop fast enough to meet news reporting requirements. That decision now involves taking a hard look at some revolutionary camera systems. These include cameras that record video directly to hard drive, optical disc, and memory cards.
A quick survey of a number of television stations indicates that no single format is sweeping the market. Instead, different stations are acquiring specific formats for different reasons. And some are choosing to just stick with what they have until the technologies mature.
Transferring footage into an NLE has been a time-consuming step that has inhibited news crews from going nonlinear. But this is the step that is now being eliminated as we shift to tapeless capture.
KNXV-TV Channel 15 in Phoenix is one example of a station that made the nonlinear acquisition leap and is quite satisfied. They chose the Ikegami Editcam3, which records video directly onto removable hard drives.
"The great thing about the Editcam3 is that you can edit right off of the field pack," said Erin Gramzinski, assistant chief news photographer at KNXV. "We wanted something that is fast with no digitizing."
The Ikegami Editcam3 creates a separate clip identifiable by a thumbnail every time the camera operator hits record. Clips can be transferred into a laptop faster than real-time because they are data files. KNXV uses laptops in the field running Avid Xpress Pro, but they are considering switching to Avid Newscutter XP to create better compatibility with the station's Avid Newscutter systems.
Gramzinski noted there is still some tweaking to be done. Working in Arizona on 100-degree days, the cameras can easily overheat. He also voiced a common concern about how best to archive all of this digital material. This is a problem that applies to all of the new non-linear acquisition formats.
The Sony XDCAM system has an allure to it that is attractive to many stations. XDCAM records onto DVD-like optical discs, which are easy to carry and store. The discs encode video as MPEG IMX files at a scaleable bit-rate from 30 to 50 Mbps with 4:2:2 sampling, or a DVCAM file at 25 Mbps. So, when recording at the highest quality of 50 Mbps, it's essentially DigiBeta quality without the tape. The discs offer random access to clips indexed by thumbnails, and an editor can work with full resolution material or low-resolution proxies. Each disc holds up to 45 minutes of 50 Mbps video, so a large advantage here is the light weight and compact nature of the media. When connected to an NLE, the computer sees the disc as a hard drive and all of the material is easily accessed and ingested. And, like the Ikegami Editcam, it is compatible with a wide range of NLE products, including Avid, Final Cut 5.0, Grass Valley news edit series, Pinnacle Liquid series, and Canopus.
According to Wayne Zuchowski, marketing manager for Sony XDCAM, news outfits are among the main customers.
"Upgraded software, such as Avid Newscutter XP, enables news people to use the XDCAM system and take advantage of a much faster workflow," Zuchowski said. "We have shipped to many broadcast organizations, including CBS O&O's, groups and independent stations as well as several PBS stations."
The Panasonic DVCPRO P2 system is the most revolutionary new kid on the block. These cameras record directly to memory cards and hence have no moving parts. Consequently, these cameras require less power consumption and require less maintenance.
However, the current cost of memory cards is causing some stations to hold back. Panasonic is banking on Moore's law to bring cost down and capacity up in coming years.
But some see no need to wait. Media General, Inc., is converting 19 of its stations to Panasonic DVCPRO P2 systems.
"The industry has been talking about 'the tapeless television station' for the past decade, but the roadblock has been field acquisition," said Ardell Hill, Media General's senior vice president, broadcast operations. "With P2, Panasonic presents us with a clear roadmap to a genuine tapeless operation over the short term." Hill also cited the reduced maintenance of cameras with no moving parts as an incentive.
On the field editing side, virtually all NLE software functions on laptops and one has many choices. But for news, the primary choice has been Avid Newscutter XP. For one, the system is designed for newsgathering. Secondly, many stations already have Avid systems which makes it a logical choice to add to the field package.
Avid Newscutter XP is also compatible with virtually all camera formats including DV25, DV50, XDCAM, P2 and HD.
"Newscutter is the premiere editing standard in news and it is designed for editing news," said David Schleifer, vice president of Broadcast and Workgroups at Avid. "It has all of the news features at the station in a portable package, and we provide 24 hour technical support."
Avid Newscutter XP on a laptop in the field can also connect to the newsroom's computer system and take advantage of asset catalogues and management.
Despite the promising innovations, there is a sizeable contingent that is either content with the equipment and methods in use, or who are studying the offerings before making any broad purchases.
"We're sitting back and watching," said John Premack, chief photographer at WCVB in Boston.
WCVB is currently using DVCAM for news gathering and editing tape-to-tape in the field.
"On a given day, 30 to 40 percent of our news packages are edited in the field," Premack said.
The editing is done in satellite trucks or ENG microwave vans, usually by the driver, leaving the reporter free to continue working. It's a system that works and they feel no immediate urgency to change it.
"Conversion to a different form of field acquisition is a certainty, but right now we're experimenting," Premack said.
Mike Keller, Hearst-Argyle Eastern Region director of engineering is carefully studying the landscape before committing to a single NLE field system. He is "weighing the drawbacks" of three main options: XDCAM, Ikegami or Hitachi hard disk cameras, or Panasonic P2 systems.
"Right now, I'm building models for each system so that we can compare all of the features," Keller said. "It's all about the workflow. All of the systems create great pictures. It comes down to which format will eliminate wasted time and free up the reporters and editors to tell better stories with the tools that we give them."
But alas, the answer is not yet in hand. Panasonic P2 is an exciting concept; with the low maintenance factor a big plus, but the price of memory cards daunting. XDCAM offers extremely efficient media storage, but some balk at the idea of editing from proxies. Ikegmi Editcam3 pushes hard drives to their limit in the rough and tumble world of newsgathering. One also has to consider whether the adopted system will migrate easily to HD in the near future.
But one thing is clear. Dispensing with tape and moving to nonlinear acquisition is the final step to a faster, more efficient workflow. And all of the tools are moving in that direction.