The newsgathering business is all about speed and productivity. Getting stories to air faster means improved ratings — thus the industry's continuing migration to camera technologies capturing video footage as digital files.
Recording onto videotape has been a hallmark of the electronic newsgathering community for more than 40 years. The reliability and predictability of that workflow was beneficial and usually worked. However, the advent of digital has brought new features and benefits to workflow that could never occur in the tape world.
Adding digital acquisition to a digital production workflow further increases the benefits digital technology brings to the creative process. A camera that records video in a variety of digitally compressed file formats, onto removable media (or a hard drive) can both speed and improve a newsroom's creativity. However, the process can also, at least initially, become a bit more challenging.
Are the images really saved? What do they look like? Do I have enough storage? Is my editor going to able to work with this file? Can that file be easily located and retrieved? The digital process requires staff retraining on the handling of video and audio. This includes the use of metadata that's electronic and not written on a tape label.
Doing more without tape
Once you embrace an IT-centric model, the benefits of ENG activities are easy to see. Some ENG cameras provide multiple recording formats; this benefits the news crew, allowing it to shoot in a DV-compressed SD mode in the field. Later, that same camera can be used in the studio outputting MPEG-2 for a program package delivered to an outside client.
When it comes to sports, that same crew can produce local HD at different bit rates and formats (720p or 1080i). Such technology frees a shooter from worrying about signal bandwidth and storage capacity requirements. The shooter can focus on creating good content, knowing the technology has the flexibility needed to provide good entertainment and news.
Fast file-based workflow
The process for creating a news story first and foremost benefits from the ability to ingest footage into an editing system faster than real time. A file-based workflow enables the editorial staff to easily share files and work collaboratively. It also allows footage to be repurposed across a variety of delivery platforms. In today's mobile and Internet environments, a station's local content may be as valuable when viewed on those platforms as when seen on the 6 p.m. newscast. Simultaneously creating multiple formats for such platforms is easy with digital.
Tapeless acquisition also allows someone other than an editor to create an offline edit decision list (EDL) using low-resolution or proxy files. That person can then send the EDL to an editor for an online conform using the original footage.
Because the infield reporters and shooters know what the best shots are, they may be better qualified to make fast creative decisions related to that particular story. Also, if there's a bad take, the shooter can delete the file, saving storage space and editing time.
By completing this preliminary work in the field, the studio editor can focus on other tasks while the story is being acquired. With budgets and staff stretched to their limits, today's news teams need to cooperate and help each other whenever possible. The days of highly compartmentalized job descriptions are long gone. File-based workflows facilitate this collaboration across production environments.
New IT advantages
Using next-generation compression formats makes storing large HD video files on a shoulder-mounted camera — and in the edit suite — practical. While the industry has grown up on MPEG-2 and later DV compression, AVC H.264 and JPEG2000 are providing new benefits for this file-based environment.
JPEG2000, in particular, provides certain benefits as an acquisition format. Fast-moving or busy scenes compressed with JPEG2000 do not degrade like they sometimes can in MPEG and DV. JPEG2000 images simply get softer.
File-based cameras can also take advantage of wireless technologies like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, working in tandem with ancillary devices like a PDA or cell phone. Shooters now have the ability to make annotations to a specific file and send instructions to the editor, making their jobs more interactive and cohesive.
For the station's news department staff, the integration of a file-based workflow into an existing tape-based environment can, at first, be difficult to grasp. The transition will require discussion, organization and training to get it right. You can't just thrust a new file-based camera on a videographer without first consulting with the rest of the editorial staff and explaining how the handling and logging of footage will change.
There are also important infrastructure issues to consider. Don't plan on file-based productions running on the same network as a company's e-mail or general-purpose Ethernet. Start with a fully secured production and GigE network.
It's not uncommon for stations first implementing a file-based workflow to have a few growing pains. However, once the equipment and human bugs are overcome, the benefits far outweigh any early hiccups. News crews quickly learn how to create better news content faster with fewer people. And the content can more easily include images, sophisticated transitions and better audio. The bottom line is that the quality of the images and content delivered are simply better.
In addition, the file-sharing features provided by a digital workflow increase the collaborative process, bringing benefits staffs have never before imagined. While there are still many stations using videotape, it's only a matter of time before the use of tape for news acquisition becomes another relic in the museum of television history.
Ken Yas is the market development manager for Americas Camera Products, Grass Valley.