While post production has successfully transitioned from linear to nonlinear, the broadcast news industry has been much slower to switch. In fact, industry analysts estimate that only somewhere between 10 percent and 50 percent of broadcasters have made their way from tape-to-tape news editing to nonlinear technology. In spite of the great inertia involved, the switch from analog to a digital broadcast infrastructure started to gain speed this past year, and with it came a trend toward digital nonlinear editing technology.
As the movement builds for this switch, several trends are becoming apparent, including radical changes in operational processes. Portable laptop editors in the field, journalist workstations with browser/editors back at the studio, and workstations fully integrated with the station's servers, newsroom software and airplay software all became more common over the past year. The integration trend includes the growing importance of more extensive and standardized metadata integrated with essence media.
The Sept. 11 tragedy and the resulting war in Afghanistan also drew the attention of broadcasters to new technology used to cover the news. These events may have been the most crucial test in years for the speed and efficiency of broadcast news technologies.
Let's examine each of these trends.
Laptop editing systems
Events in Afghanistan have certainly advanced the popularity of portable editing systems. One trend is the apparent evolution from the Sony and Panasonic linear laptop to the nonlinear laptop computer with NLE software. This trend away from linear portable editing technology does not dispute the previous success of the linear laptops, nor does it imply that such units do not continue to be used successfully. However, after several years of NAB press conferences where these manufacturers were asked when there would be the promised hard disk replacement alternative to the record-side VCR, I cannot help but wonder if these two manufacturers missed an important opportunity.
When discussing this trend with various news organizations, several aspects of this switch from linear portable systems to nonlinear software on computer laptops became evident. First, the low cost of this portable solution was a major factor in the decision to invest in laptop editing systems for field use. The weight of the equipment was one of the most popular features with users. Interestingly, when discussing this technology with the journalists and photographers who use the various products, ancillary uses such as word processing, e-mail and expense account management on the same lightweight laptop that contained the editing software were often cited as major benefits. Network management also spoke highly of the ease of use and minimal training required before the journalists or photographers felt proficient in the use of the nonlinear software. Stations noted benefits of adding the low-cost units to microwave trucks.
Another surprising detail became evident in these discussions. Many of the purchasers making the final decisions did not fully understand certain aspects of the technology they were purchasing. For example, the biggest complaint mentioned was the time-consuming frustration associated with the need to ingest and log before beginning the edit. When asked why a software package that allowed direct-to-the-timeline editing was not selected, the users of this technology, and frequently their supervisors, expressed surprise that such software was available.
Other technologies worthy of notice are the alternative output subsystems and associated hardware/software packages that work with NLE editors. A modem has proven to be especially useful in remote locations for transferring edited stories via the Internet. For example, FASTtransmit, the mobile ISDN/satellite component of the FAST.purple laptop news editing package from FAST (now a division of Pinnacle Systems) demonstrated its usefulness in Afghanistan. WDR, one of the largest public television broadcasters in Germany, brought FAST.purple and FASTtransmit to Afghanistan. Edited video was transmitted via the Inmarsat mobile satellite unit. FASTtransmit allows for one to four tiny 64K satellite transmitters to be ganged together for up to 256K bandwidth. WDR used two transmitters for 128K bandwidth. This technology features what FAST calls a “store and forward” capability, meaning if the transmission is broken, the transfer is started automatically where it left off. The receiving server is then able to reassemble the data automatically into a completed file ready for play-out. The entire transmission system folds into a portable unit often as small as the laptop.
While this is a slow-bit-rate technology, its worth was quite apparent in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where colleagues from other TV stations were asking for permission to use it for their transmissions as well. Please remember this was for edited stories where other means of getting the “on-location” stories back in a timely manner did not exist. Other journalists used Internet connections back at their hotel or telephone dataport connections to transmit edited files, thanks to the new alternative output capabilities of the laptop nonlinear editing software.
Browser/editor software packages originated with media asset management software. The browser was used to search for audio, video and graphic images. Journalist workstations were personal computers where newsroom applications could appear in a window, scripts were written in a second window and images could be found to supplement the created text with the browser in a third window. These browsers began adding those clips to a timeline. This was supposedly done to help the editor, but soon it was realized that these timeline “edits” could go straight to air — skipping the editor's workstation. One of the most important features of this new concept is the way it can be part of an integrated newsroom solution, complete with shared storage and metadata, and instant access by the technical director to completed stories. The ability to link selected clips to portions of the text or script and to have these links shared with editors or newsroom computer systems became a significant benefit for operational workflow. The low cost of this type of editing solution is another obvious benefit.
Many of the server architectures for browser/editor solutions featured dual servers — a high-resolution clip server linked to a separate lower-resolution networked proxy server. One example of this type of solution is the Sony NewsBase system, featuring an MPEG-2 proxy server that offers fast access to files by Sony's ClipEdit browser/editor. ClipEdit offers the ability to do A/B roll effects editing and to insert voice-overs and mix the VO with other audio tracks.
There were over two dozen browser/editor models displayed at NAB2001. Other popular browser/editors include: Avid's MediaBrowse, KEYVIA MediaWorks, Leitch BrowseEdit and Omnibus HyBrow (also offered by Quantel).
Low-cost news editing solutions
The trend toward browser/editors integrated to newsroom solutions may soon be derailed by new, low-cost editing products. For example, today Avid offers an editing solution featuring the Xpress DV editing system or NewsCutter XP news editing system with the Unity LANshare Ethernet-based workgroup shared storage system. (Note: NewsCutter fully integrates with newsroom solutions, but Xpress DV does not.) The Unity LANshare connects with up to 10 clients (or six dual-stream clients) — which would fit in well with many small-to-midsized broadcast news system requirements. With this option, browser/editors with proxy servers begin to seem less attractive.
On the other hand, if your newsroom features higher-resolution nonlinear editing systems, advantages remain for the client/proxy server model. First, the browser/editor interface is usually less intimidating and frequently integrates better with the newsroom software than the Xpress DV or competitor systems. With more compressed proxy server video, you can keep a much larger amount of source proxy audio/video online. Browser/editors may also make it much easier to have more journalist workstation clients on the network and to incorporate equipment from multiple manufacturers.
There are several manufacturers that promote low-cost digital solutions. For example, Omneon Video Networks offers a low-cost newsroom solution featuring either Pinnacle Systems' Windows-based FAST.purple nonlinear editing system or Apple's Final Cut Pro editing software package on the Mac. Leitch offers a low-cost newsroom server solution featuring either the new BrowseCutter or their NEWSFlash-II editing system.
Broadcast Engineering's contributing editor Craig Birkmaier points out that the way people receive their news is changing, and predicts that “within five years, many people will browse TV news from their local set-top cache.” Today's editing systems can serve as tools to help broadcasters bring rich Web content to their users, as well as putting better news on the air.
Interactive video is going to be pushed by manufacturers this year, in spite of a recent Statistical Research study on how people use interactive television that indicates there is little interest in the technology among viewers (other than for program guides and VOD). Both browser/editors and editing software will begin to feature a track on the timeline for HML/HTML markers. For example, browser/editor sofTV.net, Media 100 and Discreet all offer this feature. Grass Valley Group does not integrate Web tools such as ContentShare, WebAble and the Aqua encoder, or interactivity with their editing solution, choosing to keep them as separate applications.
Avid is also integrating Web tools in their editing systems. Avid has included a timeline for HML/HTML on their Media Composers and offered ePublisher with the XpressDV PowerPack, creating a video-synchronized interactive authoring tool. Avid will also be introducing HyperClip with Version 3 of NewsCutter. HyperClip associates a piece of audio and/or video with a word within the script and translates that linked text and video to HTML and lower resolution proxies as a background task while the editor starts working on the next story.
Integrated newsroom solutions
For most broadcasters, operational costs play a far more important role in purchase decisions than software costs. Therefore, in-depth analysis of the benefits of full integration of news editing into the newsroom, production and playout server operations is a major consideration when making the switch to a digital plant. Efficient operations have led to considerable cost savings over traditional processes — even when factoring in training and technical support costs. These process improvements include field logging to journalist workstations, instantaneous access to edited video and automatic delivery to Web pages and the transmitter. Metadata standards, media asset management and robotic archiving all play a role in making operations both faster and more efficient.
While the SMPTE/EBU metadata standards continue their development and approval processes, editing metadata has become standardized and widely accepted by manufacturers. AAF and its newsroom/server subset MXF have been adopted by leading manufacturers of MPEG and DV-based systems. (MPEG and various DV formats have made provisions for metadata content containers within the formats.) Rich metadata will facilitate improved media access management, more efficient operations and compatibility between equipment/software made by multiple manufacturers. Please see the AAF Web site, www.aafassociation.org, for more information on the benefits of metadata in the editing environment.
Integrated newsroom solutions frequently offer redundancies and protections as well. Redundant RAID storage is often part of the solution. Remote maintenance and predictive failure of components keep systems running. In general, chief engineers are finding the switch has resulted in maintenance savings.
Nonlinear editing systems will work best when they are fully integrated into the digital infrastructure of the station or network — working with the servers, the newsroom computer software, the playout software and the Web creation applications. Companies providing NLE technology for broadcast news include Avid, Sony, Grass Valley Group, Apple, Leitch, Pinnacle Systems, Panasonic and Quantel. When designed properly, nonlinear technology is much faster than the linear systems of times past, and the operational cost can be significantly less than the traditional methodology as well. Integrated systems enable news staff to quickly find all of the pieces needed to repurpose a story — saving editing time. Most importantly, today's systems are robust enough for mission-critical applications.
More powerful yet cost effective! What more can broadcasters want? (That question will be answered at NAB 2003.)
Bob Turner is a contributing editor for Video Systems magazine and operates Bob Turner Post Production Services.