HDV For Broadcast: Good Enough? Good Question.

Ever since the first professional HDV camcorder (the JVC single chip GY-HD10U) hit the streets in 2003, broadcasters have wondered if the format would serve them well. Since that time, the industry has seen a variety of HDV camcorders from Canon, JVC and Sony. In addition, Panasonic introduced its low cost AG-HVX200 DVCPRO HD P2 camcorder to compete in the under $10,000 HD category.

Last month, we brought you the story of HDV’s bleeding edge with KLCS in Los Angeles. Now we’ll take a look at broadcasters who have not only embraced the HDV format, but have answered the “good enough” question with a resounding “yes!”

At press time, Pappas Telecasting Companies was rehearsing the launch of its new HD newscasts on KREN (CW-English) and KAZR (Aztec America-Spanish) in Reno, NV. Operating out of a brand new studio in Meadowood Mall, with the news set visible to shoppers through a pane of glass, KREN and KAZR will be the first locally-produced HD newscasts in Reno.

To capture the in-studio video and HD news footage out in the field, Pappas Telecasting bought 15 Canon XL H1 HDV camcorders, seven of which went to KREN.

“We chose the XL H1’s precisely because they could be configured for both studio and field use,” explains Dale Scherbring, director and vice president of engineering for KREN and KAZR. “We also liked the XL H1’s relatively low price and availability. When you talk about broadcast HD, you find yourself dealing with pricing that is just about out of everyone’s reach. However, the Canon XL H1 [MSRP $8,999] is well within the budget of a small station like KREN/KAZR.”

In the studio, the video from the XL H1’s is being fed to a Ross Synergy HD switcher. In the field, video is transferred from the XL H1 to Focus Enhancements’ FireStore FS-C Portable DTE (Direct-to-Edit) hard disk data recorders, bypassing the XL H1’s onboard DV tape recording system. “Since we were going to a new workflow with no tape decks whatsoever, we wanted to record using video files,” says Scherbring. In the KREN/KAZR workflow, ENG video goes directly from the FireStore HDD’s into Grass Valley Canopus nonlinear editors. Once prepared, the stories are then stored on an Omneon Spectrum for playback to air.

So far, Scherbring has no complaints or concerns about the XL H1. “In the studio and in the field, the camera has been performing very well,” he tells TVB. “The only real challenge of working in HDV to date has been the file sizes, which are much bigger than those associated with SD. This is why I am glad we’re working in a tapeless environment.”

After years of shooting in Panasonic MII analog video, WDAY in Fargo, ND (ABC) knew it was time to go digital. But rather make a way stop at SD, “we decided to take a look at HD and where it was going,” says WDAY news director Jeff Nelson. “We’re the news leader in our market, and we want to stay there.”

After considering the Canon XL H1 and the JVC GY-HD100U HDV camcorders, WDAY opted for the JVC model. In fact, the station bought 18 GY-HD100U Pro HD camcorders and 15 BR-HD50U VTR’s. “We liked the GY-HD100U because it has more of a traditional camera feel to it,” says Nelson. “It also had all the manual operations that our people are accustomed to.”

Operationally, WDAY’s GY-HD100U’s send their HDV video to portable Focus Enhancements FireStore FS-4 DTE data recorders. At the station, the ENG footage is transferred directly into Final Cut Pro editing systems. For redundancy’s sake, WDAY’s news crews can also transfer their footage onto that station’s JVC BR-HD50U recorder/players, which are also patched into Final Cut Pro.

One thing to note. Right now, WDAY is using their JVC GY-HD100U HDV camcorders to acquire in standard definition. When they’re ready for HD acquisition, the ENG part of the transition has already been taken care of.

WDAY has been using its JVC HDV units since January 2006. “Frankly, I was a bit skeptical of this technology at first, but after nearly a year I am extremely happy with JVC’s HDV equipment,” Nelson says. “The camcorders have lived up to their billing, and have proven to be reliable in constant use. Meanwhile, the price point for these units [MSRP $6,295] is very competitive. For the price of a single high-end HD camcorder, we can afford up to 10 of the GY-HD100Us.

“I can tell you that when we go to other markets, people are really interested in the equipment we’re using, and what we’re doing with it,” he concludes.

San Francisco’s KRON-TV (MyTV) has a long history of one-man news crews, going back to the Betacam days. Last year, KRON decided to take the next step and provide small format cameras and laptops to their video journalists (VJs). In order to deliver HD newscasts when the rest of KRON is HD-ready, the station purchased 51 Sony HVR-Z1U HDV camcorders (MRSP $5,946).

Today, KRON’s VJs and staff photographers shoot on their HVR-Z1U’s, and then transfer the video into laptop editors running Grass Valley Canopus EDIUS Pro 3 NLE software. The edited output is stored on servers, and managed using BitCentral’s Précis End-to-End Play-to-Air system.

A year ago, KRON chief engineer Craig Porter had his doubts about the decision. However, having lived with the HVR-Z1U day in and day out, he has gained respect for this HDV camcorder.

“The biggest concern I had about this camera was reliability,” Porter tells TVB. “Well, the HVR-Z1U has done stunningly well. It’s still at the point where I haven’t had a legitimate failure; that is, one caused by the camcorder itself, rather than by being dropped by an operator. We also haven’t had any tape transport problems, which has also far exceeded my expectations. I had thought we’d have X number of these units out for repair all the time, but it hasn’t happened.”

Today, KRON’s news is still SD, but the station is already producing four local programs in HD using the HVR-Z1U, and Craig Porter is happy with the results. “Using small format camcorders for news has been an unqualified success,” he says. “This system has exceeded all of our expectations.”

Unlike its Canon, JVC and Sony HDV counterparts, Panasonic's AG-HVX200 is a multi-format DVCPRO camcorder. It operates in DVCPRO HD (100) DVCPRO 50 and DVPRO25, records to P2 memory cards and miniDV tapes and has the ability to shoot at variable frame rates, including 24 frames per second.

WWBT in Richmond, VA (NBC) recently received two AG-HVX200s and a number of AJ-SPC700 DVCPRO P2s from Panasonic, as part of an upgrade to it and two other stations (WCSC and WBTV) owned by Jefferson-Pilot Communications Company. According to WWBT broadcast operations manager Michael Park, the AG-HVX200 is "basically a VariCam built into a much smaller footprint. Add the fact that you can shot 480i, 720p and 1080i using the same camcorder, and the AG-HVX200 is an impressive unit."

WWBT is currently using the AG-HVX200s with P2 cards to record footage, and transferring it to an Avid Adrenaline NLE for production. "There's been some bugs in the Avid system when it comes to working with P2, but Avid has been working hard to resolve these issues," says Park.

At an MSRP of $5,999, the AG-HVX200 is competitively priced against its HDV counterparts. To date, Park has had no technical issues with the units. "It's hard to tell the difference between the video shot by this camcorder, and studio HD," he says. "It's that good."

James Careless covers the television industry. He can be reached at jamesc@tjtdesign.com.