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Switching News Channels, in a Box

BALTIMORE
What's in a box? There's the prerequisite function, convenience, quality and many, many features, from the perspective of a manufacturer.

Technological advances mean sets of vast, varied features can not only facilitate more efficient news operations, but can also provide a great boost to bottom line, which has been more crucial than ever in 2009.

Avid AirspeedHD NEWS SOLUTION

In addition to its new brand identity, announced at this year's NAB Show, Avid has made a big push to increase productivity and lower production costs for broadcasters with its HD news solution, which includes the AirSpeed Multi Stream production server.

"There has been considerable change in the overall solution," said Jim Frantzreb, senior broadcast market segment manager for Avid, who noted core components of the HD news solution: the updated (v7.5) of NewsCutter software, Avid Interplay production asset management system and Avid Unity MediaNetwork and ISIS shared storage systems, which now qualifies Apple Final Cut Pro to run on the systems.

Avid assists customers who implement those systems with various components, such as iNEWS Command 2.0, a newsroom automation and control system; and the iNEWS Instinct journalism editing tool and the iNEWS Community feature, which facilitates remote access to iNEWS systems to improve collaboration.

Also available is the Avid Capture Manager and system options like Deko graphics systems. Avid Active Content Manager is employed to easily publish to the web and mobile devices.

The HD news solution allows Sony XDCAM HD or Panasonic P2 users to plug the media into the editor and immediately start using it (without importing or conversion) to view, select shots, etc. "It really shortens production cycles," Frantzreb said.

WPLG, the ABC affiliate in Miami, is serving as a Beta customer for Avid's Airspeed Multi Stream, which makes sense since the station "employs Avid technology as an end-to-end solution," said Darren Alline, director of ENG.

Alline favors Airspeed because "it offers good density, meaning input and output of baseband video, per box. Lots of I/O boxes are two in, one out; this one has four connections that can be used as input or output. That's flexibility."

The Airspeed's PC-based environment means its management is now centralized within the Interplay framework. "Its central control console now allows the user to manage the box and purge content. In other words, you can monitor its health," Alline said.

THREE-SCREENS APPROACH

There are three main points to consider when working with news clients, according to Alex Holt, general manager of integrated product solutions for Grass Valley: production efficiency; seamless integration for three screens (TV, Web and mobile) and expansion beyond traditional video into textual, metadata-rich information targeted toward those screens.

That's because viewers are no longer waiting to see new content from a broadcaster's linear TV schedule. "Our customers want tool sets that allow a single workflow for multi-distribution," said Holt.

That's where Grass Valley's Ignite and Mediafuse enter the picture. "They allow users to control the whole control room with a single operator," he said. "That's Ignite. Then Mediafuse facilitates the flow of the data for live and on-demand content in real time, creating more ad avails and ad dollars in the process."

"It allows the newsroom," said John Benson, Ignite product manager, "to create content for the Web or mobile-only broadcasts without it having to be processed by the control room for over-the-air."

As a story is completed, it is immediately encoded, transcoded and published. "We've made it so simple that non-technical traditional media journalists publish in real time," Benson said. "They're now multimedia journalists. There are no silos anymore."

WJXT's switch from CBS to independent earlier this decade afforded management the opportunity to offer eight hours of daily news programming. After the Jacksonville, Fla. station purchased a Grass Valley Ignite in spring 2008, it refocused the operation of the control room.

"It took the away the human response factor that had been required when shifting gears during the newscast," said Newscast Director Kirk Gordon. "That added accuracy and precision."

Harris NewsForce The pinpoint approach was made possible by programming Time Macro Events (TME) that allow the user to control several functions simultaneously during a newscast, including rolling news servers, and controlling cameras, audio and graphics. "There may be 50 or 60 TMEs in a half-hour newscast at our station," Gordon said.

SOFTWARE-BASED

Harris Corp.'s Newsforce—introduced at NAB this year—is an integrated news system built around Harris' core server technology, Nexio, according to Sam Lee, director of development for news, servers and editing.

What's unique about Nexio is that it is a software codec-based server, "which makes it flexible, format-wise. That's how we handle various camera formats like Sony XDCAM, Panasonic P2 and Quicktime from Apple," Lee said, noting that it even handles other servers and import formats, including Grass Valley's GXF and Pinnacle formats, among others.

Also key for Newsforce is its ability to handle mixed SD and HD resolution footage easily, and its prodigious digital asset management (DAM) capabilities. "Reporters need archived content," Lee said, "and DAM helps them locate content that could be on archived tape, a hard drive, a Web site or even a web cam or cell phone camera."

Newsforce also makes it easy to work with the growing variety of formats including MPEG-4, 3GP (a cell phone file format) and Flash from Web sites. "It allows the editor in the field to cut on their laptop while also accommodating the broadcast editor back at a station," said Lee, "using the same interface."

BORN OUT OF NECESSITY

Omnibus iTX for News BitCentral's entry in the market, AirNow! is a new product "that was born out of necessity" this past February, said Ken Lee, product manager. It's a "live truck in a case" that allows stations to slash the cost of gathering news anywhere cellular coverage can be located.

"What's unique," Lee said, "is that this turnkey solution only requires two steps" to operate: connecting the camera; then turning it on—no laptop or special software is required.

"That's key for stations who want something really simple," he said, "especially since the average live truck costs about $150,000 and keeping it rolling can run an additional $30,000 to $50,000 annually."

Another advantage is that AirNow! can be taken into buildings for live shots since it doesn't require cabling. Lee said that "even advertisers can use it [with a consumer camera, yet] as part of an ad package that makes stations money "because advertisers want to get their messages in front of TV/Web audiences."

Lee added, "large market stations use it to augment news operations, while others use it to replace trucks. It's compact, which translates into getting stories to air faster than the competition."

IT-BASED

"There has been a seachange in the industry," according to Ian Fletcher, chief technology officer with OmniBus, which introduced its software-based iTX NEWS in 2008.

When iTX was unveiled nearly four years ago, "the bigger broadcasters thought we were out in left field because the industry, in general, had not recognized the potential of IT-based platforms," Fletcher said, noting OmniBus as "the first mainstream automation company to see the trend towards IT [or software]-based play-out systems.

"What we have found is that, once clients have understood the concept, they move more of the tasks currently performed by dedicated hardware into their IT-based systems. OmniBus is continually extending its feature set to meet their requirements," Fletcher said.

Among the more than 90 new features for iTX NEWS include full 1080p24 capability, advanced graphics, interfaces to archives like Front Porch Digital's DIVA, greater access to production switchers, multi-language audio, track stacking and closed caption insertion.