Tapeless Camcorders Gain Acceptance

News, sports and entertainment shot without tape


The demise of videotape has been predicted for at least the last dozen years, though nearly 100 percent of video field production work is acquired on tape. Only one alternative, the Ikegami and Avid (now NLT) EditCam, was available.

However, at the NAB show last year, two broadcast heavyweights rolled out tapeless prototypes: Sony, with its reusable optical disc-based camcorders, and Panasonic, with its memory-based camcorders. This year, they returned with salable systems.

Two smaller players, Focus Enhancements and nNovia, have also brought hard drive-based tapeless recorder devices to market as well. TV Technology talked with customers actually using four of the tapeless camera systems, as well as a customer that will just be taking delivery of the fifth system as this issue arrives.


"I think it's the best thing that's happened to a video director in a long time," said Cleveland Browns video director for Football Operations, Patrick Dolan.

Since coaches look at video of games and practices on the Brown's in-house network, Dolan was looking for a system that would allow him to get video on that network as soon as possible.

With EditCam, Dolan said the video is loaded onto the network three times faster than real time.

"We're able to capture it faster and edit it faster, not to mention the fact that the picture's fantastic," he said.

Dolan also touted the camcorder's ability to store metadata of in and out points as games are shot.

"We're able to create inter-cut clips of each play without having to go through and create the in- and out-marks after the fact," he said. An inter-cut is a sideline view followed by endzone view. "The marks are actually being created as we turn the camera on and off. On a road game we're actually able to do the inter-cuts on the plane ride or bus ride home."


"I think the thing that really got me excited was the built-in buffer, and the fact that when you hit record, the camcorder lays down the eight seconds from before you hit the button," said Michael Bryant, producer for State of Mind Productions.

Bryant shoots a lot of reality programs. He said that with tape, a good sound bite might get away because there is a three- to five- second delay before it starts recording.

With the Sony XDCam, he said, "it doesn't matter if we're shooting the tops of their feet at the moment, we'll cover it with B-roll, but we've got the sound bite."

Bryant is also a fan of the XDCam's ability to make a low-resolution "proxy" version of the 50 mbps video it records.

"When you go into post-production you can work with the low-res, and then you auto-assemble the high-res."

Initially he had been concerned about using a brand new technology.

"None of my concerns were really founded," he said.

Bryant's crews found their BetaCam experience prepared them for the new cameras.

"I think you could put a blindfold on a camera operator and he could operate the XDCam just the same as the tape cameras," he said.


Though cable news channel New York One will just be taking delivery of their first Panasonic P2 gear when this article comes out, NY1 vice president and general manager, Steve Paulus, used the equipment in Japan in March.

"We covered the Yankees opening series over there, and I was absolutely sold after using the gear for that job," he said.

NY1 is making the transition from its current DVCPRO tape-based equipment to the P2, gradually over the fall.

"The P2 eliminates the wait to ingest material into the station's servers, so news footage is available immediately to NY1 for editing," said Paulus. "With faster acquisition and editing, breaking news airs sooner."

While the NY1 videographers will have to make certain changes in their workflow to get material off the memory cards and into the editing servers, he said the transfer speed more than makes up for it.

"For our way of working and the quick turnarounds we do with stories," he said, "this is ideal."


"When the Avid sees what the FireStore has written, it sees Avid media," said Jeff Tucker, Idaho Public TV Production Panager. "That's very helpful, because you don't have to transcode to real-time or computer-time into something the Avid can read."

Focus Enhancements' FS3 takes camcorder video directly from the FireWire port, and gives Tucker's news group the ability to move video they've shot quickly into the editing environment by plugging the disks directly into the editing system.

The 40 GB hard drives in the FS3 hold 180 minutes of DV video, and are replaceable.

"We did not buy multiple hard drives, we bought one hard drive per FireStore," said Tucker.

Originally, Tucker's camera operators rolled tape in their camcorders simultaneously as a backup. Because his production crews reformat the drives each week, they've found that for certain long-developing stories, they're better served shooting and storing on tape.

Tucker said there are a lot of capabilities of the FireStore he and his group haven't utilized yet.

"We've just scratched the surface on what the FireStore can do in terms of playback and shot-marking and that kind of stuff."


The crews at 1010TV, an Internet broadcasting network based in Polson, Mont., also rolled tape in their camcorders as backup when they first began using their nNovia QuickCapture hard drive-based recorders, but quickly found they could rely on the units.

"We just got through shooting this TV show that's going to be on Saturday morning," said 1010TV vice president of sales and marketing Jim Greer. "[It] was shot in Waco, Texas-a mountain bike, downhill type racing thing-shot on hard disc and edited right off the disc."

One of 1010TV's specialties is drag-race videos, and they've found no recording device that can stand up to the vibration of a 7000 HP dragster. But by using the QuickCapture unattached to the camcorder, Greer is going to try a different type of shock mount.

"We're going to mount the QuickCapture to the driver's stomach," he said. "That may just take enough vibration out."