The Case for Tapeless Acquisition

Tape is cheap...until you get to post. Forget "digital." We've had gitial tape for years, even tape/camcorder combos with good shot markers. What IT-based acquisition gives you are true time saving benefits in post.
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Want to simplify your newsroom workflow? Want to speed up editing and report turnaround, while actually improving the quality of the news video being put on-air? Then it's time to take a hard look at The Case for Tapeless Video Acquisition as detailed through the experiences of stations who've buried their Beta tapes.

Case Study I

The Army Broadcasting Service Covering News With Ikegami's Editcam

With management responsibility for two American Forces Radio & Television Service (AFRTS) broadcast networks and one independent broadcast station, the Army Broadcasting Service (ABS at abs-afn.army.mil) is one of the world's largest and busiest broadcast organizations. Small wonder, considering that ABS' mission is to broadcast (via satellite) news, entertainment and information programming to the majority of United States Army soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines, civilian employees and their families stationed overseas.

To keep costs under control, ABS decided to replace its Beta SP camcorders with a tapeless acquisition system in 1999. "Our goal was to eliminate the cost of buying and managing videotape, improve the quality of our on-air product, and eliminate production obstacles for our journalists to improve their creativity, effectiveness and productivity", says Mark Vagnerini; ABS' Director of Operations. In addition, "We needed to replace our aging Beta SP camcorders and we didn't want to invest in another tape-based acquisition system."

In fact, ABS had been considering eliminating videotape as far back as 1994. "At that time, Avid was developing what has since become the Editcam hard disk drive (HDD; aka FieldPak) camera system," says Vagnerini. However, the size, weight, cost and limited record time of early cameras and FieldPaks convinced ABS to extend the life of their Beta SP cameras until a refined Editcam was available that fully integrated with nonlinear editing systems.

When the Ikegami Editcam2 was introduced in 2000, ABS decided that the Editcam2 package resolved the size, weight and record time issues and had the advantage of fully integrating the camera media with fielded Avid NewsCutters and MediaComposers. "Being familiar with Avid nonlinear editing platforms, we knew the Editcam2 HDD-based system would fully integrate with our Avid nonlinear platforms, reduce our operational costs, improve the quality of our air product and improve the creativity and productivity of our journalists" Vagnerini says. "We started buying Editcam2s in 1999 and fielding them worldwide in 2000. Today, we have 102 Editcam2s in use everyday at 19 different locations worldwide."

Moving to Avid-compatible HDD video acquisition has paid off for ABS. Not only has the switch terminated expensive and repetitive tape purchases, but the Editcam's ability to create clips that can be easily imported into an Avid editing platform makes editor access to FieldPak media instantaneous. The reason: Every video clip recorded by the Editcam2 has an associated master clip that is fully compatible with Avid editing software. "No longer must journalists set in and out points on their tapes and batch digitize to the editing system," says Vagnerini. "This alone basically eliminates an entire time consuming step in the editing process." Finally, the fact that the FieldPak is just another hard drive on the editing system "translates to the ability to consolidate media directly from the FieldPak to media servers over a local area network," he notes.

For ABS, making the move to tapeless acquisition has simplified and sped up the production process. Meanwhile, the Editcams have proven to be extremely tough in the field. "The Army says that a portable camera should last five years," says Vagnerini. "Well, they're now five years old, and we expect to get another three to five years out of them. Better yet, we're now in the process of upgrading our Editcam2s, which use the AVR 70B video format, to the higher resolution DV25 format. To do this, we simply replace one of the cards inside each Editcam2, upgrade the software and it's ready to shoot in multiple formats. The ability of the Editcam2 to offer an upward migration path, combined with its proven reliability insures an extended life and reduced long term operating costs".

ABS is also upgrading the original hard drives to 40GB models that will record 165 minutes of DV25 video on a single FieldPak. Worth noting: The ability to create 'bins' on the FieldPak from the camera interface allows multiple shoots to be stored on a single FieldPak. Once the story is complete, the clips can be erased and the FieldPak immediately used for other shoots.

" The Editcam has proven itself to be a very, very versatile tapeless acquisition system," Mark Vagnerini concludes. "We'll never use tape as our primary acquisition format again."

Case Study II

Media General Broadcast Group Deploys Panasonic's DVCPRO P2

With 19 news-producing stations across the southern and central United States, Media General Broadcast Group (MGBG) is always looking for ways to improve video acquisition while keeping costs under control. This is why MGBG decided to chuck tape and move to tapeless acquisition in 2004 using Panasonic's DVCPRO P2 solid state memory system.

" The reason we are migrating from Beta SP tape to P2 solid state memory cards can be summed up in three words: No Moving Parts," says W. Ardell Hill; MGBG's senior vice president of broadcast operations. "With the elimination of tape goes all the parts that move in tape recorders. Not only does this reduce maintenance costs, but the efficiency of managing video in files cannot be underestimated."

It was this desire to eliminate moving parts that convinced MGBG to adopt the P2 solid state system, as opposed to Sony's XDCAM optical discs. "Being optical discs, the XDCAM system requires the use of disk drives that have moving parts," Hill says. "Although they arguably have fewer moving parts than conventional videotape recorders, XD drives still have more than the P2 system; which have none. Since our engineering philosophy is 'the fewer moving parts, the better', P2 was the obvious choice."

As with ABS and its move to Editcam, adopting P2 is speeding up MGBG's news production process. Just insert the P2 memory cards into a Panasonic P2 media dock, and the video is made instantly available to the company's Grass Valley nonlinear editors. These cards can also be plugged directly into a laptop computer's PC card slot, allowing for immediate, direct access to just-shot video.

However, the move to tapeless acquisition is also improving the quality of video that MGBG reporters produce, Hill says. "The flexibility of the P2 camera system, with its ability to display thumbnail clips and accept electronic In and Out markers, means that our reporters spend less time dealing with the mechanics of video acquisition. This gives them and their photojournalists more time to consider what they're shooting, what they've shot, and how the footage can be constructed into a more coherent, more compelling story. The result is that our people are able to put a higher level of thought into what they capture, and what they produce. This translates in better stories on air."

This said, MGBG is experiencing some 'teething pains' during the company's transition to tapeless acquisition. "It's a cultural thing," Hill says. "Some news photographers are more comfortable making the move to P2 than others. After all, managing video content in the virtual world of file servers is dramatically different than keeping up with a stack of tapes on the shelf. That is a change that impacts the entire news production process, not just photographers; change that presents challenges and opportunities to a process that has be relatively constant since the days of 16mm film. Overall, however, moving to tapeless acquisition is proving to be a very smart move for our company. There's no way I would ever want to go back to using videotape again."

Case Study III

KFMB Spins With Sony's XDCAM

San Diego's "Local 8" KFMB was a dedicated Sony Beta SP and SX user, until 2004. "That was when Sony came out with their XDCAM laser-based tapeless acquisition system," says Rich Lochmann; KFMB's director of engineering. "We decided it was time to look at tapeless video acquisition, so we called up Panasonic and Sony to look at their products."

As it turned out, KFMB's engineers liked Panasonic's P2 memory cards, "but the news photographers preferred the Sony XDCAM system," Lochmann says. "So we choose the XD system; replacing all 21 of our Beta tape camcorders with Sony PDW-510 XD camcorders."

The reason the news photographers preferred XDCAM was the storage capacity of the removable/reusable optical discs. At 23 GB each, a single XDCAM disc will store 90 minutes of DV25 video. In contrast, a P2 4GB card can record 16 minutes in DV25. "Since we gave each photographer five discs, using XDCAM means that they've got 450 minutes of DV25 storage," Lochmann says. "Were they equipped with five P2 cards, they would only have 80 minutes."

The workflow efficiencies reported by ABS and MGBG are echoed by Rich Lochmann. "The XDCAM system has been working extremely smoothly with our Grass Valley Vibrant editing system," he says. "Overall, things have gone so well since we switched over to tapeless acquisition in August 2004, that I would not do anything differently if given the chance to do it over again."

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