Tapeless: From the Field To the Edit Suite

We've all wanted to go tapeless ever since the CMX-600 dangled that tantalizing possibility before our editing eyes in 1971. An oddity then, disk-based editing has become so commonplace that Editware's release of a new linear, tape-based edit controller at NAB2006 was noteworthy mostly for its singularity.

Now that tapeless acquisition is starting to gain acceptance, we'll look at tapeless workflow from a post-production perspective.

Currently, there are several options for abandoning tape in the field, from recording to hard disk to using solid-state memory cards. But one of the first to benefit from real-world practicality has been the Sony XDCAM professional optical-disc system, unleashed only two years ago. Now that we've seen the advent of Blu-ray XDCAM HD discs, several stations have decided the system is ready for primetime.

With this year's release of Version 2.5 software for its Media Composer and NewsCutter NLEs, Avid has demonstrated that importing XDCAM HD into its systems is as smooth as tape. That is in part thanks to XDCAM recording incorporating the Media eXchange Format, or MXF.

"XDCAM uses a long-GOP MPEG-2 recording codec but wraps it in the MXF format which our systems read natively," said Matt Allard, senior product manager at Avid. "That means you just have to discover the footage with our Media Tool feature and import it directly to the editing disks without any need for a file translation."

Not wanting to leave Apple Final Cut Pro out of the competition, Sony released new transfer software for use with Apple's latest OS X Version 10.4, or "Tiger."

Free at www.sony.com/xdcamhd, this new software provides native interoperability between Sony XDCAM HD discs and Apple Final Cut Pro editing software.

"The industry is in the midst of a dramatic transition to both high-definition and tapeless production," said Rob Schoeben, Apple's vice president of applications product marketing, as the announcement was made. "Working in close collaboration, Sony and Apple have paved the way by defining the world's first complete XDCAM HD workflow, from acquisition to post."

One of the first groups to commit to XDCAM HD for field production was News 12 Networks, a division of Cablevision Systems Corp., which will be adopting XDCAM HD for ENG and news production. Operating seven 24-hour local cable news channels in the Northeast as well as HDN News distributed in HD on EchoStar satellite, News 12 Networks decided to purchase 90 XDCAM HD camcorders over the next two years.

Brian Endres, photographer and editor for the News 12 station in Long Island, N.Y., has edited XDCAM footage in standard definition on a Leitch Velocity Q nonlinear editor and in high definition on an Adobe Premiere 2.0 system.

He recently traveled with a local high school choir that performed in Salzburg, Austria, as part of the international Mozart Festival, and shot the whole production with a Sony PDW-F350 in XDCAM HD.

The HD "Trip of a Lifetime" production was edited in Adobe Premiere.

"We simply hooked up a Sony PDW-F70 XDCAM deck player to the Adobe system and transferred the material," Endres said. "Once you get the footage into the Adobe system, everything worked just as it would with any other HD source. But the ability to see thumbnails of each take on the XDCAM discks lets me preselect scenes. This saved a lot of time during post because we did not have to watch the clock tick off minutes while we were rolling through tape."

Another shooter/cutter with News 12, Michael DelGiudice, has been using XDCAM HD for ENG work. But with no NLE available, he dumps his disc acquisition to DVCPRO tape in SD and cuts it using a Panasonic linear controller.

Although DelGiudice also appreciates the efficiency of viewing thumbnails of each take on the XDCAM camcorder's LCD screen before editing, he admits that it can bring with it an unexpected cost in time.

"Since each reporter is fascinated by this new technology, they all want to review their stand-ups in the field," he laughed. "Unlike when using tape, I can no longer deflect their requests with concerns about accidentally stepping on a take. The discs won't inadvertently record over a shot, so I don't have that excuse any more."

Another early adopter of XDCAM HD is WETA, the PBS affiliate in Washington, D. C., and the production home of the highly acclaimed series "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" which WETA hopes will be the first daily national news show in high definition.

"We will be editing segments with our Avid NewsCutter and Symphony systems and will upgrade them for HD work, including DNA acceleration," said Ed Kennedy, senior director of engineering and technology at WETA. "Since we want all of our work to be at the HD level, we'll also install a Solid State Logic C132 audio board and a Sony DME-8000A high-definition switcher."

Kennedy feels the transition to HD editing will be fairly transparent.

"Material will come in from the field shot on PDW-F350 cameras and ingested into our Avid Unity shared storage system," he said, "and this will be the seminal production for 'The News Hour' in high definition. We'll keep everything in 16:9 and provide a center cut for standard definition. As we get experience with HD production and post here, it will spread out to our other bureaus."


Several other tapeless options are available for production and post, and XDCAM HD is not the only one involving disc. But editors should also be aware of the growing buzz around a new alternative called AVCHD being developed jointly by Sony and Panasonic.

Using MPEG-4 H.264/AVC compression, AVCHD promises to be twice as efficient as HDV. Sony has announced AVCHD cameras for October and Panasonic should follow by the end of the year. The glory is that unlike tape-based HDV, this new format can be recorded to flash RAM, mini Blu-ray optical discs or fixed or removable hard disks.

Sure, some wags declare AVCHD is just a prosumer format. But that's what they said about DV 25 when it first came out. AVCHD is definitely tapeless, and with Panasonic not having an HDV camcorder to defend we can expect them to put a lot of marketing muscle behind 50 Mbps AVCHD. Rest assured that as the last part of the production chain, editors will be cutting it.