News Ops Marshal Digital Gear for War
Advances enable live coverage from the front
By Ken Kerschbaumer -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/16/2003 7:00:00 PM
U.S. troops stationed in Kuwait and throughout the Persian Gulf aren't the only ones getting antsy. TV journalists, too, have been rehearsing their role in the conflict, making sure that getting stories shot, edited and transmitted back to the U.S. will require minimal thinking in case working conditions become dangerous.
There is little doubt that coverage of a war with Iraq promises to bring the most dramatic wartime pictures ever into living rooms around the world. Lipstick cameras and small handheld cameras will be a major part of the broadcast journalist's arsenal, giving any coverage the potential of real-life drama that could make Fear Factor look like Romper Room. And the enabler is digital.
"Where we had one channel of analog video on a lease 12 years ago, we could now put 12 to 15 channels of video in digital mode," says Dick Tauber, CNN vice president, satellites and circuits. "We're not doing that, but we're able to get a lot more stuff in a lot less space."
The last time Iraq was invaded by the U.S., cutting-edge technology was a 70-pound Inmarsat phone, and SNG flyaways required 40 cases of gear weighing more than a ton. Those days are long gone.
"To think that you could make a phone call from anywhere in the world on a 70-pound piece of equipment seemed incredible [in 1991]," says Frank Governale, CBS News vice president of operations. "Today, the phone weighs 15 pounds and fits in an attaché case."
In fact, the entire package—including cameras, laptop computer with editing software, videophone, Inmarsat phone, transmission gear, and chemical suits and gas masks—weighs in at less than 50 pounds.
"We're obviously exploiting consumer technology as much as we can because it's integrated into smaller devices," adds Governale.
CBS correspondents will have Sony Betacam SX camcorders, Sony PD-150 cameras and consumer-grade handycams for capturing video. Light intensifiers will be used on the SX and PD-150 units.
"Many of our photographers still have a preference for the larger-style SX camera because it's easier to keep steady," says Governale.
Correspondents will also have a laptop PC outfitted with three editing applications: Avid Xpress DV, Adobe Premiere, and Microsoft XP's MovieMaker 2 built-in video-editing application. Each has a different use and appeal.
"If someone is doing a finished piece with a lot of cuts, audio voiceovers and fades, they'll use the Avid Xpress DV," explains Governale. Adobe Premiere is onboard for Europeans who have grown accustomed to that package.
The Windows XP program will be used for triage applications—that's video triage, not Army-style triage. "It allows the reporter to put shots together and feed it back to New York for final editing," says Governale. "In the heat of a war, it's a good way to ready video."
Inmarsat M4 data-grade phones will be an important part of nearly every network's arsenal. The phone allows correspondents to send five-minute story packages out of Iraq at about 64 kb/s. Typical transmissions could take upwards of two hours.
"Those slow times aren't new," says Tauber. "What it gives is a very good-quality, reconverted story package back at CNN headquarters."
CNN will use the 7E Communications Talking Head videophone, which can be hooked up to two Inmarsat phones. That provides an ISDN feed capable of moving live video from one point to another.
"It's an interesting system that we're going to use for live applications," Tauber explains. "We'll plug in a digital camera, whether professional-quality or consumer-quality, and, as long as the camera is digital, it will send back a live transmission."
CBS will rely heavily on Continental Microwave's SNG uplink with 1.4-, 1.2- and 1.0-meter dishes as well as Norsat NewsLink portable satellite terminals and Inmarsat M4 phones. The M4 phones will be used to transmit FTP files to New York or London; the uplinks will send MPEG-2 video back to CBS headquarters.
Live transmissions promise to be one of the more interesting aspects of the coverage. The networks' goal is to do as much live coverage as possible, but just how much the military will allow remains to be seen. Governale says that one concern the military will have is that radiation from the live transmission could give away a position.
The military has also said it will help with transmissions if problems arise with equipment. One network has already taken advantage of the offer, but Tauber says he's going to have to wait and see just what type of help the military will give.
"I've heard that the military would do some transmission stuff if we ask them," he says, "but we were making some inquiries a few weeks back and couldn't find anyone who knew what we were talking about."
Governale also says there are concerns that the military could jam Inmarsat systems. As a precaution, CBS correspondents will also be able to use Iridium LEO (low-earth-orbit) phones, which are more difficult for the military to jam.
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