NBC Seeks Camera Format for Future
Flagship WNBC trials Sony XDCAM
By Glen Dickson -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/15/2006 8:00:00 PM
As the first NBC owned-and-operated station to offer high-definition newscasts, WNBC New York has served as a high-tech proving ground for other stations in the NBC group with various pieces of HDTV equipment.
Now WNBC’s most important technical test is just getting under way: the station’s evaluation of Sony XDCAM, which records video on removable optical discs. The NBC station group is searching for a fresh newsgathering format to replace aging Panasonic DVCPRO tape equipment at its 10 stations and hopes to make a decision by next summer.
To that end, WNBC has begun deploying 30 XDCAM cameras among its news crews. “We’re about halfway through, and we’ll be completely rolled out by the end of October,” says Matt Braatz, regional VP of technology, NBC TV Stations.
The new Sony cameras are allowing WNBC, which launched its high-def newscasts with HD pictures from its studio and helicopter but has been relying on standard-definition, 4:3–aspect-ratio cameras in the field, to begin producing live remotes in the widescreen 16:9 format.
Only a handful of those cameras are high-def versions of the XDCAM format, however. So for now, WNBC will mainly be upconverting widescreen SD pictures from the field. That will still be a substantial improvement for HD viewers, says Dan Forman, senior VP, news, and station manager, WNBC.
“The average viewer probably won’t be able to tell the difference,” says Forman, who adds that WNBC hopes to shift to full HD field production in the next six to 12 months. He notes that some footage, such as video contributed from other affiliates, will continue to be shown in 4:3 with a subtle graphic treatment in the side panels.
The station launched high-definition news on Sept. 13, concurrent with the HD debut of NBC’s Today, and is offering 28 hours of high-def news and sports programming each week.
A major stumbling block to HD field production is getting high-bandwidth HD video back to the station. While WNBC does have one HD-capable news van, the station is waiting to install new digital microwave gear that will support high-definition links across the New York market, as part of the 2 GHz Relocation Process being conducted by Sprint Nextel.
The XDCAM HD cameras have been used to produce a few edited packages, such as a segment during the premiere HD newscast that explained the new format to viewers. In those instances, field footage has been physically brought back to the station and edited there.
Interoperability between different vendors’ equipment is the main stumbling block, says Braatz, citing the effort to get Sony’s high-definition codec to work well with Avid’s nonlinear editing systems.
“Part of the reason we haven’t gone full high-def in the field is the editing workflow,” he says. “We still have some work to do with vendors on really improving the workflow. ”
As a standard-definition newsgathering format, XDCAM is working well so far, says Braatz. One of the format’s selling points over Panasonic’s solid-state P2 system was that, as WNBC gradually shifted from DVCPRO tape, it could still replicate a tape-based workflow by taking an XDCAM disc and editing it linearly.
“It’s allowed us to do a step-by-step transition,” he says.
WNBC’s move to HD has also resulted in a tighter integration with the network’s news operations at 30 Rock in New York. The station has now tied its routing system into the network’s routing system and shares editing-storage capacity with NBC News’ large Avid Unity ISIS system.
Key equipment includes a Sony MVS-8000A production switcher, Calrec digital audio console, Evertz virtual monitor wall, Grass Valley Trinix router, Pinnacle Deko 3000 graphics systems, and Miranda upconversion and downconversion gear.
Going HD hasn’t required any significant adjustments to lighting or makeup at WNBC, despite initial concerns by on-air talent that they wouldn’t look as good in the new format. Says Forman, “By and large, we’ve found they look better.”
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