Cablevision News Crews Grab New Cams

News 12 to roll out Sony high-def format over three years

News 12 Networks, the Cablevision division that operates seven local news channels across New York's tri-state area, has signed a major deal with Sony to adopt the XDCAM HD optical recording format for all electronic-newsgathering operations.

News 12 Networks plans to purchase some 90 XDCAM HD PDW-F350 cameras over the next three years to replace its Panasonic DVCPRO tape-based camcorders. The group will phase in XDCAM HD gradually, with an initial shipment of roughly 11 camcorders and 20 PDW-F70 player/recorder “decks” in May.

The PDW-F350 camcorders sell for $25,800; the PDW-F70 decks, for $16,800. At list prices, News 12's investment would be about $2.3 million for the camcorders alone, although a big customer could expect a major discount. (News 12 won't discuss the value of the deal.)

News 12 will use the HD cameras in standard-definition mode, as it has no immediate plans for high-def news production. But the selection of the MPEG-2–based XDCAM HD format, which can record 85 minutes of HD video on an optical disk at an average data rate of 25 mega bits per second (Mbps), does future-proof News 12 for HD production. “For things we are purchasing now, it will likely be in their life cycle that we move to HD,” says Norm Fein, senior VP of news development for News 12.

The DVCPRO camcorders that News 12 is replacing are eight years old. It has been employing a mix of tape-to-tape editing with DVCPRO decks in the studio and Panasonic's compact tape-to-tape field editor for remote operations. Leitch nonlinear editors and servers are also used in the studio for news production and playback.

News 12 is already comfortable with file-based transmission: it often relies on broadband connections to send material to the studio via File Transfer Protocol (FTP), instead of using microwave links from electronic newsgathering (ENG) vans. It is also exploring IP-based satellite backhauls of content. As News 12 looked for a new ENG format, it wanted to expand its use of a file-based workflow in production.

The network considered a range of digital acquisition formats, including XDCAM, Panasonic's P2 solid-state product, and hard-disk-based camcorders from Ikegami and Hitachi. The decision came down to the XDCAM and P2 formats, which offer very different approaches to storing and managing video: Sony stores video on $30 optical disks, while Panasonic uses solid-state memory cards that range from $650 to $1400.

News 12 tested equipment from both Sony and Panasonic, shot and aired SD video produced in both formats, and let its engineers play with the cameras to make sure they understood them from a maintenance perspective.

Integration situation

News 12's seven 24-hour networks operate seven satellite newsgathering (SNG) trucks, four ENG vans, and myriad sedans and SUVs, so implementing a new digital acquisition format gradually was essential. “We looked at the technologies and the workflows involved,” says News 12 Director of Operations Milan Krainchich. “In terms of introducing this format to our operations, the Sony solution made sense.”

As News 12 integrates XDCAM HD, it will continue to do machine-to-machine editing in the near term. News 12 will be creating cuts-only edit rooms that use an XDCAM HD deck to ingest content and play video to a DVCPRO recorder. “That has the least ripple impact into our workflow and other technologies,” says Krainchich.

Another editing option will be using XDCAM HD decks to ingest content into Leitch nonlinear editors, and servand the third is to edit XDCAM HD content on professional-grade laptops loaded with nonlinear editing software. News 12 is waiting for Leitch's Velocity News software package to hit the market before picking a laptop editing system. “There are a few products that do work with XDCAM [such as Avid and Canopus],” says Krainchich, “but we haven't made a commitment.”

News 12 was initially concerned about how XDCAM's optical disks would fare in the harsh conditions encountered in field production. But after a year of testing, it was mollified. “We feel the format will perform well in all those shooting situations,” says Krainchich.

From an engineering standpoint, the tapeless camcorders are far more complicated than their tape-based predecessors. XDCAM HD camcorders are basically powerful computers, and Sony requires the units back at its labs once a year for software updates and other maintenance (it lends cameras to customers in the interim).

Krainchich says the new camcorders shouldn't be too difficult for camera operators to phase in: “The cameras are very similar to what they're used to, plus they have new, wonderful features.”