New Gear Targets Smaller Markets

Prices drop for digital newsrooms, editing equipment
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Manufacturers of digital newsroom are about to make the migration into DMAs smaller than the top 25 in a big way with newsroom and editing systems that offer the return on investment demanded by smaller stations.

"We are already seeing efforts by the major suppliers to put nonlinear editing and central-storage solutions into a configuration that works in markets smaller than the top 20," says ParkerVision Vice President of Business Development Matt Danilowicz. "It seems highly likely that more vendors will be tempted to follow the approach of the Associated Press, which prices its offerings based on market size rather than simply based on material costs."

Whether other manufacturers adopt that pricing strategy remains to be seen, but today's reality is that prices are falling. In addition, the timing is just about right as groups and stations begin to move beyond the DTV transmission transition and look to the digital-newsroom transition.

"Most of the small-market stations are still doing machine-to-machine editing, and they're waiting to get into NLEs," says Pinnacle CTO Al Kovalick. "But NLEs have been too complex and have too many features journalists don't need."

Pinnacle's Vortex LN is an example of a simplified system, bundling two Vortex SuiteEdit stations with 80 hours of RAID storage, media-management tools, and a play-to-air shotbox. Cost is around $130,000 for a complete system.

"It has cuts only and some simple effects," says Al Kovalick. "It's not as sophisticated as our other nonlinear editing systems like Liquid Blue or Liquid Chrome, but journalists don't need that level of complexity."

More news, High-end look

ParkerVision's CR2000 is another product designed for stations in DMA 75 to125. Newscasts continue to be a major programming differentiator, but the challenge for stations is to find a way to produce more newscasts while maintaining a higher-end look.

Intended to meet that need is the latest system entry in the PVTV product line. The CR2000 master-control automation system has 24 SDI direct video inputs; six key inputs; five key layers; 32 analog or AES/EBU digital audio inputs; and 16 device control ports for VTRs, video servers, character generators, still stores, robotic camera systems and other gear.

"It provides a dual mix-effects system with back-to-back two-key-layer capability and 24 video inputs," says ParkerVision Director of Product Development Alex Holtz. "It also meets their price-point objectives."

The conversion to digital isn't expected to be a fast process among smaller-market stations. Pinnacle Systems Senior Vice President Bob Wilson notes that, when such stations move into digital newsroom technology, it's often slowly. "There are no compromises for the long term in taking the slow approach, but the station won't get the efficiency advantages until they completely automate the newsroom and go tapeless all the way through the plant. And we feel pretty strongly that journalists can put together their own stories—not only the words but the pictures and sound."

Many of the digital-newsroom advances rely heavily on improvements in newsroom systems like Avid's iNews and AP's ENPS. Both of these continue to spread their reach throughout the newsroom and even beyond with new features to be unveiled at the NAB convention. Though declining to give details, Avid Broadcast Director Dave Schleifer says the products are intended to meet the company's goal of "a tighter, more integrated newsroom system."

Avid's newsroom system is iNews. It's built around 32-bit Windows workstations and allows users to access scripts, wires and databases in the newsroom or in the field via LAN and WAN connectivity. Among the features to be introduced at NAB are browsable media within the newsroom computer system and additional search capabilities. New servers for wire services will also be introduced.

Both Avid and AP are closing the gaps that exist in a completely integrated digital newsroom. That's easier for Avid to do, because it also manufactures nonlinear editing systems, but AP is up for the challenge.

Integrated workflow

"We're focusing on our ability to, for the first time, have an integrated end-to-end workflow," says Mike Palmer, director of Broadcast Digital Distribution Systems and Strategy for AP. "That workflow starts from the time a story is assigned to putting it into archive. It's from conception to resurrection."

Whether it becomes a new religion remains to be seen. AP is busy working with partners, particularly server and graphics vendors, to provide the seamless workflow.

"It used to be that the assignment list was just a list," says AP Broadcast Technology Product Manager Bill Burke. "But we're making it a much more dynamic and central piece of the system."

Palmer notes an increased emphasis on gathering metadata from the field and tying it in with metadata entered by the assignment manager. AP has been working toward a system that will allow the reporter in the field to add in metadata that describes the video being shot.

"We're taking that information and pushing it across to the media-asset-management system," Palmer says. "And the system, through our hooks, is able to marry the data with the video as it comes in from the field."

The enhancements don't involve new technology, just a new use of MOS pointers and the existing MOS protocol. "Making it work was a big challenge," adds Palmer.

Another enhancement to the system involves using wireless application protocols (WAPs) to allow field reporters to view assignments from WAP-enabled phones or PDAs.

"The assignment desk will be able to make a change and have the new assignment immediately available to the reporter in the field," explains Palmer. "And reporters with Web-enabled mobile phones will be able to file changes back into the system from the field as well."

MOS continues to be at the center of AP's development efforts. New this year will be MOS-enabled AP services like the graphics bank or prime cuts. Palmer says the new features will allow a user to double-click on pointers that show up in wire copy and take the user, via Web browser, to an AP graphics bank image or audio byte related to the copy. The user can preview or use the image or audio. "It will pass the information off to an external server for download to air," says Palmer.

A new integrated publishing tool will allow four different types of output. It can move media from the newsroom to servers and devices that can reformat material for internal or external Internet distribution either with or without scripts. "It uses the MOS pointer to fetch video from the server and publish it at a suitable resolution for the Web," he says.

Avid's NewsCutter XP is responding to smaller-market demands with turnkey or software-only versions to give the user more flexibility in purchasing decisions. NewsCutter Effects will provide complete nonlinear editing functionality plus color correction, real-time effects, comprehensive I/O connectivity, microphone input, and timecode locking to an external reference.

Lower-cost approach

Other new features for NewsCutter include the ability to edit just from the jog/shuttle knob on the deck.

Thomson Grass Valley is addressing a lower-cost approach to newsroom editing with Newsedit SC ($12,900). The SC stands for Software Codec.

"It's a Newsedit without the Targa board," says Mike Cronk, vice president and general manager, server and digital news production, Thomson Grass Valley. "That allows us to bring the price down but still offer a system that can do real-time effects in the dissolve-and-wipe range. It doesn't have 3-D effects, but it dramatically lowers the price for news nonlinear editing."

The system combines cuts-only edit-bay capabilities and A/B roll suite functions and is available in tower or rack configurations. Other features include 32 levels of undo and redo as well as support for Grass Valley storage area network and network area storage. Options include a jog/shuttle edit controller and optional audio mix controller with four flying faders.

Thomson Grass Valley's NewsBrowse, which offers desktop-based browsing and editing, is among products that support journalists' increasingly handling multiple tasks related to story creation. It offers frame-accurate 1.5 Mb/s, MPEG-1 browsing and editing of content stored on Grass Valley Profile XP Media Platform systems.

"We added advanced editing and also simplified the news-edit timeline," says Cronk. "Whether a journalist is using the NewsBrowse or the editing is being done on a higher-end system, they'll all have a common interface."

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