P2 Explosion

Station groups sign on; Panasonic plans HD version for '06

It's never too early to think ahead. For Panasonic, that means getting to work on an HD version of its new P2 solid-state memory camcorder. For TV-station groups, that means signing on for the current SD version. Four groups will deploy P2 this year and beyond.

The biggest deal is with Media General. It calls for all 19 of the group's stations that produce news to convert to the format by 2006. Six stations—WFLA Tampa, Fla.; WKRG-TV Mobile, Ala.; WNCT-TV Greenville, N.C.; WTVQ Lexington, Ky.; WJBF-TV Augusta, Ga.; and KWCH-TV Wichita, Kan.—will make the move this year.

While format applications have focused on newsgathering, Ardell Hill, Media General's senior vice president, broadcast operations, expects the stations to use the solid-state system for commercials and promotions, as well.

Hill points to the camera's ruggedness as an important factor in buying decisions, since it requires less maintenance and has lower power consumption than others. "It also affords us the opportunity, in the case of many of our stations, to skip an entire generation of tape-based product," he adds. In fact, all the group's stations are moving toward a nonlinear editing environment, with P2 content handled by Thomson GVG Vibrint Newsedit nonlinear editing systems.

Liberty Corp. will use the system at multiple stations, with three or four expected to make the move to P2 by year's end. Liberty Corp.'s 15 network-affiliates currently rely on Panasonic's DVCPRO tape format. Those that will be converted to P2 newsgathering this year have yet to be named, but Steve Smith, Liberty vice president of engineering and technology, says those that still use Beta SP or were early DVCPRO investors will be first.

Stations will also explore various types of editing interfaces as the transition to P2 electronic-newsgathering (ENG) operations continues in 2005 and beyond.

Panasonic has also introduced a 2-Gb version of the P2 card, half the size of the 4 Gb card-and half the price (the 4-Gb version is $2,000).

Scripps Howard Broadcasting's WEWS Cleveland has bought the 2-Gb card and is coupling it with an external hard drive to provide nearly four hours of recording. According to station Director of Engineering John Workman, WEWS will use the gear with two live trucks equipped with laptop editors. The key is no moving parts, notes Scripps Howard Vice President of Engineering Mike Doback.

Several of the company's other stations are currently planning to purchase DVCPRO P2 products. "No moving parts are better than even one moving part," Doback explains. "The format can conceivably speed up editing in the field, as it eliminates digitizing and downloading. As a content-production company, we are keenly interested in anything that makes that process better and faster."

Workflow gains drove Sinclair Broadcast to sign on and convert WNYO Buffalo, N.Y., to P2. Sinclair Vice President of Operations and Engineering Del Parks says the P2 format fits well into the group's heavily IT-based approach to newsgathering. WNYO is the next station to move to the company's News Central operation, so it's well suited to P2. Six cameras will be delivered to the station in May or June. "This rounds out the News Central process for us," says Parks. "Our whole concept is to change the workflow, making it faster and giving better access to users."

He also believes the P2 format is a plus for photographers. It has lower power requirements than traditional camcorders, and, when coupled with Sinclair's co-developed Jadoo power source, the cameras will be in the field three to four times longer.

Sinclair stations also use Avid editing systems. Parks says the P2 drives will transfer content directly into the Avid. The conversion to P2 will roll out as equipment depreciates and the transition is financially viable.