P2 Report Card: So Far So Good

Media General, NY1 are pleased with features

Since being introduced two years ago, Panasonic's DVCPRO P2 line of tapeless cameras has found some important believers, notably New York cable news network NY1 and broadcaster Media General, which operates 23 stations nationwide.

Media General's P2 lineup comprises three types of cameras: the AJ-SPX800, with broadcast-quality features; the AJ-SPC700 (less capable but less expensive); and the AG-HVX200, Panasonic's first HD-capable version, a small hand-held unit.

The broadcaster has nearly 150 P2 cameras in the field, and they're getting a good grade. “It's exceeded our most optimistic expectations and done very well,” says Senior VP, Broadcast Operations, Ardell Hill. “Our crews are taking advantage of the new features, and we've had only a couple of failures—which both related to the cameras' being dropped.”

Instead of recording video on tape or disks, the P2 cameras record on solid-state Flash memory. The reusable cards hold 4 gigabytes (GB) of video and audio data and cost approximately $1,000 a piece.

“Going into it, we had concerns about the storage on the cards,” says Hill. “We wondered whether there was enough capacity in the field for photographers. But storage has not been an issue.” Also helping is the use of a Panasonic P2 storage device that can hold 60 GB of data.

NY1 and Media General worried about another issue with P2: long-term storage. Some networks are concerned that expensive P2 cards will vanish as reporters and producers hide those that have their favorite story material.

But Hill says that hasn't been happening. “Reporters and producers have personal storage folders on our network,” he says, “and they can also burn video to DVD or store it on the desktop.”

Workflow is an issue. It's a new day. Users have to move from a media-based process (recording from one tape to another or to a server) and instead work with video and audio as files.

“There was a concern among staff that they would lose some autonomy, but, in fact, it's been the opposite,” says Hill. “Now they don't have to wait for someone else to finish using a tape before they can use the same material. It's instantly available.”

NY1 News was a pioneer with the P2 format, using it during the 2004 Republican Convention. Today, Steve Paulus, senior VP/general manager of news and programming, says the biggest challenge is getting users to understand all of its capabilities.

“There are advanced features that we're still learning about, like dedicating specific clips to specific cards,” he says. That feature can come in handy, letting photographers place B-roll footage on one card or different speakers at an event on different cards. “Once people get into the habit of marking clips, they like it,” he says.

The network will add approximately 20 P2 cameras around the end of April. The smaller handheld unit fits NY1's style. “A lot of our staff likes to run-and-gun with smaller cameras, so using the larger cameras is a negative,” says Paulus. NY1 is also finalizing an interface between P2 and Pinnacle Liquid nonlinear editing that will make it much easier to edit material.

Adding the new handheld cameras will also help begin a transition to HD, he adds. The units are capable of recording in HD, and, although HD NY1 newscasts are still a couple of years away, Paulus says, the network can use these P2s to figure out whether it wants to shoot in widescreen standard-definition for archiving.

Media General is also a few years away from HD newsgathering.

“We just implemented the new P2 cameras, and I don't see us going to HD acquisition in this generational life cycle,” Hill explains. “But we're thrilled to have a number of new HD options at several different price points so I can get in and start considering producing local content in HD.”