Scripps Takes ProHD Plunge

Group taps JVC hi-def cameras for 10 stations

In a deal that could give significant momentum to the low-cost, low-bit-rate HDV camera format, Scripps Television Station Group is buying more than 150 JVC ProHD camcorders to support high-definition news production at its 10 stations.

The agreement is by far the biggest win to date for the ProHD camera line, which JVC is positioning as a cost-effective alternative to more expensive, high-definition camcorders from Panasonic and Sony. While full-featured, tapeless HD camcorders, like Sony’s optical XDCAM HD or Panasonic’s solid-state P2 HD, run in the $25,000-$30,000 range, JVC’s top-of-line GY-HD250 ProHD tape-based camcorder lists for $10,995. Adding a higher-quality lens and a disk-based recording unit for file-based operation still keeps the cost under $20,000.

Scripps, which has already launched HD newscasts at WXYZ Detroit and WEWS Cleveland, will purchase more than 150 GY-HD250 ProHD camcorders, over 150 BR-HD50s ProHD recorder/players, more than 300 DR-HD100 60-gigabyte hard-disk recorders (made by Focus Enhancements and resold by JVC) and approximately 100 DTV monitors. While Scripps won’t discuss financial details, the deal is worth well over $2 million, based on list pricing.

Scripps, the 16th-largest station group, is the first large broadcaster to standardize its HD field acquisition on HDV, a low-cost HD camera format derived from the popular standard-definition DV format. While Sony has sold thousands of its HVR-Z1U handheld HDV-format camcorder, which sells for around $5,000, it positions HDV as a “prosumer” format that isn’t suitable for high-quality broadcast production. JVC and Canon, on the other hand, have targeted the burgeoning HD-news market with more-expensive HDV camcorders that have broadcast-specific features, such as genlock and HD-SDI outputs.

Scripps’ decision to go with ProHD, which will replace aging Panasonic DVCPRO tape-based cameras at Scripps stations, came after a lengthy evaluation of the current HD camcorders on the market, says Scripps VP of Engineering Michael Doback. The biggest consideration was seamless integration with a tapeless workflow that Scripps has been experimenting with, using Sony DVCAM standard-definition camcorders to store video on Focus Enhancement FireStore disk drives and connecting to Mac laptops running Apple Final Cut Pro software to edit stories. ProHD offered the most seamless fit with that workflow, which has been under development at WXYZ for the past three years.

But cost was another big factor.

“Some camera products were priced outside our price point,” says Doback. “The business model of broadcasting doesn’t dictate a $30,000 ENG camera. That’s simply not going to happen.”

A Panasonic spokesman wouldn’t comment on Scripps’ decision to go with JVC ProHD but noted that Panasonic is now shipping a fully featured P2 HD camcorder, the AJ-HPX500, which lists for $15,000. Panasonic has also sold a $5,000 handheld P2 HD unit, the AJ-HVX200, to various broadcasters for news and documentary applications.

Some Scripps stations have already received ProHD units; the rest will receive them “where practical in terms of equipment replacement,” says Doback, who is visiting stations with a WXYZ photographer to demonstrate the format.

A major selling point of the GY-HD250U is that it has a built-in encoder that can pump out a 19.7-megabit-per-second, MPEG-2 transport stream through the camera’s Firewire connection. That transport stream can then be converted to ASI (Asynchronous Serial Interface) through an add-on Miranda box and fed directly into a digital microwave system to support live, 720p HD remotes.

Such a scenario removes the need for a separate HD encoder, saving as much as $40,000 per news truck. WXYZ has already worked with transmission vendor NuComm to test that capability, transmitting live microwave feeds in Detroit this winter.

“There are no compromises with this product,” says Doback. “It produces incredibly beautiful pictures, gives us the exact workflow we’re looking for and is lighter than existing equipment.”