Switching Gear

ABC eyes the move beyond videotape
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Like other broadcasters, ABC's Dave Converse is intrigued by new tapeless acquisition systems, such as Sony's optical-based recording system and Panasonic's solid-state-based camera. But he isn't waiting until NAB to see the future. "I'm anxious to see some real systems," says Converse, vice president and director of engineering for ABC-Owned Television Stations. He has arranged to test a Sony system before the show and is attempting the same with Panasonic.

Such a system could eventually replace the Sony Betacam SX gear currently used by the ABC stations, complementing existing nonlinear editing and playout gear.

"Seven of our 10 stations have nonlinear editing in news, and all but WPVI [Philadelphia] will be nonlinear by end of this year," he says. "Any acquisition system we would use would need to be compatible with that workflow."

ABC stations use Grass Valley's NewsEdit for news and Avid systems for promotions. Several also use Grass Valley Profile servers to handle news playout. Nine of 10 news operations will be relying on server playout by year-end, with all but WPVI making the switch.

Master-control operations at the ABC stations are almost entirely tapeless, except for backup tape decks. KGO San Francisco, which installed Philips MediaPool servers for commercial playout in 1998, is replacing those servers with Grass Valley Profiles; no other master-control upgrades are planned.

Converse is interested in server solutions for the playback of high-definition commercials since most ABC stations pass through network HD programming and can't originate it on their own. He will also reexamine upconversion technology. "The more DTV viewers there are, the more we need to pay attention to that issue," he says.

Converse also wants to formulate a plan for how to produce news in the DTV future. He thinks widescreen 480p might be a sensible solution for local news production.

A more pressing need is a solution for local-news backhaul as the FCC reclaims part of the ENG spectrum. While ABC has installed COFDM digital ENG gear at its stations, operators are still in the learning phase. So far, Converse calls COFDM only a partial solution to the ENG crunch.

Looking ahead, ABC is exploring "alternatives to having to put the mast up" to get video back to the studio. Converse thinks the solution might be IP-over-satellite or something as mundane as the sort of wireless connectivity offered in Starbucks stores.

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