Tapeless in New York

NY1 makes transition with help of P2 camera

It's just like old times. NY1 News and Panasonic are making waves. The 24-hour cable channel is once again the first to sign on for the latest newsgathering format. Last time, it was Panasonic's DVCPRO. This time, it's the P2 solid-state recording system and a $1.2 million deal.

"We've been dying to make the transition to a fully tapeless environment, and I think we're there," says NY1 News General Manager Steve Paulus. The station will take delivery of six P2 cameras in June and have 28 cameras, eight P2 decks, and eight P2 card readers in place by January.

The P2 format, along with Sony's XDCAM format, represents manufacturers' attempts to go tapeless in the field. It uses small 4GB flash-memory cards to store video as files; each card is capable of storing 16 minutes of video. The camera holds five cards, giving the user the ability to record 80 minutes worth when it's fully loaded.

The big advantage P2 has over the current DVCPRO videotape format is the ability to transfer content into the station's Pinnacle video servers at speeds faster than real time via file transfer protocol (FTP). Joe Truncale, NY1 News director of operations and engineering, says NY1 expects to be able to drag-and-drop files onto the Pinnacle system at six to 10 times faster than real time.

The station currently has to transfer content at real time, meaning it takes 30 minutes to transfer 30 minutes of video. An eight-times improvement can bring that 30 minutes to less than four minutes. The downside is that each card costs approximately $2,000, making the media in a fully loaded camera equal to about half the cost of the camera itself.

"We're looking at a couple of options to keep a tight rein on the cards," says Truncale. Bar-coding the cards so they can be identified with reporters in the field is one option.

Despite the cost, Paulus says the station would have purchased more but is going to wait for a smaller camera expected to arrive in 2005. NY1 reporters currently use Panasonic's DVX100 small cameras, which are much easier to tote around the city. "While our reporters will like the immediate file-transfer capability of the P2," says Paulus, "they won't want to give up the smaller size."

Unfortunately, Panasonic is waiting for third-party vendors to catch up and support the new format. Pinnacle needs to create an interface for transferring content to its servers. It's expected that the first-generation cameras NY1 buys will be able to transfer content in one-half to a quarter real time, eventually reaching an eighth to a tenth.

Paulus says the faster transfer is important because a file can't be worked on until it's entirely delivered. With videotape formats, however, users can begin editing before transfer is completed. File transfer at slower speeds loses some of the advantages of the tapeless format.

Not all the advantages are related to speed. Because the cameras are based on solid-state technology, they have no moving parts and, thus, require less maintenance.

Truncale says the station currently has a maintenance budget of $60,000 per year and, invariably, a couple of cameras are being serviced. "We spend a lot of money every year on camera maintenance," he says. "Most of that is on the tape cartridge and assembly, the parts that put the record and play functions into the VTR part of the camera."

The camera's color viewfinder, he adds, will also be helpful to reporters. NY1 reporters are often "one-man bands," handling all aspects of story production. The Panasonic viewfinder can be flipped out from the camera and turned to face the reporter, who can make sure the shot is framed properly. Says Truncale: "They can see everything they shoot before they leave the site."

Truncale and Paulus had a chance to play with the P2 camera in Japan, covering the New York Yankees opening-day game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in Tokyo. Although the video had to be transferred to tape before editing, Truncale got a sense of the camera's functionality. One problem: Sending a reporter to cover a multi-day event might require sending him or her out with 30 P2 cards valued at $60,000. That's something most stations don't want to do. One solution is to bring along an external hard drive, where the material from the cards is dumped.

Paulus considers a DVD burner attached to the P2 card reader another interesting development. All content is burned onto the DVD and then kept at the reporter's desk or in an archive. "DVD burning," he says, "put my mind to rest on P2."