All HD, All the Time

This is a first: a 24/7 news channel that airs only content acquired on HD tape. The proud parent is Voom HDNews, whose reporters and camera operators in New York, Miami, Dallas, Chicago, and Los Angeles are making history.

Armed with Panasonic DVCPRO HD camcorders, HDNews is producing "a guilt-free couch potato's view of HDTV news," says Will Wright, HDNews general manager. (Owners of $7,000 HDTV sets have an intense reaction to receiving only standard-definition programming.)

The channel's goal is simple: Take advantage of the clarity and beauty captured by HDTV cameras and give viewers stories that visually pop in a way seldom seen in newscasts. Says Wright, "We're creating a different paradigm because we approach stories from a visual perspective."

As a result, the channel's 12-minute programming wheel relies heavily on video from HDNews bureaus. The wheel also includes HD sports highlights and an HD weather forecast built on AccuWeather's HD service.

The network wants to be at the nucleus of news. Last week, it served as the pool camera for the 9/11 Commission hearings in New York.

But while the images are impressive, the challenges persist.

For example, the large bandwidth required to contain HD picture information requires a different approach to editing. In standard-definition, a crew in the field can download content to a laptop, edit a piece at full SD resolution, and transmit the completed piece back to the station. HDNews is a new ballgame.

HDNews Director of Operations Milan Krainchich tapped a company named One Beyond, located outside Boston, to build a system that would allow field editing of lower-resolution "proxy" video, using Adobe's Premiere Pro version 7 software. The crew builds a list of the shots they want to use for the story, then transmits that list back to the HDNews facility in Woodbury, N.Y., where the final story is assembled using full-resolution HD material.

"We don't need a high-end workhorse for editing," says Krainchich of the Adobe software. "It supplies the effects and polish."

There are four nonlinear-editing suites at the HDNews facility. The editing servers are from LSI Logic, while the playout and master-control servers are Grass Valley Profiles.

The LSI Logic servers were chosen because, at the time Krainchich made the purchasing decisions, the Profiles didn't support editing in the uncompressed HD format.

When it comes to acquisition, the network relies on Panasonic's DVCPRO HD gear. Besides eight portable HD cameras and three studio cameras, it also uses 23 DVCPRO HD VTRs.

HDNews also considered Sony's HDCam format, but a previous relationship with HDNews former parent Cablevision helped Panasonic win out.

The facility also uses two Panasonic AV-CPG500 real-time HD graphics processors that run VizRT graphics software.

"Graphics were a particular challenge. There were a number of devices out there, but some of them were slow to call up the graphics because of the horsepower needed," Krainchich explains. "The Panasonic system is a little expensive, but it does the job well. In my mind, there is no match for it. And VizRT drives the system to deliver the best performance and quality."