Avid, Sony Create HD News System

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Avid and Sony head to NAB next month ready to show off the result of almost two years of development: an end-to-end HD news production system that will allow Avid editors and servers to seamlessly work with Sony’s XDCAM HD optical-disc camcorders by ingesting video files in the native XDCAM HD format.

The new Avid/Sony integration could give XDCAM HD a boost in its competition with Panasonic’s P2 and JVC’s ProHD formats, and help Avid stave off further market share gains by editing competitors Apple Final Cut and Thomson Grass Valley’s Edius.

The new Avid HD News line, which the company is expected to formally announce next week, includes new versions of its NewsCutter nonlinear editor and AirSpeed production server that natively support XDCAM in its SD and HD versions at all bitrates, including the 50-megabit-per-second (Mbps) bitrate used by Sony’s high-end PDW-700 XDCAM HD 4:2:2 camcorders. The new editors will also work with Sony’s XDCAM EX camcorders, which record video on solid-state SxS memory cards using XDCAM HD’s MPEG-2 long-GOP (Group of Pictures) compression.

Joint customers of Avid and Sony have asked for better integration between XDCAM HD and Avid editors for several years, and several broadcasters have said that workflow issues with Avid have kept them from adopting the new Sony acquisition format. Last spring, Avid finally introduced native support for the “thin raster” version of XDCAM HD, which records video at less than full 1920-by-1080 resolution at 18 Mbps. But working with XDCAM HD’s higher-quality 25- , 35- and 50-Mbps bitrates still required a time-consuming workaround. That stumbling block relegated some broadcasters to working with XDCAM’s standard-def version, and kept others from buying XDCAM altogether.

“A lot of our XDCAM customers have a significant investment in Avid,” notes Alec Shapiro, senior VP of Sony Electronics' Broadcast and Production Systems. “Unfortunately, it’s taken us longer than we would like to solve some of the workflow issues.”

The improved integration means that customers will no longer have to wrap XDCAM HD files into an Avid-compliant format before being able to edit the material, which adds time to the editing process. Instead, XDCAM files transferred into the local storage of an Avid system will retain their original metadata and can be instantly accessed by an Avid editor. Avid’s new AirSpeed Multi Stream server, which uses a hardware-based XDCAM codec from Sony, also allows multiple streams of XDCAM HD video to be ingested, stored and played out without leaving its native format.

Avid has extended the native XDCAM HD functionality to its Media Composer editors, and has also updated its Interplay content management system, iNews Instinct journalist editor and iNews Command automation software for the XDCAM HD workflow. Early beta-tester Mark Miller of Miller HD, a Vancouver, Canada-based independent producer with clients such as Discovery and the CBC, has been using the new Media Composer to edit both XDCAM HD and EX footage.

Miller figures he has cut his prep time before editing in half, as transferring XDCAM footage to local disk takes about a minute per gigabyte and importing it into an Avid wrapper took just as long. “It looks just like a normal clip,” Miller says. “The big improvement is in not having to import stuff.”

Another significant feature of the new editors is a software plug-in called Avid Media Access (AMA), which allows material on third-party media such as solid-state memory cards to be edited “in place” without first being transferred to the editor’s local-disk storage. After plugging a memory card into a laptop, for example, AMA lets the metadata associated with video files on that card be instantly seen in an Avid editing “bin.” It works with XDCAM optical discs or the SxS solid-state memory cards used by Sony’s low-cost XDCAM EX cameras, as well as Panasonic’s P2 solid-state cards. It could be a major speed improvement for time-crunched news editors.

“All the metadata is present and visible in these bins, and you can begin to edit and play back from the footage on the card or disk without having to do an import or transcode,” says Avid Marketing Manager Angus Mackay. “So you could be editing right on the solid-state card as opposed to transferring to disk storage.”

That functionality could make Sony’s XDCAM EX cameras, which start at just under $10,000 and record on SxS memory cards that cost $500 to $1,500 (depending on storage), more competitive in the broadcast news market with new low-cost solid-state camcorders from JVC and Panasonic.

Last month, JVC introduced a $7,995 camcorder, the GY-HM700, which records high-definition video on inexpensive SDHC memory cards in the same native QuickTime (.MOV) format used by Apple's popular Final Cut Pro editing systems. Scripps has already ordered more than 100 units of the new camera. And Panasonic bowed a new P2 HD solid-state camcorder, the AG-HPX300, which will sell for $10,700 and records in the AVC-Intra compression format supported by a number of editors, including Apple and Avid. NBC Universal has committed to buy the new P2 camera as part of an agreement by NBC-owned and Telemundo stations to standardize on the P2 HD format for all newsgathering applications.