BBC Begins Move to Tapeless HD formats

The BBC has just begun to move to HD transmission but its already laying the groundwork for tapeless HD acquisition. A new BBC Technology Group project, dubbed Starwinder, will trial two of the industry’s tapeless acquisition formats: Panasonic P2 and Grass Valley’s Infinity camcorder.

“We’re working hard to integrate digital working practices across our production chain,” says Paul Cheesbrough, BBC head of technology and production. “Tapeless acquisition and HD came together towards the end of last year and we were looking for the right partners.”

The BBC also selected Avid and Apple editing systems as part of an infrastructure that will move the creation of more than 300 hours a week of TV content to tapeless HD workflows by 2010.

Cheesbrough says P2 and Infinity were selected because of their reliance on open IT standards. “One of the problems facing the industry has been the push to use two or three tapeless formats that were fairly proprietary,” says Cheesbrough. “And the problem with those formats is they force us to make downstream infrastructure decisions we don’t want to make.”

Cheesbrough says the Infinity camera, that uses either Iomega REV drive packs or solid-state memory cards, meets those needs. “The Thomson and Grass Valley teams used open standards in the Infinity camera, letting manufacturers benefit from the lessons and practices related to the IT industry,” he explains.

While the Infinity system won’t be shipping until later this summer BBC is already working with the Panasonic P2 format which records on solid-state memory cards. “We used P2 at the Torino Winter Olympics and are using it now at the World Cup in Germany,” says Cheesbrough. “We think both products have value in a production.”

They also both give the BBC some leverage. “We spend $5 million per year on cameras, and that is likely to increase as we go to HD and tapeless systems, so we want to encourage a level of competition between the two companies the keep them both on their toes,” he says.

Expect the BBC to work in SD for the next 18 months before making the big jump to HD. “We’ll be tapeless for children’s programming and drama by September, 2007, and then ramp up in sports, entertainment, and comedy,” says Cheesbrough. “This is a journey and right now we’re working with Grass Valley, Panasonic, Apple and Avid to find the best solutions to building an open tapeless and HD workflow.”