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Getting connected

News managers attending this year's annual convention of the RTNDA may take integrated digital newsroom-production systems seriously because they're in actual working newsrooms, at last. And manufacturers have stepped up with newsroom systems that can tie related products together, facilitating the long-awaited arrival of nonlinear editing and graphics systems on reporters' and producers' desktops.

"In digital news production, we've really reduced the need, if not completely eliminated the need, for tape in the newsroom," says Roland Boucher, director of marketing for Grass Valley Group (GVG) digital news-production products.

News departments have typically resisted nonlinear editing because the time it took to transfer the video into a computer delayed the news in the same way that film processing did through the 1970s. Now some nonlinear editing systems have reduced the capture delay and joined integrated digital systems that address a host of other news-production problems, including lost videotapes, redundant editing, clumsy video transfer, and one-at-a-time access to video.

The new systems quickly ingest and share video with multiple producers, reporters, the promotion department and anybody else on the network.

"At RTNDA, we'll show how we can view that material even before the ingestion is complete," says Kevin Prince, news business manager for Pinnacle, which will demonstrate its VortexNews system at the show. GVG, Avid and Panasonic will also demonstrate newsroom components, while iNews and the Associated Press will show newsrooms and integrated systems.

In addition to networked newsroom computers and nonlinear editors, the integrated systems include video servers and software that manages, records and plays video in a digital network.

"If you separate the media from the process of editing, you quickly realize that a facility needs a range of tools to get the job done," notes David Schleifer, director of Avid Broadcast.

Pricing for NLE systems varies widely depending on storage capacity and configurations. An entry-level Avid integrated editing system with four NewsCutter editors and a server—but not including an iNews newsroom system, monitors or local storage—starts at about $150,000.

Typically, the systems capture video at two quality levels: a full-quality version and a lower-resolution "browse" version. The browse version is a leaner representation of the full-quality video and can fit on an Ethernet computer network. The producer watches the browse video on a computer screen and creates a list of edit points. The full-quality video stays in the video server or nonlinear editor. The producer then sends an edit-decision list to a nonlinear editor, for a complicated story, or directly to the server. Editing is then done on the full-resolution version.

The sharing of video can go beyond the newsroom to a bureau or another station.

"No satellite feed, no missed recordings, and, for the producer, no technical skills are required," says Lee Perryman, director of Broadcast Technology for the Associated Press. For non-affiliated stations, AP's newsroom system, Electronic News Production System (ENPS), can manage rights and secure access for video exchange.

ENPS's Media Object Server (MOS) allows a newsroom worker's computer to see and control a broad range of production devices, including video editors, character generators and servers. Perryman says WGN(TV) Chicago now cuts 70% of its morning-news video with Sony ClipEdit operated via ENPS.

Another trend is that the new systems are no longer task-specific. The components must be thoughtfully integrated with each other and with existing systems.

On the other hand, most are open, able to work with components from different vendors and even, in some cases, with different video formats. For example, GVG's NewsEdit editors and Profile servers can handle MPEG or DV formats. Panasonic's NewsByte editor in its DNA system can work with DVCPRO video servers from GVG, Silicon Graphics or Quantel. Panasonic pricing is $65,000 for a 25-Mb/s NewsByte system while an AJ-HDR150 video server is $55,000. Many systems use as much off-the-shelf hardware and software as possible to help keep systems open, costs down and performance as high as possible.

Another news-production theme at the RTNDA show will be portability. Avid will demonstrate its NewsCutter XP Mobile, a laptop version of its regular NewsCutter. Avid says the laptop can also dock with an integrated newsroom system.

And Panasonic will show its new DV camcorders with professional features. With the use of a Firewire (IEE1394) connection, DV video can be fed into a laptop for editing.