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More Than Meets the Eye

Digital newsroom technologies, such as nonlinear editors and video servers, have been available for more than a decade. Despite that relatively long history, only 20% of TV newsrooms have made the conversion from analog to digital, most notably at CNN's new facility in New York.

That slow adoption, however, seems ready to give way to more deployments. “There's a heck of a lot of momentum,” says David Schleifer, Avid VP, broadcast and workgroups, of the digital newsroom market.

What's driving the move? For many news departments, it's simply that the technologies are finally mature. In addition, newsrooms are under increasing pressure to reformat news content for Internet and even mobile-phone distribution.

At its most basic, going digital in a newsroom begins with replacing linear tape-based editing systems with nonlinear editing (NLE) systems. Such systems let the editor instantly access any clip without having to fast-forward and rewind videotapes. News material is transferred from videotape to a video server (or even a regular PC or laptop) so the NLE can build a story.

The problem with that workflow is that it takes time to ingest the videotaped material, forcing the editor and reporter to wait before they can begin cutting the story. In addition, once the story has been edited, it needs to be dumped back to videotape—another step that slows digital workflows down.


That slowdown is one of the reasons a digital newsroom conversion increasingly involves more than just editing systems. “Going digital today is about the workflow on both sides of the NLE,” says Scott Murray, Grass Valley director of market development. The goal, he says, is to move to a file-based operation that extends beyond the editing system. That step eliminates the need to dub content over from a videotape or, upon completion of the editing process, lay it back to tape for on-air playout.

“The only time the news process needs to work in real time is when it's originally being shot and when it's played out to the viewers,” says Murray.

Embracing a file-based news department offers other benefits besides less handling of videotapes. The station can move the content around more quickly and also give multiple users access to the same content on the video server. That means a reporter can be looking at clips to write a script while the editor is putting the story together and the promotion department is readying promos that will air before the newscast.

Grass Valley is looking to its part to help speed up the editing process with its new Infinity camera and its deck that doesn't record on videotape. Introduced at IBC last week, the camera and deck, available early next year, gives news departments another option in tapeless recording. It joins Sony's XDCAM, Panasonic's P2 and Ikegami's Editcam tapeless cameras.

By recording the content as files, the editor can access the content much more quickly. Panasonic's P2 format, for example, lets the editor slap the card into a P2 deck or a laptop PC and immediately access any of the content.

Sony's workflow involves creating a low-resolution copy of the material on the XDCAM disc that can be transferred to an editing system at up to 56 times faster than real time. (For example, a 56-minute video can be transferred in a minute.) Then, when the high-resolution content is transferred to the editor or server, the low-res editing decisions are matched up with the high-resolution material.

It's those kinds of capabilities that speed up the editing process, but a digital newsroom is more than just editing: Graphics workflows are also being revamped. Petter Ole Jacobsen, VP of global accounts/CTO for graphics-gear supplier Vizrt, believes a key to gaining true efficiencies is using what his company calls transition logic to make it easier to build graphics and lessen the demands on the crew manning the video-production switcher.

“For example, instead of a weather forecaster having to build a cloud graphic, our system takes the weather values and then builds the cloud layer because it knows that the values [like temperature and humidity] indicate that it's cloudy,” he says. “The graphics build themselves.”


There is another benefit to keeping the video and graphics separate: It's easier to repurpose the content.

The demand for repurposing is one of the reasons the Advanced Authoring Format (AAF) Association, a consortium of suppliers and broadcast organizations, is looking to smooth the way for those files to be compatible from one piece of gear to another. AAF rolled out the first version of the AAF Edit Protocol at IBC. In many newsrooms, it's possible that different editing systems could be used for different tasks.

Such sophisticated capabilities and the ability to quickly repurpose content are not only redefining how a news operation works but also laying the groundwork for new consumer business models. For example, viewers can browse low-resolution versions of content and order high-resolution DVDs or files to be delivered to their computers.

When those new opportunities will become real is hard to predict. But the digital-newsroom promise is quickly moving into the realm of the possible.