New and Improved Newsrooms

Two new video formats will arrive at NAB with a big bang—and the reverberations will affect not only other news-related products but newsrooms across the country.

Sony's XDCAM optical disk system and Panasonic's P2 solid-state-memory-based system, were unveiled last year. But this year, both systems are expected to be working and, more important, working alongside gear from other manufacturers. By year-end, the two formats will begin reshaping the newsroom. They bring to nonlinear editing (NLE) and other newsroom systems a video format that changes the way news is gathered, edited, and aired.

Sony, for example, will roll out the PDWD1 external drive unit for the XDCAM. It will cost less than $5,000 and be capable of interfacing with a laptop computer. It has only an iLink connection, so it won't have the same transfer speeds as other methods, but it's important as the first step Sony has taken beyond its initial XDCAM lineup. "In the next two or three years, we're going to duplicate every type of product we have for tape formats in XDCAM," says Alec Shapiro, senior vice president, marketing, Sony Broadcast and Production Systems.

"Avid has already demonstrated the ability to move HD files back and forth between XDCAM and its system," says Theresa Alesso, general manager and director of marketing for Sony's optical, display, and network products group.

Once XDCAM and P2 interfaces for editing systems from companies like Avid, Thomson Grass Valley, Pinnacle, Apple, and Quantel become available, the real workflow innovations will begin. Both formats store video as files, which means that users of the editing systems will be able to simply drag the video file onto the editor for editing.

Dave Schleifer, director of Avid Broadcast and Workgroups, says his company is working on supporting both formats. "They each come with different workflows. We'll be demonstrating interfaces at NAB with plans to ship them soon after."

Efficiency seems to be the newsroom theme for this NAB. The ability for nonlinear editing systems to work with the new formats is just one way NLE systems provide workflow advantages. Schleifer says the biggest benefits to its NLE customers are in the integration between Avid's products and third-party products.

Sometimes efficiencies are realized within a company's own product lines. Pinnacle Systems, for example, will tighten the relationship between its Liquid nonlinear editing line and its Vortex central-storage system. Content ingested in Liquid NLE will be available to editors using the Vortex news-editing system. Journalists can also start on one editing station and move to another station to work on the same project.

As for the Vortex editor, look for support of MPEG-2 at 30, 40, and 50 Mbps as well as of the DV format. Enhancements include automatic scene detection and scene splitting. Vortex also now has audio-level monitoring on capture.

Quantel will introduce version 2.0 of its generationQ system. Roger Thornton, head of Quantel corporate relations, says the system, which ranges from storage servers to editing systems, will feature increased performance for faster operation. He attributes the gains to three factors: software optimization, fine-tuning of hardware, and state-of-the-art host processors, which improve interactivity and plug-in processing.

Other new features of generationQ include Windows Media 9 and QuickTime background input and output, a helpful tool in getting story approvals. New editing features include custom transitions; transition markers are provided, and the user can also save and restore audio-equalization settings.

Some editing functionality will be provided to the XDCAM format by Sony's new PDZ1 software, which is free with any of the XDCAM deck products or the lap-top viewer. "Loaded onto any PC, it allows the user to do cuts-only editing in the field," says Alesso. "They can trim footage in the on-screen window and write a script to the storyboard and even save the storyboard into various edit decision lists."

Thomson also is improving its field-based editing capabilities. Integration of Telestream's MAPone workgroup media organizer with the Thomson Grass Valley NewsEdit LT laptop NLE system allows users to create a workflow specifically for remote operations. Mike Cronk, general manager and vice president of servers, digital news production, for Thomson Broadcast & Media Solution Group, says it will simplify content importing, organizing, reformatting, and sharing and also allow users to take advantage of wireless Internet.

"We'll also offer more capability in our lower-cost hard-news editing and news applications with version 5.0 of NewsEdit SC," he adds. "It runs 2D effects, including mosaic and blur." In addition, high-resolution versions of advanced editing software will allow journalists to browse without high-cost infrastructures.

Newsroom systems will continue to expand their reach beyond the newsroom. With reporters and crews spending more time in the field, the ability to take advantage of devices like PDAs, cellphones, and Blackberry units becomes vital.

The AP ENPS (electronic newsroom production system) includes that functionality in the form of "follow-me messaging," says Bill Burke, AP product manager. An external gateway allows messages to be sent out of the newsroom system to whatever device the user has in the field. It also allows the user to reply to the message. "The key is, the person sending the message doesn't have to know where the user is or keep track of them," says Mike Palmer, director of broadcast digital distribution systems and strategy.

ENPS also allows fields in the assignment planner to be flagged so that changes are sent to that external gateway. Reporters don't need to be paged or called; the updates are automatically sent to them. "The untethered reporter," explains Burke, "is more popular than ever."

And reporters are more than just untethered: They also have greater need to stay on top of developing stories. That has led AP to develop "My ENPS," which allows newsroom staff to create a personalized wire service. It pulls together incoming wire material pertinent to a staffer, such as local stories and top news stories. It also lets staffers see the station's story rundown and planners so they can see who is assigned to what story.

"They can search across multiple locations," says Burke. "One trend is regionalization of storage for multiple stations. With My ENPS, they can search for video in seven or eight locations."

AP also hasn't forgotten that increasingly necessary on-air element, the ticker. Dedicating station personnel for ticker duty is often not feasible, especially during weekend shifts, when staffing is at a minimum. A new capability, however, enables ENPS to automatically download ticker headlines and insert them in the desired order. "Tickers can often be a headache for weekend producers as they have to bang them out or cut and paste," says Burke. "With this system, that need is removed."

Also offering new functions is version 2.0 of Avid's iNews. Among them is Data Receiver, which makes it easier for information to be ingested into the newsroom system from either wire services or reporter e-mails from the field.

One big technical change for iNews 2.0 is support for the Linux operating system. The iNews server has always been a Unix-based product. "Linux is easily supportable and known for its stability," says Schleifer. "The ease of use and need for Windows support on the desktop is unquestionable, so now our system is the best of both worlds, with a Linux server and a Windows client."

Another iNews change to help speed operations is MOS drag-and-drop to rundown. The MOS protocol has helped news organizations tie the editing, graphics, and newsroom systems more closely together. Now those benefits have been extended to the rundown list. Station personnel will be able to drag-and-drop MOS content from third-party devices directly into the iNews rundown.

Other changes include rundown mirroring, a feature designed to help with disaster recovery. Rundowns are automatically copied to another location within the same system, to another system or to a shared network.

At this NAB, the newsroom theme will be one of workflow and efficiency. But there will be a hint at what will be an eventual need for broadcasters: HDTV. Sony will demonstrate prototypes of an HD version of XDCAM as well as its XDCAM jukebox storage system. And HD editing and graphics capabilities continue to evolve.

"The priority for news is not picture quality," says Shapiro. "It's getting pictures to air more quickly." And that's one point everyone agrees on.