As the market for HD newsgathering gear heats up, Grass Valley challenges entrenched Sony and Panasonic with “open” system.
Panasonic and Sony have grappled with one another for ENG supremacy for years. But just as these two giants of broadcast hardware square off for the HD showdown, a new challenger has appeared with impeccable credentials and a loyal following. And Grass Valley is bringing something new to TV news acquisition: open standards.
Each combatant understands that TV news operations are making the transition to file-based workflow, so each offers an innovative product to bring footage from the field into the newsroom quickly and flexibly. Panasonic’s DVCPRO HD series cameras record video onto flash memory-based P2 cards that can be popped directly into nonlinear editing systems. Sony’s XDCAM records to an optical disk.
But Grass Valley is trying to one-up the others with what it characterizes as a “disruptive” technology. Its Infinity series of cameras gives users the choice of recording HD and SD digital video to a variety of non-proprietary formats: SanDisk compact flash, Iomega REV drive, USB stick or even off-the-shelf hard drives, if they have required bandwidth capacity and write speed.
“We’ve made every effort to make it as accessible as possible and give users as much choice as possible in terms of video format, recording media, connectivity and compression,” says Laura Barber-Miller of Thomson Grass Valley.
Grass Valley showed the Infinity line at IBC last fall, but considers the upcoming NAB convention as the formal debut. “We enable one workflow—yours,” says Grass Valley VP Jeff Rosica. “We don’t push a workflow on you.”
Panasonic and Sony are well entrenched in the market. Panasonic’s P2 DVCPRO SD technology has been adopted by more than 70 stations, including those owned by Cordillera, Cox, Entravision, Fisher Broadcasting, Media General, Nexstar and Raycom broadcast groups. Scripps is expected to join the club and they are all likely to step up eventually to the HD version of P2.
But it was Sony that cut the first big HD deal. In January, CBS announced that all of its owned and operated stations would go with XDCAM HD, starting this spring at WBZ Boston and WBBM Chicago. The other 15 CBS stations will convert to the new format throughout this year and next.
“For the CBS stations, Sony’s XDCAM HD technology provides a strong foundation for future-proofing our newsgathering and production workflows, so our stations can migrate to high-definition production at a pace that makes the most sense for them,” said Bob Ross, CBS senior vice president, at the time.
CBS has been gaining confidence in the XDCAM optical-disk recording medium since CBS News started putting it to work in the SD mode last fall.
Right behind CBS are the ABC stations, which have a deal with Sony, according to Dave Converse, the stations’ top engineer.
But there’s still plenty of time for Grass Valley—and others like Ikegami and JVC—to score market share.
“Up until now, we’ve stuck with Panasonic in SD world,” says Del Parks, vice president of operations and engineering at Sinclair. “But at NAB, we’re going to evaluate all three systems for HD use and we won’t make the decision for another year or so. I’m sure that, over time, all the major vendors will have equipment that features different ways to record video for newsgathering.”
Parks thinks the products of the three major competitors have their benefits and limitations. “The P2 has no moving parts, but it’s expensive,” he says. “The Sony solution works well, but you still have the maintenance associated with a drive. And while the Grass Valley camera leverages the consumer market price point of 25 cents per gigabyte of storage, hard drives scare me because they are still untested for field use.”
Like Sinclair, most broadcasters will be making their HD acquisition decision within the “next year or so.” And P2 proponent Ardell Hill, of Media General, says broadcasters will take one of two routes to HD.
The first way is to swap out the entire system, bring in HD acquisition and studios cameras and produced an all-HD newscast from the start.
“There are only very few stations that are going down that road,” Hill says. “The second model is to put HD cameras in the studio and convert their field acquisition cameras to digital in a 16:9 format—but not HD. Most of the people I’ve talked to, who are moving in that direction, are following that model.”
That’s what ABC’s KABC Los Angeles is doing. “For stations, the issues with HD go far beyond just choosing acquisition equipment,” Converse says. “They have to deal with the costs of migrating a complex workflow, as well as the expenses associated with training. And they have to be careful to understand all the pros and cons so that they don’t cripple the production process or negatively impact the local brand.”
Competition could speed the transition to HD and the large investments in HD gear. “I have a philosophy,” says Media General’s Hill. “The competition should never be able to capitalize on technology against you and hold that advantage for more than six months. So we won’t let the competition leave us sitting in the dirt. But my evolution today is around moving from 4:3 to 16:9 and everything in the infrastructure piece that I buy today has to be both SD/HD capable.”