Network Ten has completed its move to a complete digital workflow with Sony XDCAM camera systems replacing 10 year old Sony Betacam SX tape-based equipment.
The Australian commercial network has added over 50 Sony XDCAM PDW-700 camcorders, more than 40 PDW-HD1500 decks and 22 PDW-U1 portable drives to its nation wide operations in five state capitals and three bureaux.
“There were numerous factors that led to us making the decision to go with Sony,” explained Linus Bagley, Ten Brisbane’s Operations Manager, who chaired Ten’s XDCAM HD evaluation committee. “First we had to make sure that the equipment would work with our current workflows and infrastructure. Pricing was also very important and so were the ergonomics of the cameras.
“The price of media was also a key influence. Some production crews are required to send material to us overnight so we needed a cost effective medium. And it was going to be a lot easier to hand over or swap a XDCAM disc of material in the field when we’re pooling a shoot.
“The camera’s ergonomics were a big factor with the operators when we were testing units,” explained Bagley. “In comparison to its competitors at the time, the Sony XDCAM PDW-700 weighed slightly less. The operational aspects also favoured its selection in that it is a very user friendly and very operationally comfortable camera to use.”
After research and comparisons began in 2007 orders were placed and Sony XDCAM deliveries began late in 2008.
Network Ten had previously completed workflow modelling and installed Vizrt Ardendo file-based content management and newsroom systems into its five principal stations, to handle all production work.
“When we began looking at cameras we were in the process of rolling out the file-based workflow in the newsrooms and in the final part of this project we replaced the cameras. So XDCAM essentially completed the tapeless migration of our news,” said Jason Tuendemann, Network Technology Manager.
“A key advantage of the XDCAM PDW-700 cameras is that they’re capable of both SD and HD so they gave us flexibility and future proofed us for HD as well,” said Bagley. “We shoot in SD now except for documentaries but we now have the flexibility of formats when mobilising crews. If we’re shooting a news story in Townsville we don’t have to fly up another camera or crew to get extra shots of a whale in HD for a documentary. That might not happen very often but when it does this obviously works well.
“XDCAM also allowed transition of our workflows,” continued Bagley. “We looked at lots of different competitors’ cameras and one of the scenarios we had is our digital file-based system where all content is stored and archived. But we still have a workflow whereby we keep our shoot tapes for a period of time in the newsroom. To do that with digital media we needed a cost-effective medium and you can’t do that with some of the competitors’ products.”
“A lot of our auxiliary equipment from our SX cameras such as wireless microphones, lights and lenses also worked with the PDW-700 camera,” detailed Tuendemann. “In effect the move to XDCAM wasn’t a major change for us and we were able to maintain our current workflows and have the flexibility to change them if required in the future.”
Positive Outcomes With XDCAM
The XDCAM PDW-700 camcorders’ abilities have helped streamline Ten’s view and work practices associated with the asset management system, especially in the contribution area.
On location, XDCAM camera discs are ingested into PC laptops for Avid editing before being stored and forwarded back to the station over IP or satellite networks, using Stream Box systems.
“The PDW-700’s SDI output has made it a lot easier when setting up for live crosses. We’ve been able to upgrade to all digital ENG links so we now have a lot better quality images and audio for all live wire news and weather crosses,” said Bagley.
The XDCAM format’s ability to display recorded clips as thumbnails has enabled operators to locate and edit material in the field and studio. Journalists on the road use the camcorder’s LCD screen to locate best scenes and delete others. At the station, shots can be quickly located and queued for playout or digitising using PDW-HD1500 and PDW-U1 decks. Once ingested, journalists view material on their desktop content management system before it is finalised or goes to Avids for production.
“The level of support that we received from Sony Australia and its engineers in setting up and migrating to XDCAM was very good. Extensive operator training was provided by Sony and once we locked down the technical settings of the camera we got the consistent look we wanted,” said Tuendemann.
“And we have found that the XDCAM format to be more reliable, more robust and doesn’t suffer from drop outs like videotape. The standard discs are more storage friendly than tape stock and the durability of the discs has been good,” said Bagley.