World-famous news agency Reuter has decided to back the solid-state Panasonic P2 format for newsgathering and field editing. "We spent a long time producing an analysis sheet of about 70 desirable performance criteria," said Robert Kernot, global head of Visuals Development, writes Richard Dean.
"It wasn't just about the format - things like the quality and ergonomics of the camera and the range of lenses also came into play, all of which were weighted in order of importance. No camera met all the criteria, but after comparing the score sheets of all candidate systems on the market, it became clear that the P2 system represented the best overall choice."
Kernot acknowledges that P2 memory cards are much more expensive than Sony's XDCAM optical discs, which many see as cheap enough to be considered disposable. "We will implement a disciplined regime to recycle P2 cards among our crews," he said. "Most of our freelancers are still using Sony Z1 tape camcorders, so the issue of retrieving cards from far-flung users won't arise."
The final mix of cameras and editing equipment, much of which will replace tape-based DVCPRO cameras adopted in 1998, has yet to be decided as individual bureaux have different coverage needs and varying crew sizes. However the company won't be scrimping on P2 memory cards, which as Kernot points out can be rapidly 'mounted' on an editing computer without undergoing any ingest or copying process.
"Each camera has five P2 slots, so we will probably issue at least five cards per camera, perhaps plus a few spares," he said. "With every 16GB card storing 64 minutes at DV25 standard definition, this should be enough for most needs, although we will be looking at the cost-effectiveness of the new 32GB card when it becomes available." Noting that the much-vaunted new card could be useful for long items such as parliamentary and other debates, Kernot expects this to start shipping from NAB in April.
The new cameras will all be capable of shooting in the DVCPRO HD format at 100Mbps, and with the addition of an extra electronics card can be upgraded to the new AVC Intra codec, which despite running at half this rate is claimed to offer HD pictures of comparable quality. "In DVCPRO HD mode the storage per card falls to 16 minutes compared to 32 minutes with AVC Intra," said Kernot, adding that both HD options are still being evaluated.
Roll-out from Reuters' hub in London's Canary Wharf to selected bureaux across Europe is expected within the next few months, with colleagues in Asia, African and the US - who helped with the original evaluation - doing the same worldwide. Although much of the Avid-based editing infrastructure will remain the same, training on the new cameras is seen as crucial.
"As with our introduction of laptop editing, we will draw up guidelines, produce 'super users' who become teachers, and make site visits wherever necessary," said Kernot. "We won't just be handing over the kit and telling them to get on with it."