File-based Workflow in HD Newsgathering

File-based Workflow in HD Newsgathering

As regular readers of SYNC might have noticed, the concept of File-based Workflow has an importance[1] that cannot be overemphasised[2]within the context of the future of CBC/Radio-Canada and the goals set out within Strategy 2015: Everyone. Every way.[3] Previous explorations have concentrated on the effect of file-based workflow on productions within the French and English Services, but its effects extend far beyond there; consequently, this article aims to discuss the implications of file-based workflow within English Television News (ETN), namely in the processes and technical solutions involved in High Definition[4] (HD) newsgathering.

Elements of File-based Workflow in HD Newsgathering

From the outset, one of the main things that bears mentioning when discussing file-based workflow in HD newsgathering is the important role that XDCAM[5] plays in just about every step of the process. XDCAM is a format as well as a series of equipment (i.e., cameras, media, drives, and decks) developed by Sony to make the most of digital media in this new, file-based era.


XDCAM offers two options in terms of recording media: Professional Disc[6] (PFD), a digital optical disc that is, essentially, a professional-grade version of a Blu-ray disc;[7] and SxS[8] flash memory cards.

Figure 1 – Sony Professional Discs

Aside from the white, 120 GB Professional Disc, which is used for archiving as it is not rewritable, PFDs are typically used for long-run, electronic field production[9] (EFP) content, as they feature greater capacity than SxS cards. However, when dealing with newsgathering, which typically involves going out into the field, shooting footage for around an hour, and returning to the station, SxS cards tend to be more useful.

Figure 2 – Sony SxS Cards

File Transfer

File transfer in the field is extremely easy regardless of the type of media used. A PFD’s contents can be transferred to a laptop (or vice-versa) through the use of a U2 drive over a USB connection. Alternately, when using SxS cards, the same can be done using a USB card reader or by plugging the card directly into a laptop’s Express slot, if it happens to be equipped with one as well as the appropriate driver from Sony.

When shooting in the field, a 32 GB SxS card holds approximately an hour’s worth of video at XDCAM HD 50 quality. CBC/Radio-Canada’s XDCAM cameras feature two SxS slots, which allows for maximum versatility when covering events, given that recording switches cards automatically upon one card becoming full; this gives the operator a chance to take the full card, transfer its contents to a computer, reformat the card, and reuse it. Theoretically, any camera operator so equipped would be able to shoot for as long as their batteries lasted.


When left uncompressed, HD format is extremely large; consequently, compression is used in the interest of making file sizes and storage easily manageable. This need for compression compelled Sony to develop XDCAM and CBC/Radio-Canada adopted XDCAM HD 50 as its degree of compression and quality were best suited to the Corporation’s newsgathering needs, all whilst ensuring that viewers benefitted from an immersive HD viewing experience.

Figure 3 – Sony PDW-700 Camera


Originally, CBC/Radio-Canada chose to adopt Sony’s PDW-700 camera, which records onto PFD.

The PDW-700 proved to be excellent and sees regular use within both the English and French Services; however, it was found to be fairly heavy as a result of its PFD drive. In spite of its excellent quality, this added weight could occasionally prove to be burdensome during newsgathering operations.

Figure 4 – Sony PMW-500 Camera

Subsequently, Sony developed the PMW-500, which is considerably lighter as it uses SxS cards; consequently, it has no PFD drive.

Given this relative lightness, most newsgathering personnel opted for the PMW-500. Both the PMW-500 and PDW-700 are capable of shooting Standard Definition[10] (SD) and HD footage. As a result of these form factor and weight issues, the PDW-700 has carved itself a niche within EFPs and long shot programming, such as documentaries, and the PMW-500 is used primarily in newsgathering.

Additionally, Sony has also developed another camera, the PMW-200, which CBC/Radio-Canada has started to deploy recently for video journalists.

Figure 5 – Sony PMW-200 Camera

The PMW-200 only uses SxS media and is substantially more economical, as its feature set is more tailored to the needs of a video journalist, rather than those of a professional camera operator. Contrary to its bigger siblings, the PMW-200 can only capture HD footage, but it makes use of the same workflow as the PDW-700 and PMW-500, which allows it to fit in nicely with the rest of the HD newsgathering operations.

Making the Switch from SD to HD

Given that HD newsgathering requires updated equipment to be deployed to CBC/Radio-Canada’s stations, ETN is currently only using the PDW-700 and PDW-500 cameras in HD mode in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal (which operates in HD for newsgathering on both the French and English Services). As such, the cameras are bridging equipment in all other CBC News facilities, but they will be ready to switch to HD as soon as the necessary upgrades have been made.

A series of elements is necessary to implement HD at any site, namely, HD cameras to capture HD content, an Avid[11] system capable of editing HD content; Avid’s Airspeed playback servers must be made HD-ready, and the facility must be equipped with up-to-date Windows 7 workstations to ensure that they are capable of handling XDCAM content seamlessly. Currently, the only outstanding prerequisite in most of the regional facilities involves the new workstations; consequently, the switch to HD should be fairly imminent.

Browsing XDCAM HD Material

Once XDCAM material has been transferred from a camera to a computer, Sony’s XDCAM Browser application allows low-resolution proxy video files of the high-resolution content to be easily viewed on a workstation.

Figure 6 – Sony XDCAM Browser

Digital Television File Management

Part of the beauty of switching to file-based workflow is the ease with which it allows content to be managed as compared to what was involved back when tapes were used.

The simplicity is remarkable, the camera writes a file for each recording: when a new recording is started, the camera creates a file and automatically gives it a name, which the camera operator can customise (e.g., each file could start with the current date); once the Stop button is pressed, the camera will automatically close the file. A typical camera shoot will result in between twenty and thirty files; consequently, multiple shoots will result in hundreds of files, but the customised names should allow them to be differentiated from each other fairly easily.

Once naming is taken care of, the main ingredient for easy file management lies in how those files are subsequently organised into folders; separate folders are extremely useful in being able to help users find their media after it has been shot.


Once a camera returns to the station, the files shot must be transferred onto the Avid ISIS system. This is accomplished easily thanks to NL Techonology’s[12]Smart Acquisition Technology Auto-Ingest (NL-Tek SAT-AI Direct) solution. The ingestion process will create both a high-resolution and a low-resolution copy on the ISIS server. In the interest of efficiency and cost savings, ingest is normally done by the camera operator, as compared to having an individual solely dedicated to ingestion, as during the pre-digital era; essentially, the entire process is self-serve.

As soon as the files have been ingested into the ISIS system, a screening sequence of the imported files is created within the system and news personnel can start looking, using, and editing them for inclusion in news broadcasts.


On the production side, the degree of change involved compared to the file-based workflow linked to SD newsgathering is quite small. The main difference between the two is that the Instinct Editing component of Avid’s iNews system now makes use of the Match Frame functionality. What this means is that, when a video sequence is open in Instinct Editing and a specific clip is requested, it will by displayed by Match Frame, which will take the user directly to that specific clip.


As with all things related to file-based workflow, the benefits to CBC/Radio-Canada are substantial and they cover a fairly wide gamut, ranging from:

  • Lower operating costs related to newsgathering, as there are no tape-based moving parts in any of the cameras, no video tape recorders (VTR) to maintain, and the smaller, reusable media results in much less accumulation and need for storage space.
  • There is also the added benefit of a workflow that is faster and more efficient overall. Not only does this result in further cost savings for the Corporation, but it allows newsgathering to be more dynamic and able to react to breaking news and events with the sort of timeliness that Canadians expect from CBC/Radio-Canada.
  • Image quality is retained throughout the entire workflow, resulting in better image quality on the viewing end.
  • SD and HD video continue to be supported at no additional cost to the Corporation for as long as the transition to HD continues.

All of this allows CBC/Radio-Canada to continue to strive towards fulfilling the mandate set out in Strategy 2015: Everyone. Every way. and make the most responsible use of the resources allocated to the Corporation by the Canadian taxpayer.


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