In the past year, we have been devoting many of our "Camera Corner" reviews to pro-sumer, low-cost video camcorders and edit systems. In the past month, The Digital Journalist has produced two special Nightline programs for ABC. The first was a two-part series on Ellen Bomer, titled Ellen's Insights, which told about a survivor of last year's terrorist bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi and her adjustment to blindness. Then last week, Nightline aired our 30-minute special--a very personal look at movie mogul Dino Delaurentiis, who just celebrated his 80th birthday. Both programs were shot with the Canon Xl-1 DV cam. For post production we used the facilities at The Digital Journalist studio.
This was particularly efficient and cost-effective considering the massive amount of material shot for Ellen's Insights and the premium costs involved with editing at any network facility.
The bulk of the work was done over a period of two weeks on the Sony DSR70 portable edit package. Finishing and effects were completed on an Apple G3, using the new Final Cut Pro software. This is the first time Final Cut Pro has been used in the editing of a network news broadcast.
ABC made the decision to turn the Ellen's Insights into a two-night program relatively late in pre-production. This meant the deadline had been moved forward by a day, and the amount of editing had been doubled! We had just six hours left and ABC wanted us to edit the leaders too. Time was running out fast. We picked up the Sony DSR70, and took it to ABC where--working on our knees in a corner of the newsroom--we cut all the lead-in material. None of the ABC technical staff had ever seen a DSR70 at work, so we had an amazed audience. In Broadcast News style, we finished the show at 11:20P.M. for an 11:35 airtime.
The fact is, without the portability and
high professional standards of the DSR70, we
A TOUR OF THE UNIT
We reviewed the DSR70 as a dual docked unit. This is similar to the Betacam portable editing system that was introduced last year, and used at the National Press Photographer's TV News Workshop as the prime editing package. The system is essentially identical, except the DSR70 takes DVCAM and Mini DV formats. The recording can only be done on DVCAM, either mini or standard. DV is compatible for playback only, which means that the tapes you use in cameras such as the Canon XL-1 may be used as the source tape.
Previously, commercial broadcast news teams would need to build their remote editing facilities around "fly away" kits, which would consist of half a dozen large packing cases, costing in excess of $100,000. Now, with the DSR70 and Betacam portable system, all that is reduced to one package, about the size of a small Haliburton case, weighing under 26 pounds.
The system has dual six-inch LCD monitors, audio monitors, a four-track audio mixer, and a time base corrector, all built into the record and playback unit. A key feature of the unit is that it maximizes the capabilities of "firewire" which means that all video, audio, timecode, synch and remote control signals are carried through one cable, which simplifies setup to a tremendous degree (no more spaghetti at the back).
It is a plug and play machine, once it is configured. However, configuration can take a while due to its vast menu and sub menu options. As a first time user, you should give yourself at least six hours to set up the machine, but after that it's a breeze. Anyone who has edited on Betacam linear will find all the control panels familiar.
The first thing that struck us was how fast and efficient the tape drive was, with a visual monitoring at 32x forward or rewind.
Sony states that the editor is frame accurate, and in many hours of editing, on two major broadcast packages, we found not a hint of frame slippage.
What sets the DSR70 apart from most digital edit decks is that even with firewire, you are able to set input and output audio levels, however, the four-track mixing board takes some getting used to. All the pan and mixing controls are set electronically on a LCD menu display, but there is great flexibility when it comes to swapping or combining tracks in any combination. Audio is recorded in either 48K or 32K sampling rate. The manual says you cannot convert one to the other, which would cause problems when editing with a variety of source material, especially when in the 32K mode, the DSR70 bunches channels 1 and 2, and 3 and 4 together. Luckily, there is a way of overriding this, and we were able to edit from DV source tapes that had been recorded in 32K mode onto an edit master in 48K mode, without any problem.
While nonlinear is all the rage at the moment, we still feel there is room for linear machines, especially because of their reliability and portability. Thanks to firewire, there is no longer any generation loss, so you can dump back and forth as many times as you wish, thus decreasing the lack of flexibility that analog linear systems formerly had.
The back panel gives you the option of bringing in almost any combination of professional video and audio sources. However, we were very disappointed to find we could not link up a single DSR70 machine to any of the lower priced DV VCRs such as the DSR30, or the V10 for editing purposes. This has profound economic consequences: the ability to link up a single DSR70 deck to either the camera or VCR would cut the cost in half.
Talking about cost, this is not an economy package by any means. At $26,000 for the dual edit decks with firewire cards installed, power supply and case, it seems out of proportion to what you would pay for a full nonlinear edit system these days. But, it is an ideal companion to a nonlinear edit system, especially if you are working on lengthy projects, and you don't have unlimited hard drive space
We found the DSR70 to be a pure joy to edit with. Like most Sony products it is reliable, robust and well engineered. It will become a mainstay of many professional producers who are moving into the digital realm. We at The Digital Journalist--after our experiences using the deck to turn out two primetime network shows--would be very reluctant to give ours up.
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