review by Drew Stewart

When my station, WIS-TV in Columbia, SC, switched from BetacamSP to DVCpro, our intent was to convert the entire newsroom to a non-linear editing system within a year. We purchased 5 Grass Valley systems and use those for day-to-day editing. And although the Grass Valleys are well designed, they lack the effects and features that really take special projects to the next level.

For our super-suite, we went with the Panasonic Newsbyte-50, which is the DVCPRO-50 model of the popular Newsbyte. Our station was among the first to own the Newsbyte-50. And since then, our special projects have really gone to new heights that we thought were never possible without equipment you would find at top level production houses.

This is the fourth NLE system I've learned over the past three years. I've spent about 4 months with the machine, learning it backwards and forwards. I've recently spent time helping the designers at Panasonic by picking out some of the flaws in the software for them so they can fix them. I have also edited numerous special projects and effects for day-to-day packages over the last few months.

And so here are some of my thoughts on the Newsbyte-50.

Ease of Use: Since I was the one who begged and begged for a super suite, I was the first to use the Newbyte-50 in our newsroom. It took me about a week sitting down with the manuals to get the hang of it. The trainer from Panasonic was also very helpful in helping me iron out some of the issues I had with the machine (most of these were resolved simply by learning the proper way to do it).

Some of my fellow staff members were also impressed with the amount of effects that can be done with relatively little effort. A few of them have gotten on the NB-50 and learned how to do some really cool things that weren't possible on our previous machines. In fact, one producer was editing on it after just one session with it!

However, I would not recommend this as a slamming machine. I've found that the edits are to imprecise to use it in crunch situation.

Controls: The NB-50 comes standard with a controller that has just about every command associated with the NB-50 on its buttons. However, the trainer from Panasonic recommended that we use the keyboard instead of the controller. I personally prefer the controller because of its jog/shuttle knob, and I can access some the commands much more quickly. But to each his own, I suppose.

There aren't a lot of hidden commands on the NB-50. Most of them are easily laid out, or can be found in easy to understand menus. The biggest problem I had was learning the Panasonic lingo for some of the commands after living and breathing the Grass Valley commands (part of the territory every time you learn a new system).

Digitizing: The digitizing method on the Newsbyte-50 is very simple to use. The aforementioned controller makes scrolling through the tape very easy. The local hard drive can ingest at speeds of 2x for DVCPRO-50, and 4x for DVCPRO, or at real time via a built-in DVCPRO-50 deck. The user can switch between BATCH and manual methods, and it is also possible to digitize directly to the timeline. But, in order to BATCH digitize, the time code on the tape must be continuous, or it must be done manually in the real-time mode. Also, there is no display for User Bits.

Another useful feature is the DIVIDE function, which allows the user to split clips while digitizing. I've found the DIVIDE key works best when bringing in voice over for packages.

Trimming: The TRIM mode is pretty much standard from all of the other non-linear editing devices I've ever seen. It is quite easy to trim before the clip is dropped into the time line, but it becomes a bit more convoluted once the clip is dropped.

Audio: The audio with this system has been its weakest component. There's no way to watch the levels while the clips are ingested. Also, the NB-50 has to be in an audio "level set" mode for meters to appear, which makes audio editing on the fly almost impossible.

The timeline has 8 tracks of audio, and they can be assigned to output on any channel (1&2 in 25mbs mode, or 1-4 in 50mbs). Audio from the clips can be assigned to any of the eight channels, which makes editing pieces with music and other sound effects very useful.

There are several different methods for adjusting the audio levels. One can use the "track level set", which allows the user to set the level for an entire track. There is also a "clip level set" function, where individual clip levels can be set. Also available is the audio "rubber band" function, where the user can change the level within a clip via key frames. The levels are set according to dB readings.

And no matter which method you use, beware! If you use too many of these methods at the same time, it becomes difficult to set the levels like you want them.

Our NB-50 has had certain problems with the audio caused by a bug in the system. During playback, an audio "flash-frame" would appear at the end of each clip. However, I contacted Panasonic support, and their engineer bent over backwards to help me solve the problem. In fact, the company has agreed to come and fix the bugs once they get the software written.

For voiceovers, the NB-50 does have a feature that allows talent to voice over directly to the timeline. The trouble is the microphone input is a ¼" pin mono instead of an XLR connection that pretty much 99.9% of us use with our cameras.

Timeline Editing: The timeline on the NB-50 is well laid out for the most part. You can either drag clips in, or drop them from the trimmer.

Trimming on the timeline is very imprecise, and should be avoided if time permits. There are several different modes from which to choose, and remembering to switch to the right one can be confusing at times. They've also put in this "LINK/UNLINK" feature that makes the user go through the extra step of separating the audio and video from the respective clips if you want to edit them separately. However, this does help prevent the "Foreign Movie Lips" effect (as I call it), that puts the audio out of sync with the video. There is also a function where the user can change the IN point of a certain clip.

For audio editing, you can also turn on the "wave form" function, that prints a pattern on the audio tracks so the user can know where his audio peaks and lows occur.

The absolute worse thing about the timeline is that if you edit with multiple audio tracks, they don't all move at the same time. So if you want to insert an additional sound bite, you going to have to move the rest of the audio past the insert point manually. However, this can be prevented using the "Render to Clip" function, which is discussed in the Special Effects section.

Special Effects: A tip of my hat goes to the designers of the transitions and Key Framer that comes with the NB-50. It comes with nearly 100 different transitions, ranging from simple dissolves to pushes and wipes over different backgrounds. The best part is that the transitions can be selected directly from the timeline without having to find it in a hidden menu. The only problem I have with the transitions is there is no way to control where they begin and in as related to the position of the cut (each transition is centered).

As for the key framer, it comes with a picture-in-picture effect, a chroma and luminance key, a mosaic effect, a posterization effect, and several other effects that can really turn even the most boring of pieces into stories that standout (provided they're used in the correct fashion, but that's all related to technique). What's more, the effects are rendered in real time, which lets you see what you're going to get before you go to the trouble of rendering them. The only drawback that I found is that you're only given two tracks of video with which to work.

And let us not forget the '"Render to Clip" function. This function allows the user to render sequences from the timeline into an ordinary clip right into the bin. This worked really well for me last month when I needed to use a transition I had made myself over and over again several times in several different pieces.

And how about slow motion? While the NB-50 doesn't have a motion control feature per se, it does come with a fit-to-fill function, which will either speed up or slow down the motion according to your particular needs. The motion also has a very fluid look to it, giving a very natural appearance instead of the herky-jerky King Kong-like motion some NLEs give you.

Printing to Tape: This function is incredibly simple, and stands out as the best automatic print-to-tape system I've seen. You only have to insert a tape, pick your clip or sequence (yes, clips can be dubbed out of the system too!). If you use the internal DVCPRO-50 deck, it will set the audio levels according to the levels on the timeline, which insures the playback levels will be where they should be. One can choose from the IMMEDIATE mode (best for blank tapes), ASSEMBLE mode, or INSERT mode (which can only be used with an external VCR).

But, there is no way to record out of the machine on the fly. It has to be done using the "Record to Video" function.

System Compatibility/Integration: Although the NB-50 is designed expressly for DVCPRO and DVCPRO-50, Panasonic wisely designed it to integrate with other formats, such as Betacam and MII. There are SDI, component and composite inputs and outputs on the back as well as two RS-422 control ports. The machine has presets for some Sony BVW series and Panasonic AU series machines, and I even got it to talk to my trusty old BVU-800 with a little encouragement. I also got the NB-50 to successfully ingest material from an AJ-LT95 laptop editor. But, make sure your external machine has either LTC or VITC time code, or the NB-50 won't ingest properly.

As for profile playback, I know that Panasonic manufactures a system that is designed for the Newsbyte family, but I'm not sure about it's compatibility with other systems (it will not work with Crispin).

Conclusion: Despite the bugs (which Panasonic has pledged to fix), the timeline problems, and the lack of multi-track key frame editing, the Newsbyte-50 is an outstanding system for any newsroom that wants to make their product stand out with out having to spend a lot of time learning complex special effects.

Drew Stewart is a photojournalist with WIS-TV in Columbia, SC, where he has worked for 5 of the 6 years of his career. Stewart is a graduate of the University of South Carolina College of Journalism and Mass Communications. Stewart has received honors from the Associated Press and RTNDAC for his work in the news and sports field.

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