Case Study: MSN Autos Revs Up Video Production
The video team at MSN Autos offers a peek into the latest and greatest in the auto industry. The team travels the world to cover the major international auto shows, filming car and truck unveilings, manufacturer press conferences, industry interviews, and more. The videos are posted to the MSN Autos site (www.autos.msn.com) for auto aficionados and car shoppers alike, and they also can often be found on MSN’s portal site. "All of the material on the website is really consumer-oriented. We aim to give people a preview of the new cars, as well as information about the new features," says Bruce Whitaker, media editor for MSN Autos, which garners more than 10 million page views per month.
As with anyone covering live events, turnaround time is critical for the MSN Autos team. As Whitaker explained, "We’re working on a publishing deadline in order to keep content fresh. And we’re also paying editors to sit and edit, so we want to make the best use of their time."
Working with tape created some inefficiency in MSN Autos’ workflow. "We’d go out and shoot a press conference or unveiling. We’d then have to hand off the tapes to our video editor, who would need to spend real time logging and capturing," says Whitaker. "We could have up to a full tape for a car, and there could be quite a few events in a day. For example, at the Frankfurt show, they scheduled approximately 40 press conferences a day. And as could be expected, we’d get a little backlogged."
Coming Into Focus
In order to find a better way to turn around video coverage, MSN Autos purchased four FS-4 Portable DTE Recorders from Focus Enhancements. With its Direct To Edit (DTE) technology, the FS-4 lets videographers record DV and HDV streams directly to disk via FireWire. The FS-4 weighs just 1 pound and is only 1.5" thick, making it well-suited for portable, on-location recording. Available in four configurations, the FS-4 comes standard with a 40GB hard drive for 3 hours, recording time and is available with an 80GB hard drive for 6 hours, recording time. FS-4 supports all the major DV nonlinear editing (NLE) systems, recording files to disk as RawDV, AVI Type 1, AVI Type 2, AVI Type 2 24p, Matrox AVI, Canopus AVI, QuickTime, or QuickTime 24p. FS-4Pro models also include Pinnacle AVI and Avid DV-OMF. In addition to DV file formats, the HD models also support 1080i and 720p MPEG-2 (.m2t) files. This direct-to-disk recording allows users to drag and drop footage into any major NLE without the time-consuming digitizing and file conversion process.
"The nice thing about the FS-4 is the flexibility in file formats. We use a variety of editing systems, including Final Cut Pro, Avid, and Adobe Premiere. We tend to shoot in QuickTime, as it can be supported by the majority of systems," says Whitaker. "Since we’re strictly publishing to the web, we’re not using the FS-4’s full HD capability; anamorphic 16:9 is plenty for us right now."
Each time the camera operator triggers the camera, the FS-4 creates a new clip and the MSN Autos team uses this feature to streamline the editing process. "We employ a slightly different shooting technique with the DTE drives," says Whitaker. "We pause recording each time we want to start a new piece. For example, I can create a new clip each time a different presenter comes on stage, or to separate an interview from a car walk-around. Keeping that in mind while shooting makes it easier for the editors in post production. They can grab exactly what they need without scrolling through lots of footage."
So far, the MSN Autos team has used the FS-4 recorders at the Frankfurt, Tokyo, Las Vegas/SEMA, and Los Angeles Auto Shows. By eliminating the need to capture, the FS-4’s DTE technology saves the team significant time. "At the recent Detroit International Auto Show, we used the FS-4 DTE drives for every video we produced from our behind-the-scenes preview to new vehicle unveilings and interviews with top designers," says Whitaker. "The combination of the FS-4 and tape meant significant gains in quality and speed in our post production cycle. By the end of the press preview days in Detroit, we had a full library of footage already cued up on the drive for our popular Top 10 Cars of the Show videos."
In addition to helping the MSN Autos team publish videos faster, the FS-4 helps deliver a higher-quality final product by allowing the team to include additional content. At major unveilings, auto manufacturers often supply tapes with professionally shot footage of their new vehicles, including shots of the cars in action. In the past, MSN editors didn’t have time to incorporate this material into their final products. But by adding the FS-4 and Direct To Edit to their workflow, the team can now make that footage available to the MSN community.
"When we’re shooting at a press conference, the conditions are really difficult—we have to contend with harsh lighting and big crowds. So it’s a huge advantage to be able to incorporate the manufacturer’s footage," says Whitaker. "At Frankfurt, we were covering the new Porsche 911 GT2 and we were able to use extensive clips of the car in motion, and that’s really what people want to see. Without the FS-4, we would never have time to include this content. So now, the FS-4 lets us produce more videos, as well as have higher-quality products for viewers."
An Added Bonus
Since they can record to both the FS-4 and tape simultaneously, using the FS-4 instantly gives the MSN Autos team the advantage of a backup source. And for Whitaker, this is a critical benefit. "When we were shooting to tape, that’s all we had. There was no backup. Invariably, there’s going to some kind of disaster at some point; and with live events, that means you’re out of luck," he says. "A big part of the appeal of the FS-4 is the added redundancy. Now the tape becomes our backup and the files on the drive are what we use to edit. So at once, the FS-4 saves us the capture time and gives us an instant backup source."
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