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AJA Ki Pro Beta Sight

Aug 24, 2010 12:00 PM, By Jeff Cronenberg, Series Editor, Antiques Roadshow

PBS' Antiques Roadshow goes tapeless with Ki Pro.


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AJA Ki Pro

For its switch to a tapeless workflow, Antiques Roadshow purchased 11 AJA Ki Pro units. The crew travels with two custom-built road cases with five units in each, and there's one unit that lives back in Boston.

Antiques Roadshow has been airing for 14 seasons, has had eight Emmy nominations, and is PBS' highest-rated prime-time series.

Roadshow is like a well-tuned orchestra with lots of individuals expertly playing their parts, all coming together to create something big and beautiful. Every player is important. There are months of preproduction and scouting for each city. During the summer, we travel to our six cities, have a marathon shoot day, and get three 1-hour-long episodes out of every shoot. Our first crew arrives on Wednesday to begin EFP production; the rest of us arrive Thursday. On Friday at 6 a.m., we begin building the set, assembling the lighting grids, setting up and testing the mobile unit. Saturday morning, the real fun begins. We open the doors to the public at 7:30 a.m. and begin recording the appraisals. That's where we meet our guests, hear their stories, learn about their items, and the appraisers determine the values. We are for all intents and purposes continuously recording till 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m., or until the last guest leaves. We strike the set Saturday night and leave town on Sunday. We cut the show back at WGBH in Boston during the fall and winter, deliver HDCAM masters to PBS, and the first shows air in January.

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AJA Ki Pro Review
Few products come to mind that have so shaken the tripods of shooters and our collective industry bones...

Our workflow has been tried and true for many years and we had always captured to tape. We've been shooting HD 1080i (with Grass Valley LDK 8000 cameras) for the past three seasons, recording to five HDCAM decks that we rented for the mobile unit. For Season 15, which we're shooting right now, we made the leap to tapeless and began capturing to the AJA Ki Pro digital recorder.

For us, file-based production just makes sense. PBS wants us to deliver digitally in the near future, and WGBH is doing more and more file-based production, so we wanted to get moving in that direction.

We looked at a number of options, but the Ki Pro really fit the bill. Not only was it the most economical option by far, it also worked just like running a tape deck. There was almost no learning curve. I went to the web to begin researching, and I couldn't find anyone saying anything but good things about it.

Our vendor, Rule Boston Camera, got us some Ki Pros to test. We tried our best to break them—I ran them in the road cases for two weeks straight, nonstop—and I couldn't kill them. We purchased 11 Ki Pros; we travel with two custom-built road cases with five units in each, and there's one unit that lives back in Boston. We bought 40 drives that we use in the field and then reformat between road trips.

The crew shoots on three sets arranged in a semicircle, with the four Grass Valley LDK 8000 HD cameras switching between the sets as they're set up.

The crew shoots on three sets arranged in a semicircle, with the four Grass Valley LDK 8000 HD cameras switching between the sets as they're set up.

Ki Pro saw its first field action in San Diego, our first city for the Season 15 summer tour. We set up our typical shoot: four GV 8000 HD 1080i cameras all ISO'd, and a line cut. We have three sets staged in a semicircle for appraisals. While one set is shooting, the other two are being set up. As one finishes, the cameras swing over to the next, and so on. The only time we stop recording is for short periods when the cameras move from stage to stage. Tape changes took about 7 minutes every hour. Now we can change all 10 drives in around 2 minutes, and that usually only has to happen twice over the course of the day. We get just less than 3.5 hours of footage on every drive, as opposed to one tape for 1 hour. A typical show takes up between 15 to 20 drives.

The first five Ki Pros are recording the four cameras as ISO feeds, plus a line cut. The second set of five are recording four backups of the ISO feeds, plus a proxy recording of the line cut with burn-in. Between shoots, we come back to Boston with the drives and transfer the files to our SAN for editing, and backup to our nearline LTO tape storage. The file transfers take about two-thirds realtime. Once everything is transferred and verified, we reformat the drives for the next shoot.

We're editing on Apple Final Cut Pro, which saves us a lot of time on the digitizing side since the Ki Pros are recording ProRes 422 and we can edit full resolution without having to transcode or up-rez for finishing.

With a show that has such a long and successful history, it took some work to prove that these tiny little Ki Pro boxes were as stable, simple, and reliable as the giant tape decks people were used to. On the first shoot we also recorded HDCAM tapes as backup, but we discontinued that practice permanently after Ki Pro performed so well.

We've had one or two minor issues, including a firmware upgrade in the field, but we've gotten great support from AJA from the very beginning, and the company has stayed in close contact throughout the process. The reps have been involved in making sure our workflow was set up properly and was working smoothly.

The Ki Pros have made the switch to tapeless production surprisingly pain-free.

Jeff Cronenberg has been editing Antiques Roadshow since 2001. He works out of WGBH in Boston.

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