Capturing Closed Captioning and the Sony HDW-F500

Here's something that I get to do less and less nowadays. Work with tape. I used to work with tape almost every day. I started out using Betacam SX when I was at CTV, when I came to Studio Post I got into more types of tape, from ¼ Inch, D-Beta, Beta SP, DCT, to HDCam SR, just to name a few. They're pretty good formats. They're expensive, and we have better digital formats now but purely on the specs, HDCam SR holds up well. HDCam, without the SR,  I'd say is a bit out dated given that it only does 1440x1080, which is upscale on capture to 1920x1080. Seeing as this happens so little, I figured I'd make a post about it. Could be the last few tapes I make, for all I knows!

A lot of HDCam Tapes!

I have received about 65 HDCam tapes. I need to capture all of them, cut two minutes out of the show, replace the sponsors with new ones and create XDCam MXF files to upload to the broadcaster in the USA. (This show originally aired in Canada in 2007.)


The Project

For this task, I've chosen Media Composer for one simple reason. Capturing the closed captioning from the tape is easy. Premiere Pro can capture close captioning, but it's never worked for me. I haven't given it a try in a few years, so maybe it works now but even if it does. Extreme Reach won't accept Closed Captioned MXF files exported directly out of Premiere due to incorrect header info. (Another one of Premieres glitches.) Meaning I'd need to take an extra step and embed the captioning with Caption Maker/Mac Caption. I'm opting to skip that step!

The Capture Format

This is AJA's Data Calculator App. Highly recommend, I use it all the time!


Now that I've decided the program I'm using I need to pick a capture format. I've chosen DNxHD 220X as the format, for its high quality and excellent performance within Avid. I could have captured XDCam 50 directly to save some time on the exports down the line but I think it might be worth having the extra quality should we need to something else with the show in the future, or even if we need to export something different for whatever reason. Also, the client gave us an 8TB drive for the Project to live on. There is more than enough space given that the 33 hours of footage will be about 3.5TB.

The Tape Deck

Let me introduce you to the Sony HDW-F500 HDCam Tape Deck (VT:17) and its younger sibling the Sony SRW-5500 HDCam SR Tape Deck (VT:18). For this show I'm going to be using VT:17.

Now that I know what I'm going to do it's time to start doing it. First I'll check the tape to see what it is. This show was mastered in 59.94i or 29.97i depending on how you'd prefer to look at it. I'm going to use 59.94i as that is technically the correct way but people use interchangeably. So because the tape is in 59.94i the tape deck, a Sony HDW-F500 in this case, needs to be set to 59.94i as well. Lucky for me it already was. I guess the last tape I did was also 59.94i as can be seen on the system menu. It is also on the front of the deck.

Now that is all set up it's time to go into Avid. Oh and let's not forget to hit the remote button... I sometimes forget to hit the button the take way longer than I would like to admit to figure out that's the problem...

Capturing in Media Composer

But now that we're in Avid need to make sure that we have deck control as shown to the left. The auto configure in Avid is quite good so you it's easy to set up. Or you can go through the huge list of decks and pick yours from the menu.

Once deck control is set up and I've played the tape a little to make sure it works (pictured below.) Ah beautiful bars and tone, it's time to setup the capture settings. I've made a bin where I want the captures to go. I've picked the DNxHD 220X setting as explained above. This show has 4 channels of audio, the stereo mix and the M&E channels. So I set Avid up to capture the video (obviously), the 4 channels of audio which I told Avid are stereo pairs for my convenience, the data track which is the 608/708 closed captioning and lastly the timecode track. I've chosen Blackmagic as my source because the card in my computer is the Blackmagic Extreme 3D. I'll then pick an in and out timecode off the tape to capture the slate, show, and textless. 

Good old bars and tone from the HDCam tape shown here in GIF form.

Lastly, the ANC data on the tape (which is the format that closed captioning is encoded to on tape) gets converted into regular 608/708 captioning. Very simple just adding clips to a timeline in AVID will automatically do that. Now the files can be exported back into XDCam MXF files with captioning, ready to be uploaded to a broadcaster.

I hope you learned something or at the very least looked at the pictures I took. Tape machines won't be around for much longer, so I figure now is as good a time as any to make a post about them. Any questions feel free to ask in the comments!