Hi-Def News Hits Hartford
NBC's WVIT fires up new facility
By Glen Dickson -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/22/2009 2:00:00 AM
WVIT, the NBC-owned station in Hartford, Conn., is now broadcasting more than 30 hours of high-definition news each week from a brand-new, file-based facility that it launched late last month. It is the first station in the state to offer HD news.
WVIT's new home is adjacent to its longtime headquarters just off Interstate 84 in West Hartford; construction on the facility began in October 2007. It is a compact space, with a footprint of only 14,600 square feet. Similar in concept to WNBC New York's Content Center, it has been designed to streamline the workflow for multi-platform production and maximize available real estate for on-air applications. (NBC has announced that it plans to sell WVIT, along with WTVJ Miami, though it has not identified any buyers.)
"The basic strategy in the very beginning of our planning was to go from being an analog broadcaster to a full-service digital media provider," says David Doebler, the station's president and general manager, of the multi-million-dollar project.
The multi-level Media Center facility, which includes a balcony level with sales and business offices, is centered on the newsroom's large assignment desk. There, producers steer the creation of content for a variety of outlets: traditional newscasts on primary HD channel 30.1; WVIT's 24-hour weather channel on subchannel 30.2; its local-focused Website, Nbcconnecticut.com; and mobile content the station provides in partnership with wireless carriers.
WVIT's news content has gone from tape-based production, using Panasonic DVCPRO camcorders and tape decks, to a file-based workflow supported by a large Grass Valley K2 Media Server storage area network [SAN] and a host of Panasonic P2 HD solid-state camcorders that capture video on memory cards. Journalists edit stories in the field using Grass Valley Edius nonlinear editing software and if, time permits, transmit complete stories back to the station's BitCentral Oasis content server using BitCentral's AirNow EVDO-based wireless transmission system. A two-minute story can take 15 minutes to send back, depending on connectivity.
The Oasis server also allows WVIT to easily share content with NBC NewsChannel and the other NBC-owned stations, which are also equipped with the BitCentral product. If field crews are pressed for time, they use conventional microwave links to relay stories from the field. The K2 server links to the station's Avid iNews newsroom computer system, as well as several Edius editing systems located at the station. Stories are played to air off the K2 under the control of a six-channel Grass Valley Aurora Play software system.
"The whole workflow revolves around the Grass Valley K2 SAN," says Keith Barbaria, director of technology and engineering for WVIT. "That talks to Oasis, which is used by field crews to send in finished stories. We use Edius to edit material, and that gets sent as a drag-and-drop file transfer right to the K2 SAN, and you can see it in iNews, using the same [story] slug. The Grass Valley system talks to iNews, and the directors play to air through Aurora Play."
The K2 storage can also be accessed by three Apple Final Cut Pro editors, which are used in "craft-editing" applications for finishing "high-end" news pieces and station promos and IDs, Barbaria says. The Final Cut systems are also used to help produce HD commercials for local advertisers, which WVIT is doing to maximize the use of its studio space.
While WVIT is shooting HD pictures in its new studio, it is still producing field footage in 16:9 standard-definition and upconverting it for air. That's mainly because of the bandwidth efficiencies in transmitting standard-definition content back from the field, storing it and routing it through the plant, Barbaria says. He adds that standard-def content is automatically upconverted by the station's NVision router, which links to Miranda terminal gear. He notes that widescreen 16:9 pictures from the field have a minimal impact on viewers compared to going from an HD studio shot to a 4:3 field shot with graphic wings on the side.
That said, WVIT is getting new MRC digital microwave gear from Sprint Nextel as part of the 2 GHz Relocation Project, an FCC-mandated initiative that is rearranging the ENG spectrum; it has already installed the gear in three of its six live trucks. Those new radios, when used in conjunction with HD encoders, will allow the station to backhaul true HD pictures from field.
"The biggest problem is transferring HD around the facility; you need a really beefy IP network," Barbaria points out. "So it's easier to do 16:9 SD for most stories, and then for important stuff, like an interview with the President, we'll do HD. We'll pick and choose."
The station is also still using its existing Avid Pinnacle Deko standard-definition graphics systems and upconverting their output. But it has invested in a new hi-def weather graphics system from WSI.
WVIT started rolling out the P2 camcorders, which NBC has selected as the field acquisition format for all of its owned stations, early this year. The station's photographers quickly adapted to the compact, solid-state cameras. "We've had nothing but good reviews," Barbaria says.
As at other stations that have adopted P2, WVIT execs were initially worried that photographers would lose the expensive solid-state memory cards used to record video. The station put barcodes on the cards and would have put GPS locators on them if possible, Barbaria jokes. But so far, he says, "we haven't had any disappearances."
Another standardized technology among the NBC stations that WVIT has installed is Ross Video's Vision switcher and OverDrive production automation system, which can use software to perform many newscast functions that were previously handled by manual operators. But while Barbaria likes the performance of the Ross Vision 3 M/E (mix/effect) switcher, he says WVIT hasn't yet used the full capabilities of OverDrive. That's because the station was already running a very lean operation.
"We started with the basic control setup we had before," he explains. "We've always had a very streamlined workflow; we do our newscasts with three people in the control room and a stage manager. But we like the flexibility it gives us for the future, with all the new customers coming into the building, and we're looking forward to playing with it."
Cooking in the Kitchen
To maximize the production capabilities of the new, compact WVIT space, the building has been outfitted with 13 broadcast service panels, including locations such as the roof, the satellite-dish farm in the backyard, the kitchen, and on the balcony overlooking the newsroom. That allows WVIT producers to quickly plug in cameras and shoot live from a variety of locations.
"It was designed as an open facility," Barbaria says. "There's studio space like every other TV station, but it's also been designed so the whole facility can be used on-air. We shoot cooking segments in the kitchen and conduct interviews on the balcony. That gives us so much flexibility in the way we present the news compared to just one space."
Viewer feedback to WVIT's new HD look has been overwhelming positive, according to Doebler. "People really see the quality difference," he says. "We went from a very good operation to a spectacular facility with a great set and great tools to cover the news."
Keith and David represent two of Local Broadcasting's finest. They saw this project through for their viewers despite the industry wide economic headwinds.
Robert Miller - 9/2/2009 9:30:33 PM EDT
I'm glad you mentioned the graphics. I was somewhat disappointed to see the same graphics (and music) package used when they debuted their new set and news in HD. Why they would update the weather graphics, but keep everything else the way it was, is beyond me. It just doesn't look right, especially with their akward bug that has a black strip half way across the screen that reads "NBCConnecticut.com". I was hoping they'd use something sharper along the lines of what WNBC started using when they unveiled their new space and went HD a few years ago.
But all in all, the new building and set really do look spectacular! WFSB was ahead of the game when they debuted their new building across the river two years ago, but I can't figure out why they didn't think ahead and start out with news in HD (probably the cost factor). So WVIT really took news presentation to a whole new level in Hartford. They did a great job the whole way through.
P.S. What's the NBC NewsChannel you mentioned in your article? I never heard of it before, although I think that would be a better name for MSNBC.
Jake Simoes - 8/27/2009 1:18:24 PM EDT
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