Stations’ Big Digital Push
With the analog shutoff less than two years away, it’s time for broadcasters to finalize plans
By Craig Kuhl -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/4/2007 7:00:00 PM
At midnight Feb. 17, 2009, something familiar is expected to disappear: analog television. The FCC has decreed that Feb. 18, 2009, is the official beginning of television’s new, all-digital future.
At this year’s National Association of Broadcasters Show April 14-19 in Las Vegas, broadcasters’ engineers and chief technical officers will fill the huge convention center, continuing to stock up on the millions of dollars’ worth of digital and high-definition equipment needed to meet the deadline.
They will also stroll the exhibit floor looking for the gear that will let them expand their broadband and multicast platforms wherever technology will take them.
The end of analog is near. On these pages, station-group executives talk to Craig Kuhl about the digital world they will be shopping for at NAB. That’s the future.
Media General: Moving Content
Media General Broadcasting’s strategy of gaining network efficiencies includes a centralized graphics support center, new tracking system and the prudent addition of HD equipment. It’s also developing Web-based applications as the company migrates stations to an HD and Internet environment.
Richmond, Va.-based Media General, with 23 stations ranging from WFLA Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., to WSAV Savannah, Ga., will continue to roll out its Panasonic P2 AJ-HPX2000 (P2000) HD cameras and install updated editing systems. And like so many stations, it is focusing more of its attention on Internet and Web activities.
“There is a lot of energy being focused on those areas, and we’re [converting] three of our stations to HD this year,” says Ardell Hill, senior VP of broadcast operations. “We’ve centralized our master-control system, centralized traffic for all of our stations and will move to a new tracking system. Efficiencies is the name of the game, so we must look closely at buying new tools.”
Those new tools will include upgrades for its centralized graphics center, cameras, transmitters, HD equipment, and products in the iPod and MPEG-3 arena.
“People carry and own tremendous amounts of content,” Hill says. “It’s more important for products to fit into that world. We have to pay attention to that dynamic, and not just the technology but VOD, analog-to-digital and the IP [Internet Protocol] use of content in the home. We’re seeing a transition to those in the marketplace.”
As technology changes, so does the equipment. That’s why Hill goes to the NAB Show. “You go through life cycles of equipment, like transmitters and ENG cameras, which may have a shortened life cycle of less than three to five years,” he says. “As equipment ages, it will be replaced by HD, and the appetite for HD will be the standard.”
Hill expects the group of products enabling the analog-to-digital transition to be hot items at the show: “It’s a file-based world, where a captured data stream is a file versus an analog-modulated signal. It has changed the whole way we think about our broadcast facilities. We’re using the growth in technology at every opportunity to enhance our products.”
He’s also concerned about Feb. 17, 2009, the date analog TV ends, to be replaced with digital only. He thinks that broadcasters have a lot of work to do before then. “We’ve got a significant task to educate the marketplace and put in place an infrastructure to put customers over that hurdle,” he says. “And the sooner, the better.”
Scripps Wants More HD Gear
The Scripps Television Station Group sees NAB as a serious fact-finding mission as well as an opportunity to explore new Internet Protocol-based technologies.
Scripps’ focus at NAB will be on converting new production to HD, and executives will be looking for HD cameras, graphics systems and other news-production gear.
“We are relentlessly searching for field equipment for HD and for equipment that will allow us to create content quicker and more efficiently,” says VP of Engineering Michael Doback. “We are addressing each operating unit as an independent opportunity to look for equipment for those networks.”
Doback says Scripps’ strategy to replace standard-definition is being tweaked because “the market for HD has taken off more rapidly than some had anticipated.”
The result is a search for just about everything in the HD news-production chain. “We are upgrading our infrastructure and replacing with HD-compatible equipment,” says Doback. “Our goal by 2009 is for our news to be produced in HD everywhere.” Two Scripps stations, WEWS Cleveland and WXYZ Detroit, currently produce news in high-definition. There are eight more to go.
“We are paying particular attention to the timeline for digital conversion of our news production,” says Doback. “We want to be smart and are looking for value and functionality and listening to the industry.”
In Las Vegas, Scripps will explore HD cameras from JVC and Panasonic as well as other field-acquisition products. “We’ll look closely at news-acquisition products, picture quality, and associated workflow and editing equipment,” says Doback. “We’re also keeping an eye on MPEG-4 [compression] and video servers.”
The Modulus ME2000 encoder, which delivers real-time MPEG-4 AVC HD or SD encoding to support IPTV, is also on Doback’s shopping list, along with related technologies.
“There’s a great deal of interest in the concept of IPTV, and we’re very active in multiple-platform distribution and the Internet,” says Doback. “We’ll look for current equipment that can get us on the air, on the phone, on the Internet, all the time. NAB is a good opportunity to see and discuss the products.”
Scripps will also be focusing on transmitters and other transmission equipment as it shifts its stations to their final digital-TV assignments. “We were early adopters to digital in 1998, so we’ve already started. But with spectrum repacking,” says Doback, “we’ve needed all new transmitters, towers, etc. It’s still an overwhelming issue.”
Belo Plans for “Multi”-Tasking
Belo Corp.’s TV stations are in the process of switching out their legacy Sony news-production equipment for file-based systems. Why? This allows a more seamless transition to the multiplatform news-distribution strategy that Belo wants for its multicast channels and its string of newspaper Websites.
Meanwhile, the company will use the NAB Show to explore advanced newsroom editing systems from BitCentral and others, along with new automated production systems, such as Grass Valley’s Ignite, and lower-end HD cameras for its growing gaggle of field reporters.
Belo will replace its Sony cameras with gear that is more versatile for over-the-air and Website uses. “We have Sony cameras in the field that are now seven to nine years old, and we’re eyeing them with XDCAM cameras from Sony and some lower-end HD field cameras,” says Craig Harper, executive director of technology. “The more cameras on the street, the better.”
Redesigning news-production systems to accommodate more news on the Web and on multicast channels is high on Harper’s to-do list: “Control of these channels is interesting, so we’re looking at master-control systems for multicast and IPTV channels. We’re currently using Harris’ OSI for our traffic system and continue to grow it with Sundance Digital’s automation systems across our group of 19 stations.”
Belo, in conjunction with its vendor partners Grass Valley and Sony, has been migrating to HD and a multicast platform in preparation for the 2009 digital-conversion deadline. It’s now installing Grass Valley’s standard-def and hi-def K2 servers.
“For the past several years, our equipment has been purchased with an HD-upgrade path in mind,” Harper says, “so that nothing would be abandoned in the transition to HD. But it’s a challenge to our vendors to have the gear in place for the changeouts.”
Harper is eager to see Grass Valley’s Infinity disc-based HD camera. “We’re hoping to see a production model at NAB,” he says.
Belo’s newspapers (in Dallas, Providence, R.I., and Riverside, Calif.) play a role in its equipment wish list as well.
Says Harper, “Our task force at Belo looks at how to collect and manage both TV and newspaper archives and how we can tie them into the business element. We need scalable systems.”
He’ll also be shopping the field-production aisles at the NAB Show, looking especially for HD gear: “How to shoot video and transfer to the Web and over multicast channels and finding the right equipment to do that is hard. It will require replacing routing switches with wideband switches, like the Concerto routers we’re using from Grass Valley for HD wideband. And we need to elegantly convert things to widescreen. We’re a 1080i company.”
Tribune eyes new platforms
Tribune will use NAB to explore the costs versus benefits of cameras, lenses and encoders in the field and the lower costs of MPEG-2 encoders. “We’ll be looking at what coding [compression] products are out there to deliver signals from the field to the studio. [Grass Valley’s] Infinity is one product we’ll see, and we’re interested in seeing the [Panasonic P2 AJ-HPX2000] P2000 HD cameras,” says Chief Technology Officer Ira Goldstone.
Desktop editing equipment, most notably Grass Valley’s Aurora suite, is also high on Goldstone’s list. He’ll take a close look at Apple’s Final Cut Pro editing products and Ciena’s suite of products to support ingest and playout. Also on the list for Tribune are traffic systems that support multiple streams.
“We want to look at everything that’s tied around news,” he says. “We’re in the process of installing Ignite systems for production automation made by Grass Valley. It allows a single producer to run a show. We’re streamlining news to make content compatible across multiple distribution systems.”
Tribune is also trying to improve what it calls “city cams,” simple hand-held cameras reporters carry around in case they run into a news story. And Goldstone will be exploring the distribution of content to mobile devices and other new platforms.
“We’ll be focusing on interoperability issues and looking at servers that can discover nuances of files and configure themselves,” he says. “We’ve traditionally used Omneon, so we’ll be seeing it, too. We have to change how we provide content and maximize the technology capabilities we have. We’re hoping to see products that leverage the content broadcasters have with what consumers have in their homes and the mobile environment.”
Tribune has been in the news lately because of efforts to restructure the company, including possibly selling off the stations. But Goldstone says Tribune “will continue with our current purchasing strategy” at NAB.
Othewise, he says, “We need to do more with workflow management and easily modify systems to maximize efficiency.
“We’ve been using Masstech, which supports programming distribution over the Web, but will look for other types of systems, like what Apple is going to do with its new acquisition of Proximity.”
Goldstone is fascinated by the potential impact of mobile content. He says, “We recognize TV being distributed to one group of viewers is not able to hold audiences. We want to get our product where and when our viewers want it.”
Dispatch Outfits Its New Home
At the same time the NAB Show is going on, Dispatch Broadcast Group is in the midst of building a production facility in its hometown of Columbus, Ohio. So it plans to use its NAB visit to evaluate a lot, including tapeless production equipment and high-definition editing technology.
Its shopping list does lack some glamour. Dispatch is looking at high-tech gear like everybody else but also will be shopping for the basics needed for the new facility. That includes a broad range of less-revolutionary but absolutely necessary newsroom equipment.
“We’ll be looking at fluorescent lighting for our newsroom, HD field and studio cameras, robotic camera pedestals, and HD equipment for our two helicopters as we convert to HD,” says Marvin Born, VP engineering/chief technology officer.
“Our stations are trying to build the bottom part of the infrastructure,” he says. “We know what’s out there and have invested in items for our new buildings. But we’ll be looking at new products.”
Production tools are the top priority. The company will be looking at new HD cameras, but because Dispatch has a strict policy that prohibits executives from even seeming to endorse one product over another, Born can’t say much more. It’s safe to say that many station groups are choosing among four models: Panasonic’s new P2 HD solid-state camera, Sony XDCAM, the Ikegami Editcam and Grass Valley’s new Infinity HD camera.
A new editing system is also on Born’s shopping list. He likes models that offer enough flexibility that a reporter or producer “can edit pieces right on the laptop and feed them back, so you’re a walking TV station. We’re trying to give every reporting team with laptops and HD cameras an opportunity to shoot, edit and send back to the station, quickly.”
With the HD conversion looming, Born and Dispatch will be considering high-definition studio cameras as well.
Dispatch has two stations, each now equipped with new routers, switches and master controls. “We purchased most of our infrastructure equipment last year and most of the big items. Our newsrooms have computerized editing systems,” he says, “but we still are missing a newsroom editing system that can edit HD, which we want to be automatic.”
Born says “Our stations are very high-tech, and we want them to be fully automatic.” Dimmer packs and lighting-control systems, however, are at the top of the list, he adds. “HD cameras tend to show every detail of the anchors, so fluorescent lighting and control systems are very important. They also draw less power.”
No related content found.
No Top Articles