Local TV

Hi-Def News Hits Hartford

NBC's WVIT fires up new facility 8/23/2009 02:00:00 AM Eastern

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."

 

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