The inauguration of President George W. Bush Jan. 20 will offer a TV first: HDTV coverage. ABC News is deploying 36 HD cameras and four HD production vehicles throughout the parade route to give viewers an unparalleled view of American history.
“We've been a leader in prime time HD coverage. This is just a natural extension,” says Preston Davis, president of ABC Broadcast Operations & Engineering. “It's an important event, and we can differentiate it in HD.”
The high-def coverage kicks off with a telecast of Good Morning America, the first time a network morning news program will be shot and broadcast in HD. Five cameras will be stationed at GMA's Library of Congress location.
HD coverage continues through 4 p.m. with 13 cameras transmitting ABC's pool feed from Lafayette Park; 18 others are being used for the network's unilateral coverage. NBC will provide HD cameras for the Capitol Hill pool.
This shared approach has two benefits: First, each network will handle a different aspect of the event. Second, it lowers production expenses for all, since working in high-def raises costs about 30%.
(It's hard to estimate precise figures, but each truck typically rents for $10,000.)
There are many technical assists to the HD coverage.
Dome Productions and F&F supply trucks. The HD feeds will be sent from the cameras to Evertz converters, which compress the HD video shots to 270 Mbps, or “mezzanine level,” so they can be sent over Verizon's fiber network. Verizon shoots the feed to the production trucks, which transmit to a main production vehicle at the ABC bureau.
The production switcher there will mix the final HD program (which also includes upconverted SD material) before the signal is relayed to New York for commercial integration and distributed to ABC stations.
Davis says the inauguration will serve as a learning experience for future HD news coverage.
“To a great extent, getting prime time content ready for HD involves taking film and converting it to HDTV,” he explains. “But with news, it begins with acquiring it in HD and getting it out to the affiliates. This is the most complicated HD origination we've ever done. It's more complicated than the Super Bowl.”
The biggest change from an SD production (aside from HD cameras) is the reliance on Verizon's fiber network. Microwave transmission systems, typically used for standard- definition work, still experience kinks during HD transmission.
ABC was also hesitant to add costs related to running the microwave transmission gear. “The fiber solution would result in the fewest compression issues, like delays and artifacts,” adds Davis.
One notable plus to shooting in Washington, D.C.: the large amount of fiber already in place. That makes it much easier to handle a large-scale HD news production.