With CBS and UPN operations now integrated, both originate using the same satellite platform, according to Bob Ross, vice president, East Coast Operations, CBS.
"Last year, we acquired all the necessary hardware to originate the UPN network, and we've been doing that for six months," he explains. "It's an MPEG-2 feed, identical to the CBS stations but on a different transponder."
CBS has also rolled out newer satellite receivers to affiliates that support full Dolby 5.1-channel audio. Its first Dolby 5.1 broadcast was slated to be the Grammy Awards last night.
Although the satellite projects are complete, the development of a new server-based Broadcast Operations Center (BOC) in New York is an ongoing process. CBS uses "bits and pieces" of servers to handle commercial insertion, but the bulk of the network's programming comes off 13-year old cart machines running D2 tape.
"Ultimately, we need to get off our aging cart machines, and we've been working with software vendors and hardware suppliers for servers," says Ross. "We're going to have a team looking at master-control switchers."
CBS is evaluating automation-software vendors. "The most important thing is the software, and the next thing is the master-control switcher," he says. "The last thing is the servers themselves. They're almost like a commodity these days, and several manufacturers should be able to build what we need."
Other areas of interest for the BOC include monitor-wall technology and HDTV and standard-definition production switchers.
CBS News wants to convert from tape to servers for both archiving and daily production. CBS currently uses Betacam SX for both acquisition and editing; moving editing to nonlinear servers will put the network in a position to archive on disk.
Ross's team is helping CBS News "finish up that assessment," with a vendor decision possible by NAB. Software—in this case, asset-management software—is again crucial.
"We've spent well over a year working with vendors on how to control material through the production flow," says Ross. "The shows are pretty different. You've got your 'get-on-air-now' special-events people, and then you have 60 Minutes, which might spend months on one story. So their needs are quite different. At NAB, we'll be looking over any hardware changes that might affect the hard-news center project."
CBS is well along the HDTV curve, with prime time scripted dramas, soap The Young & the Restless, and college football in 1080i HDTV. Ross's team is looking for a new slow-motion system for HDTV sports; for the three NFL playoff contests it produced in HDTV last season, CBS relied on an interim slo-mo approach from an undisclosed European manufacturer.
Ross will also look for improvements in HDTV nonlinear editing. "With standard-definition, you can do a lot of rendering in real time, but, with HD, you have to do most of the complicated moves in offline mode."