Focus on Field Ops

Concerns over new ENG regulations top list


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When broadcasters were first required to give back ENG backhaul bandwidth in the 2 GHz spectrum, used to transmit news and sports from remote locations back to studios, the assumption was that broadcasters could maintain analog ENG operations. Now, says Joe Snelson, vice president and director of engineering at Meredith Broadcasting, with continuing "movement to further carve down the 2 GHz band, the band will get narrow enough to almost mandate digital equipment. It's not like we can switch overnight from analog to digital, so it's going to be a real challenge."

To meet that challenge, Snelson will talk to ENG/SNG truck vendors at NAB next month, as well as to other broadcasters, about the move from analog to digital ENG and enhancements in digital compression.

As for field acquisition, Snelson says the station group is more or less situated, having converted most of its stations to the DVCPRO format for field as well as studio production.

He will be interested to see disk-based cameras after much talk about the new technology over the past several years.

But, he adds, "the issue has to do with transfer time and getting [content] out of the disk format into the editing environment. … Some equipment allows you some high-speed thumbnail images for viewing transfer. Now it's four to five times real time, max; someday, somebody will be looking at higher speeds."

For the newsroom, Snelson will seek advances in computer systems. In recent years, Meredith has made major investments in Avstar newsroom computer systems and Avid Newscutter editing systems in many of its stations, so he's interested in enhanced functionality and features as its stations make the transition to tapeless operations.

This year, Snelson will replace spot-playback systems. Several stations use legacy Beta-tape–based systems for playout of commercial and syndicated programming, and Snelson plans to convert all to disk-based systems.

With new automation systems, including Encoda and Harris Louth, at almost all Meredith stations, Snelson is not planning any further purchases in this area, but "we will continue to see what kind of enhancements there are to create better efficiencies."

Meredith currently uses Thomson Grass Valley Profile XP and SeaChange Media Clusters at several stations.

HDTV is set, Snelson believes, with three stations—WFSB(TV) Hartford, Conn., WGCL (TV) Atlanta and WSMV(TV) Nashville, Tenn.—currently passing through HD network programming and another scheduled to begin broadcasting HDTV programming by midyear. "We'll move according to what the market demands."

This year, a major trend at NAB is toward IT-based equipment in the broadcast facility. "I think that's a way of life now," he observes. "A lot of equipment and a lot of products are from the IT world and not from legacy broadcast manufacturers."