Hi-Def Rush in Reno

Pappas’ KREN is first CW affiliate to offer HDTV news

Reno will get a significant boost to its digital-television transition this week, as Pappas station and CW affiliate KREN launches a one-hour newscast in 1080-line interlace (1080i) high-definition.

The newscast, scheduled to launch Monday, Dec. 18, will be the first HD news product for a CW affiliate and the first locally produced 10 p.m. news for Reno, the No. 110 Nielsen market (Fox affiliate KRXI pumps in a 10:00 news from KTVU Oakland-San Jose, Calif.). It is also the first local-news offering

from KREN, whose only previous news programming was the syndicated show The Daily Buzz. KREN is producing the HD newscasts at a new digital broadcast facility within a Reno shopping mall. Pappas created the facility to house both KREN and sister property KAZR, a low-power station and Azteca America affiliate.

Hi-def news has gained momentum this fall, with a bevy of big-market launches, such as WNBC New York and WSB Atlanta; KREN will be the 25th station to offer a hi-def newscast. But Reno is by far the smallest market. Part of the reason for the HD push, says station execs, is that Pappas Chairman/CEO Harry Pappas lives there and has a big HD set at home.

Pappas spent about $1 million on the HD news production capabilities and about $2 million on the entire facility, lean investments by industry standards.

As of last week, KREN’s HD build-out was complete, and the station was in final dress rehearsals for the launch. According to James Ocon, deputy director of engineering at Pappas Telecasting Companies and chief engineer at KREN and KAZR, there were two major criteria for the HD equipment KREN selected: that the newscast could be produced using a fully file-based workflow and that the technology be as cost-effective as possible.

KREN is using small HDV-format camcorders from Canon for shooting both in the studio and in the field, linking them to disk-based FireStore storage units from Focus Enhancements. The Canon camcorders, which cost around $11,000 apiece, says Ocon, were “kind of a no-brainer” compared with more-expensive high-end studio cameras and Sony XDCAM and Panasonic P2 field camcorders.

Pappas started looking at the P2 format three years ago. Although Ocon liked the file-based workflow, the cost of the solid-state memory cards was a limitation for a smaller-market station like KREN, so he considered alternatives. While some engineers and producers have criticized the high compression rate of the HDV format as being unsuitable for broadcast, Ocon likes the pictures produced by the Canon XL H1 cameras.

“It’s sort of like the paper-bag test with two bottles of wine,” he says. “You could put paper bags over the cameras, and most engineers looking at their monitor could not tell the difference between the $11,000 camera and a $50,000 broadcast camera. And I’d much rather buy 10 cameras than two.”

Ocon also preferred the focusing circuitry and glass in the Canon lenses and liked the Canon Console feature available with the XL H1. Canon Console allows a desktop or laptop computer to serve as a camera-control unit for setting and synchronizing camera features remotely, a nice benefit for using HDV cameras as studio cameras.

“A dedicated computer can communicate via FireWire to the individual cameras,” Ocon says.

KREN is using Canopus Edius nonlinear editing systems from Grass Valley to pull content from the FireStore drives, which mount directly to the back of the Canon camcorders. Other production gear includes AP’s ENPS (Electronic News Production System) newsroom computer system, graphics software from VizRT, and a Ross Synergy production switcher. KREN plans to roll out the Overdrive production system from Ross, which automates various functions of a newscast, such as robotic cameras.

Live remotes will be standard-def for the near term, as KREN has a news-share arrangement with ABC affiliate KOLO to provide ENG feeds and weather inserts. Pappas is interested in using new video-over-IP wireless systems to provide HD electronic newsgathering in the future, says Ocon. The station will also gain outside material from its “Community Correspondent” program, which gives cameras to viewers who act as citizen journalists.

KAZR is also broadcasting in 1080i HD and launched its own 30-minute HD newscast last month, the first Spanish-language local HD newscast in the U.S.

KREN may also be getting some competition in HD news from NBC affiliate KRNV, which is owned by Sunbelt Communications. KRNV is tentatively scheduled to launch its own HD news this week, says News Director Jon Killoran, and plans to produce 3.5 hours a day of HD news during the week and 1.5 hours on weekends. The public-affairs show Nevada Newsmakers, which runs Monday-Thursday, will also be produced in HD.

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