MSNBC has been planning its eventual migration to high
definition since moving from Secaucus, N.J., into NBC Universal headquarters at 30 Rockefeller
Plaza in New York City
in October 2007. But due to the logistics of running a 24-hour news network, it
has completed the bulk of the hands-on work in the past four months.
While MSNBC was able to take advantage of HD infrastructure
that already existed in New York--such as an HD-ready control room, 2-K, and
NBC News' massive Avid Unity ISIS storage system--it still had plenty to do
before moving to full-time 1080-line interlace production. The biggest projects
were converting its primary control room, 3-A, to high-definition, and building
a new HD studio at its Washington, D.C., bureau, which was just being finished
MSNBC tried to reuse as much existing equipment as possible
in 3-A, the former home of NBC Nightly
News, such as Belden coaxial cabling that could already support HD and a
Calrec Alpha digital audio console.
"We didn't gut it," says Tim Canary, director of systems
engineering and integration for NBC Universal. "It was basically a retrofit in
The new HD equipment in 3-A is consistent with gear
installed in other NBC control rooms for Today
and Saturday Night Live, including a
Sony MVS-8000 production switcher, a Grass Valley Trinix router, Miranda
distribution equipment and modular components, and an Evertz MVP multi-image
display processor to drive the large virtual monitor wall. Graphics, which were
also upgraded to HD in control room 2-K, are a mix of Chyron and Avid Pinnacle
Cameras in both New York
and the new Washington
set are Sony HDC-1500s, which NBC already uses for Today and Saturday Night Live.
MSNBC relies on a combination of fiber links and an Evertz JPEG-2000
compression system to backhaul live camera feeds from D.C. to its control rooms
here in New York, eliminating the need for a control room there.
MSNBC upgraded five editing rooms to HD with Avid Symphony
Nitris systems. It is editing packages using Avid's DnxHD 145-megabit-per-second
mezzanine compression format, storing them on the Unity ISIS. It uses Grab
Network's Anystream software for transcoding needs, employing a grid
transcoding system with parallel processors.
"Everything here is shared," says Canary. "We have one large
Unity ISIS that handles all the content from Today, Nightly News
MSNBC has installed new video servers to play back edited
packages in New York, replacing aging Grass Valley
standard-def Profiles with Grass Valley K2 Summit units. The new servers can
seamlessly handle both SD and HD content, under the control of Grass Valley
"That was a significant portion of the product, the HD/SD
conversion inside the box," says Steve Sneddon, engineering project manager for
NBCU. "Now, the operators don't have to think much about the resulting output."
Master control in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., which links to the
30 Rock studio via redundant fiber circuits, also got new HD K2 servers to play
out promos and commercials. MSNBC HD will be transmitted in the MPEG-2
compression format using Tandberg encoders.
Like other cable news networks, MSNBC's on-screen look in HD
will change with different dayparts.
Through the bulk of the day, viewers will see a 4:3 picture
on the left side of the screen, with an "info bar" on the right displaying
headlines, text, photos, weather information, stock updates and even live video
thumbnails of top stories. A permanent bug, running as a ribbon on top of the
screen, will display the MSNBC logo and the time, while the bottom will feature
graphic overlays highlighting stories and a narrow headline ticker.
During primetime, the picture will go full-screen 16:9 for
studio programs like Hardball and The Rachel Maddow Show. The decision to
go with different on-screen looks was based on both giving more information
throughout the day and better accommodating incoming news feeds, most of which
originate as 4:3 SD, says MSNBC creative director Marc Greenstein.
"For the shows focusing on talent, we'll go as big and as
wide as we can," says Greenstein.