My focus has been in getting our DTV transmitters on the air," reports Robert Harrison, vice president and director of engineering at Young Broadcasting, headquartered in New York. "The rest of our capital expenditure plan has mostly been set aside until we do all the tower work."
In the past three years, the 12-station group had been putting half of its budget into towers and the other half into studio equipment. "But this year," he notes, "a lot of our tower installations have to be done in warm weather, and this is the last year for it. So our concentration on towers is greater, and much of the studio equipment budget will be put off until next year."
Once the DTV switchover is completed, he says, the next major hurdle is to continue the conversion to all serial digital plants. This will mean acquisition of routing, production and master-control switchers. So far, the group's digital acquisitions include two production switchers, two master-control switchers and four digital routers. But most of the stations are still using analog switchers.
Young is also looking to convert to a server-based syndicated-programming playback. For commercials playback, it has been using Odetics equipment. "We want to see what they can do for us," Harrison says, "but we'll look at other vendors as well."
A longer-term consideration is server-based playback of news, with ease of operation being a primary concern.
Another factor concerns interfacing with current newsroom computer systems. "These systems behave in so many different ways," Harrison explains, "that it's difficult to find a news video server that can communicate with all of them." He holds that adoption of the new technology without having to replace newsroom systems "is sort of the Holy Grail that everyone's been chasing" at previous NAB exhibitions.
In the conversion to digital transmission, there are still a number of antennas to purchase, but the decisions have generally been made. The group has gone entirely with Dielectric, with the models varying among stations. Some microwave gear remains to be bought, and the direction has been toward Microwave Radio Corp.'s Twinstream system. Harris transmitters have been ordered, and the group is buying Motorola encoders.
"Conversion to digital is not a separate beast," Harrison points out. "It requires tower work, antennas, transmitters, encoders and microwave equipment, but everything else involves the standard replacements in converting from analog to digital equipment. Even without digital transmission, we'd be doing this. All of the videotape machines I've purchased in the last two to three years have been digital, and all of the routers and master control switchers would be digital in any event."
Some thought has been given to some level of automation in tying together all of the digital studio equipment to be acquired. Also, in the past two years, there have been discussions with parties offering plans for utilization of the digital spectrum for non-video applications. Harrison says no decisions have been made on this.
He reports that Young has done some investigation of centralcasting but whether to pursue it is still "an open question." He declines to elaborate at this time.
Asked whether the group is interested in high-definition production equipment, he replies, "A year ago, I would have told you no. But now we feel that, at least on a limited scale, we may need to do some promotion production in high-def because there are not a lot of programming and promotion materials available." He notes that such equipment will be investigated at NAB but the probable choice for acquisition and recording is Sony HDCAM.
Harrison hopes to have all 12 stations plus the four satellites transmitting digitally by the end of the year. He says antenna location will involve at least one other broadcaster in each of the remaining eight locations.