Time for bells and whistles

Greene is on the hunt for HD equipment that offers NTSC-style functionality

When Capitol Broadcasting VP of Special Projects John Greene and his associates visit vendors at NAB 2001, a top priority will be identifying equipment that might bring HD production up to the level that's possible today with standard-def.

"I feel like the industry has developed a new car, with a new drive system, new engine, new drive train and so forth," Greene says. "But what we are lacking is the electric windows, air conditioning and cruise control. We are lacking those other devices to carry us to the same level of production that we get with NTSC."

Raleigh, N.C.-based Capitol's flagship station is WRAL-TV Raleigh, the first U.S. commercial station to transmit in HD and, as of late January, the first with a fully HD newsgathering operation. "The evolution of HD is our primary target," says Greene. "We are looking for next-generation items."

At the top of the wish list is a high-def microwave system. While WRAL currently uses its two satellite trucks for HD, there are also three microwave trucks, three bureaus handled via microwave, and a microwave-equipped helicopter.

It can be done, and has been done. YEM Inc. produced the lightweight, portable HD-MPEG2 encoders and decoders used by WRAL since its first HD newscast last October. These units allow transmission of live HD via satellite, microwave or fiber-optic lines. The trick is to develop a foolproof, user-friendly end-to-end solution that addresses microwave such issues as modulation appropriate for the 2 GHz band.

"There are a couple smaller companies playing with that, and they may be getting there fairly quickly," Greene says, "but, to my knowledge, there's nothing really out on the retail market."

High-def graphics capabilities still lag behind standard-def, particularly in weather. "Right now, we are limited with graphics, and we just need to move ahead with it," Green says. "What a lot of people are doing is taking NTSC and upconverting graphics to HD, which is not too smooth. We need HD systems for all that."

Greene also has his eye out for any advances in bitstream test gear and nonlinear HD editing. "We would like to see Panasonic do something [in NLS], since we already have their camcorders and editing equipment," Greene says, "but we will consider anything."

Interactive and enhanced data products are also on the agenda. NAB 2001 comes at a time when Capitol is beta-testing Texas Instruments' integrated HD broadcast/Internet "CompleteTV" service. The initial six-month test includes about 20 customers with PC-based home entertainment systems equipped with a 42-inch Panasonic Digital Light Processing (DLP) projector TV.

"We are using DLP because the display is extremely bright," Greene says. "It has a lot of contrast, so it's easy to read a Web page or e-mail."

Capitol's other Raleigh station, WRAZ-TV, is sending out a digital signal, although it's not in HD yet. Harris transmitters and Andrew antennas are on order for the two Charlotte stations in the group. And, Greene notes, both vendors signed agreements to deliver equipment in time for the FCC's May 1, 2002, deadline. DiviCom encoding systems are in use at the two Raleigh stations; the two Charlotte stations will use Harris encoders.

The fifth station in the group is a low-power CBS affiliate in Wilmington, N.C. "When we can," Greene says, "we will convert it."

Don't expect to see Greene at the blackjack tables in Vegas. The executive says that he has had no time for any diversion beyond what's happening at the convention. Besides scheduled appointments with vendors made weeks in advance, he has allocated floor time for spotting the next big thing.

"Last year, I ran across a Taiwanese company making a receiver box," Greene recalls. "We didn't know anything about them but stumbled upon them at NAB. So a lot of times, we will find things just by walking around the halls and investigating.