TNT Prepares for HD Explosion

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Turner Networks has been hard at work on a new network-operations building, and the benefits will be seen in May when TNT HD becomes the company's first HD network to originate from the facility.

The move to HD (see related story, page 32) has spurred acquisition of HD production gear, most notably Fujinon lenses and Ikegami cameras that will be used in a production vehicle covering live events like NBA games and NASCAR racing. The gear is already being used to acquire content, shooting such programs as Southern Living Presents and Off the Menu for Turner South.

"We believe that, once HD begins to take off, we'll be ready with programming that meets the higher-resolution requirements," says Bud Wending, director of Turner Studios' film and video unit. Also expected to be shot in HD for Turner South: Liars and Legends and Southern Home by Design.

A TNT spokesperson says the plan is to have the HD offering identical to the standard-definition, meaning a full slate of Law & Order episodes. Over time, it's expected that seasons of Law & Order not available in HD will be remastered.

The network-operations facility in Atlanta applies a "pod" concept to network control, allowing similar resources, including personnel and equipment, to be shared. The TNT HD facility was part of the original plan for the building and is expected to be finished in the next couple of months. Additional staff is expected to be added to operate the new network, but some existing personnel will also be involved.

The equipment lineup in the master-control area includes a Quartz master-control switcher, with Chyron graphics and character-generator gear used as well. Content will be stored on Pinnacle video servers and accessed on Sony SRW-5000 HD VTRs. Snell & Wilcox, which signed a multimillion-dollar deal with Turner for the new facility, will handle terminal gear (along with Leitch and Evertz) and encoding from the servers; routing will be handled by a Thomson Grass Valley Trinix.

HD service offered by cable's top entertainment network will test the bandwidth limits of HD cable systems, which increasingly struggle to make room for more networks. Time Warner Cable in New York, for example, says it won't have the bandwidth to carry HDNet and two InDemand HD networks until the end of the year. Whether the system will be able to clear room for its own TNT network in May remains to be seen, but TWC systems are expected to be offering the service at launch.