Andrew Suk, director of broadcast engineering for Cordillera Communications, is part of the Cordillera Communications team targeting this spring for the launch of HD newscasts at the station group's KVOA-TV in Tucson, AZ, and WLEX-TV in Lexington, KY.
In last week's edition of HD Technology Update, Suk discussed how the stations plan to use 16:9 SD footage acquired with Panasonic P2 DVCPRO 50 camcorders and upconvert that material for integration into their HD newscasts.
This week, HDTU concludes its discussion with Suk, focusing on how Cordillera plans to maximize its workflow efficiency through a file-based news production workflow.
HD Technology Update: Has Cordillera Communications centralized operations?
Andy Suk: Yeah, up in Montana out of Butte we feed both Bozeman and Helena from a central hub. We've looked at moving toward a centralized operation in Montana very cautiously. The thought is all of the content is already out on the edges, and if we do control and monitoring from a single location, we can do auto ingest at the individual stations and not have to worry about the massive pipes for interconnect.
The problem that we've run into with any of the hub-and-spoke models is the size of the pipes needed to run content back and forth from the hub to the various edges. As former Senator [Conrad] Burns used to say about Montana, 'There's a lot of dirt between light bulbs.' So, we're wired across the state with an analog microwave system. The cost of converting that to a digital microwave system is astronomical.
When you look at markets like Montana, they're probably not the ones that are in the best position to upgrade to digital. So, while we are certainly looking at options there, and have converted links over where they make sense, the idea of centralizing with a huge pipe going back and forth between all of the stations is really not a model that makes sense.
HDTU: I asked about centralization because I was wondering if you thought the economies and efficiencies created by centralization might make converting to HD more economical on a group basis.
AS: Actually, it does, if you can get the content back and forth. But if you can't get the content back and forth, it doesn't do you any good. And what we would be routing on the HD conversion — remember the HD conversions on a local station level are going to be news.
All of those markets in Montana actually have their own independent news operations. Even with the centralization that we have right now with Butte, Helena and Bozeman, I still have three separate news operations that have to maintain the community involvement. So, certainly on regional and national stories, sharing those is possible, and those are some of the links we've already replaced with digital so we can do those things. But that really adds another big fly in the ointment in Montana for making the HD conversion.
HDTU: Getting back to Tucson and Lexington, where does the conversion to HD news stand?
AS: It's in the process. Both of those stations are following the same path for a launch in the spring.
HDTU: What are you doing in terms of converting news production to HD, and do the stations in Tucson and Lexington use file-based workflows for news?
AS: We are making the transition to file-based news production. We've signed on with the Leitch NEXIO news product a year ago at KVOA. We are converting that system into the VelocityNX, the Leitch nonlinear editing system, and we are doing the same in Lexington. We are installing a new file-based Leitch server system over there for news.
We like what we've seen. The slow part with that has been the conversion for P2 acquisition. They finally have come up with a very nice conversion that allows them to do drag-and-drop file transfers conveniently into the VelocityNX platform. So that's the system we're using for both editing and playout.
Their laptop editors haven't been introduced yet. Panasonic introduced some P2 field players that have some editing functions built in. We've been working with them as well as other people, and it's my understanding that Panasonic will introduce their new field unit for P2 that will allow playback and more elegant editing functions. In the field, we are toying with the idea of using the Panasonic units, potentially using laptop editing if the VelocityNX field editors come out.
HDTU: As Cordillera committed to this file-based news approach, did you do so planning for HD so the network infrastructure was in place to handle it?
AS: Between the workstations and the newsrooms, it's all tied together where the Harris Leitch product is actually a SAN-based system. So once the files are in there, they are actually stored on the same drive array that they'll be played out of. Once material is ingested, it's in its final resting place.
The workstations are tied in with GigE and fiber connection directly to the SAN array.
HDTU: What surprises have you encountered as you've embarked on the HD conversion for news at both stations?
AS: I think a lot of the glue product sneaks up on you. The number of conversions you need to be making — just the little nickel and dime pieces, which unfortunately are usually measured in $1000 and $2000 increments — those are the parts that throw you.
The other thing is how you do the daily things like news crawls or weather closings. If you do have 4:3 material — there's still a lot of material that's 4:3 — what's the most convenient way to put curtains on the side of the things? How do you go ahead and route a single master control to feed an HD and an SD station, both your HD and your analog facilities, without duplicating master control functionality?
It's all of those little things that sneak up on you that require the time and effort in the planning stages. It's convenient in that there are a lot of people out there making a product. Coming up with the products to work together is a bit of an issue. We've put Chyron character generators in at Lexington and stayed with the Harris product over in Tucson. So, we're keeping our fingers in both pies to see which direction seems to work the best.
I think one of the huge things out there is that the after-sale support becomes a critical component on this stuff. We've got engineering staffs that are great engineering staffs, but they've got absolutely no experience at all in HD. So, it's a huge learning experience for everybody, and you'll be relying on the vendors quite a bit to help you out on this stuff.
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