Cordillera Communications will launch HD news operations at two of its midmarket-sized stations, KVOA-TV in Tucson, AZ, and WLEX-TV in Lexington, KY, this spring.
Both stations have also recently adopted Harris NEXIO NX file-based newsroom workflows and are shooting in the field with Panasonic SD P2 solid-state DVCPRO 50. The stations will acquire in 16:9 aspect ratio and upconvert for integration of edited packages and live shots from the field into their HD newscasts.
HD Technology Update spoke with Andrew Suk, director of broadcast engineering for Cordillera Communications, about the conversion to HD news. Suk's extensive thoughts will be presented in two parts — Part 2 will appear in next week's edition.
HD Technology Update: KVOA is one of the first midmarket-sized stations converting its local newscast to HD. What are the plans for HD ENG at KVOA?
Andrew Suk: ENG becomes the real pricey and problematic area, and I don't know that it's ready for primetime yet. That's the real key there.
What we've done from an ENG side is looked at the product that's out there and gone in with P2, buying off on the idea that there are no moving parts. There's no drive mechanism, which has always been the most problematic area of ENG equipment. So by eliminating the drive, we are money ahead, so to speak, on the maintenance side.
We're doing this by using DVCPRO 50 50Mb and doing an upconversion and setting up the cameras appropriately. That's one of the key issues with doing this. You have to turn down contour and details and a lot of the other things. By turning them down, you eliminate what I call the primary school effect where it looks like somebody went around all of your talent with a black crayon to outline them.
By correcting the cameras in advance and then doing the upconversion, we're quite satisfied with the way the product looks, and we think the consumer will be as well.
HDTU: How does this approach impact live shots?
AS: It also makes the live shots a little easier to deal with. Given the bandwidth issues of HD, it makes them easier to deal with using current technology. We can get things going back and forth easier. In Tucson, in particular, a lot of our news is actually edited together in the field and then microwaved back as final pieces. So, we will be able to maintain all of that in the field at the same time.
HDTU: How long have you had these P2 SD cameras?
AS: These are new. In Lexington, as an example, we are literally purchasing the P2 cameras and putting them in the field using 16:9 at 50Mb. In Tucson, we've had them for just about a year, and we are going to switch over to 16:9 50Mb and start shooting in that direction.
HDTU: You said HD field acquisition for ENG is not ready for primetime. Why?
AS: What we've got with buying into the P2 concept is the idea of no moving parts, no drives. Really, we're the only players out there doing that — certainly Sony's got their product, and while it's a good product, it's not a direction we wanted to travel.
On the P2 side of things, I think MPEG-4 is going to offer some neat solutions in the very near future. I'm not sure what Panasonic has released publicly on their H.264 product, but certainly there are plans to move that into 50Mb HD acquisition. Once that's ready for primetime, once that's a viable product, I think we will take a very hard look at that.
At this point in time, our group is 11 stations. Tucson and Lexington are actually our larger markets. We also have all of the CBS affiliates in Montana. So these cameras that we just purchased are good cameras — 16:9, 50Mb field acquisition with upconversion. When the time comes to convert these stations to HD field acquisition, we have no problem at all repurposing those existing cameras in some of our smaller markets. And it makes sense to make a transition that way.
So, we don't feel like it's a lost investment.
HDTU: Where does the Sprint Nextel BAS relocation fit in and what progress has been made?
AS: KVOA, because it's in the Tucson/Phoenix market, will to be one of the stations that's going to convert first.
Because of that, we've actually issued purchase orders. We've got the sign-off from our side as well as Nextel. That's moving forward, and we anticipate the Tucson market being one of the first to go. Lexington is going to be lagging just because of the Nextel plans.
HDTU: What do you anticipate will be the impact of encoder latency on ENG?
AS: That's a huge concern, particularly for tossing things back. You know, just the little things from the digital transmission delays on the primary signal, not even to mention the encoding delays coming back. Currently, by staying SD, we minimize that a little bit, but that's still going to be a problem. In Tucson, a lot of our packages are edited in the field so that latency is not an issue. We may be losing a few seconds, but if it isn't a live shot, we're OK.
On the live shots, we really haven't jumped through that hoop. We know we've got a challenge in front of us.
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