WFAA has turned the traditional concept of “on the scene” reporting on its ear in north Texas with a new, street-level studio set against the glitzy backdrop of Victory Park, an energized new section of downtown Dallas.
The station, owned by Belo, has constructed a glass-walled facility on the south side of the plaza outside American Airlines Center (home to the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, the NHL's Dallas Stars, and a series of concerts and events throughout the year), about a mile away from the station's main control room.
The new 4000sq-ft studio provides visitors to the Victory Park area with a storefront view of the station's live morning and evening newscasts — the highly rated local talk show “Good Morning Texas” — and other news and entertainment programs. It also gives home viewers the feeling of being part of the action when games or high-profile concerts are taking place.
The key enabling technology to facilitate this unique remote two-way production design is the Grass Valley C2IP TCP/IP-based Ethernet camera control system, which gives the station's technical staff the ability to shade and focus the cameras from their control room located about a mile away.
The system consists of an operational control panel (OCP 400); a master control panel (MCP 400); and a base station data/network module (LDK 4500 SL). (See Figure 1.) It offers comprehensive remote operation for all Grass Valley LDK series cameras, including the LDK 4000 installed at the station. The system offers Ethernet-based control of up to 99 cameras using standard IP networking, as well as multiple control points per camera.
The compact (4RU) operational control panel includes variable matrix control, fine skin-detail adjustments and installation adjustments, which all directly control the camera's internal menu settings. The panel also features Ethernet connectivity, an intuitive interface for easy operation, and preilluminated buttons and text-screenings for dim-light environments.
Using the panel reduces the time and effort station technicians spend on camera setup and reconfiguration when changing shows. Instead of individually calling up each camera on a network to obtain its operational settings, the master control panel interprets and logs all network activity between cameras and control panels automatically.
The technicians also can use the data-gathering capabilities of the master control panel to adjust camera parameters on the fly. They can, for example, use the panel's spreadsheet-like interface to review the paint settings for all cameras in a particular production, and then adjust them across the board or on a camera-by-camera basis. This helps provide the station with a uniform look among the different camera outputs for all of its shows.
Camera and production settings also can be saved as digital files on standard USB storage media, which can even be e-mailed if necessary. When setting up a production, technicians simply load the settings into the OCP panel off the USB media.
The LDK 4500 SL base station data/network module allows the station to add new features and update the software easily, thereby future-proofing its investment. It also supports the Grass Valley NetConfig software, enabling fast device configuration and remote access via a Web browser interface.
The remote camera control system offers the station's engineering crew the freedom to manage the cameras from the station's main control room. It's as if they are positioned inside the studio in Victory Park, but they are not.
On the air in HD
The station's new facility was opened on Jan. 8, 2007, and began full HD broadcasting on Feb. 2, 2007. WFAA-DT is now on the air in HD with its local news (the first in its market to do so) and has become popular with viewers.
A variety of pre- and post-event broadcasts, along with its daily morning show, are produced in the new studio. Then the signal is transmitted via fiber-optic cable across town to the station's main control room located in the same building that the station has been broadcasting from since the late 1950s, and to the station's Grass Valley Kayak HD production switcher before going to air.
There are even HD cameras located at various locations atop Victory Park and across the street on the second story of the new W Hotel to provide live reaction shots and to oversee the crowds coming to and from events. These overhead shots are often fed to large projection screens located outside the studio and incorporated into the station's coverage.
In order to maintain a consistent look for its locally produced programs, WFAA has installed four more LDK 4000 cameras in its existing production studio, which are fed into the Kayak HD switcher. These also are set up using the control panel of the C2IP system.
Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on professional video and broadcast technology industries.