WINK-TV makes the digital transition in spite of Charlie and Wilma

When the owners of WINK-TV, a CBS affiliate in Fort Myers, FL, assigned its engineering staff the task of totally upgrading its broadcasting capabilities, everyone involved realized there would be challenges. They did not, however, anticipate that the project would be put in jeopardy by serious hurricanes striking their six-county southwest Florida area in two successive years.

The engineers knew that, under the best of circumstances, the integration of top-end equipment and new technology — without interrupting programming delivery — was a formidable task. The plan involved extensive construction to the CBS outlet's buildings, which also house nine radio stations. But this was put on hold due to the substantial damage from Hurricane Charlie throughout Lee and Charlotte counties in the station's Fort Myers/Naples metro market. Once the construction crews were available — after helping the 1 million residents affected by the hurricane — the project began.

The plan

WINK — with the help of Professional Communications Systems (PCS) — would expand the facilities and make the transition to digital and HD. PCS was chosen because of its extensive experience in broadcast systems integration and understanding of digital transition issues.

Plans called for a rebuilding of WINK's master control and tech center operations. Walls had to be removed or relocated, the ceilings had to be totally removed with new ones installed, offices had to be relocated. The electrical and air conditioning systems had to be redesigned to accommodate the new equipment and heat loads.

While cost is always important, the station's management focused on maximizing value within budgetary guidelines. In order for WINK to stay at the technological forefront, it needed to replace its old analog infrastructure with a digital one that would provide both SD and HD feeds through the facility and on to the air. Implementing an all-digital infrastructure was the logical path to take, and it was designed to allow content and workflow to move smoothly throughout the facility, as well as enabling a much easier implementation of HD and 5.1 audio.

Equipment integration

In the television facility's master control, tech center, production and server areas, top-of-the-line solutions were integrated with hundreds of new components that had to work with the legacy system. In the old analog infrastructure, the station's team had devised numerous workarounds to incorporate the expanding list of digital-only equipment (e.g., DVEs, servers, clip and still stores) to function in the analog world. And the need to transition to HD added to the complexity.

Regarding equipment, management wanted the components to be comfortable. The upgrade team was tasked with selecting equipment that would provide great performance, flexibility and reliability for many years, along with future upgradeablity. An easy-to-implement plan was designed for future upgrades to new equipment, systems and technologies. Aging pieces would be replaced with new, digital equipment in stages throughout the integration.

Workflow elements

A Grass Valley master control switcher improves speed, ease and error-avoidance in multiple source management and feeds. The company's A/D and D/A conversion system adapts any signal format to be compatible with both existing and new equipment. A Grass Valley Encore-controlled Concerto routing system provides 128 × 128 ins and outs, which allow access to all sources from master control, production control, promotion/graphics, news, weather and the studio.

Master control enables operators to monitor the video and audio for the SD and HD feeds, including Dolby 5.1 audio. The HD feed pathway consists of a Tandberg E5780 HD/SD encoder and a Microwave Radio Communications (MRC) TwinStream system for the studio-to-transmitter/transmitter-to-studio link (STL/TSL).

STL/TSL equipment from MRC enables the station to microwave out to the transmitter site and back to the studio on the same path. The STL and TSL each have two TwinStream D/A transmitters with a hot standby switching shelf.

A Miranda Kaleido virtual monitor wall subdivides large screens into programmed designs of many smaller images, reducing problems associated with rows and columns of individual monitors, including heat production. Two 50in Panasonic plasma screens are integrated into the Kaleido monitor wall.

WINK also has three 20in Ikegami HD/SD multiformat HTM2005R color monitors in the master control and operations centers for monitoring HD transmission. Four Sony 14in professional multiformat high-resolution SD PVM1415/1 monitors were installed throughout the centers.

A Snell & Wilcox HD6300 upconverter provides signal upconversion.

Harris' Leitch LogoMotion storage and distribution system enables different logos for separate simultaneous programming outputs and notifications, such as weather updates and AMBER Alerts, and also the synchronizer processors that intake any signal format and provide for outputting in any format.

An ADC patch panel system isolates component malfunctions to keep the station's signal flowing when any individual component experiences difficulties.

HD is broadcast in Dolby 5.1 audio, which supplies surround-sound signals to home entertainment centers and high quality stereo.

For its studio set, WINK chose Panasonic plasma monitors because of the high contrast ratio that performs well even under studio set lighting. A 50in Panasonic plasma screen in the master control room monitors the HD feed.

The installation included a new SPG422 master reference sync system from Tektronix with an ECO422D automatic changeover unit. The sync generators ensure complete synchronization of the SD and HD signals. Tektronix scopes are a combination of waveform monitor and vector WFM601A and WFM601M for SD, and a WFM700 scope for HD.

Added service to viewers

The upgrade has enabled the station to record both standard- and high-definition feeds from CBS. The HD feed is provided over the air and is fed, via fiber-optic cable with backup, to the Fort Myers/Naples cable systems market. Seventy percent of prime-time HD is in Dolby 5.1.

For a smooth transition between HD and non-HD programming, WINK upconverts 480-line video scans to 1080 lines. The HD/SD simulcasting is interrupted during opportunities to distribute original HD programming from CBS, as was done during this year's NCAA basketball tournament.

Shortly after the upgrade and construction were completed, the area was struck by Hurricane Wilma. Adversity provided the ultimate test for the new equipment and operations, offering a direct comparison of old vs. new.

During the weather interruptions, WINK put all efforts into providing and keeping emergency information on its feeds. A large in-house power generator supplied electricity during an extensive power outage. Its generators never ceased during a week with widespread power failure. The station remained on-air, providing critical information to area residents and the governmental authorities' security and rescue forces. The FCC recognized WINK for its extraordinary efforts under great duress.

The new infrastructure provides the ability to route signals to and from any destination and to quickly get emergency information on the air, either in the form of “Push Back & Crawl” or “Live to Air,” with graphics and other visual and aural information. It also enables HD programming to air with full 5.1 audio.

The result

Automation has been a key factor in the success of WINK's facility upgrade and the transition to digital. In addition to increased capacity, the station no longer has to deal with cumbersome workarounds.

Routing sources are more efficient, and the team enjoys a much improved workflow. The system's efficiency and communication speed also assist the staff in error-avoidance.

The transition was a long process with many roadblocks for the development team, but the end result has been successful. The rebuild has allowed WINK to continue honoring its commitment to the Southwest Florida region by being at the forefront in programming and providing better, faster news.

Keith Stuhlmann is WINK-TV's director of engineering.

Design team


Keith Stuhlmann, dir. of eng.
Glen Argirion, eng.

Professional Communications Systems (PCS)

Rich Merriam, design eng., project mgr.
Charles Ross, account executive
Glenn Thomason, dir. of eng.
Troy Pazos, installation mgr.
Bill Blush, vp sales

Technology in action

ADC PPV2224RS-S patch panel system

Dolby 5.1 sound system

Ikegami HTM2005R HD/SD monitors

Grass Valley
8964DEC A/D and 8964ENC D/A conversion system
Encore-controlled Concerto routing system
Master control switcher

Harris Leitch
XPR-12 SAESC 12 × 1 bypass system
LogoMotion logo and emergency storage and distribution
DPS575 synchronizer processors

Miranda Kaleido-K2 virtual monitor wall

MRC TwinStream STL/TSL

Panasonic plasma monitors

Sony PVM1415/1 SD monitors

Snell & Wilcox HD6300 upconverter

TANDBERG E5780 encoder

ECO422D automatic changeover unit
SPG422 master reference sync system
WFM601A and WFM601M SD scopes
WFM700 HD scope