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WUSA Plans Local News in HD

WASHINGTON: Gannett-owned WUSA announced recently that it plans to convert its local newscasts to high definition before the summer.

The Washington, D.C.-based CBS affiliate broadcasts 35 hours of local news each week, in addition to carrying the primetime lineup of HD programming from the network. After the switch, all the station's local origination will be in HD.

"We're excited to be the leaders in this new technology," said Darryll J. Green, president and general manager of WUSA. "It will be like giving [viewers] a front-row seat in our studio."

The upgrade will include new HD studio cameras, switchers, monitors and servers. The station has upgraded its Omneon server to provide HD feeds. For the moment, upconverted graphics will come from an SD system.

In the field, WUSA will continue using SD equipment for news stories and remotes, although it will switch to 16:9 to integrate better with the studio's visuals.

"Right now, our plan is to focus on the studio portion of the HD upgrade, as that's a major undertaking," Green said. "In the future, we'll look at how we do [field HD]."

KUSA, WUSA's sister station in Denver, made a similar move to HD last year, which helped guide all Gannett stations on the necessary technology upgrades.

"We definitely learned a lot from KUSA and they have been great to work with," Green said. "We've learned that as you build the system, you must be flexible and also get equipment that you can upgrade to HD."


In this nascent era for HD news origination, WUSA found that equipment vendors are a useful source of information and advice regarding the switch.

The station will install two Sony MVS-8000 production switchers and several Sony studio cameras equipped with HD lenses.

"Sony has been an ongoing partner with us and has played a lead role in helping us move [to HD]," said Terry Smith, director of technology and operations for WUSA.

On the other hand, Smith said that HD graphics are not quite ready for the demands of a major-market news town like Washington.

"Graphics will stay SD and will be upconverted until the industry seems to be able to produce systems with all the functionality in the same box that you can get out of standard definition," he said.

The station will use a Grass Valley router to handle simultaneous SD and HD signals, and distribute embedded and unembedded audio to different parts of the facility. Miranda Technologies' up- and downconversion devices will handle the interchange between SD and HD. Other significant products from Miranda include the Kaleido multi-image processor and a Presmaster master control and branding switcher.

Ensemble Designs gear will be used to embed audio and frame synchronization. Staff from the station will be at NAB2005 to research other equipment.

The days when television equipment were completely separate from computer systems are long gone and Smith made sure that the HD upgrade will be "IT-friendly."

"One thing we evaluate with our equipment is its IT [capability]," Smith said. "A lot of these components are IT-driven and that was one of our decision factors."


As part of its upgrade to HD, the station is building a new news set that takes advantage of DTV's 16:9 aspect ratio. Of course, the higher resolution of HD means that a lot of entrenched television principles must be reconsidered.

"You've got to understand that you're shooting at 16:9 and have to be aware of what's on camera," Smith said. "Plus, with the sharper picture, you can't get away with something that was a traditional set design. You've really got to pay attention to the details because they are going to show."

The set is being built in New York and will be inspected, knocked down and shipped to WUSA within weeks. Although the station's management closely holds the design elements, Green was enthusiastic about the new set.

"I love it," he said.

Bob Kovacs is the former Technology Editor for TV Tech and editor of Government Video. He is a long-time video engineer and writer, who now works as a video producer for a government agency. In 2020, Kovacs won several awards as the editor and co-producer of the short film "Rendezvous."