Your viewers are, well, watching you

Station A

I've taken to watching most of my local stations via their digital feeds. It's painfully obvious that while they are capable of producing good-looking ENG video, the same can't be said about their studio feeds. When comparing studio images with ENG-generated images, some of the studio content looks like it came from a TK42!

Station B

In order to protect the innocent, I'll simply refer to the stations as A, B, C and D. No sense in getting the chiefs riled up. Here is what I saw:

Station C

This station had a consistently soft studio image. Yet, its ENG camera feeds looked sharper (as video, not live).

Station D

The images from the studio and ENG-sourced video were similar, no huge quality difference.

The third test station's studio feed was — How do I put this nicely? — bad. I've seen sharper video from a $6000 camcorder. Was that fog in the studio or was the gain misadjusted? The ENG video was OK.

The last signal I examined was worse than all of the above stations. It was unbelievably soft. In fact, the images reminded me of an old Ampex camera I used in 1972 in Wichita, KS. We tried to solve the problem by installing some CBS box that was supposed to sharpen the camera's images.

We did one newscast with the device in the circuit while recording the program to tape. After reviewing the inaugural newscast with the image enhancer in the circuit, both news anchors blew a gasket. Seems the new box was “generating wrinkles” on their faces. So much for engineering's technical solution to the age-old problem of, well, aging.

The bottom line in my test is that the ENG video from the stations looked pretty good. My broadcasters seem quite able to produce good-looking remote video. Why couldn't they do the same in the studio? Does it matter?

Yes, it does, and now to my point: What's going to happen when viewers become familiar with HDTV-quality images from the networks and on comes the local news? All of a sudden, those crisp, focused, well-lit images the viewer has just become used to now remind them of the old 8mm home movies they have in the attic!

Chief engineers and DEs (even of groups) say that news will never go HD. At the last Broadcast Engineering News Technology Conference, guys I respect said, “Show me the money.” There's no money in doing news in HD, they told me.

My response is that when presented with obvious differences in image quality, viewers will often choose the higher quality ones, especially once they've become familiar with good HD from the networks.

Late last month, CBS announced that two of its O&O stations would begin shooting news in HD with Sony's new XDCAM HD platform in March. Other O&O stations will soon follow. A few stations are already originating their local newscasts in HD, and more follow monthly.

HD news is a whole lot closer than many Broadcast Engineering readers may realize. Get your facilities on the HD bandwagon now. Viewers expect it and will tune to those stations that provide it. And once you finally face the HDTV reality, you will find that it is not the million-dollar expense it used to be.

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