CNBC HD+ is All Business

(click thumbnail)CNBC plans to feature financial information on the side panels of the 16:9 picture.ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J.
When CNBC begins simulcasting its regular SD channel with its new HD venue this month on DirecTV, the outlet (branded “CNBC HD+”) will deploy a unique format for the business network that expands its stock ticker and commerce news output in an enlarged on-screen panel. At the same time, it may be inadvertently testing the boundaries of conventional wisdom on what exactly constitutes a bona fide HD broadcast.

While the new channel’s moniker of CNBC HD+ leaves little doubt, the second feed from CNBC’s base of operations across the river from Wall Street in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., aims to provide HD content plus something extra. It turns out the “plus” has little to do with its video content and a lot to do with its text and graphics presentation.

And this is where it gets interesting. In a technological switchback that at first may seem counterintuitive, the textual stock quotes and other graphic data in an expanded right-side panel will appear in 1080i, while an adjacent 4:3 video window for the anchors will be upconverted from the original 480i simulcast.

Thus, unlike the newly expanded text panel that will take up about one-third of the screen, none of CNBC’s on-camera video images will be shot in 1080i (NBC Universal’s HD format of choice for its broadcast network), since no HD studio or field cameras will be used anywhere in the CNBC all-digital operation.

“At the end of the day, what does a wide shot of our anchors do for our viewers?” asked Steve Fastook, CNBC’s vice president of technical & commercial operations. “Not much. We think using the 16:9 aspect ratio, instead, to include the kicker, the stock data and other information, gives us an opportunity to provide more data to our viewers faster and simultaneously, with added flexibility.”


Fastook chose the enlarged right-side panel for his 1080i transmissions over the possibility of two smaller panels situated on either side (which would have required a 4:3 video window to be centered) because the larger text pane simply allowed for more data and graphics possibilities.

“It was just more practical for what we wanted to do,” he said. “And with the panel content in 1080i, the text is really fine, technically, very clear and quite readable. I’m not sure it would have been doable in regular SD. I’m really ending up with the best of both worlds because I don’t have to touch the SD service, and I still can get the most content over on the HD side.”

Fastook also wants CNBC HD+ to use its side panel’s footprint for more than a constantly changing text headline service.

“The panel itself is actually very agile and will be driven by a [human] producer. For example, if Dell Computer is the topic of discussion, the side panel will be able to drill down to mine some fast, specific details on Dell, maybe showing their key competitors and their most recent financial outlook,” Fastook said.

Also occasionally sitting below the right-side panel will be a small video window for long-form features such as congressional testimony, press conferences, and other events. “What we can do in this mode is provide a second video screen—sometimes coming directly from online, perhaps—and when the viewer wants to hear the audio, they simply press the SAP button on their remote, sort of like picture-in-picture,” Fastook said. “This feature, I believe, is going to be huge.”

The CNBC dual HD/SD operation plans to use Snell & Wilcox Quasers for 480i upconverting, which Fastook said is more than meeting his expectations while in test mode.

“It’s fantastic,” he said. “Even with our worst-case scenario, like maybe analog video feeds coming across from [Europe], the images look great.”

Fastook is also using 3-D graphics created by Brainstorm, and Sony LCD monitors. He has situated Miranda Technology’s Kaleido-K2 dual-display image processors at the producer’s new workstations, and using an Imagestore 750 from the Montreal-based company to compose the service.


Brian Olson, Miranda’s business development director for graphics and master control, said the 750 is the latest in his firm’s line of Imagestore units, and the first to provide quick selection between HD and SD (720p or 1080i at 50 Hz and 59.94 Hz).

“While [the Imagestore] does store images—such as basic branding and small animation—we also refer to it as a ‘channel processor’ because in many respects it really is a master control switcher. You can pretty much have a complete master control system with it, including the ability of multichannel digital audio mixing,” Olson said, with a four-group (16-channel) mixing using embedded audio and/or 8 AES pairs for both 5.1 and multilingual audio.

“[CNBC’s] upconverted 480i will never make a high-definition image, but in my opinion, it doesn’t matter,” said Peter Symes, director of standards and engineering at the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. “CNBC has found a way to use the benefit of a high-definition display to provide additional value without using conventional HD production technology—and good for them! It’s the viewers who will decide if they like the result.”