After systematically building state-of-the-art HD production facilities in New York City; Los Angeles; and Washington, D.C., over the past three years, CNN has turned its attention to its original home and main headquarters at CNN Center in Atlanta. On May 3, the all-news network unveiled a new studio with all of the traditional HD production equipment one might expect, as well as a few technical surprises.
Now all of CNN's domestic programming (as well as some programming on HLN) will be distributed — via cable, satellite and telco television service — in the 1080i HD format. The new studio and the associated tapeless newsgathering operations at all of its facilities will be supported in the field by nearly 20 HD microwave trucks and more than 100 photojournalists, who all shoot in HD. (There will still be a lot of SD material from international bureaus and archived material used that will be upconverted before going to air.)
The new 5000sq-ft studio in Atlanta is more than three times the size of the network's existing anchor desk and weather set combined, making it the largest studio to date for CNN. It includes a rotating anchor desk that allows the crew to use Sony HDC-1400 HD studio cameras with Fujinon HD lenses to shoot various interviews with different backdrops or minisets installed around the four walls of the studio. There are five cameras in the studio on Vinten Radamec robotic pedestals, as well as one handheld on a steadycam rig and another on a mechanical jib camera. Sony XDCAM HD cameras with Canon lenses are used in the field.
Flexibility to do more
The main design concept was to make the studio as flexible as possible to accommodate a wide variety of news segments and individual programs. One large wall features two 103in Panasonic HD plasma screens on a motorized track suspended from above that can be moved to serve as a background as the rotating desk moves. One screen is equipped with a touch-screen overlay called “UTouch,” which allows the on-air talent to manipulate graphic elements. The weather center set features a separate large screen running Perceptive Pixel software that allows the on-screen talent to expand an image with their fingers (which CNN pioneered on-air for the 2004 presidential election). There's also a Christie Digital HD projector for some weather segments, used to display WSI weather graphics, and three other Christie HD projectors blended together to display animations, live video and graphics behind the main set.
The main set itself includes more than two miles of LED lighting (made by NileStrip and Boca Flasher in Florida), which can be used in a variety of ways to create alternate moods and ambiance. The crew can also project all types of animations across the entire backdrop or focus on specific sections of the stage.
The engineering department has also made it possible for the anchors' laptops to be taken directly to air, so they can support their stories with social media and the Internet when necessary.
Reporting in the round
The innovative anchor desk rotates 270 degrees. It was designed by CNN's in-house engineering group with help from theatrical scenic design company Clickspring and engineering design assistance from BEST. It's powered by a series of chains, high-intensity cable and gears that can be rotated during commercial breaks to change the on-screen look. The stage moves to a series of predetermined locking points for each individual segment. The design facilitates a variety of different camera angles and backdrops, but it was technically challenging to implement.
The real challenge was to figure out a way to move all of that chain and set cabling without it getting pinched or crimped every time the stage is rotated. In early tests, the system has worked perfectly.
Solid foundation for HD news
In 2007, when CNN launched HD operations in New York, the Atlanta facility was also equipped with a new master control system to handle the extra-bandwidth HD programs and send them out to viewers with HDTV sets. In 2008, new Grass Valley Trinix HD routers (one central router features a 1024 × 1024 matrix) and HD servers were installed in Atlanta, and in October 2009, the first HD control room (“B”) went on-air for a small amount of programming.
All new segments for HLN and other programs shot in the new studio on the seventh floor will come out of Control B on the fifth floor, complete with a Sony MVS-8000G HD production switcher and a multiscreen monitor wall running Evertz MVP multiviewer software.
When the new digital record and edit system launches later this year, everything will be captured and distributed in native 1920 × 1080i HD resolution, with a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. Some SD content will appear with sidebars to fill the screen when necessary.
The entire facility is supported by an internal IPTV network that allows producers, journalists, editors and engineers to view a variety of live TV channels and incoming feeds from any computer in the building. An Enseo decoder box sits on every desktop to display the channels.
Audio gone MADI
All the Sennheiser microphone and IFB sources are transferred between the seventh floor studio and the control room on the fifth floor via the MADI protocol over coax cables, which reduced installation costs. Surround sound is synthesized for some programs before final broadcast, but all audio is handled as stereo internally. Programs are mixed on a Euphonix Max Air digital audio console.
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A new era for CNN
The new studio is a departure from the single, large anchor desks of old and moves CNN into a new era that incorporates new media technology to tell the story in more interesting ways. It also targets a younger audience whenever appropriate by allowing the talent to roam around the set.
There was a time when some questioned the need for newscasts to go HD. At CNN, there's no question it is a critical part of staying competitive. It now has the space and the technology in Atlanta to do it right.
Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on the professional video and broadcast technology industries.
Bob Hesskamp , SVP, engineering
Matthew Holcombe, VP of network support, engineering
Jeff Paquin, dir., proj. management office
Guy Pepper, exec. dir., production design
Dave Slack, VP, proj. management and ops.
Jack Womack, SVP, ops. and admin.
Anne Woodward, VP, technical ops.
Technology at work
Canon HD lenses
Christie Digital HD projectors
Enseo decoder boxes
Euphonix Max Air audio console
- MVP multiviewer
- Signal processing modules
Fujinon HD lenses
Grass Valley Trinix HD routers
Harris Infocaster digital signage system
NileStrip LED lighting
Panasonic 103in plasma screens
Perceptive Pixel software
Sennheiser wireless microphones
- HDC-1400 HD studio cameras
- MVS-8000G HD switcher
- XDCAM HD field cameras
Vinten Radamec robotic pedestals
WSI weather graphics
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