Fox stations to splice HD feed at local level

The Fox Network has revealed its plans to cost-effectively distribute HDTV content via satellite to its 194 affiliates across the country. Working with Terayon Communications Systems and Thomson Broadcast, Fox has developed a system that will save on satellite distribution costs by enabling the Fox stations to add their own material into the network-deliver HD video stream locally. This, the network said, will also help maintain a high quality signal right through to the consumer’s home.

Late last year the network said that it would broadcast at least 50 percent of its primetime lineup in the 720p format by the end of this year.

Circumventing traditional master control switchers, the new “Fox Splicer System” will be deployed at each station and enable them to insert SD commercials and programming materials with the network’s HD feed before it goes out to viewers. The system will also allow logo and station I.D. insertion without requiring the decoding of the 720p MPEG stream back to baseband. This will help maintain high quality images and reduce operational problems often associated with these types of contribution systems.

Thomson Broadcast will begin installing more than $16 million worth of MPEG-2 splicing equipment this spring, incorporating the BP 5100 Broadcast Platform from Terayon. This fall Fox will begin 720p transmissions alongside its normal widescreen broadcasts during its primetime schedule and hopes to have the entire system, including new HD transmission at its headquarter facility in Los Angeles, in place by the end of this year. Meanwhile Fox stations will use the Splicer System to make the transition from widescreen SD to HD broadcasts.

“As HD goes mainstream, we must seek out sustainable methods for HD production and distribution,” said Andy Setos, president of Engineering, Fox Entertainment Group. “The application of splicing in distribution delivers material bandwidth efficiencies and equipment savings while simultaneously ensuring the highest picture quality for the viewer.”

Using the Splicer System, local stations will receive a more highly compressed HD signal and then insert local HD content, branding and data into the network stream without having to decompress it at the station. For the network, the use of MPEG-2 splicing technology means greater satellite bandwidth efficiencies and cost savings.

Terayon, Thomson and Fox worked on the system for about six months, incorporating a modified Terayon BP5100 splicer with distribution amplifiers, a customized interface and a logo inserter. The splicer was originally built for the cable market so there were also some software modifications to ready it for over-the-air use.

The network is reportedly requesting that show masters for next season be submitted at either 720p or 1080p; on Sony HDCAM SR or Panasonic D5 tape. This material will be loaded on video servers for playout.

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