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KEYE-TV follows eight-year plan to deliver HD local news

KEYE-TV, the CBS O&O in Austin, TX, kicked off HD presentation of its local newscasts Nov. 1 after following a plan developed at NAB1999 and implemented in stages in the intervening period.

Station chief engineer Arthur Smith and his associate Dusty Granberry formulated that plan, which amazingly changed very little during the eight years since it was envisioned.
HD Technology Update discussed the plan with Smith and what the station has learned since flipping the switch on HD local news three weeks ago.

HD Technology Update: Please describe the timeline for KEYE’s conversion to local HD news.

Arthur Smith: We began planning for the HD rollout in 1999 at the NAB convention. My colleague, Dusty Granberry, and I and sat down at NAB and put together our plan. We were part of Granite Broadcasting at the time, and had been tasked with devising some sort of plan.

One of the things we were asked to do was to think about how to accomplish the transition from analog to digital and HD. We spent a good six or eight hours in a hotel room and came up with a plan that seemed to pretty logical and practical, and also very carefully weighed each step.

Basically, what's happened is even through the transition to CBS and beyond, we have followed that plan. There were only two steps that were reversed; we planned to have field cameras and acquisition in 2007 prior to our HD studio launch, so we just flipped those two steps.

HD Technology Update: Obviously, throughout the eight years since the plan was conceived until now, a number technological advancements have transpired. What modifications to your plan became necessary because of those changes?

Arthur Smith: In 2002, we went on the air with a low-power digital system to cover our city of license, and the next year we basically got our HD transmission plant in place. Then we started to plan our studio plant conversion and that was rather a challenging issue because at that point, there wasn't much available in the way of what's called “glue” — analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion equipment.

Two years later, we converted our entire plant so that everything was SD. We originated almost everything in SD and upconverted everything else from NTSC to go to air. This year, when it came down to it, being SD made it a whole lot easier when it came to converting to HD. We had purchased a UTAH-400 routing switcher that is SD or HD, depending on the source, so switching sources from SD to HD was not a problem.

One of the things that’s changed in these ensuing years is the availability of the UTAH SqueezeMAX. Having that helped us because it interfaces into the Utah Scientific router system and has helped us get crawls on air quickly and do other tasks like pullbacks as well. It is especially helpful with news graphics.

Technology did evolve over the years, but the nice thing about this transition has been that at every step on our list, equipment was available, became available or an improvement was made available before we actually took that step. For example, we were worried about camcorders, because we had no idea how that was going to wash out in terms of the standards available. Were we going P2 or Blu-ray? Sony, however, has come to the fore with Blu-ray disk and HD-XDCAM camcorders. CBS stations adopted the Sony XDCAM system while we were part of the group, and I suspect we will follow suit.

Another thing that was unpredictable at the time we made our plan was editing.

HD Technology Update: What did you settle on for your news editing needs?

Arthur Smith: Apple has come to the front in terms of editing software and equipment. We have been able to go entirely Final Cut Pro. We also have Final Cut servers and an Xsan. Everything that we edit in house is Final Cut Pro, and we are prepared to go to HD at a moment’s notice.

In fact, we're about to set up an HD test station so we can integrate some footage into our newscast that will be totally HD. There will be at least one clip every evening, and that will only increase as time passes.

HD Technology Update: What are you doing for field acquisition for your new HD newscasts?

Arthur Smith: We're not shooting 16:9 SD currently. We currently shoot in 4:3 on SX. The SX machines we have are not capable of 16:9. We discovered that if you take an SX tape and create an anamorphic clip and import that to Final Cut as widescreen, it looks amazingly good when it's expanded out to widescreen.

It looks good in terms of just the SD image. There's no way, shape or form that it could be considered HD, but it has very low noise. In fact, it still is better than an upconverted NTSC image.

This was done as an experiment, and it just worked out great. In fact, we're planning to expand its use. We may switch all of our edit bays to use this process.

HD Technology Update: What are you shooting with in the studio?

Arthur Smith: We are using the Sony HDC-930s with really nice Canon lenses. When you look at them on air, they’re gorgeous. We’re very happy with our cameras; we were happy with them when they were SD, but when we flipped the switch and we turned on HD; we were just blown away.

Virtually every purchase order we issued in the past eight or nine years has said that whatever piece of equipment we were buying had to be HD-capable. That way, everything we bought was very simply converted to HD operation with the flip of a switch or the addition of a card.

HD Technology Update: What was the reason KEYE-TV decided to pull the trigger now and launch local HD news?

Arthur Smith: There are two things. Competitive edge is No. 1. Obviously, that is a big consideration. We hoped that us going HD would drive more viewers to our station. This is something we as a station had to think about very carefully and how it would affect our position in the local market.

Second, there’s also the fact that Austin is a very high-tech-driven area. Those two things taken together made it seem so obvious to us that we definitely wanted to try to get ahead of the competition since we could fairly easily and economically. Remember, in order to do this, all the pieces had to fall into place as per the plan.