KING-TV puts HD lessons learned to work for HD news launch

One of the biggest lessons it learned from originating local HD programming since 1998 was how to move, manage and store all of that extra HD data, according the station’s manager of broadcast operations.

KING-TV, the Belo-owned station in Seattle, had something going for it that many other stations deciding to launch HD local news didn’t, namely firsthand HD production experience.

Since 2003, the station has aired a local evening magazine show originated in HD. So, when it decided to begin producing its local newscasts in HD, the station had significant experience with HD origination.

HD Technology Update spoke with Willie Mcclarron Jr., manager of broadcast operations for KING-TV and KONG-TV, about the launch and how the station put the lessons it had already learned to work in producing its local news.

HD Technology Update: KING-TV has had ongoing experience with local origination in HD. How has that experience helped with your recent move to HD local news origination?

Willie Mcclarron Jr.: The one thing we learned about HD in particular is you have to understand that you are moving a lot more content around, and you have to build for that. Your system has to be robust enough to take the added amount of data that you’re moving between devices, on your local networks and from local device to local device.

We use the Sony XPRI NLE’s and we have a Sony SAN system here for our “Evening Magazine” production, which is a local program that started broadcasting in native HD in 2003. We found out then that it’s a lot of media to move around and you have to understand that, and then build for that. So, it was a large part of our lesson.

All of our graphics are HD. We have HD Thunders and we have an HD Deko FX3000. On the graphics create side, we use the Mac xSANs and a number of Mac stations, which are all capable of HD. We are moving a lot of media from device to device. Our network is GigE from the xSANs to the individual playout devices, which allows us to move media as efficiently as we possibly can — there are still latency issues involved with some of the devices basically because there’s just more material to move. Those are some of the lessons we learned with “Evening Magazine.”

HDTU: Is ENG now shot in HD? If so, could you describe your microwave relay — i.e. what encoders, what bit rate, what modulation approach (COFDM or other), etc.?

WMJ: We’re shooting 16:9 SD and upconverting. We have Sony SX cameras, and we’re also running with Sony NewsBase, which is not capable of HD throughput at this point, but it is capable of 16:9. So, we flipped the switch on our SX cameras the same day we went HD so that now all of our content is 16:9 coming out of NewsBase. We put a series of aspect ratio converters throughout the system so we can deliver full 16:9 to air.

All of our news material that comes out of NewsBase is upconverted. All of our cameras in the studio are HD, our switcher is HD and our graphics are HD. So, the acquisition end of it is not HD at this time, but that’s our next step.

HDTU: Where do you stand with the 2GHz relocation project and did that play into the decision to expand KING’s HD newscasts?

WMJ: Obviously, we have to do the same thing everyone else does. Right now, we’re seeing where Nextel is going to be in the process. We have done all of our due diligence with Nextel. I think they know where all of our stuff is. We’re probably more prepared than most, but we also realize that we’re going to have to go HD, and we’re going to have to go HD in our transmission, and I’m sure our company will be looking at a number of various manufacturers of that equipment.

Everything that we’ve done now has been geared toward 16:9 SD or HD. We were able to do that because we started in 1998 upgrading our equipment. We had an HD master control switcher here long before we needed it. We had that in ’98, and we updated the transmitter and the transmission side in ’98. So, we have just been moving ahead incrementally.

HDTU: In 1998, was your workflow tape-based? How has that evolved?

WMJ: Yes, in 1998, we were tape-based. We were running all HD material on Sony HDW-500’s. We have since changed our automation system and moved to Sundance automation. With Sundance automation in conjunction with Grass Valley K2 servers, we are capable of both SD and HD output. We have these huge servers — I call them bit buckets — to ingest standard definition and high definition, both interstitial and program material, and play it out to air. That was a big step for us. It allowed us more flexibility. Now, all of our material plays out from the Grass Valley K2 servers.

HDTU: Now that you’ve added to your local HD origination by ramping to HD news, what are your plans to archive all this material?

WMJ: Currently, we are putting it on tape. That’s more of a corporate decision than ours alone because we have to do something that’s in step with the 19 stations owned in the Belo group. I’m not sure where we’re going for the archive, but it is something they are working on.

HDTU: What are you doing for your other live shots from the field in regards to HD — things like tower cameras or news choppers?

WMJ: We currently have an HD camera on our tower — our main tower on Queen Anne Hill. We plan to add to that capability very soon. Our news copter is the next logical choice, along with our tower cameras located throughout the region.

HDTU: Why was the decision taken now to expand your local HD origination to your newscasts? In other words, was there some magic number of HD households in the market reached that caused KING to pull the trigger now, or some other factor?

WMJ: I felt that the reason was multifaceted. In our area, we’ve had a high HD adaptation rate; a lot of people have bought sets in this particular market. When you add the pressure of the competition, and the price drop of some HD equipment, everything just seemed to come together. That along with the fact that we were changing our automation system, which allowed us to better playback HD media; it just made sense to go HD.

HDTU: Is there anything else you’d like to add about going HD with KING-TV’s local newscasts?

WMJ: I thought it went much better than I anticipated. I felt the planning went well, and once we hit the air, it just became a matter of working in a 16:9 format.

I thought it was a pleasant transition. I’ve been through other transitions that haven’t been nearly as smooth as this one. That, I appreciated. We have a very good crew here, and the guys worked hard. They put their hearts in it and a lot of people worked long hours to make sure the transition would work.

HDTU: Where there any surprises?

WMJ: No, there weren’t big surprises. There were little things like when we are shooting 16:9 in the studio, watching out for headroom. You wouldn’t think when you are shooting 16:9 HD that headroom would become an issue, but it did. Those are little things we’ve worked through.

Transferring graphics between the Apple xSANs and the Thunder devices is another. We knew there would be some latency, but we didn’t count on the amount of latency we got. So, we are figuring out ways to make those transfers faster. Those are some of the things, some of the little gotchas we’ve been working through.

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