KTVU puts HD newscast on air in five months

KTVU in San Francisco went on-air with HD newscasts a couple of weeks ago, becoming one of fewer than 20 local stations nationwide currently on air with HD news.

It took five months from the time station owner Cox decided to launch KTVU’s newscast in HD until the station had it up and running. By any measure, that’s a fast turnaround for such a tall order.

HD Technology Update spoke with station chief engineer Ken Manley to learn what the accomplishment took and what’s next.

HD Technology Update: Why did KTVU launch local HD newscasts now? Did you detect a critical mass of viewers in the Bay Area with HDTVs? Was it related to market leadership, or some other reason for the timing?

Ken Manley: The main reason is that Cox has an aggressive initiative to convert their stations to HD. WSB in Atlanta and WFTV in Orlando have recently turned on HD. KTVU is the third Cox station to do so this summer. It’s more of an internal Cox decision, but we are not ignoring market leadership. The Cox stations work to be leaders in their markets, so that helped the initiative.

HDTU: How are you rolling out your HD news capabilities? All at once, or in steps, such as studio (set, cameras, lenses etc.) and control room, newsroom/production infrastructure and then ENG? What were the engineering considerations behind your approach?

We decided to do it all at once. For field acquisition, we were updating to the P2 cameras, which do wide-screen. We just advanced the process by adding more cameras to finish the project. We intend to stay with the P2s, which upconvert quite well. That being said, we just had the P2 HD camera here for demonstration. So, never say never.

Also, we are doing HD news and news automation essentially as one project. The desire has focused more on getting the HD news on the air first, make sure it works OK and then implement the automation.

KTVU is producing everything as an HD news show. We started with everything new in HD. We have a very large HD graphics package and a music package. We have a new news set with rear projection of animated graphics and great attention to details. Everything shows in HD.

For weather, we have WSI HD and Baron HD storm-tracker products. We have HD traffic mapping. We have several traffic cameras along with a lot of ENG.

We’re taking in all of our field cameras and traffic cameras as widescreen. All of our editing is done with the NewsEdit [Vibrint] system. That makes it easy to put “wings” on the freelance pieces we need to convert. The widescreen field video is looking very good in the HD environment.

Every visual element is new and fresh and is a great morale boost.

We began the project soon after NAB. It was an opportunity that was suddenly presented by Cox and became a rushed project for us. We did it all from scratch in just five months — rolling out a whole new image, a new studio, set, cameras, robotics, a graphics package, weather and traffic, field shooting and editing with 26 cameras and 16 vans, the show edit process and a totally new control room.

We took a control room right back to the stud wall and did it all brand new. We did everything in the room for HD, and Ignite news automation.

HDTU: What are you doing for your SD audience? Downconverting your HD newscast?

KM: The show is all produced in HD. It goes to air in HD and we downconvert it for the analog master control switcher. The SD product is more crisp and the color more true, so the SD viewer gained as well.

HDTU: What are your thoughts on HD ENG live shots? Are you doing them? Will the 12MHz digital channels that will be used at 2GHz post BAS band refarming be adequate for HD?

KM: We have no short-term plans for HD field production, just the wide screen, which upconverts very well. We have submitted our [2GHz BAS] inventory. We hoped that would be behind us at the same time so we could work with some field digital acquisition ideas. That won’t happen until probably about next June.

I read about the CBS HD ENG testing. The white paper out last spring was pretty promising. Microwave people are talking and it’s evolving. Everyone we talk to is optimistic about that happening.

HDTU: In preparation for the switch, did you begin shooting any HD news footage to be on hand for archival purposes today? If not, why?

KM: Several weeks ago, when we had all of the P2 cameras positioned, we switched to the widescreen mode. The widescreen picture comes in scrunched. The microwave passes it the same as 4:3; so we just morph it back out. The editing and archiving is fine. There’s no problem shooting everything in the field and archiving that way. It just comes back out the same as it went into archive; it’s really simple.

HDTU: In the newsroom, do you use a file-based workflow? How hard was that to convert to HD?

KM: We have been file-based for some time. Five or six years ago we went to the Vibrint system, non-linear, all server based. So, we’ve been all server-based for a number of years.

We intend to remain SD for news editing for the time being. The widescreen part — getting back to the scrunched video coming in mixed with stringer footage ­— has been a little bit challenging. The edit screen shows in letterbox, but editors wanted “real” wide-screen video monitors. It’s a confidence thing that people have been asking for, so we’ve been retrofitting the edit rooms with widescreen TV-type monitors to make the aspect ratio clearer.

It’s not so much of a workflow issue. It’s really more of an edit decision comfort thing. Now, it is drop-dead easy to know which aspect of video you are looking at. This helps a lot in edit rooms that are under a lot of time pressure.

HDTU: You mentioned the station is also rolling out an automation project. Could you offer some details and how it played into the HD conversion?

KM: The whole thing goes back to the control room. News automation was basically the reason for stripping the room out as much as we did.

This year, we were funded to do Ignite, as are some of the other Cox stations, and we were selected as the lead station to do automation. We don’t have provision in the union contract for news automation, so we’re resolving some issues. Meanwhile, we’re running everything in the manual mode, but it is in an Ignite configured room. So, when everything is settled and we have provision for automation, we’ll turn that on as well in the early spring.

HDTU: Is there anything else left to do?

KM: We have a couple more phases. We have a remote traffic reporter who is a microwave hop away. We have HD branding. We have another control room to reconstruct as we move HD forward. We built this project in the small control room, so now we have the larger one to rebuild. I also want to get through the 2GHz upgrade, then fully plugging in the Ignite and getting that system running.

HDTU: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

KM: Because of our compact schedule, it was a lot of quick work, a lot of seven-day work shifts. It takes what it takes. You just think it through, plan it out and it works quite nicely.

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