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Live HD shots present biggest challenge to news

The wider 16:9 aspect ratio of HD allows HDNews to present six candidates with live, updated vote tallies.

While news directors and general managers struggle with the transition to DTV and what to do about alternate delivery avenues such as cell phones and the Internet, high definition may seem like a far away concern.

But for Will Wright, general manager of Voom’s HDNews channel, it’s a part of everyday life. Joining the fledgling operation in October 2003, Wright planned and oversaw the launch of the all HD news channel.

Speaking at this month’s News Technology Summit, sponsored by Broadcast Engineering and Broadcasting & Cable magazines, Wright offered insight into what it takes to put high-definition news on the air. High Definition Technology Update caught up with Wright after the conference and asked him to expand on his thoughts.

HD Technology Update: How does newsgathering and presentation of the news benefit from HDTV?

Will Wright: When we first got started, I created a style guide. As part of our style guide, photographers are instructed to document detail. The goal is to allow the pictures and natural sound to convey most of the story with a minimum of reporter intervention.

HDNews has a mandate to present brilliant slices of life. Every report is a study in detail. It’s a celebration of what viewing is all about. We have made a total commitment to this medium. Some newscasts have decided to mix in HD and SD. That's not what we do. We are committed to all HD all the time.

HDTU: What has been your biggest technical challenge to date with HDNews?

HDNews artists layer graphical elements, such as the president’s image, presidential seal and U.S. flag to create a dramatic news still.

WW: No one more routinely does HD live shots than we do, and that is what’s most challenging — to move HD material from a place where there are few digital resources. We send a digital HD truck with specific encoders to encode HD. We shoot DVCPRO HD Varicam — a full chip camera and that’s a lot of data being recorded and a lot to move. So when we do our live shots, we make sure the satellite truck has the proper encoder, or we ship the encoder that’s required in advance of a planned news event.

With HD live shots, as the technology grows so does our ability to do them. There’s a learning curve that’s required, and we are teaching people to do them.

For example, Barak Obama. When he won his senate seat, we were in Chicago and needed to move data, a live shot, from his election after party at the Hyatt. SBC, the phone company, hadn’t done a live HD shot out of there so we had to teach them. It is a learning curve. Even though we encounter people who give a little push back, we are encouraging them to do it and teaching them along the way.

HDTU: What specific ways are you using the higher resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio to your advantage in reporting and presenting news?

WW: 16:9 gives us a wider picture and a wider graphics palette. Our graphics are divided and created in zones. In our graphics layers, we can create moving graphics in moving zones with our election and sports coverage. We can create a graphic interface that when we pushback to a shrunken 4:3 video we still have plenty of room to have stunning, revealing graphics.

HDTU: What lesson or lessons did you learn from your experience with getting an HD news operation on the air that could help local news directors when they take the plunge?

WW: Archive, archive, archive. They should really begin to get a sense of what video they will need in the future and make it their legacy that it exists in their archive. They are really going to want it and will miss it if they don’t have it.

HDTU: Interest among participants at the recent Broadcast Engineering, Broadcasting & Cable News Technology Summit in HD news seemed lukewarm, if not down right cold. Is HD news important? Why?

WW: It is important. News is about information, detail and accuracy. HD, as a medium, can bring the most visual and audio information to a viewer with the highest quality available today. It is my aim to bring a vibrant intimacy to the viewer and create a visceral experience that heats up the medium.

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