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Local HD news transition proves to be ‘ultimate dream’ for one TV engineer

If things go as planned next month, Belo-owned KVUE in Austin, TX, will launch its local newscasts in HD.

Unlike the experience of some stations, preparing for the HD kickoff hasn’t been too painful. KVUE is benefiting in its HD news rollout from previous control room upgrades done with an eye cast toward an HD future.

“HD Technology Update” caught up with station director of technology Mike Wenglar to learn more about the station’s transition to airing local news in HD, something he says has proven to be “the ultimate dream.”

HD Technology Update: Next month, you plan to launch your local newscasts in HD. What were the primary technical concerns you faced in preparing for the launch?

Mike Wenglar: Getting equipment on time was the biggest challenge because of the time of year we are trying to make this transition. It’s right smack-dab in the middle of NAB, so that kind of slows things down.

Equipment deliveries were the big thing, and that’s mainly been it. We ordered a lot of equipment in January of this year.

HD Technology Update: Austin is a high-tech town. What do you know about the viewers there and their appetite for HD? How did that play into the decision to move to HD with the station’s local newscast?

Mike Wenglar: Austin is a very high-tech market. There’s a lot of high-tech industry here, including Dell, AMD and Intel, and a few others. So there is a lot of demand for HD. People want HD programming. We are asked for HD a lot.

We also hear that on the AVS Forum, so we get this a lot, and we see a lot of push on behalf of consumer vendors selling TVs as well.

HD Technology Update: Were there any particular challenges associated with being a midmarket station when switching to HD news production? Perhaps the expense involved, or are you finding that the premium charged for HD equipment is not as great as it had been previously?

Mike Wenglar: It has come down. We think we are getting a lot of equipment for the amount of money we had to spend on this project. Of course, we planned ahead early on. When we upgraded, we made sure what we were installing was compatible with HD, or could be converted, or we could plug in HD cards. We were blessed with that so we could move quickly in some of these areas — with the glue part.

We have a great resource from our corporate owner, Belo, wanting us to move forward with our HD production in news. They were a good asset as well helping us to do this because some of the other stations within our company have gone HD. A lot of brainpower within our company has given us advice on how to do it right.

HD Technology Update: Some stations have the luxury of moving their control room temporarily while they rebuild an existing space for HD. Others are forced to build for HD in an active control room between newscasts. What’s been the experience at KVUE?

Mike Wenglar: We redid our control room a few years ago when we put in our Grass Valley Kalypso switcher. We set it up with projection monitoring with two Christie projectors projecting through a wall onto a large screen. We used an Evertz multiviewer, which is upgradeable with HD cards, so over one evening or a weekend, we are going to pull out the Kalypso switcher and our integrator, Beck Associates, is going to make a cabinet modification; then we’ll drop the Grass Valley Kayak switcher in, plug in some HD cards into the Evertz multiviewer and we should be all set. There shouldn’t be anything else to do. Everything else is prewired.

The switcher is off in another area for training with a large monitor with a multiviewer output. So it is going quite well; we don’t have to set up another whole control room.

What’s really saved time is having a multiviewer setup, because that way, you don’t have to run a bunch of cables and temporary monitors.

HD Technology Update: Can you describe the lay of the land technologically for the HD switch — i.e. cameras, switcher, graphics, weather, ENG?

Mike Wenglar: We are replacing our three Sony BVP-370 studio cameras with the Thomson Grass Valley LDK-4000 cameras. They’ll be in an EFP-type configuration, not in the large studio configuration. We also are replacing an old ENG camera in the newsroom with their Ignite product camera, which is a robotic camera that will be controlled by the control room.

We are also replacing all of our SD weather products with the WSI HD weather product, which includes the crawl system. We’re not doing anything with master control at this point. We are going to switch it through a 12 x 1 HD switcher to the encoder. Like I said, the switcher is a Kayak and we added additional cards to our Evertz multiviewer and upgraded our sync generators, which comply with all of the new things you need for HD.

We already have a super audio board, which will lead us down the road to do 5.1 audio from the news studio.

We also are going with SD news acquisition from the field, but in widescreen until that point where we have eight HD cameras in the field. We will have a couple of tower cams that will be full HD to give a magnificent view of some of the city skyline.

HD Technology Update: Where does KVUE stand with the Sprint Nextel 2GHz BAS relocation?

Mike Wenglar: We are due to complete that by July, so that also will be starting up in the next few weeks when we begin to get equipment. That will be another undertaking.

HD Technology Update: Do you foresee using your digital 2GHz links for HD ENG? In other words, to you plan to add HD encoders and decoders?

Mike Wenglar: We already have in our plan the encoders and decoders for HD ENG because the tower cams are also part of an ENG receive site, and it would be nice to switch the camera down the line.

HD Technology Update: What challenges did you face in terms of news graphics for HD while simultaneously continuing to serve your 4:3 audience?

Mike Wenglar: Graphics was probably the key element that if one were to plan to go HD should be something to be considered early on. Graphics will bog you down. There are a lot of fingers in the pie in designing graphics, so it’s essential to get started early.

We are using Pixel Power systems for all of our graphics and still store, which is part of the new workflow that we’ll be using, which began previously with some of the Pixel Power systems early on.

The graphics is something to really consider because it is so much a part of everything that you do on the air. You have to have election graphics, weather graphics; it’s endless the graphics you have to have.

HD Technology Update: Some stations are using the opportunity of HD to simultaneously implement a file-based workflow in the newsroom? What’s your experience?

Mike Wenglar: We already are using the legacy Sony NewsBay system, which will accept the widescreen from the field for editing. We are using the Avid iNews, which interfaces well with the Clarity Pixel Power product. Everyone is adapting nicely to the new workflow. In fact, we have changed the person who used to be called the Chyron operator to a graphics operator. They handle more than just character generation. They handle the graphics, the text and everything else. The workflow is definitely changing with the onset of HD.

HD Technology Update: What surprises have you encountered?

Mike Wenglar: I guess deliveries on equipment. It’s shocking that some vendors can’t deliver equipment. The other thing would be amount of work that goes into changing your news set — to really go through and test with an HD camera what you need to do with a news set. The talent can’t sit very close, or you’ll have one shoulder in the shot. That was a rude awakening — how much better things looked, so you had to change makeup and you can’t have any little dings or anything because it will show up big time. A lot of awakening there.

HD Technology Update: Did you build a new news set or dress up your existing set?

Mike Wenglar: We reused some of the back of the set. Then we added a new deck and changed the overall graphics look of the set. We did a lot more work in the weather area, because weather is of a lot of interest here in Austin because of our weird weather. We concentrated a lot on how we present weather, especially in HD.

With the WSI product, it’s a fantastic presentation. We have a meteorology staff that can handle it too, so it’s working well.

HD Technology Update: Is there any advice you can offer your peers who will be undertaking a similar move?

Mike Wenglar: I would just say talk to someone who has done it. There are enough of us out there who have moved that way. Ask lots of questions. There are no dumb questions. To me, this is the ultimate dream of a TV engineer. It’s the ultimate science fair project. It’s an ongoing thing, and we are learning as we go.

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