Professional Communications Systems Rebuilds WMFE-TV To Six Channels in Orlando

National broadcast systems integrator, Professional Communications Systems (PCS), has completed the installation of a new digital broadcasting facility for Orlando’s leading PBS television station, community-owned WMFE.

Long-range planning by the station and integrator, plus developing technology, made possible the transmission of six independent channels, one more than was visualized at the outset of a quite ambitious design.

The original plan for WMFE’s new facility called for broadcasting four SD channels in daytime, and, at night, one HD and one SD, plus a feed for cable and the original analog outlet, Channel 24. Specifications for the physical building and the electronic system allowed for these five channels—with the new digital systems in a new area, and the upgraded legacy analog setup in another.

Thanks to technology developments during a number of unavoidable delays, and the flexibility of the design team, WMFE is able to transmit one HD and two SD channels at night, rather than the single originally planned SD channel. With the analog channel and cable, the new facility now operates six independent channels by day. Indicating the efficiency of the installation, the PCS-integrated 6-channel master control system can be operated from a single point.

PCS project manager Larry Stephen said, “WMFE is now a highly automated broadcaster, and one of the few in the country with the sophistication level of their graphics automation system.”

A sampling of the capabilities employed in the system include three types of NVision switching, Evertz synchronization and keyers, Masstech data management, Snell & Wilcox “glue” and aspect conversion, Sony scaleable library and monitors, Sundance multichannel automation, and Tandberg encoding.

PCS’ Stephen also said, “The facility’s automated process delivers a quality on-air product by incorporating traffic, master control, satellite ingest, graphics, production, asset management and routing.”

A significant factor in the appointment of Professional Communications Systems to create the broadcast systems design and complete the installation was the PCS ability to see upgrade challenges from the perspectives of both the station operator and the systems integrator. As a division of Media General, PCS maintains a direct involvement in the day-to-day operations of dozens of TV stations.

The integrator first prepared a Scope of Work plan that—because public funds were involved—was used to solicit bids from competing integrators. Of that process, WMFE Director of Engineering, Mike Simmons, states, “PCS listened to what we said we wanted, went away and thought about it, then brought us a response that applied to our needs. Other integrators we talked to didn’t seem to hear what we were saying. That’s the heart of why we chose PCS.”

The resulting digital system is fully automated and, if desired, could broadcast from the file storage server for five days without intervention. Other digital storage contains months of reusable programming. PCS also automated the analog station for WMFE by augmenting the legacy equipment and systems.

Because PBS stations across the country tend to offer more HD programming than their commercial counterparts, the PCS-designed HD capability was designed to prepare WMFE to be ready for all current hi-def offerings, as well as anticipated future developments in broadcasting.

In daytime, WMFE delivers its regular PBS programming three ways: analog and digital broadcasts, plus the transmission to the cable company. In addition, viewers with digital tuners can receive WMFE-ED, educational TV; WMFE-CFAN, featuring local / regional / government programming; and WMFE-Encore!, repeating prime time shows from previous nights.

After 8 p.m., the primary channel broadcasts, and feeds to cable, the regular PBS programming in high-definition on WMFE-HD. If the programs are not received from PBS in high-definition format, the station converts them to HD. WMFE’s “-ED” and “-CFAN” channels also are seen in evenings.

Orlando’s primary public broadcaster does not claim to be unique among the nation’s television stations, but relative to its commercial brethren, WMFE offers a much wider variety of channel selections, both day and night.

Among the public benefits of the breadth of the WMFE array is that at almost any time of the day, children’s programming is shown on one of the four different video streams available to viewers with digital sets.

The successful design/build upgrade, however, was not completed without an occasional setback. The new multichannel digital broadcast facility was to be located within what had been a two-story storage area in its existing building. Construction of the master control center was delayed when it was learned that the existing walls did not have the necessary concrete reinforcement to support a new second floor.

WMFE’s Simmons said that having to start the installation later than originally planned required flexibility and accommodation on the part of the integrator. During postponements in the 2-year project, PCS stored the equipment they had procured for WMFE, and held off the installation until construction was completed and their client was ready to proceed on an accelerated schedule.

With hundreds of the nation’s television stations moving to digital broadcasting in the same time frame, ambitious construction-and-installation projects frequently encounter daunting challenges. For WMFE, the in-process application of new and emerging technology by a seasoned systems integrator overcame the adversity of construction “surprises.” As a result, the important Orlando market has received the rare bonuses of an additional nighttime SD channel, a rich schedule of TV shows dedicated to children, state-of-the-art high-definition broadcast capabilities, and extraordinary automation efficiencies.