The Weather Channel initiates HD operations from new Atlanta studio

The Weather Channel kicked off HD operations from a new studio facility in Atlanta June 2 after investing $60 million on the upgrade.

Planning for the HD conversion of the 24/7 weather network began about two years ago and culminated at the beginning of the month with the first live HD programming from the new facility.

Three new control rooms — two Snell & Wilcox-based Kahuna rooms and a third Ross Video-based automated production control room using the company’s OverDrive controller — are at the heart of the HD conversion. Vizrt graphics engines drive The Weather Channel’s on-air graphics.

The centerpiece of a new set designed for HD presentation is a 38ft rear-projection monitor wall driven by a Spyder Vista matrix controller. Studio productions are shot with Ikegami HK-75EXs on robotic pedestals and camera supports from Vinten and Telemetrics.

According to Ross Kalber, VP of engineering and IT operations, planning for the HD upgrade began prior to increased interest for HD programming from distributors, most notably DIRECTV. However, the project progressed on an accelerated schedule at the direction of the channel’s owner, Landmark Communications.

Beyond the studio, the conversion to HD encompasses field acquisition and an extensive effort to upgrade the channel’s Weather Star system used at cable headends for local weather cut-ins.

The Weather Channel is fielding Panasonic P2 HD cameras and solid-state recorders for acquisition and satellite newsgathering (SNG) trucks equipped with TANDBERG Television MPEG-4 H.264 encoders. The first truck to be HD-equipped rolled out from the channel’s Atlanta headquarters to Miami Beach, FL, where it sent back live HD shots that were “stunning,” Kalber said.

According to The Weather Channel chief engineer Mike Smereski, the HD encoder was thoroughly tested before being employed. The tests revealed that MPEG-4 encoding latency would not hinder studio talkback. Even more important, the tests identified the optimum data rate to use (12Mb/s) to achieve artifact-free imaging, even in inclement weather. “Because we are in the weather business, you want to see the weather. Part of doing that is pushing [the encoding bit rate] a little bit, so we can retain a lot of that detail,” he said.

Editor’s note: To read the first of a two-part interview with Ross Kalber and Mike Smereski about The Weather Channel’s HD conversion, see: “The Weather Channel takes on HD.”