WETA, CEI collaborate on new HD ‘NewsHour’ launch

When “NewsHour” went live in HD from a new studio and control room at WETA’s production center in Arlington, VA, last month, the PBS flagship news program kicked off with an entirely new look.

Central to its new on-air appearance were new sets, graphics and a variety on HD technology. According to Joe Strobel, senior project manager for Communications Engineering (CEI) in Newington, VA, which designed, planned and integrated the new facility, six new Sony HDC-1000L cameras with Fujinon HA27X6.5ESM lenses as well as a Sony HDCX310 grid-mounted compact HD camera in the studio and a Sony MVS-8000A production switcher are used to get the HD “NewsHour” on the air.

To put the HD production on the air required an entirely new control room, Strobel said. Housed in a circa 1950s building, the new control room created some hardship for WETA staff as it was being built. “It was a struggle for all of their departments,” Strobel said. “They had to compress people into very limited space.”

However, with a concerted effort on the part of WETA’s operations management to prepare the station’s personnel as well as the “NewsHour” production team for the inconvenience, the project progressed with considerable support, he said. The finished control room is arranged in three rows. The first accommodates the TD, director, assistant director and graphics. The second provides room for the show’s producers and the EIC. The last row is used as a viewing area for visitors and will provide additional production space for 2008 election coverage.

The new “NewsHour” control room now relies on the Harris Inscriber for character generation, still store and graphics playout. Preview and program monitoring is done on a Barco wall made up of three 70in rear-projection cubes driven by a Miranda Technologies Kaleido-X multi-image processor. The control room also has a 5.1 surround audio suite based on an SSL C132 mixer equipped with 5.1 monitoring.

Like many other broadcasters upgrading news operations to HD, working in an existing facility presented some of the biggest challenges in making the HD conversion, Strobel said. For example, the architectural layout of the new control room relied on every square inch of available space. Anything causing a deviation was the source of a lot of stress, he said.

“During demolition, the crew found that there was a very large roof drain pipe that was going right through where the TD would be seated in the control room. That caused a bit of a challenge,” he said. Ultimately, the pipe was rerouted and acoustically insulated to squelch the sound of running water during thunderstorms, he said.

Editor’s note: To read a detailed discussion of the project, see “New control room, studio take ‘NewsHour’ into HDTV.”