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WINK-TV sprints into HD local news

WINK-TV, the Fort Myers Broadcasting-owned CBS affiliate in Fort Myers, FL, launched its local news in HD last month after completing a six-month sprint to identify, purchase and install the technology for the job.

HD Technology Update spoke with Keith Stuhlmann, station director of engineering, about the effort and what’s been learned along the way.

HD Technology Update: WINK-TV launched its HD local newscasts Oct. 20. Why did the station choose that particular moment to pull the HD trigger?

Keith Stuhlmann: We hit the air with our HD newscast at about 7:19 p.m., right after the Florida-Kentucky game broadcast on CBS.

That game was selected specifically for two reasons. No. 1, being a Florida game, we knew it would have very high ratings. That way, we’d be able to come in with a bang coming off an HD game on CBS to HD local news.

No. 2, that gets us up and running approximately a week and a half before the November sweeps, so it gives us time to get the word out that we’re in HD and for the viewers to sample us and see if they like it.

HD Technology Update: What is the basic timeline of the project?

Keith Stuhlmann: We are going to go back in time a little bit. Approximately four to five years ago, we changed out our news set and did a whole new redesign. When that set was put in, we told the set designers, Broadcast Design International, that we wanted the set to be ready for 16:9. We wanted that already built into the set because we knew this day would be coming.

Then you fast forward. We got serious about doing local HD news and began looking at the equipment we would need to purchase at NAB in April. The general manager, our special projects manager and I went around and started to take a hard look at cameras, switchers, graphics — all the stuff that would go into doing a top-notch HD newscast.

After we got back from NAB, we began the process of looking at all the different equipment, getting our list down and then talking to the owners — Fort Meyers Broadcasting Company is a privately held company owned by the McBride family — got their approval to go ahead and spend quite a bit of money to do this.

We chose the Ikegami HDK-790EX IIIs for our studio cameras. We also selected the Snell & Wilcox Kahuna switcher. The main reason we went with that was that as long as you plugged in a digital signal — whether it was HD or SD — it would do the conversions for you.

You didn’t have to buy external converters to get everything upconverted to the same format. If you looked at the price of the switcher and you say, “OK, I’m getting all of this plus the conversion,” compared to looking at another switcher and adding in the cost of upconverters, all of a sudden, the Snell & Wilcox is a no-brainer. That’s really a big bang for the buck.

HD Technology Update: Did you upgrade your graphics as well?

Keith Stuhlmann: When it came to graphics, we chose the Vizrt. We thought Vizrt was a quantum leap when it came to their approach to graphics. Right now, we are just scratching the surface of the possibilities of Vizrt. Our people are sitting down, saying, “Wow, look, we can do this or try that.” It’s going to be very interesting in the next couple of months to see what kind of graphics we are going to start producing with the Vizrt. Right now, we are doing the basic stuff, but we know that potential is there.

The same thing is true with the switcher. We know that potential is there as well. The Snell & Wilcox Kahuna switcher is able to do all kinds of really dazzling things. It’s a learning curve in getting to the point where everyone is comfortable with it.

We also bought an Avid HD Thunder with two-channel playout. We have an Avid SD Thunder right now that is four-channel. We’re still hanging on to the SD Thunder for a little bit, but so far, all of our newscasts since the launch have used the HD Thunder.

We also went with the HD package from WSI. We’ve been using them for many years. It started to get crowded in our computer center for the weather because we had a full set of SD computers running for the current on-air needs and then, of course, we were installing all the HD stuff and running those in parallel.

HD Technology: Can you tell me a bit more about installing your new HD equipment while trying to maintain your ongoing SD newscast?

Keith Stuhlmann: We have one production control room at the moment; therefore, we had to do all this installation and modification and still stay on the air. We have newscasts starting at 5 a.m. and running until 8 a.m., with cut-ins until 9 a.m. Then we have a one-hour noon show followed by a 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Next up is a 10 p.m. newscast for our sister station, which is a CW affiliate, then an 11 p.m. We had to plan and prepare very carefully in order to work in our production control room and still be able to get the newscasts on the air. We had to saw the old built-in cabinetry out and put up folding tables to temporarily stack equipment, monitors and things on, and shove the old production switcher down to the side so we could install the new custom cabinets and put the new production switcher in it’s permanent location.

Today [Oct. 22], we finally moved the old production switcher out. That was a very good Ampex AVC 335. That’s going back many years, but it gave very good service to us. We are now waiting for the remaining cabinets to be installed to complete the setup.

For a monitor wall, we decided to go with Miranda’s Kaleido X using four Panasonic 50in plasmas in our production control room for monitoring, and then a fifth Panasonic plasma for a monitoring wall for our audio booth. This gives the operators all the selected images they need in front of them.

The nice thing is that the people operating the Vizrt have their images available right in front of them on the monitor wall. Of course, the director has all the images he needs; the TDs have all the important images they need, right on down the line.

HD Technology Update: What are you doing in the field — shooting HD or shooting SD 16:9 and upconverting?

Keith Stuhlmann: We just launched a BitCentral system — the (Thomson Grass Valley) Edius with the Précis playout, and that is replacing DVCPRO. What we are doing now is issuing our Panasonic P2 cameras.

As soon as we have all the cameras issued out and all the trucks modified to accept P2, the DVCPROs will be brought in and taken out of service. This transition will probably take another month to complete. Once that is done, we are going to begin shooting all of our local stories in SD 16:9 for playout to air. We will just convert them through the Kahuna. That’s one of the things that is very nice about the Kahuna, being able to have it go ahead and resize, zoom and do whatever is needed to give you the right aspect ratio.

Currently, for the 4:3 material during our newscast, we just go ahead and fill those sidebars in with motion graphics running in the background.

HD Technology Update: Did you take any special steps to prepare the previously 16:9-upgraded set or talent for HD?

Keith Stuhlmann: We did have our lighting consultant come in and go through all of the set lighting and get it all set up based on the new cameras. This is a very important step when installing any new camera system.

You have to remember that the HD Ikegami HDK-790EX III cameras replaced our analog Ikegami 343 cameras, so we have a long Ikegami legacy here.

When we put the HD cameras in, we initially took the analog outputs from the CCU to go into the old switcher, while we were parallel wiring up the HD outputs for the new Kahuna. I have to say that even taking the analog outs of the HDK-790EX IIIs and going into the old switcher, those HD cameras looked better than the 343s. It had a noticeable effect. But don’t get me wrong, those Ikegami 343s still made great pictures.

Now that we are on the Kahuna totally, looking at our analog feed off the air, the pictures from the cameras in the studio are noticeably better, cleaner and sharper.

One thing we really like is that we get a very clean chroma key from those cameras and the Kahuna. You have to squint your eyes to be able to see that that is a key. It’s that clean.

HD Technology Update: Did you take any steps to prepare the talent for HD?

Keith Stuhlmann: We did have our makeup consultant come in and spend almost two weeks with all of our on-air people, anchors and reporters, going through makeup, clothing and color matching. She was here for a very long time and looking at it under the HD camera conditions. Like the set lighting, this is also a very important step, especially when you are going HD.

We went all out to make sure this was going to come out right, and the feedback so far seems to be that we did it right. It was a lot of hard work by a lot of very good people here and when I see the results on the air, I feel it was all worth it.

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