WSOC-TV launches local HD newscasts

The Charlotte, NC, station went on air with its HD newscasts relying on a mix of HD studio shots and upconverted 16:9 SD field footage.

WSOC-TV, the Cox Television-owned station in Charlotte, NC, began broadcasting its local news in HD April 22, delivering what station general manager Lee Armstrong describes as a “knockdown gorgeous” HD experience and an analog transmission that’s “much brightened, crisper and clearer” than its pre-HD analog signal.

The station is the latest Cox Television property to make the transition to HD local newscasts. WSOC-TV pulled the trigger on HD local news now because of the quickly growing number of HD viewers in the Charlotte market and to maintain “a leadership profile,” Armstrong said.

Planning for the HD launch started last year when WSOC began consulting with WFTV, its sister station in Orlando, FL, about its on-air HD look. Out of those discussions grew a complete set redesign executed by FX Group in Orlando. The collaboration with other Cox Television stations didn’t end there. Station personnel traveled to the group’s other stations that were producing local HD newscasts to gain insight as well as played host to Cox Television personnel from other markets to prepare for last weekend’s launch.

For the launch, WSOC built a new HD control room with a Grass Valley Kayak production switcher, Evertz MVP monitoring and five channels of Avid (Pinnacle Systems) HD Deko graphics, said Dave Siegler, station director of operations and engineering. For HD pickup in the studio, the station is using three Sony HDC-1500L studio cameras with Canon lenses and three HDC-X310 HD multipurpose box cameras, two of which are currently in operation.

To serve both the WSOC-TV SD and HD audiences, all screens are composed with a 4:3 safe area in mind, but, that doesn’t mean the station ignores its HD wings. News crawls span the entire width of the 16:9 raster, and animated over-the-shoulder graphics extend into the HD wings. “We are trying to make it as full of an experience as we can for both our HD and SD audiences,” Armstrong said.

Field acquisition is done with Panasonic P2 camcorders recording 16:9 SD files. Footage from the field is ingested into the station’s Avid server, edited and upconverted on playout. Live ENG shots are transmitted from the field in 16:9 SD and upconverted for integration into the newscast. All upconversion, downconversion and other signal processing chores are handled by a variety of Evertz Microsystems devices.

Within the next few days, the station plans to use its revamped news helicopter retrofitted by Wysong Enterprises in Blountville, TN, with an HD camera and microwave system. The station is also using several HD tower cameras to deliver high-definition cityscapes.

To prepare for the impending HD newscast, WSOC-TV instructed news crews to begin shooting 16:9 footage for archival use prior to launch. “That helped us get out ahead of the game so we could minimize the use of wings,” Siegler said.

During the first week on air with its new HD newscasts, WSOC-TV has devoted its time to wringing out unexpected glitches from the production, he said. “We knew going into it that there would be things that would pop up,” Siegler said. “We are resolving those things, but overall, it’s gone very smoothly, especially given that this is a total redo of our news workflow.”