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WUSA's Local News Goes HD in The District

WUSA in Washington, D.C. became the first local broadcaster in a top 10 market to begin presenting its locally originated news in HD. After several weeks of on-air promos, the CBS affiliate began airing its early-morning, noon, early-evening and late-night newscasts (totaling 35 hours weekly) in 1080i.

Although analog viewers watching on 4:3 sets are not able to visually tell the difference in the newscasts (the station is not letterboxing on its NTSC ch. 9, nor calling attention to the technical innovation with a logo or crawling text), its co-anchors announced the HD presence at the top of each of the first several newscasts, and there were several references to the "HD quality" of some content sprinkled into the first few local HD productions. Also, judging from the 4:3 view of things (which the vast majority of D.C. area viewers still use, of course), nothing seemed to suggest the station was also formatting for a wider frame.

Graphics remain in SD for now and will be upconverted, and field reporting also will remain in SD for now. WUSA officials were not immediately available to comment on the first full day of HD newscasts (Tuesday, May 3), but WUSA's Director of Technology and Operations, Terry Smith, recently told TV Technology that his station learned a lot about going HD locally from its Denver sister station, KUSA (TV Technology, April 6, 2005).

WUSA is using two Sony MVS-8000 production switchers and Sony studio cameras equipped with HD lenses. Also being deployed is a Grass Valley router for dealing with simultaneous HD-SD signals, along with a brand new news set built in New York and necessitated both by the wider aspect ratio, and the unforgiving detail that 1080i or 720p wreaks upon otherwise cheap-looking furniture (typical for most TV sets) that usually can get by in the analog realm.

Perhaps of greater significance than a top 10-market now airing its local news in HD is the fact that WUSA is also a "local station" for every member of Congress, the FCC and the White House.