HD news launch teaches valuable lessons about future high-def ENG

The launch of HD newscasts at WPVI, the ABC-owned station in Philadelphia, is providing the station with important information about how it might progress from its current approach in which high definition is mainly generated in the studio to HD fieldwork.

With the exception of a “Sky 6” HD camera to deliver beauty shots and a Sony HD camera mounted in the station’s news helicopter, ENG at WPVI is strictly an SD affair, said station vice president of engineering Jim Gilbert.

Currently, WPVI shoots ENG footage in 4:3 SD, “putting wings” on it to fill out the 16:9 aspect ratio and upconverting it to 720p HD, he said. In the newsroom, editing is done with on a Thomson Grass Valley NewsEdit station, where the same approach is used with 4:3 footage before being edited with native HD footage.

However, WPVI expects to begin 16:9 SD field acquisition within the next month. Before that happens, the station’s camera operators and editors must be trained to shoot and edit in that aspect ratio while still being mindful of the station’s majority 4:3 audience, he said.

Adding HD ENG operations would require a complete overhaul of the station’s microwave infrastructure, including ENG vehicles and relays — something that’s not on the near-term horizon, said Gilbert. In the meantime, the station is learning valuable lessons from its experience with its HD chopper.

For example, 19Mb/s is sufficient to transmit live HD footage from the helicopter on a standard 8MHz digital pedestal. In the helicopter, WPVI uses a Hitachi NEL encoder, and at the station, it uses Tiernan decoders, said Gilbert. The station has also learned that the 2GHz BAS channel plan will be adequate for HD ENG, and moving to 7GHz or 13GHz will not be necessary, he added.

Gilbert did not identify what formats might be used in the future for ENG acquisition; however, he said the station currently has no plans for HDV to fit in the mix. Still, it’s difficult to say with any certainty that it won’t show up some day.

“When we were all using ¾in and Beta, I never thought I’d see a VHS format make it into broadcasting, but it did,” said Gilbert. “How many years have we been getting VHS tape from stringers? So, it’s probably not a stretch to say that HDV will make it into broadcasting one way or another.”