Over the last few months, Iowa Public Television has had opportunities to promote our DTV conversion in a number of venues to different audiences. Along the way we have had some successes and some less-than-successful outings. Through it all I have had a song stuck in my head. Because I went to High School and college in the '70s and have worked in broadcasting since high school, music has been one of the ways I mark milestones in my career. The last few months I have been dwelling on the old Doobie Brothers classic "Taking It to the Streets."
It seems to me that the key to the success of DTV and possibly to broadcasting as a medium is getting the viewers to recognize the benefits of terrestrially delivered digital television. Notice I use the term terrestrially delivered as a qualifier. Most of the audience recognizes the benefits of digital pictures on their televisions because they see them on DVDs and digital cable. What broadcasters must do is show people what services we can deliver digitally and how those services will benefit them.
ROCKIN' DOWN THE HIGHWAY
On Aug. 7, IPTV made history by televising the first live HD broadcast of the Iowa State Fair Parade. Televising a parade is really nothing new, and as a matter of fact, our location was directly across the street from the commercial broadcaster that was also carrying the parade live on its analog station. However, we were able to coordinate the broadcast with a number of local consumer products dealers so that our HD broadcasts of the parade were on DTV displays throughout the viewing area.
By doing this, people who were in the market for new televisions were able to see a local event in HD and actually compare it with the same event in analog. Being able to A/B the event clearly showed the quality differences in the two feeds.
How significant were these differences to the viewers? We'd say extremely significant since our HD broadcast consisted of a single HD camera on a jib feeding directly back to our control center.
No viewer ever commented about the lack of additional camera angles. The only thing they saw was how clear and beautiful the parade looked.
In my last column I wrote about using audio in conjunction with video to pull the audience into the program. For those watching our parade coverage we were able show the parade as a continuous stream without our cuts or dissolves disrupting their enjoyment. Because we used the jib we were able to show them a view of the parade that they could not normally see. In this case, we literally took it to the streets.
HD IS JUST ALRIGHTWITH ME
After the parade we once again made a strong presence at the fair. This was my fourth Iowa State Fair, which I have always seen as an opportunity to communicate with large numbers of our audience in a very personal way.
Through the years, I have noticed that the questions from the public have changed. Early on people were just confused about DTV. Now the questions are much more sophisticated and thought-provoking and they're not just coming from technophiles. There are rural people who are considering the purchase of a new television and they want to know what they should buy and when local DTV will be available to them.
The initial "wow factor" is waning and now it is the more pragmatic purchase decision questions. One of the advantages that IPTV has in our market is that we are the only local station that has made content creation for DTV a top priority.
Over the last few months we have installed an Avid DS HD editing system and a Final Cut Pro HD system. The Avid went in fairly easily and we were able to get it up-and-running rather quickly, which was an absolute necessity since we were committed to producing a number of programs for our State Fair coverage in HD.
Our editing operation already consisted of a couple of Avid Media Composers so we're no stranger to the Avid product line. However, the DS HD is not a native Avid product; it was brought over when Avid purchased SoftImage, so the operator interface is quite different from the Media Composer's. Creating content in HD can be quite a challenge, and given that for the foreseeable future we're going to have more SD than HD editing suites available, we felt that the Avid HD product gave us the best potential for conforming projects.
The idea is that as the workload increases and the demands on the HD suite make it impossible to create at the controls, the show producers will be able to work in the Media Composer suites and ingest in widescreen SD. The project can be virtually completed in the SD domain and then the EDL, master material data and HD tapes can be moved into the HD suite for conformation.
Theoretically all that is left is some fine-tuning, but the reality is that conformation is still not 100 percent, so there are a few effects that will have to be created anew on the HD system.
Since much of the content that we create is long form we purchased the system with 584 GB of video drive space, which provides about 90 minutes of uncompressed HD storage and will do about four hours of 601 material.
For the most part the installation went fairly well, but we became concerned when we discovered that the master software CD for program installation had a virus that shut our system down. Fortunately we found out about it before we got too far down the road and the Avid installers were able to get replacement CDs and clean the system.
I won't spend a lot of time talking about the Final Cut Pro system since we've just finished getting the bugs worked out with the vendor. The idea with the Final Cut HD was quite similar to the Avid plan in that we had an SD version of Final Cut, which we were going to upgrade to HD, but with the required hardware changes it actually became more cost-effective to purchase a new system.
WHAT AN ENGINEER BELIEVES
We at IPTV are very excited and committed to DTV as our future. We were the first station in the state to fire up our DTV transmitter and broadcast HDTV. Our station in the Cedar Rapids/Waterloo market should be operational by the end of this year and our station in Sioux City should be online by spring. We recently received a federal grant that will allow us to get our stations in Council Bluffs and Red Oak on the air by the May 1, 2003 deadline, and we're working on partnerships in our other markets to get our remaining stations on the air.
However, our experience over the last three years has clearly demonstrated that the only way that DTV will be successful is if there is content that makes it worth the consumer's investment. Recently we've seen some actions in Congress and at the FCC with DTV tuner mandates and initiatives on copy protection and cable carriage, which from a terrestrial broadcaster's viewpoint are hopeful. But we'd be foolish to rely solely on potential legislation. The Consumer Electronics Association has already started to fight the tuner mandate in court, stating that consumers don't need these tuners to get over-the-air DTV; it's going to come in on their cable or satellite service. However, there is no agreement or mandate for cable to carry local DTV signals and there isn't enough satellite capacity for DBS to effectively handle 1,600 television stations. The relevance and survival of terrestrial broadcasting rests in broadcasters providing content that people want.
At this year's State Fair I was in a conversation with a lady that had nothing to do with DTV. She told me she couldn't turn on our station and do her housework because she kept finding that she had to stop her housework to watch the program. We'll take those complaints any day.
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Bill Hayes, director of engineering and technology for Iowa PBS, has been at the forefront of broadcast TV technology for 40 years, 23 of them at Iowa PBS. He’s served as president of IEEE’s Broadcast Technology Society, is a Partnership Board Member of the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) and has contributed extensively to SMPTE and ATSC. He is a recipient of Future's 2021 Tech Leadership Award.