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Honolulu’s KITV at forefront of HDTV

Jun 11, 2001  •  Post A Comment

“Monday Night Football, that’s the ticket. All you have to do is watch pro football one time on HDTV and you get it. Then you understand why people would want to pay extra for a high-definition TV.”
So said Michael Rosenberg, president and general manager of Honolulu’s KITV, the first television station in the United States to broadcast from a facility constructed especially for digital TV. Station owner Hearst-Argyle Television invested $15 million and more than two years of research and planning to enhance the station.
KITV, an ABC affiliate, received the Federal Communications Commission’s first-ever digital construction permit and first commercial DTV license. Its first digital broadcast was 11:58 a.m. Hawaii time on Jan. 15, 1998. That made KITV the nation’s first all-digital television station.
“We broadcast everything ABC sends us that has an HDTV signal,” Mr. Rosenberg said, “from the popular weekly series `NYPD Blue’ to many of the big theatrical movies like `Tarzan,’ `Air Force One’ and `Armageddon.”’
KITV’s digital transmitters are capable of delivering four or more high-quality programs simultaneously. “We offer a superb theater-quality picture during prime time,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “All viewers who receive KITV’s DTV signal over the air enjoy an interference-free, highly detailed, pristine-quality picture.”
The Hawaii market of 1.2 million people includes 385,000 viewing households. Mr. Rosenberg estimates “probably under 5,000” Hawaiian HDTV sets are currently in use, with about 12,300 viewers.
“Right now, the audience is pretty limited,” he said. “They’re people who like being on the front of a quality TV picture, plus the high-quality sound, which is another big digital benefit.”
The KITV transmitters are of a liquid-cooled, solid-state design provided by Itelco USA. The antenna system is of a wide-band panel design manufactured by RFS of Australia, designed by Cavell, Mertz & Perryman and installed by LDL Communications. Philips BTS provided the Grand Alliance digital encoders and interface.
System integration for the facility was provided by Digital Systems Technology and features Digital Video routing and master control switching and three Philips 16×9 studio cameras, model LDK10.
The studio and transmitter facilities were designed by and constructed under the supervision of Thomas Mann, Garrison Cavell and Joseph Davis, principals in Cavell, Mertz & Perryman Consulting Engineers, Fairfax, Va., and Los Angeles.
“Digital wide-screen television transmission had long been a goal of KITV,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “We wanted to come in with a bang, using this station as a test site. This was also a great opportunity to get good press, being in the forefront of the industry. The owners of Argyle at the time were looking forward and willing to make an investment for the future.”
“Right now, all KITV local programming is broadcast digital,” said KITV Chief Engineer Greg Johnson, “but none of it is yet in HDTV.” The main obstacle in first transmitting the new signal in 1997, he said, was “putting together the pieces of the digital puzzle. We learned from experience about looking for transmitter sites, getting them placed. We didn’t have any really major problems.
“Being digital has made it a lot easier to maintain the equipment. Temperature and time are not the same major problems as before.
“As ABC continues to present the programming, we’ll continue to present it both ways for the viewers. As we change and upgrade our equipment, we plan to increase the picture resolution. The cost of HDTV equipment, as with receivers, will continue to come down. Eventually, all the networks will increase their HDTV programming too.”
Mr Johnson added: “It’s all in the `wow’ factor. When people see the same program side by side in analog TV and HDTV, they just go, `Wow!”’