Necessary Technology

Apr 7, 2003  •  Post A Comment

As station executives gather for this week’s National Association of Broadcasters 2003 technology showcase in Las Vegas, engineers, general managers and news directors are window shopping, looking for the tools they’ll need to further or finish their stations’ digital transition.
Stations that have largely completed their migration to a digital facility are looking for the next phase of cutting-edge news-gathering equipment, such as digital-asset-management systems, digital microwaves and high-tech cameras.
WFOR-TV, the CBS owned-and-operated station in Miami, has a self-avowed techie in News Director Shannon High-Bassalik, who plans to make several new camera purchases in the next few months.
Ms. High-Bassalik says the station will buy a few of the new 24-frame-rate digital cameras from Panasonic Broadcast & Television Systems Co. Because their final product looks like it was shot in film, these cameras will likely be used for promotions and special reports, she said.
WFOR is also interested in a wireless undercover camera from Super Circuit that looks like a pager and should allow for better and more covert investigative work, she said. “Right now we have a bag cam you sling over your shoulder and look like a tourist from New York,” she said.
The station recently purchased a few inexpensive Sony video cameras that offer night vision and are now being used to cover the war in Iraq.
Cox Broadcasting-owned KTVU-TV, the Fox affiliate in San Francisco, has already made the transition to a digital newsroom with Thomson Grass Valley’s Vibrint digital editing system and an Avid iNews computer newsroom system.
The station’s general manager, Jeff Block, is looking at digital asset management systems. “We’d love to be able to have news archives that were immediately retrievable for everything we’ve done,” he said. The price isn’t right yet for such a system, but once it drops, KTVU would want to archive everything going forward as well as some past material. “You don’t need to do everything you’ve done. You need to do everything you use,” Mr. Block said.
He added that KTVU will also evaluate COFDM technology for its news-gathering trucks. COFDM is a digital modulation scheme for signal transmission.
“This is really a look-and-see,” Mr. Block said. “We’ve got our digital newsroom. Down the road, how do we take it to the next level and increase efficiency?”
KUSA-TV, Gannett Broadcasting’s NBC affiliate in Denver, is evaluating new gear such as high-definition production equipment and disc-based field acquisition cameras, said Roger Ogden, president and general manager for the station.
“We’ve made all the investments in video servers,” Mr. Ogden said. “The piece that is not complete is the field acquisition side. When we can do it all from a digital base in the field, we will.”
He’s been following the advances Sony has made in its new disc-acquisition cameras and plans to invest in such cameras in the next few years, he said.
Graphics Upgrades
ABC O&O WLS-TV in Chicago completed its conversion in August 2002 to an all-digital facility, a process that began about five years ago and cost about $3 million to $4 million each year, said Kal Hassan, the station’s director of engineering.
Mr. Hassan’s also wants to upgrade the graphics. The station currently relies on Quantel Paintboxes from the mid-1990s. Mr. Hassan said he will consider a number of graphics options, including Quantel’s new “Generation Q” line for PCs, as well as Pinnacle and Chyron products.
“We are now looking more for full-motion graphics,” he said. Mr. Hassan plans to check out disc-based camera systems at the NAB show. “That’s a very interesting technology, and that’s the direction we think [electronic news gathering] is going. It would make us slicker,” he said.
Chicago station WGN-TV has such cameras on its wish list. “If money were no object, I would continue to upgrade our cameras and give a new look to optical discs for robustness and high-speed data transfer and metadata capability,” said Marc Drazin, director of engineering at the Tribune Broadcasting Co.-owned WB affiliate.
Other stations are still in the midst of the digital transition. NBC O&O WNBC-TV in New York plans to invest in news servers soon, said Matt Braatz, the station’s senior director of technology and engineering.