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Affordable HD News Cams Arrive

Apr 18, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Only a handful of local stations are producing news in high definition, but after this year’s National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, many more will be on track to do so.

At the convention, stations and station groups plan to kick the tires on equipment that will enable them to convert their news operations to hi-def. While few broadcasters plan to flip the switch this year, most expect that local news in HD will become a reality within the next two to three years.

While many tools already are widely available, such as graphics and editing systems that are HD-capable, the missing link has been affordable HD cameras for news. Leading camera makers Panasonic and Sony are in the early stages of introducing such cameras to the market. Stations will be checking out the goods.

ABC-owned WLS-TV in Chicago plans to convert one of its control rooms to HD in 2006. Kal Hassan, VP and director of engineering at the station, said he’ll be on the lookout for studio cameras and switchers for the technology. The next step will be field cameras for news.

“With the FCC pushing the transition to HD, we are looking at doing news in HD,” he said, adding that WLS does not have a firm date for the change. “The biggest buzzword at NAB will be HD production in HD news.”

HD cameras for news are different from the tape-based, bulkier and more expensive cameras used for programming production in HD, he said. “We want a digital tapeless HD news-gathering camera,” Mr. Hassan said.

Sony said its $5,000 HDV Camcorder, designed for independent cinema and corporate video, can also be used for news. It was introduced late last year but isn’t in use yet by local broadcasters. Competitor Panasonic said it will introduce an HD camcorder for less than $10,000 that could be used for local news. It will be available later this year.

At CBS, both Bob Ross, the senior VP for East Coast operations, and Jeffrey Birch, VP of engineering for the Viacom Television Stations Group, are interested in seeing affordable HD options at the show. “The next step in the path to full high definition has been lower-cost HD cameras to use for local HD news, and this will be the first NAB to see some products to do that,” Mr. Ross said.

Mr. Birch added, “As HDTV becomes more widely embraced, we are looking at the required equipment and workflow to be able to originate local news in HD. I would think that within the next two years, many stations will need to be able to originate local news in HD.”

Mr. Birch said he also wants to check out PCs that can handle HD editing. CBS made a large purchase of Panasonic DVC Pro equipment more than seven years ago and plans to replace it with HD gear. The network made a commitment to Sony last year and expects to work with Sony to develop HD solutions.

With the eventuality of HD news, broadcasters need to make sure what they buy now is HD-compatible. “[News in HD] is inevitable,” said Ed Chapuis, news director at Cox-owned Fox station KTVU-TV in San Francisco.

That’s because viewers are going to come to expect it as they buy new HD TV sets, said Deb McDermott, president of Young Broadcasting. “The quality difference between watching programming in HD versus not in HD in local really makes an impact to the viewer once they go to these really high-end sets,” she said.

Ms. McDermott said that in time, she expects to use HD cameras to shoot investigative pieces, interviews and other types of video of “high visual impact.” However, she said, when her stations do begin broadcasting news in HD, the newscasts will feature a mix of HD and standard-definition video.