The Buzz: Installation Spotlight: Hastings College, Hastings, Neb.
Mar 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Trevor Boyer
The Switch to HD
With about 1,500 students, Hastings College — a liberal-arts school in Hastings, Neb. — has a sophisticated broadcast-journalism program for an institution of its size. The technical staff at Gray Center for the Communications Arts, the building that houses Hastings' communications and journalism department is also small. There's just one man on the job: Bart Jones, the chief broadcast engineer and sole staff member responsible for designing, specifying, ordering, installing, and maintaining the school's educational broadcast system.
Three years ago, Jones chose and installed a 3-channel Image Server 2000 from 360 Systems to feed programming to both the on-campus, closed-circuit cable system and HCTV-6, which is cablecast to channel 6 on the Charter Communications cable system — which serves the city of Hastings.
Within the college's video infrastructure, the Image Server sits between a VCI (formerly DTG) Airo automation system, which controls playback of the server via RS-422 control, and a QuStream Pesa Cougar router. The Image Server picks up feeds on channel 1; channel 2 is controlled by the Airo for the 24-hour cable station HCTV-6; and channel 3 is used as a playback loop for the barker channel, which sends promotional video to campus common areas.
The Image Server is also connected to the school's Apple nonlinear editing systems via Gigabit Ethernet. Jones says the fact that the 360 Systems box accepts direct Apple Final Cut Pro export via Ethernet was key to his decision to purchase it for the Gray Center in 2005.
The approximately 1.1TB Image Server holds 100 hours of video at 12.5Mbps MPEG-2, or 50 hours of video at DV bit rates.
“Anything that we record directly into the server — like if we record a ballgame or a wild satellite feed, we record those at 12.5,” Jones says. “Anything that we import into it out of our editors is a DV stream at 25Mbps. It handles both flawlessly. You can play back one right after the other with no glitches or burps.” An MPEG-2 encoder is integrated into the server.
The broadcast-journalism program at Hastings teaches students to operate video cameras, write stories, direct live studio newscasts, and edit video in Final Cut Pro 6. Once students have edited and finished a story, they save it as a DV stream and upload the file to the Image Server via FTP. Before every semester, and at midterm, Jones cleans off the 360 Systems box and archives the server's MXF files to either DVD+R data discs or one of several 1TB LaCie hard drives.
On the back, the 360 Systems unit has both analog and digital inputs and outputs for audio and video, but so far, the college has needed only the analog I/O. That's despite the fact that last summer, Jones upgraded the Gray Center's studio cameras to high-definition JVC GY-HD250U cameras with digital SDI outputs, studio-configured with camera-control units in the main control room.
Because the rest of the Gray Center's infrastructure is standard-def, the cameras have so far been used only in SD mode. Jones says he plans to purchase a new Image Server once an HD version becomes available. (At press time, 360 Systems said the HD version is in development, and it plans to have the product on the market by the end of 2008.) Other necessary purchases for the HD migration include an HD switcher (the current SD switcher is a Grass Valley 200-2), and after that, high-def field-production cameras. Currently, the primary field-production cameras are JVC GY-DV5000Us.
“Although they're not shooting HD, Hastings students are now shooting in widescreen 16:9, which trains them how to frame properly for HD,” Jones says. “A lot of our older students have had to completely relearn their style of shooting because of that, which is beneficial — that's what they're going to be shooting once they get out of here.”
Currently, the school uses four Mac G5 computers for editing, as well as a portable Mac Pro desktop setup for remote shoots, such as basketball and football games. There's also an even more portable MacBook Pro laptop. “We'll go to the chapel and record the chapel service with a little stationary Canon GL1 with a FireWire out plugged into the laptop,” Jones says. “We'll record to the laptop and forget tape.”
To broadcast remotely from basketball and football games, Hastings has a rack of portable gear, including an 8-channel JVC switcher mounted in a custom flight case on wheels. Students shoot with four older Sony DXC3000 cameras, and graphics and commentary are added live.
“We use our backhaul system [the return channel, which exists below channel 2] on our campus cable to send that signal back to the Gray Center,” Jones says. The signal comes back to the head end, located at the Gray Center. “Here we demodulate it, we record it on our Image Server, and we can also route it live out to our city-wide channel on Charter Cable, channel 6.”
At press time, the server's operation was virtually flawless, Jones says. He reports only slight sync problems that crop up if the Image Server is not restarted for about six weeks. To avoid that problem, he simply restarts the box before the first broadcast every month.
“It's buried in the very bottom of the very last rack in the control office, in the corner,” Jones says. “I don't feel worried at all about relegating it to that out-of-the-way corner because my more-accessible rack space has to be taken up by equipment that requires routine maintenance. This does not.”
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