Making The Switch
St. Louis' Gannett-owned local affiliate KSDK upgrades its technology to become one of the first stations to broadcast local news telecasts in high definition.
Is that to suggest KSDK's system was more complicated than it should have been? Jury-rigged, even? “No, not at all,” Hummert says. “Every building is different, so even if we'd hired a company that had done this before, that company would have come in and our engineers would have had to explain what kind of equipment we have, what kind of router we have, and what our sources are. It would have taken a month or more with a company like that before we could have ever gotten going.”
Got going they did, with a heads-up from sister station WUSA out of Washington, D.C., which undertook the process of converting to HD in the spring of 2005. The most difficult part of the project for WUSA was incorporating standard definition (SD) feeds into its HD news broadcasts and keeping the audio and video in sync. Lucky for Hummert and KSDK, the engineers at WUSA were willing to share how they did it.
Handling video shot by KSDK's news team wouldn't be a problem; four new Sony HDC 930 cameras would ensure that segments taped and produced in-house would be HD-ready. However, that left news feeds, sports highlights, and other segments from affiliates that were still taping in SD.
“Anything that we wanted to put on air that we don't shoot ourselves would be 4:3 aspect ratio,” Hummert says. “So we had to incorporate that into our work flow so that we could make it as simple as possible.”
Instead of giving every signal the option of up-converting, which would have been far too costly, Hummert took care of the problem using his Grass Valley Trinix HD-to-SD router. “In other words, if I want a satellite feed that's 4:3 — we put curtains (reddish-colored side panels used on 4:3 video) on everything that's run on our news —that signal had to be run through an aspect ratio converter and through a logo inserter, which puts the side panels on it, and it had to go through an SD-to-HD converter,” he says.
Although that process, in and of itself, wasn't the problem, one of its by-products was. As a result of moving the SD video through each of the steps in the process — first an Ensemble Designs 8500 frame sync, followed by a Miranda ARC 101i aspect ratio converter and an Ensemble Designs 5420 digital logo inserter — the video signal was delayed, so the audio preceded the video, presenting the potential for sync problems.
“Every module that the video is going through, the audio is waiting for it,” Hummert says. “It's already at the other end. What we did was imbed the audio into the video at the first stop — the first module in the frame syncs. So now the audio ran with the video through all the processing, and at the last stop, we de-imbedded it.”
The solution wasn't based strictly on the station's router. Hummert decided to take the main sources that were used in every news cast and feed them to a Sony MVS 8000 switcher. Then he gave those feeds alternating paths so they could call up off the router the sources that they needed, and choose what kind of conversion they needed.
“Let's say we have a feed on a satellite, but it's one of our cameras that's 16:9,” he says. “That particular path would have gone through a frame sync, which imbeds the audio, but it doesn't go through aspect ratio conversion because it's already 16:9. It doesn't go through a side-panel keyer because it doesn't need side panels. So it goes through a frame sync and then an SD-to-HD upconverter. But then we also have paths into our production switcher that go through a frame sync, aspect ratio conversion, side panel keyers, and SD-to-HD conversion, in case we're getting a live shot from another affiliate that's not 16:9.”
That didn't mean he could ditch his analog router, though. “We still move video around here in 4:3 for programming purposes,” Hummert says. “We record ‘Oprah,' we record ‘Jeopardy,' whatever the case may be. So that was where we had to sit down and think out every source in the building, and try to put a plan together that would be cost effective and give us the opportunity to be hi-def for news while maintaining our normal router and paths.”