KCRA Making The HD Switch — State of the Art TV News

Published On August 25, 2013 | By Mike Carroll | KCRA-TV

(NOTE: In this post you will find no trade secrets or inside-info on the exact procedures, working software or programs in use at KCRA. This is about what happens when a TV station makes a system-wide, station-wide technological upgrade, which requires lots of money and lots of time — sometimes years — in the making. It is an operation which requires a dedicated army of smart professionals, which KCRA has in abundance.)

In my previous post I described working in full-HD. This had been a long process — years, actually — in the making. We have been heading towards the day of full-High Definition ever since TV stations were mandated to switch from broadcasting on analog signals to transmitting digitally. Television has had a marked increase in quality, in my opinion.

Transmitting in High Definition is no small process. To get an appreciation, when working in Standard Definition video 1 Gigabit of will hold 5-minutes of video. In High Definition, 1 Gb will hold 1-minuted of video. There are various compression rates that can reduce that size, but there is no way around the fact that High Definition requires many times more size for whatever it is being used in — transmission cables, drives, anything & everything.

At KCRA every device, machine, computer, deck and cable — miles and miles of cable — used for every element of broadcasting 24-hours of High Definition television had to be completely replaced. A television station like KCRA, which has been on the air for over 60+ years now, is a technological beast that has been steadily evolving since it first started out transmitting. To have to now replace every piece of technology is not something that can be done overnight or all at once. It has been done systematically. First the network transmissions were upgraded to broadcast in HD. Then our studio and control rooms were converted so that we could broadcast the news in HD, however, the in-the-field news footage was still being shot in Standard Defnition.

For well over a year now the engineering department and news department have been gearing up and getting rewired so that the entire news operation at KCRA would be gathered, produced and broadcast in HD — both in-house, in the field and on the air.

We invested in new Sony XDCAM cameras a year ago that can shoot in both SD and HD and NTSC and PAL, so we can now compatibly shoot and work with any broadcast operation on the globe. In other words, KCRA can work anywhere with any other news organization on Planet Earth.

It takes lots of training, lots of testing, lots of paying attention to details to get everything right and make sure that everyone on the staff is up-to-speed and familiar with the new editing systems and gear and procedures for getting our stories on the air. And all this has to be perfectly in place and working before we flip that switch to full-HD because there is not going back. It’s the point of no return. You just have to do it.

Our jump off time — KCRA’s HD D-Day — was the Noon News on July 19, 2013. We changed editing systems from Avid to Adobe Premiere, all-new computers were required that could handle the speed required of HD-size projects, and completely new uploading procedures.

There are also new back-up and quality control features in place to upload your footage, then to check that you’ve uploaded your footage properly, and then again to make sure that it is ready in the system to be aired properly. Check, check, check. You have to get it right the first time because news goes out live.

And on the day, Noon on July 19th, when the Noon News went on in the all-new system in all-HD — it all worked. It was seamless. Truly, one of the easiest and problem-free conversions of any that I’ve participated in. Sure, some people are up-to-speed and technologically savvier than others (I’m not always one of those, but I try). There are some baby steps and trial and errors, but you do your best to get your work loaded EARLY so that if there is a problem there is time to fix it. And there was a little of that, because there are so many completely new procedures in place, but everyone was working to get their work done and in the system early to work out the first-step-kinks. And everybody worked. And, within days of being into the new system and gear, all of the shooters and editors were enjoying the new way of doing things — and being able to shoot better pictures in image quality that is NINE-TIMES SHARPER than what we were able to shoot and broadcast before.

This video documents the last 40-minutes leading up to the Noon News in HD. I wasn’t scheduled to work that day until 3 PM on the night shift, but I went in early with my Canon 7D and a Tokina 11-16mm super-wide lens to document the moments behind-the-scenes leading up to this momentous shift. This is a rare behind-the-scenes look at how a big TV operation works.





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About The Author

Mike Carroll joined the digital revolution in 1999 with a Sony TRV900 camcorder and Final Cut Pro, when it was only Final Cut Pro and not version 2, 4 or a Suite.

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