Gearing up for a year of DTV

Automation systems and control software are the priorities of Paxson Communications Corp., headquartered in West Palm Beach, Fla. David Glenn, vice president and director of engineering, asserts, "We need this to show us what's happening at 65 stations."

In development is a central monitoring network hub in St. Petersburg, Fla., which is becoming the secondary control point for each station after the main studio. From there, it will be determined whether transmitters are operating within FCC compliance, whether media is loaded into files and ready to air, and whether the legal IDs and emergency alert systems are running on schedule. Glenn says he will be scouring the NAB exhibition for advanced technology that will help expand these and other monitoring operations.

"We're hoping we'll find greater improvements in this technology than we've seen in the past," he notes. "Some of the alarm functions that we want are not yet out of beta test."

Glenn says the centralized operation now requires only two master-control operators as opposed to a previous six at the stations. "It streamlines our efficiency in engineering, with automatic notification to the chief engineer if there's a problem and also notifies a regional director of engineering if there's any out-of-parameter condition."

Computers at the central monitoring network hub run Gentner and Mosely remote-control software, connected to all the stations via a wide-area network. Utilizing Videotek equipment, the hub monitors FCC-required video parameters and backhauls low-resolution video.

This hub serves all the company's full-powered owned stations. Meanwhile, the network operations center in Clearwater, Fla., serves multiple affiliated stations as well. Programming distribution is aided by Hewlett Packard video file servers, which are fully redundant. It also has Divicom/Harmonics video encoders along with a Wegener Compell control system. All of this allows programming and distribution of 12 separate programming channels.

Although Paxson has only 12 construction permits so far, it expects to build 22 DTV facilities this year. Glenn notes that tower space is still an issue where CPs have not been granted.

"We're being forced to build several towers," he points out, "and we're also talking to vertical real estate companies for them to build towers or lease space on existing towers."

Out of its stations, the group has 54 DTV allocations, with 11 stations expected to turn off analog altogether in the switch to digital. Meanwhile, the group has only 12 construction permits that are actually workable. The others are pending allocation or modification.

"That leaves us tight against the May 2002 deadline," Glenn notes. For the 12 buildable sites, the group already has bought some transmitters, antennas and digital encoders and expects to be buying more.

Point-to-point distribution equipment is on the shopping list. Under consideration are DS3, T1, inverse multiplexers and wave-division multiplexers. In addition to serving studio-to-transmitter-link needs, this equipment also will be bought in order to overcome interference at the headends of cable systems carrying the stations' signals. Ironically, it's new digital stations' going on the air that causes this interference. For example, the Paxson station in Sacramento suffers severe interference in its cable carriage from a digital station out of San Francisco.

Glenn adds, "I think the evolution of the digital-cable industry is very important to broadcasters, and I hope to gather information on that evolution." He believes that key sources for this information will be cross-industry manufacturers, such as Scientific-Atlanta and Motorola (General Instrument).

"An overall concern," he concludes, "is the manufacturers' struggle to develop new technology for digital TV and their ability to service and support it."