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HDTV Is Main Focus

The goal of Emmis Communications at NAB 2005 is HDTV production equipment for news. Emmis has already installed an IT-based infrastructure to handle HDTV workflow at its 16 television stations, including 100-base T and Gigabit Ethernet cabling and Associated Press' ENPS newsroom computer system.

“We've already built the infrastructure for that, and we're moving toward it happening,” says Marty Draper, Emmis Communications VP of engineering. But he also knows his stations have different needs and market realities.

At NAB, Emmis engineers will be evaluating the low-cost HDV format, as well as desktop platforms for HD editing. “There are a number of economic reasons for the interest there,” says Draper, “and we're going to NAB to prove that out, including examining long-GOP [group of pictures] MPEG-2 editing and the overall workflow.”

For standard-definition news production, Emmis currently relies on a mix of DVCPRO, DVCAM and Sony Betacam SX formats. But Draper is paying attention to the new Panasonic P2 and Sony XDCAM tapeless formats, particularly because both Panasonic and Sony will unveil HD versions in Las Vegas. Still, he thinks HDV will be more practical in small markets.

“There's an interesting distinction between the two [tapeless formats and HDV], and it's mostly price point. If economics is the criteria, when you look at the price point of HDV compared to XDCAM and the P2 stuff, there is a big gulf. In some markets, it might make sense for Emmis, such as our stations in the top 25. We'll put in the right format for the right market. When you're looking at markets in the 50s, 60s and 70s, for that area, the investment for P2 or XDCAM may be a little more impactful.”

Draper says Emmis generally offers a “great deal of flexibility” to station chief engineers to select their own technologies. In a few areas, such as newsroom computer systems, there isn't as much wiggle room because Emmis has already picked the ENPS platform. But in post-production, stations have more choices, as exemplified by the mix of Sony Newsbase, Thomson Grass Valley Vibrint, Avid and Apple Final Cut Pro nonlinear editing systems across the group.

“We don't believe that one vendor has the solutionor that one model or one size fits all,” says Draper. “We do investigate process and workflow-type packages, like Proximity for graphics. What we're looking for in things like newsroom automation is that a vendor has an understanding of our newsroom workflow, and they will be flexible enough to design their technology to work with our process.”

Like most broadcasters today, Emmis is using IP-based “edge-server” systems from Pathfire and DG Systems to receive satellite feeds of commercials and syndicated programming. What has made these systems more useful, explains Draper, is the advent of third-party file-conversion software, such as Telestream's FlipFactory, that provides an easy interface to master-control servers.

Emmis is already taking advantage of such transcoding systems to automate the process of transferring files to playout servers.

For Emmis' radio division, which comprises 23 FMs and two AMs, the big focus is transmission gear for launching IBOC [in-band on-channel] digital terrestrial radio service, also known as HD Radio.

“We're committed to IBiquity [developer of HD radio technology] and will be launching HD Radio at 17 of our call signs over the next two calendar years,” says Draper. “So the radio guys are pretty heavy with IBOC transmitters and ancillary equipment such as codecs and receivers.”

Shopping List:

  • HDTV news-production gear
  • Automation software for ingest
  • Graphics systems
  • Asset management
  • IBOC radio-transmission gear