Improving asset management

For Tribune Broadcasting Co.'s 22 stations, digital-transmission-equipment decisions are nearly complete, with purchases to be spread out through 2002. Ira Goldstone, vice president of engineering and technology, based in Los Angeles, reports that the same equipment will generally be used throughout the group.

The exception is that both Harris and Comark transmitters are being acquired, depending upon what the stations had been using previously. All of the solid-state transmitters will be Harris, as will be the case with all stations not previously having an UHF transmitter. Otherwise, stations already owning Comark transmitters will get new Comarks.

All antennas will be Dielectric, upconverters will be Faroudja, and encoders will be Tandberg. Eight stations so far have been converted to DTV.

At the NAB exhibition, Goldstone will give special attention to media-asset management. He explains: "Our focus is on tracking our assets in news, commercials and programming so that we can multipurpose the content." An example of this is search and retrieval of a news story generated in Washington that can be used by several other stations.

"We'll be looking at systems that have open architecture," he notes, "and work within the metadata standards set up by SMPTE. We need systems that allow easy interface to multiple platforms so that we can integrate news, graphic and playback systems, as well as a Grass Valley Profile." The stations already have Harris (previously Louth) automation, so Harris' Global Management Transfer (GMT) will be part of the operation. Within the Grass Valley environment, the group is exploring ContentShare.

Goldstone says GMT serves a need in allowing the stations to look at other Harris systems, but he adds that systems like Media 360 and IBM's media-asset-management system allow them to look across multiple platforms.

To support both analog and digital ENG and SNG, Tribune will be investigating more-compact MPEG-encoding equipment for its news vehicles. It's seeking encoders and microwave-radio systems that are able to accommodate COFDM modulation in addition to FM modulation.

Another interest is network-management devices that allow the monitoring of network health and offer the means to restore it as soon as possible. Goldstone adds that the health of devices feeding content into the network also needs to be monitored.

"We'll be looking at wireless technologies to deliver content from the field back to the station," he notes. "There are a number of wireless networks coming online, but most of it is low data rate. We're looking for higher data rates."

Downconversion from HD to standard definition is yet another requirement. Goldstone comments, "When you originate in HD and downconvert to standard, that's not a problem. But we'd like to be able to upconvert to HD and back to standard without a loss in the process. Today, the standard-definition result is not that good after going to HD and back. There are people working on it, but it's still a work in progress."

Goldstone says that, as part of a centralizing strategy, the company is looking to send the HDTV signal from the central site to station transmitters rather than two separate streams. In that case, the original feed would be downconverted for standard-definition broadcast.

The capability of sending out one 12-Mb/s stream instead of the 12-Mb/s stream and a separate 8-Mbps analog stream means that Tribune doesn't need to maintain a private virtual circuit across the LAN, saving several thousand dollars per month.

"We're working with the long-distance provider, AT&T, for our WAN interconnection, and they have the responsibility of managing the last mile. At NAB," he adds, "we'll be looking for solutions to problems, and we may see a solution to a problem that we've never considered before."