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Looking Long-Term

Scripps Howard Broadcasting is looking carefully before it commits major dollars to technology spending for its 10 stations, in part because it needs to sort out DTV-related transmission issues before it gets down to the business of purchasing gear.

The group is focused on using the FCC's ongoing channel-election process to improve its assigned DTV channels in Baltimore, West Palm Beach, Fla., and Tulsa, Okla. The major goal is to move DTV off low-VHF channels, which tend to be plagued by interference problems.

“We're looking at the transmitter dance again with our final DTV channel assignments,” says Michael Doback, VP of engineering for the group. “We thought, at this point, we would be looking at HDTV production, but some of that may take a back seat to the equipment required to change channels in a market. So a lot of our spending is going to be driven by regulatory strictures.”

Doback will still take a look at low-priced high-definition acquisition systems, such as the HDV format, which stores MPEG-2 compressed HD images on consumer-type tape. “We think it holds a lot of promise,” he says. “We're watching that carefully as a route to high-definition news product.”

Scripps already has HDTV studio cameras at four stations, as well as HD-capable editing equipment.

For standard-definition news production, the station group has bought some Panasonic P2 solid-state–based equipment on an experimental basis. But it is also trying another approach that pairs dockable hard drives from Focus Enhancements with conventional DV camcorders.

“Focus makes multiple hard drives that hang on the back of a number of cameras. JVC has one, and Sony has one,” says Doback. “That hard drive can be removed and will then mount directly on a Macintosh [Powerbook], and we're using Final Cut Pro to edit. It's a very cost-effective solution, and we've been testing it at our Detroit station with positive results.”

Other products Scripps Howard will be investigating at NAB include a Snell & Wilcox high-definition studio switcher and Solid State Logic digital audio consoles designed for news production. Scripps has already successfully installed one such Solid State Logic console at its Tampa, Fla., station.

Scripps Howard stations have been using servers for commercial, syndicated-program and news playout for some time. Instead of a standardized server platform, it has “some of everything” across its stations, with the newest units supplied by Omneon. The group also has a mix of automation software from several vendors.

“We don't have a compelling urge to replace the automation we have, as they work and they continue to be supportable,” says Doback. “It's so difficult to get automation tweaked out and working that you don't want to change it unless you are absolutely forced to.”

However, Scripps Howard is currently shopping for a traffic system it would like to implement across the entire enterprise by the end of the year. After a lengthy due diligence process, the station group is close to sealing a deal with its selected vendor, says Doback.

Another technology Doback will be investigating in Las Vegas is small-aperture (1.2-meter) digital SNG systems. “We're putting those in at all the stations,” says Doback. “There is very little news justification to buy a big SNG truck anymore.”

Shopping List:

  • Low-cost HDTV production gear
  • HDTV studio switchers
  • Digital audio consoles
  • Traffic systems
  • Small-aperture DSNG systems