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'Sunday Morning' to Dawn in Hi-Def

CBS Sunday Morning will help celebrate its 30th year by entering the high-definition age on May 17, when it begins broadcasting in the 1080-line-interlace (1080i) format.

The top-rated Sunday morning news show will be the third CBS News program to broadcast in HD, following the CBS Evening News With Katie Couric, which switched to HD last July, and 60 Minutes, which made the move in September. Newsmagazine 48 Hours, which was originally slated to go HD this year; weekday news program The Early Show; and Sunday public-affairs show Face the Nation won't make the move until 2010 due to budget constraints.

“We're doing the conversion to HD broadcast by broadcast, and this is a good one to get done,” says CBS News President Sean McManus. “Sunday Morning has a lot of different elements, between the cover stories and the personal profiles, so it's one of the more exciting hi-def opportunities.”

Sunday Morning, which prides itself on lengthy, heavily post-produced stories and closes each week with a 30-second segment of nature footage, has strategically picked its annual design show for its HD debut so it can deliver the greatest visual impact. After opening with its typical live headlines segment, which will be delivered by Russ Mitchell from an insert stage at the CBS Broadcast Center in New York, the show will shift to anchor Charles Osgood (in a taped segment) at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., where he will give viewers a peek at the stately house and grounds.

“Pictures are very much a part of what we do, and high-definition will take the visual element of the show to the next level,” says Sunday Morning Executive Producer Rand Morrison. “That's really exciting for us.”

The next show, on May 24, will mark the first live HD broadcast from Sunday Morning's usual home, Studio 44, which has been upgraded with six new Sony HDC-1500 studio cameras to support both Sunday Morning and Inside Edition's eventual move to HD. In total, CBS has spent an estimated $1.5 million on Sunday Morning's HD makeover. This includes upgrading the show's nine edit bays with Avid Nitris DS hi-def editors and Sony XDCAM HD PDW-H1500 optical-disc recorder/player decks; the Sony decks will be used to handle footage shot in the field on XDCAM HD PDW-700 4:2:2 camcorders. There was also some additional cabling and infrastructure work, as well as minor touchups to the physical set.

But CBS has been able to save significant money by repurposing existing HD facilities for Sunday Morning, much as networks like NBC have done in launching new HD newscasts. The show will rely on the same high-definition control room, 47, used for Evening News.

The Avid editors for Sunday Morning link to the same redundant 80-terabyte Avid Unity ISIS storage system and Interplay asset management used by Evening News and other hard-news broadcasts. And as part of its post-production process, SundayMorning will use the same Digital Vision color-correction system installed for the HD launch of 60 Minutes.

While Avid recently introduced an HD News system that natively supports the 50 megabit-per-second (Mbps) bitrate of Sony's PDW-700 camcorders, CBS is still using the DNxHD 145 Mbps mezzanine compression rate on its Avid system. While its new DS Nitris editors support 50 Mbps operation, CBS still needs to buy new Avid AirSpeed playout servers to support the full native workflow, says CBS News VP of Operations Frank Governale.

“It is absolutely on our road map,” Governale says.

Sunday Morning will produce all of its edited packages in HD going forward, and can pull live HD feeds from CBS' Washington bureau and two satellite trucks equipped with Fujitsu MPEG-4 HD encoders. If the show does need to incorporate standard-def material, it will try to use the 16:9 aspect ratio wherever possible. Sunday Morning will be airing some classic shows throughout the summer, and Morrison says he will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to show those standard-def installments in 4:3 with side panels or convert them to 16:9, “whatever looks best.”

He adds that Osgood, who is a big fan of watching baseball in HD, is excited about the HD launch. “Charlie is a good fit for Sunday Morning,” Morrison says. “He loves pretty pictures.”

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