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The Temperature’s Rising

The past year has seen wild fluctuations in temperature and precipitation, but one weather gauge appears to be moving steadily in the same direction. Increasingly, the television industry is adopting high-definition weather graphics.

Although weather-graphics and radar vendors have offered HD presentation capabilities for several years, stations and networks are finally making a major move to invest in HD weather. That is mainly being driven by a sharp increase in HD news in general. Some 32 stations are now providing HD newscasts, with a new one seeming to make the move every week. The top network morning news program, NBC’s Today, went HD last fall, joining ABC’s Good Morning America. CNN and The Weather Channel have announced that they also will transition to HD this year (see story, next page).

“The headline is hi-def,” says Linda Maynard, VP of media marketing for WSI Corp., Andover, Mass., “and that’s the big decision that everyone’s making.”

WSI provides its “TrueView HD” graphics system to Today and a number of stations currently on-air with HD news, including WFTV Orlando, Fla.; WSB Atlanta; KTVU Oakland, Calif.; WPVI Philadelphia; WTVF Nashville; and KLAS Las Vegas (WTVF and KLAS are owned by WSI parent Landmark Communications, as is The Weather Channel). The company has also partnered with radar manufacturer Enterprise Electronics Corp. to integrate EEC’s new high-definition radar system with its graphics products, allowing them to show greater detail in local-weather reporting.

“The biggest trend we’re seeing is, even with stations that are not ready to broadcast HD,” says Steve Smedberg, director of marketing for Madison, Wis.-based Weather Central, “whatever they purchase has to be HD hardware because their buying cycle is three to seven years for equipment.” The firm provides its 3D:Live weather-graphics system to GMA and local broadcasters.

Belo-owned WFAA is also using high-definition weather tools from Huntsville, Ala.-based Baron Services, including its VIPIR (Volumetric Imaging and Processing of Integrated Radar) HD radar graphics system and FasTrac storm-tracking system.

“When we go to radar,” says WFAA Director of Technology David Johnson, “we go to the Baron’s and take the HD output of the Baron right into our live switcher.”

A neat wrinkle for WFAA’s weather presentation is that meteorologists at the station’s new hi-def Victory Park studio use an Evertz remote-control device to connect with the main weather computers at WFAA headquarters 1.5 miles away. They operate the computers via keyboard, mouse and monitor at Victory Park.

Baron also developed Pulsar, a solid-state high-definition Doppler radar system designed to deliver similar performance to a million-dollar-plus Doppler unit for less than $500,000. The manufacturer has also upgraded its StormWarn alert system to HD so that broadcasters don’t have to switch back to standard-definition to show an emergency-alert crawl on the screen.

“It includes a hi-def squeezeback,” explains Baron. “Because of the FCC requirement to do severe-weather alerts, some stations have had to come out of hi-def to use their old alert systems.”

WSI has developed a similar HD alert system, says Maynard, noting that the “phone starts ringing” with viewer complaints when stations downconvert primetime HD feeds to show standard-def weather crawls.

AccuWeather, which has provided HD graphics for Rainbow Media’s VOOM Networks for several years, will debut a hi-def replacement for its flagship Galileo graphics product at NAB this year. The new system will provide both 2D and 3D animations and the ability to develop virtual displays that allow on-air talent to appear to be standing in middle of a weather event, such as a snowstorm. Detailed 3D models of cities and local landmarks are available for most major markets.

State College, Pa.-based AccuWeather enhanced its SelectWarn product, a command center that delivers warnings, radar observations, and hyper-local reports of snow depths, ice thickness, hail, or high winds. It also predicts the onset of “geohazards,” such as flooding or wildfires. New SelectWarn features include better storm tracking and AccuRain, which gauges precipitation from various locations within a city.

Says Dr. Lee Rainey, AccuWeather VP of marketing, says, “The goal is, How can I show viewers what the weather is going to be like in their neighborhood tomorrow, without needing a time machine?”