What: WETA-TV – New High Definition Studio Facility
When: July 25, 2000 7:00 PM

Last month's meeting was held at the new WETA facilities so that we could take a tour. Because of the interest, we also got a tour and some discussion on the state of HDTV.

Unfortunately, the modulation standard for HDTV has not been finalized yet. The present system is called 8VSB, possibly to be replaced by COFDM. Depending on which way it goes, many early installs of transmission lines and even transmitters may have to upgrade. COFDM system uses a higher peak power than the other.

There will be many choices of picture quality in the High Definition stream, ranging from a low of 480I or P to a high of 1080I / 720P Lines of resolution. The scan can be progressive (P) or interlaced (I). The system supports 24 or 30 Frames/sec, some modes can do 60 frames.

The mandated deadline of 2006 for conversion away from NTSC to HDTV is expected to come and go with quite a few stations not ready yet. On the other side of the coin, approximately 61% of the US population are in the coverage of some kind of HDTV signal today. In the DC area, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and PBS (WETA) are broadcasting in HD at least some of the time. Much of the time is simply conversion from the standard TV signal, but more and more shows are slowly being produced in HD.

WETA has been broadcasting in HD on channel 27 since April 3, 1997. Nov 9, 1998 was first regular programming.

Receivers can be bought/assembled for about $2500.00, down from about $10,000 a year ago. Eric's suggestion is to purchase a receiver/decoder separate from the monitor screen. That way, any changes in the technology can be made by purchasing only part of a system. Receiver manufacturers are even supporting the cost of many hours of program origination, but because of the unsettled encoding issues, they may put a great deal of pressure on the industry if they should drop support for program origination.

The WETA-FM tour was very enlightening. Because the construction project included TV, it was only sensible to make choices based on having the radio plant compatible with the TV plant. That meant using the same integration team (CEI), and many of the same pieces of equipment such as the Grass Valley router, and Tektronix digital audio monitors. The typical TV philosophy of synchronous sources was used. The plant was wired using 75 ohm coax.

Studer On Air 2000 consoles were used in all control rooms except one production room, which used a Soundtracs Virtua. The Studer consoles are laid out in the european mixing desk design, with a center space for papers and a keyboard, and faders to the left and right. The Studer uses software control of almost every function, and has multi-purpose rotary optical encoders to control things like input sensitivity, L/R balance, and EQ.

Computers were kept out of the control rooms, and Cybex extenders were used to provide control and monitoring where needed. One surprise that caught our attention was the SCSI buss CD burner that had been extended into the production rooms.

The music library for WETA is truly phenomenal. Approximately 30,000 CDs are stored in high-density Tab Products (see www.tabproducts.com) cabinets that can be moved on tracks for access.

The transmitter plant still has some work to get it up to speed in the digital age. Previous Chief, Joe Davis did a very good job designing backup systems in the analog domain that are going to be difficult to duplicate in the digital arena.

Eric's time at WETA-FM is coming to a close, as he has decided to move on to XM Radio at New York and Florida Ave. in DC. He will be Manager of the Broadcast Operations Center there. We all wish him luck as he moves on.