WBAL Launches HD Newscasts

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Hearst-Argyle Television’s WBAL-TV in Baltimore has launched local newscasts in high-definition.

The channel 11 NBC affiliate is the market’s second station to offer HD local news; Fox affiliate WBFF-TV launched its HD newscast in June 2008.

With the upgrade, WBAL now produces over 30 hours of news and local programming each week, according to station president and general manager Jordan Wertlieb.

“We’ve been the leader in news for a long time and we saw this as an opportunity to offer consumers a major enhancement to our newscasts,” Wertlieb said. “Besides the obvious benefits for viewers with HD sets, we have an all new set and much better weather and traffic graphics. I think we are most proud of the fact that this provides major benefits to all consumers, whether or not they currently have HD sets.”

The HD newscasts launched Saturday, Jan. 3, after the National Football League contest between the San Diego Chargers and the Indianapolis Colts but WBAL has been working on the upgrade for some time.

“As part of the renovations to our building, we moved out of our current studio last June and were working from a temporary studio while we were doing the upgrades to the studio and master control room,” Wertlieb said.

WBAL director of engineering, Jeff Halapin, noted that the station gutted the old studio, which allowed it to completely “rebuild our core infrastructure, control room and studio, while keeping our current [standard-definition] path totally intact.” The new set was designed by the FX Group under the direction of the station’s director of creative services, Steve Bamonti.

WBAL tapped integrator Communications Engineering Inc. to build the new control room and HD infrastructure. “We built our core infrastructure around an Evertz EQX routing switcher,” Halapin said. “The EQX is a great router. We also chose Evertz for all of our terminal gear, closed captioning and profanity delay facilities.”

In the new control room, they deployed the Sony 8000G production switcher, Wheatstone D-10 audio control surface and Barco for our control room displays.

“We drive all the monitoring in the control room with 2 Evertz MVP display processors and tie all the control and tally together with redundant Image Video TSI-1000 controllers,” Halapin said.

In the studio and newsroom, they use Sony HDC-1400L model cameras with Canon HJ17X76BIRSE lenses and Autoscript prompter hardware for the cameras. The Sony BVMA14F5U Master Series controls the robotics, camera shading areas and the TD confidence monitors.

For the on-air look, they deployed VizRT graphics engines and artist workstations. “We have 4 engines for the control room and one engine for the master control branding,” he said.

As part of the upgrade, the station also made significant improvements to its traffic and weather systems. “We performed a major upgrade to our weather production system by adding True-View HD weather graphics along with the new MAX product from WSI,” Halapin said. WBAL also added the HD version of Traffic Pulse for its morning traffic reports.

In terms of advice for other stations making the move to HD, Halapin recommends that they choose an integrator like CEI that is very familiar with the process and that they also set aside adequate time to do rehearsals on the news system. Prior to the launch of the newscasts, WBAL anchors and staff spent more than six weeks rehearsing and familiarizing themselves with the new setup.

“I think proper rehearsal time is the largest contributing factor to our successful launch,” he said.

The station has not yet moved to producing HD from the field. That would take until late this year or 2010, though Wertlieb said no definite timetable has been set.

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