At the May 30 meeting...

Rebuilding WLVI-TV

Tour and Presentation

By Paul R. Beck

The May 30th SMPTE New England Section was held at WLVI-TV, Tribune Broadcasting's WB-56 outlet in Boston. It was the first half-day "seminar" type meeting The New England Section hosted this year, and was entitled "Rebuilding WLVI-TV For Tth 21st Century."

Over 75 members and guest attended the event, which was configured in three major sections: First were some introductory remarks by Section Secretary Paul Beck, and background remarks presented by Chief Engineer Franco LaPietra, who chronicled the history of technical growh and expansion at WLVI-TV, through several corporate ownerships.

The second was a special technical presentation and demonstration by VIBRINT TECHNOLOGIES, featuring their MPEG-2 Newsroom Server Solution. Main speakers were Steve L'Heureux and Calvin Rogers.

In Steve's presentation, all the technical attributes of the MPEG-2 file server system offered by Vibrint Technologies were discussed and demonstrated. A key feature of the Vibrint approach is the use of dual workstations which allow continuous recording of a newsfeed or ongoing broadcast event, and the simultaneous ability for additional workstations to be access the incoming data streams and "edit-on-the-fly," rather than having to wait until all the incoming material is acquired in-full by the main workstation. Vibrint's system provides simultaneous access such as this for SEVERAL workstations, such that multiple news stories could be simultaneously edited for different purposes, all from the same main server.

A unique application was also demonstrated for instant-access slow-motion playback of multiple race-track events, where images from many venues at different times could be randomly accessed for slow-motion analysis and subsequent display for large-screen presentation.

Steve L'Heureux detailed the design criteria for their systems as first, EASY TO USE. Secondly, "STREAMLINED," and able to eliminate "browser" type video quality on the workstation display. The system is configured from "off-the-shelf" components, and is configured in the most "STANDARD" way possible.

The Vibrint system can be in 444 or 422, using a modern Windows NT platform.

It also is designed to integrate with many third-party file servers, video editing controllers and video recorders. The system's strength is that it is designed from the ground up to be a "Play-to-Air" system for broadcast, cable or institutional/governmental applications.

The "standard" bit rate is currently 14mps, yielding 2.9 hours of very high-quality storage. Vibrint has conducted tests with 40mps and higher, but which obviously offers greater picture quality with less capture time.

Features which appeared to offer enormous benefit were the ability to fast-cue news stories and other segment "roll-ins", plus slo-motion capability, either forward or backwards, with seamless transitions to full motion.

The presentation/demonstration segment lasted only about 50 minutes.

The third element of the Saturday morning event was presented by Assistant Chief Engineer Michael Goodman, and was a thorough analysis of the problems he faced in meeting the challenge of planning for an all-digital plant to support ATSC DTV and other evolving technologies as we approach the turn of the century.

Michael explained that his task was made more difficult because his charge was to successfully integrate existing 25-year old technology with the newer technologies during the "integration" phase, and plan for an organized shedding of the older components when newer technology assets were in position to replace them.

The first step was a centralization of the entire WLVI Engineering facility, and the all-important decision to move forward with a business plan which DIRECTLY INVOLVED existing station personnel, rather than import an all-outsider "hired-gun" approach for the design/build phase. This was deemed the most approriate way to achieve both economy and project dedication and loyalty, with the technical staff knowing they are major players and are making a significant contribution to the entire project.

The second step was a consolidation of useful space within the existing building footprint, which would be suitable for a "Digital Island" within the larger building shell, and configured in such a way that additional portions of the building which are adjacent can be "converted" and refurbished to support the all-digital facility, as the project phases move forward. The key step was to configure the FIRST step to be the jumping-off point, and one which would correctly link to the future components and building elements, serving more as a central HUB, rather than a decentralized series of islands.

Michael Goodman emphasized that one space which had been an obvious target for such a major upgrade was one of the two production studios. After careful analysis and calculations, it was determined to converted other spaces in another area of the main building, which would have far less future potential for a revenue stream, such as a high-bay space like a production studio.

Another key area was the protection and undergirding of the news operation, one which is a particular jewel in WLVI's Boston crown. In the planning for both digital production and satellite or local newsgathering, the new WLVI digital plant will be providing ample quality space and shared technologies which will support both the growing news operations, and the field and studio production needs, and all post-production applications.

HVAC system were carefully evaluated, with WLVI chosing a multiple-compressor redundant system which is a "blow DOWN" system, using carefully designed overhead ducting, with appropriate sound baffle controls.

The fire alarm systems were also carefully desinged, selecting a "wet delayed system" for those areas which are mission-critical and not compatible with water unless there are active flames.

The building power distribution systems were also carefully evaluated, both for quality and capacity. Oversized neutrals and harmonic-suppression transformers were selected, as well as extra-heavy Copper grounding straps. For the mission-critcal air-chain path, a 200 Ampere Uninterruptible Power System(UPS) was selected. Such will provide adequate "clean power" for all critical-path station components.

Lighting for control and work spaces was also carefully examined, offering both general operational lighting and specialized TASK lighting in all control spaces.

Cable pathways and conduits have been carefully planned, intersecting with all central rack-area spaces, providing full access to all racks and custom consoles. The new WLVI Master Control may be responsible for controlling up to four program streams, and will be designed to have the appropriate cable paths and access needed to support that ambitious undertaking.

The selection of all signal-path components in the new control center has specifically targeted the goal of a clean 1.5GHz signal path throughout the entire facility. Thus, all patch panels, DAs and other routing apparatus have been selected and tested to meet this challenging objective.

A computer-based station automation system is also planned, and currently undergoing tests prior to installation. This will be coupled with existing file-server and tape playback systems for air operations, and must foster a user-friendly manual or automatic operational capability.

Michael Goodman finished up his presentation on "Phase One" of the WLVI-TV upgrade for DTV with the promise to host future meetings at WLVI as their progress and success carries them further into the all-digital world, and into the 21st Century.

The 75 attendees were then escorted in groups of 15 throughout the entire station, with Mike Goodman and Franco LaPietra serving as guides.

Upon returning from the facility tours, The Vibrint Technology staff continued their systems presentations and demonstrations.

Special thanks to Matt Dillon at WLVI Satellite/Receive Center for a stellar presentation on computerized satellite capture and recording operations at WLVI, and to Mike Goodman and Franco LaPietra for their generous hospitality and cordial welcome.

Paul R. Beck is Director of Engineering at the TRF Unit at Emerson College and New England Section Secretary/Treasurer of SMPTE/New England. He can be reached at 617-824-8834.


Posted: 15 June, 1998
Robert Lamm, SMPTE/New England Newsletter/Web Page Editor
lamm@cync.com