When it became clear that upgrading Meredith’s Phoenix CBS affiliate for digital couldn’t be done by working around the facility’s limitations, it opted to construct a separate 2,000-square-foot room to house the new technical core comprising Harris and Grass Valley equipment.
For most people, a major home remodel means moving out while the carpenters, plumbers and electricians rip, reroute and bang away. A TV station has more limited options when it undergoes a major upgrade.
For KPHO, Meredith’s CBS affiliate in Phoenix (DMA 12), the decision was made to construct an extra room to enable the station to convert the old analog infrastructure to digital.
“KPHO was the last of the Meredith stations from Market 31 up that hadn’t upgraded to a digital infrastructure,” said Joe Snelson, VP/director of engineering for the 14-station Meredith Broadcasting Group. “At KPHO, we couldn’t find a way to build in place. It was much easier to build a whole new technical core that you could just walk into.”
The new 2,000-square-foot space allowed the station to start with “a whole new clean area,” said John Merrill, KPHO’s director of engineering. “It’s an operational consideration,” he said. “We had lots of old cables under the floor in the old building and didn’t have room for more.”
KPHO is Arizona’s oldest television station, signing on Dec. 4, 1949. As the only TV station in the Phoenix area during its first three-and-a-half years of operation, it originally carried programming from CBS, NBC, ABC and the Dumont Television Network. With the emergence of other area TV stations in the early to mid-1950s, KPHO became an independent station. In 1994, it once again became a CBS affiliate.
Although digital upgrade was less onerous than a build-out in the existing facility, it still posed challenges. “They needed to be on-air concurrently with the digital build-out,” said Steven Weiner, manager of business development at the broadcast engineering consulting, design, and integration company Azcar Technologies that handled the upgrade. “This is Choreography 101. You have to figure out how to juxtapose an existing facility that has to stay on-air, and you have to mirror operations to do the cut-over from existing analog operations to digital ones.”
What proved to be the biggest unforeseen challenge in the upgrading process, however, came from a different direction: the fallout from the decision to build the new addition. “Any time you add a new building or do anything externally to your building, it requires interfacing with the city and the process of approvals lengthens the time,” said Snelson about the waiting time to acquire a certificate of occupancy for the new wing.
Azcar Technologies’ challenge, said Weiner, was to design and implement “a state-of-the-art facility with best-of-breed technology, within a budget. Nobody has an open pocketbook anymore,” added Weiner, who said Azcar was focused on meeting technological expectations within budgetary limitations. And the cost of going digital is significant, noted Merrill, who pegged the budget at $5.7 million.
For the money, KPHO got the state-of-the-art studio it was looking for. Chief among the new gear is a laundry list of Harris equipment: ADC Automation, eight Nexio HD servers, a 256×256 Platinum HD router, IconMaster HD master control switcher, IconLogo on-air branding system, test and measurement equipment, Centrio multiviewer and the 6800+ Distribution Amplifier.
In addition, reported Merrill, the new facility has a Grass Valley production switcher. “The new space houses all the racks and rack equipment for the servers, routers and switchers,” he said. “The other end of the room is the electrical switch room where all the power comes in.”
To get around the difficulty of building out the facility while the certificate of occupancy was still in limbo, Azcar Technologies moved part of the build-out to its U.S. headquarters in Canonsburg, Pa. “Some requirements that typically would have been done on site were moved to meet deadlines,” said Weiner. “Then we shipped everything to the facility and started staging it out.
As to the old plant, Merrill estimates two-thirds of the analog gear will get the heave-ho. The space will eventually be refashioned into two editing rooms, housing the existing Avid Nitris and Avid Adrenaline systems.
Although the full digital rollout isn’t scheduled to take place until March 17, Merrill reported that KPHO is already enjoying the benefits. “We have greater capacity than we did before,” he said. “Master control will be able to control four different channels instead of two.”
Currently, in addition to the HD channel, the station has a sub-channel devoted to weather. Talk continues on what services to put on the third and fourth channels.
A key piece of gear in the transition were the eight Nexio HD servers, which use software codec technology for managing the recording and play-out of multiple formats of video content, said Harris director of key accounts Brad Torr.
“It allows for real-time HD encoding along with up- or down-conversion of content for HD or SD play-out,” he said. “The servers give KPHO the flexibility to use multiple formats of video content in one unified system.”
In addition to greater capacity, another key improvement that came with the upgrade is automation. “One of the features they’ll use is automated ingest which allows for file transfer of content from Pathfire content distribution system into the air-server,” said Torr. “Rather than playing video out of the Pathfire server to videotape and then re-ingesting it in a linear form to the video server, ADC makes it an automated file transfer to the video transmission servers.”
The digital upgrade also paves the way for HD news. Torr noted that KPHO’s new Platinum HD router comes 3G-ready, which means it can already process a 3-gigabyte-per-second signal, enabling 1080p/60 HD. Merrill reported that the news crews are already using 20 Panasonic P2 cameras in the field. “Acquisition-wise, we’ll still be in 16:9 SD for the next couple of years, because the live trucks and receive sites aren’t upgraded yet,” he said. “But HD is in the future.
“We’re excited about gearing up to do HD news,” he added. “The Panasonic cameras in the studio are already HD-ready, and we’re getting the new production switcher. The rest will be easy to switch over.”