The production control room at LCTV
On March 13, Channel 809 in Longmeadow, Mass., became the first Comcast PEG channel on the East Coast to broadcast in high definition. Although the announcement on the LCTV website was modest, the implications for PEG are huge — Longmeadow Community TV is a test case in that elusive PEG goal: transition to the HD tier.
“We were ready to do it and convinced Comcast it was time,” said LCTV Board Chair Steve Wolman. “It was a matter of networking, developing relationships with people in Comcast at our end, and having the equipment ready to go.”
Being HD-ready was key. Longmeadow recently had to move its studio, and took advantage of the move to build out entirely in HD. The station bought seven new cameras (three Sony HXCD70K for in studio, four Sony EVI-HD1 with RM-BR300 controllers for the community meeting room), installed a new switcher (For-A Hanabi HVS-390HS) and routing, converted to digital audio and upgraded the lighting (two Cool-Lux CL-500BFV lights were added in addition to Altman 650L Fresnels and an Arri Soft 2000). With the addition of a TelVue HD HyperCaster broadcast system for playout, the transition was complete.
Live shows are broadcast in HD by going directly through the server. Shows that are recorded and rebroadcast had been saved on DVD and imported into the server. However, the TelVue HyperCaster’s IP capture feature can record directly to the server for later playout, so DVDs will no longer be needed for that step.
LCTV was looking to go HD and needed to output four channels with a mix of SD and HD. Being a public access station, cost is always a big concern and there was a strict budget to accomplish the move. Fortunately, TelVue’s B1000 HyperCaster offered the functionality LCTV needed, at the right price point.
Since LCTV had previously used the TelVue B3000 Digital Broadcaster, the team was familiar with the product and had been very happy with its performance. Although LCTV is still early in the process of using the HyperCaster, it has been a smooth transition so far for operation—the proof is in the delivered video, which is excellent.
MIX OF MEETINGS
Project Coordinator Tracey Durant works a camera in LCTV’s studio.
LCTV is primarily a government channel that programs a mix of town meetings, high school sports, special events, graduation and talk shows that deal mostly with town topics and politics. A staff of four people programs three original SD channels, and uses the new HD channel to showcase the best of its HD programs. Limited staff, plus ambitions for further growth, influenced some of the other HD equipment selections.
LCTV’s workflow is streamlined now. When broadcasting town meetings, such as Select Board and School Committee in HD, the control room staff operates four Sony EVI-HD1 cameras mounted in the Community Room using the Sony RM-BR300 controllers. The show is switched live using the For-A HVS-390HS and broadcast both in SD and HD simultaneously using the TelVue B1000 HyperCaster. The meetings are also recorded for later playback.
LCTV chose the Sony EVI-HD1 cameras in order to best use its small staff. Since regular volunteers are always hard to come by in a public access environment, having four cameras that can be remotely and smoothly operated by one staff member is a much more efficient way to achieve a multi-camera shoot that occurs on a weekly basis.
The LCTV Board recommended the For-A Hanabi HVS-390HS switcher because it not only served all current needs, it had the potential for future growth. The LCTV staff is really impressed by the switcher, which is expected to easily handle any future needs the station might throw at it. With a long list of features, LCTV is still learning all that the HVS-390HS switcher can do.
Audio is handled with a Roland V-Mixer M-300 audio board, which has worked out well. The staff finds the mixer easy to operate with intuitive controls. The M-300 has a short learning curve for new users, which is important for an operation that has regular volunteers.
LCTV finds that the mixer’s CAT5 interface greatly simplifies set-up and installation. Overall, the staff has found it to be a solid mixer with great sound output.
Longmeadow TV also now delivers the HD channel as IP directly to the Comcast cable headend. Station Manager Dave Bartlett said he monitors both SD and HD signals, and the difference is “like night and day.”
“Down-conversion took a lot out of our channel,” Bartlett said. “Now it looks really, really good!”
THE SECRET: PERSISTENCE
Longmeadow’s move to the HD tier had nothing to do with franchise renegotiation, which isn’t due until 2021. It had more to do with persistence.
“We had been pushing for years to do this,” said Wolman. “You have to build up a relationship, and Comcast kept saying they didn’t want to do it because they weren’t ready to roll it out for all municipalities.”
It was also a delicate dance. Comcast needed to know if there was enough original HD programming to fill the schedule, and more importantly, that there enough HD viewers in the community to warrant the channel. A quick survey showed that a good enough percentage of Longmeadow’s roughly 5,000 subscribers watched in HD. Also, space on the HD tier was not an issue: Channel 809 had been empty.
Negotiations took more than a year, and once Comcast agreed to do the LCTV HD rollout as a pilot, Longmeadow was asked to keep it quiet for several months.
Wolman’s advice to any other PEG channels who want to request HD?
“Don’t expect miracles,” he said. “Develop a collaborative — not confrontational — relationship. When you have that, it’s easier. Be technologically prepared. And then, be persistent.”