HDTV Returns to KPBS After Five Month Outage

Engineers at KPBS-TV report that their HDTV service is finally back on-the-air after a fatal failure of their encoder in July took it down. Dust off your remote and check out this battle story.

Early adopters of HDTV viewing in San Diego have long used KPBS-DT as their home system demo channel. It’s the only San Diego channel that outputs true high definition video 24 hours per day. And since the program material is commonly travel logs, music concerts, and nature shows, MPEG compression is kind to it. The video looks smashing. Enlightened consumer video dealers like Circuit City favored the channel for demonstration of their monitors because it was always there and it never showed a commercial for one of their competitors.

But that all came to a dead halt July 16 this year as the station’s first generation General Instruments encoder stopped outputting properly formatted bits. The video went blank, and audio sputtered on and off. Viewers reported that it would lock up their tuners.

The station continued, airing a simple digital simulcast of their analog content.

Director of Engineering Leon Messenie took time out from his winter vacation to chat about their troubles.

GS: Your old GI HDTV encoder broke down several months ago. Tell us about the battle getting a replacement.

LM: We actually started looking for a new ATSC encoder system after learning it was going to take about $325,000 to upgrade our current system to be able to handle Closed Captions on the standard definition channels. Since a complete new system would be much less we decided to replace our entire encoding system. I applied to CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) in early 2005 for a grant to replace our old and out dated ATSC encoder system.  KPBS was awarded a grant and after looking at several systems we selected the Tandberg equipment. This work was started a few months before the HD encoder had the major failure. This brings us up to late August 2005 when we put in the order with Signasys Inc, a system integrator, to replace our current GI system with the new Tandberg system. That very same week our HD encoder had the major failure.  According to Motorola it was going to cost $9600 to repair and had a 6-8 week turn around time. Since we had just ordered a new Tandberg system that was supposed to be delivered in 6-8 weeks I could not see spending the money to fix the GI HD Encoder.

Then the delays from Tandberg kept coming and before you know it our HD was off the air from till December 22. All we could do is continue to broadcast the HD schedule in standard sefinition and wait until the new system arrived.

GS: I understand your Tandberg replacement didn’t work on the bench. Do you have any idea of when it will finally be up again?

LM: This is correct. The new system had a couple pieces fail right out of the box. Unfortunately they were the multiplexers, both main and backup. They had to go back to the factory via a stop in Atlanta, Tandberg’s USA headquarters. We were really trying to get the HD service up by Christmas 2005….

KPBS applied for an emergency grant from their foundation. When they got the funding this fall, the station ordered a Tandberg encoder and multiplexer. The unit arrived in early December, but on the bench, it appeared to be the victim of infant mortality. A replacement arrived just days before Christmas. After a hectic few days of testing, they were able to go to air December 23—about 160 days after the HD outage. Engineer Scott Stinson is still fine-tuning, and configuring the multiplexer for a flexible set of subchannels.

December 2005 Annual Banquet

Join us once again for our annual no-host luncheon. This year it’s Friday, December 16, 12 noon, at the Greek Palace, 8878 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, a block east of highway 163 in Kearny Mesa. RSVP to Gary Stigall if you can join us so that we can plan for the space needed. Members and guests invited. Expect to spend $10 cash for a meal, drink, and a tip.

November 2007 Meeting – Euphonix

Euphonix, a major player in the broadcast and film industry audio console market, brings its mobile demonstration vehicle to San Diego at a special time and day, Thursday evening, November 15. We’ll have a social hour with snacks and refreshments, meet and discuss the recent fires and their effects on area broadcasting and the annual December banquet.

Euphonix will Demo the S5 Fusion

Derived from the best-selling System 5 series, S5 Fusion is a complete professional mixing package that provides a fusion of Euphonix’ new processing DSP SuperCore engine with EuCon Hybrid, a technology that allows the console surface to control its own DSP channels as well as channels from multiple external DAWs simultaneously the best of both worlds.

Euphonix will also bring a Max Air, a digital audio mixing console specifically designed for on-air and live-to-tape broadcast production applications. Euphonix shares the same DSP core and I/O as System 5 and also includes much of the same processing and control software. The new DSP SuperCore has 100% failover option and is capable of supporting over 281 signal paths and up to 144 full featured channels with a modular I/O including SDI connectivity.

Join us this Thursday, November 15, at 5 PM for a social hour with snacks and soft drinks, meeting and demo at 6 PM. Meeting place: TV Magic, 8112 Engineer Road, Kearny Mesa. For directions, call (858) 650-3155. Members and guests invited.

Qualcomm Fires Up on Black Mountain

Qualcomm, based in San Diego, has begun transmissions of
its MediaFLO system, which use its experimental licenses on traditional
TV broadcast channels 53 and 59. They plan to eventually occupy channel
55, spectrum purchased as part of the FCC’s reallocation of the 700 MHz
band, channels 52-69, for purposes other than broadcasting.

(Reprinted from CGC Communicator #711:)

An individual familiar with MediaFLO’s operations in San Diego (CGC #710)
reports that Black Mountain and San Miguel Mountain are both on the air
for the purpose of broadcasting to cellphones (or the experimental
phase thereof).  San Miguel has reportedly been on the air since November a year ago, while Black
Mountain was added a few weeks later according to the letter. Mount
Harvard (Los Angeles), Denver and some Boston sites are said to be
completed already.  We are also told that MediaFLO is being looked at
seriously in Europe.

While MediaFLO is authorized to use a number of different TV
channels in San Diego under an experimental grant, the company’s
continued use of Channel 53 is in jeopardy.  XHUPN-DT on Cerro
Bola is
expected to light up on CH-53 soon, at which time MediaFLO will
presumably be required to extinguish its operations on that
channel.  XHUPN is said to be internationally coordinated on CH-53.

Society of Broadcast Engineers, San Diego