HDTV Makes the Local News

On May 19, residents of Seattle, Washington, were treated to another HDTV first: Local ABC affiliate KOMO launched the dual broadcast of all its newscasts in analog standard-definition on channel 4 and high-definition on KOMO-DT channel 38, making history with its 5 o'clock broadcast. KOMO-DT says it will broadcast more than 30 hours of local HD news each week.

Since its inaugural HDTV broadcast in January 1997, KOMO has been one of the early supporters of HDTV technology. On the occasion of the May 19 broadcast, KOMO's Senior VP and General Manager Dick Warsinske said, "Today, we take a historic step by becoming the first station in the world to broadcast daily local news in digital high-definition. This leadership is a result of a pioneering spirit which resides at KOMO and Fisher Broadcasting. This broadcast is a celebration of our people and a continuing effort to serve our viewers, the public, and the Northwest region."

KOMO has purchased several HD cameras and VTRs, and it's able to produce the newscast in HDTV and simultaneously output a standard-definition signal using the cameras' onboard downconverters, thereby eliminating the need to conduct two separate broadcasts. The station says it has also made a commitment to the Betacam SX format for its news-gathering operations. Using Betacam SX camcorders, the station's news teams can shoot in the widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio, then upconvert the material for hi-def broadcast. KOMO says that some news crews will also use HD camcorders to shoot story segments in hi-def. The broadcasts will include a combination of original HDCAM footage and upconverted Betacam SX material.

According to Mark Simonson, KOMO's assistant director of engineering, "KOMO has had a history of technical leadership in the television industry. KOMO was the first in the Pacific Northwest to broadcast 'live' and in color, in 1954, and the first in the Pacific Northwest to broadcast in stereo, in 1984. In addition, KOMO ABC 4 was the first commercial station on the West coast to transmit HDTV, in 1997."