Broadcast begins steps
toward digital conversion


Elon University's School of Communications and Department of Instructional Technology have launched the first year of a $1 million, three-year digital conversion plan.

This year the university is focusing on the first phase of the control room conversion. The second phase will be completing the control room with a digital Grass Valley, Kayak switcher. The third phase will be to add a router system, to complete the room's capability to produce and broadcast digital productions.

"Our decisions about what upgrades to make are well researched," explained Linda Lashendock, assistant director of instructional technology services for TV Services. "During this first year of the digital conversion, Jeff James, our chief engineer, examined the latest digital technology at the National Association of Broadcasters conference to find the solutions to fit Elon's needs."

Elon staff and faculty members next prioritized a phase-one equipment list in the amount of $100,000. "Dean Paul Parsons along with people in the Office of Elon Television and the Department of Instructional Technologies have agreed that the transition to digital broadcasting is necessary to maintain Elon's competitive edge in the world of television," Lashendock explained.

The upgrades were started this summer in the master-control room. "We added a tape-less system - a 360 Systems ImageServer," Lashendock explained. "This video server will replace out current VTR stack, satellite ingest and will act as a real-time play-to-air server. The 360 Server includes three video channels, and stores up to 100 hours of MPEG-2 compressed video on internal drives. With this multi-format Image Server, we will be able to play multiple file formats and full-screen, animated graphics. The 360 System will allow School of Communications classes, students participating in Elon Student Television (ESTV) shows or anyone else at the university to do a live shot or send a story from any wireless area via a computer. The server will be able to stream the story on air immediately."

Among the other purchases this year will be two 47-inch, flat-screen LCD monitors for the control room. Communicating with the flat-screens will be two Miranda Kaleido-Alto multi-image-display processors. The Miranda Kaleido-Alto has a 10-input processor and uses high-quality image-display technology, allowing for clear, bright digital broadcasts. It has SDI/Composite inputs and displays clocks and timers, UMD, tallies, audio metering. It offers fast start-up, with simple, offline layout editing with full choice of window size. Both common aspect ratios (4:3 and 16:9) are featured, and multiple layouts can be stored and recalled afterward, allowing several users to customize operations for their particular needs.

The screens also have embedded audio and can be de-multiplexed from an SDI signal to provide four stereo peak meters displayed on-screen with audio phase correlation metering. The clocks can be synchronized with time-code input from Elon's news production software.

The powerful layout editing program, known as K-edit software, allows offline creation of layouts. There is a drag-and-drop interface, so any video, audio, texts, time-code and clock element can be positioned freely inside the pages on the monitors.

Sony DV-Cam players round out the technical equipment purchases for the first phase.

Another addition in this first year of the transition will be control-room furniture from Forecast Consoles Inc. Its open architecture allows for complete access and ventilation, and it features integrated AC power that will allow cables to be hidden by rack mounting. Finishing the console tables will be flat-screen monitors and a black counter-top with wood in-lays.

"This furniture will provide the flexibility our university needs to grow and change with technology over the years," Lashendock said.

Elon's broadcast Studio A was newly renovated in the summer of 2004. Lashendock and her crew managed to get an $80,000 studio suite put together for a cost of $20,000 - they did a lot of the work themselves. Part of that makeover included the acquisition of three Sony digital studio cameras with 17-inch, flat-screen TelePrompTers. The prompter software is from EZNews. It allows scripts to be typed into the system and automatically times each show and segment, allowing made-to-fit last-minute updates to written copy.

Lashendock, a former CNN producer, takes a great deal of pride in the Elon staff and facility. The Elon Television office now has 60 digital cameras available for checkout by Elon's communications students. Engineer James has more than 20 years of professional television news experience, and he's a certified Sony Digital engineer. Staffer J. McMerty is certified in Final Cut, and he offers workshops to students in addition to his work on special projects, including Project Pericles documentary productions in Namibia. Audio expert Bryan Baker is certified in two digital-audio systems - Pro Tools and Logic - and he conducts workshops and assists faculty who teach audio courses. Office manager Marion Aitcheson worked this summer on a Project Pericles effort in her home area in the former East Germany.

Lashendock said the support of Elon administrators, including Provost Gerry Francis, Vice President Gerald Whittington, Rex Waters and the Media Board and Parsons - is what makes it possible to staff and outfit the school at a high level of excellence.

"I just push while living up to the 'Elon Way,'" she said. "'No' is not an option, and other options are possibilities driven into reality."

She said a friend from CNN visited her a few weeks ago who told her, "No wonder you don't miss CNN, you're doing the same thing except you work in a beautiful environment!"

Lashendock says the three-year Elon transition to new technology will go smoothly. "Completing the digital transition over a period of three years is the most economical approach for the university," Lashendock said. "Also, it allows faculty and staff to train on each piece of equipment in a timely process as the technology becomes available. There is a need to complete the entire process in a timely manner."

The major equipment acquisitions were made through Clark-Powell, based in Winston-Salem, a recognized and respected provider of technology.

"The equipment was competitively priced and Clark-Powell can provide immediate technology service, if warranted," Lashendock explained.

"This transition is crucial for Elon to maintain it's current edge in the broadcasting industry," she said. "Students, faculty and staff all benefit from the upgrades we are undertaking. In order to produce industry-ready graduates with the skills needed to succeed, we need to make this transition a reality by completing it in a timely, and thorough manner."



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Last Modified:  8/06/05
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