Switching Your Access Facility to HD

by Nick Besink, Engineer, Oradell TV

These days, more and more people are buying HD televisions, so naturally access channels want to switch to HD to accommodate it.  Therefore, if you run a local access channel, where do you start?  What exactly do you need to accomplish the switch to HD?  What should you buy first?

If your municipality uses a statewide franchise agreement, you should be able to have them provide an HD channel.

My local access channel, OPTV, bought HD cameras first.  This was a major decision to make, and a moderately expensive one – with inherent budget considerations and cases to be made for it.

Currently, many cameras have dual outputs – both HD and analog – so they can easily make the switchover without too much additional cost.  If that isn’t possible, as is the case with some PTZ cameras that only have a digital output, most likely you will need to buy converters to accommodate digital-to-analog temporarily, so that your channel is able to stay on the air in the meantime.

The next item would be the switcher.  There are many switchers out there, ranging in cost from a couple of thousand dollars to many thousands of dollars.  The size and scope of local access facilities vary, so you will need to do your homework as to what you will need, both now and in the future.  Some switchers can handle analog, SD digital, and HD digital.  Of course, these will have a bigger price tag.

Another way to go is to buy a switcher that is solely digital, with the use of converters.  If you have analog equipment that you want to use, but also want a new switcher, you can still buy converters that will take an analog source and output as serial digital.

Additionally, another consideration to make is that for HD broadcasting you will need to change cabling.  Your choice will be either to make the cables you need, or you can buy them separately.

After the switcher, the next item to consider is the video server that feeds the cable station and OTT streaming service (if you have one).  Again, all the new servers handle digital signals, both SD and HD.  In the case of my station, we have Altice which requires an analog signal, so we need to use a digital-to-analog converter for broadcast to Altice customers.  Verizon, however, allows for an HD signal; in our case, we also have an HD channel, which is no problem for us.

After making these decisions, over time you can consider various upgrades as needed.  Most don’t require very much cost, but they all do involve time and effort to install. 

Finally, as a member of JAG, you have the ability to connect with other local access facilities as to what they have done in their switchover to HD and what they plan to do.  “Picking the brains” of other members is an invaluable benefit of membership. In the end, you will be very happy with the difference in picture quality with HD!