Sunday, December 30, 2007

Updating the "NewsHour HD" story

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that my local PBS station (WGBH in Boston) had not updated its PBS HD Channel schedule to reflect the Dec. 17th HD launch of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. I wondered if others might be having the same problem, and so I spent the weekend doing some digging. The full results are contained in my 12/16 post, but the short version comes down to this:

* NewsHour is delivered on a separate feed from the regular PBS HD Channel feed. It is left to local stations to patch it into the PBS HD Channel broadcast, or not.

* Out of 50 stations whose schedules I surveyed, 34 run the PBS HD Channel and only five of those had the NewsHour in the schedule for that channel (that's 29 votes for "or not"). And if a station runs the PBS HD Channel, it appears that the digital simulcast is usually a straight upconvert with no actual HD (see the comment section of my 12/16 post for an explanation of why that is - thanks, jimbob!). Therefore (and ironically), those stations who won't pay the fee to carry the PBS HD Channel are more likely to be running the NewsHour in HD as part of their simulcast.

When I put that post up on the 16th I was hoping that the 17th would prove that all of that was just a scheduling bug and that engineers nationwide were prepared to do what was necessary. Appparently not, as many comments in this AVS thread show. However, later comments do show that various stations are trying to get this broadcast up soon (at least that's what their emails to the posters say).

WGBH in Boston responded to me as well, but gave no timeframe:
Due to current technical constraints in the way the HD NEWSHOUR feed is being transmitted to PBS stations, WGBH is currently unable to receive and retransmit the HD version of the program. Our engineers are, however, working with PBS and the producers of NEWSHOUR WITH JIM LEHRER to do so at some point in the future. We thank your for your patience in the meantime.

The "some point in the future" may well be just a precaution against missing an announced date, but I certainly would have been more comforted by something along the lines of "as soon as we possibly can". The other possibility is that HD just might not be such a big priority at 'GBH. As evidence, I present to you the only mention of HD (outside of the schedule) on the station website.

This is a page devoted to 'GBH's digital channels. Notice the nice promotional notices running down the center column of the page. There's one for WGBH World. There's one for WGBH Create. There's one for 'GBH Kids. There's even one for WGBH On Demand. Now look to the right, at the much shorter notice in smaller type - that's the one for WGBH High Definition. So maybe they are working hard on this, and maybe it'll be awhile yet. I'll let you know.

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