The idea to broadcast a game of the World Series in ATSC 3.0 was proposed by Richard Friedel literally just a few days before the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians began Major League Baseball’s 112th edition of the championship series. Friedel is the current Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Advanced Television Systems Committee so he tends to think about these things anyway. But in his daytime job as executive vice president and general manager for Fox Networks Engineering and Operations, he found himself in a position to actually make such an event happen, even with just a few days to prepare. And so on Friday, October 21, the 2015 NAB Engineering Achievement Award winner started making some calls, sending some emails…
The studios for Tribune-owned WJW-TV in Cleveland are located in downtown Cleveland, about 3 miles from Progressive Field, where game 1 of the World Series began on Tuesday October 25. The WJW transmitter facility is located in Parma, Ohio, about 15 miles south of the WJW studios. But the studios used to be part of the Parma facility so it’s a spacious building, with the transmitting antenna located on the property. The Cleveland Fox affiliate transmits its digital signal of VHF channel 8, which was its original pre-DTV analog channel. During the DTV transition, however, WJW transmitted their digital signal on Channel 31, side-mounted on the tower, and returned to Channel 8 after the analog shutoff on June 12 2009. They turned the Channel 31 equipment off, leaving everything in place and essentially just turned off the lights and closed the door…
Due at least in part to its existing but dormant transmission capability on Channel 31, WJW has been in demand over the past year or so as a test site for ATSC 3.0 and some of its predecessor technologies. LG/Zenith and GatesAir used the facility in mid 2015 to conduct field tests of their Futurecast next generation television system (a number of the base technologies in the Futurecast system are now included in the ATSC 3.0 Physical Layer standard). In January of 2016, the facility was used by NAB to test ATSC 3.0 transmission on VHF Channel 9, using WJW’s channel 8 backup antenna being operated on channel 9. And in mid 2016, GatesAir and LG/Zenith returned to Cleveland to field test their ATSC 3.0 transmission equipment, now fully conforming to the ATSC A/321 and A/322 Physical Layer standards.
NAB has plans currently unfolding to begin turning the WJW facility into a fully functioning test station for ATSC 3.0, open to the industry for RF testing, interoperability plug fests, trying out new ATSC 3.0 features and so forth. The FCC experimental license for use of the Channel 31 facility was recently re-assigned to NAB. So when the idea began circulating about the World Series in Cleveland as a venue for an ATSC 3.0 broadcast, we were excitedly onboard.
Following Rich Friedel’s successful efforts to obtain broadcast rights and cajoling of equipment partners, the station began making preparations for the broadcast. Much of the equipment and personnel arrived the day of game 2 on October 26 to set up the system. WJW receives the Fox Network feed at their studios in downtown Cleveland and sends an MPEG-2 encoded STL signal to the transmitter site in Parma for transmission. For the ATSC 3.0 broadcast, at the transmitter site, the 720P MPEG-2 signal was decoded to baseband, and then upconverted to a 1080P60 format and compressed using a Harmonic HEVC encoder. Equipment provided by Triveni Digital encapsulated the HEVC-encoded video and audio into the appropriate IP format specified by the ATSC 3.0 standard and the signal was then provided to the input of a GatesAir ATSC 3.0 exciter and subsequently connected to the input of the Comark DCX transmitter and Channel 31 transmit antenna.
But would it all work?
The short answer is at the time of the first pitch at 7:08 pm on Wednesday October 26 the ATSC 3.0 signal was successfully received on channel 31 by a 65” ATSC 3.0 integrated TV set with OTA antenna from LG, located in the Fox Sports Broadcast Compound outside the stadium. A 55” ATSC 3.0 set was also set up at the transmitter site for monitoring and backup.
In addition to Fox, a number of companies put in a lot of extra hours and extra miles to make the first ATSC 3.0 broadcast of a professional sports event a reality: John Taylor, Wayne Luplow and Tony Antonoff from LG/Zenith provided receivers and facilitated communications; Joe Seccia from GatesAir provided and installed the exciter; Dave Catapano and Sean Devine from Triveni Digital provided IP equipment and the middleware “glue;” and Bill Van Duynhoven, director of engineering operations at Tribune Broadcasting and the WJW Fox 8 technical staff shepherded the activities at the station and provided the care and feeding for the transmitter/antenna facility.
And one more “first” took place on Wednesday October 26: the Cubs won the game, their first World Series game win since 1945.