Shrewsbury Media Connection (SMC) has the distinction of becoming the first access station in Massachusetts to deliver all three of their P,E, and G channels over their cable system in glorious HD. “Maybe the first HD cable access channels East of the Mississippi,” ventured Shrewsbury Executive Director, Bill Nay, “It’s amazing now.”
It helps that the Town of Shrewsbury (pop. around 35,000) operates the town’s only cable system, SELCO. Some time ago, Nay got assurances from SELCO that the Shrewsbury channels would have a place on the HD tier, and after some re-engineering and upgrading of equipment, they switched over to HD on Feb 28th.
“Everything we produced in our studios and in the field was already HD,” Nay explains. “In the past we had to down-convert before putting a program on the air. The new workflow is great.” More than half of all programming is locally-produced. Once the government meeting room cameras are converted to HD in the next month or so, all three channels will broadcast all HD, all the time. “The town meetings are somewhat popular. In addition, the town manager does a show, and some of the Selectmen do a show, with a lot of participation from department heads. Our viewers find it’s helpful to understand what’s going on in government” says Nay.
The Shrewsbury Media Center has been in operation for 23 years. It runs with a paid staff of 3 full-time and 3 part-time positions, plus an impressive core group of about 50 volunteers. Nay estimates that thousands of residents have come through the facility over the years, either to take courses or be on shows.
TelVue Systems Engineer Chris Perry did the engineering to upgrade the SMC system with TelVue broadcast equipment,services and applications, along with some third-party devices, in close collaboration with SMC and SELCO technicians. “Originally the setup was multiple racks, and very spread out. When we finished, the entire system could fit in just one rack,” says Perry. “TelVue provides one of the only highly scalable broadcast solutions on the market. Our user-friendly interface and modular components allowed us to tailor the system to suit the customer.”
Perry points out that QAM technology allows a station to reduce the NTSC channel footprint down to one 6MHz QAM channel for three HD carriers, and one 6MHz channel for more than three SD channels. In other words, you can put about 38 mbps of data inside the same space that a single SD analog channel used to take up.
That’s reason enough, says Nay, for others to follow suit: “It should be easy for all the other cable companies to offer what we’re getting. One HD channel uses up a small fraction of the space that used to be set aside for an analog channel.” And that’s how Shrewsbury is leading the way for cable access in HD.