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Now in Digital HD on Ch. 5.1!
KATH-TV launches Digital TV service, expands HD coverage
Published: 10/01/2011 15:07:00
Updated: 10/01/2011 15:36:03

KATH-HD Logo
KATH-HD Logo (KATH-TV)

Engineer Mikko Wilson works to install an antenna array for KATH-TV's digital TV transmitter in August 2011
Engineer Mikko Wilson works to install an antenna array for KATH-TV's digital TV transmitter in August 2011 (Jake Carpenter)

Production Manager Rik Pruett and Engineer Mikko Wilson install digital broadcast equipment in KATH-TV's new facilities Tuesday 9/28/11
Production Manager Rik Pruett and Engineer Mikko Wilson install digital broadcast equipment in KATH-TV's new facilities Tuesday 9/28/11 (Mikko Wilson / KATH-TV)

A plot of KATH-TV's digital signal reception during testing Wednesday 9/21/11
A plot of KATH-TV's digital signal reception during testing Wednesday 9/21/11 (Echostar)

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Juneau's local NBC affiliate KATH-TV launched free HD digital TV service Friday evening from a new facility as part of continuing quality upgrades. The KATH-HD channel was launched in August 2008 on GCI cable in Juneau, and has expanded across southeast since.

Friday's launch of the over-the-air broadcasts follows a move back into a downtown location from which the station was forced to move in January due to a burst pipe. "Back in 2008, we made the decision to start the move to HD." said KATH chief engineer Mikko Wilson. He says that it's been non-stop since then: "Over the past three and a half years, we've been in a continuous process of upgrades to our facilities." Last year, KATH applied for a license from the FCC to start a digital TV service. That license arrived just weeks after the station was forced to re-locate overnight after a broken sprinkler main flooded the building. "Transmitter licenses are for a specific location" explains Wilson; "the move set us back a few months, but our goal was to get on the air digitally in HD this summer before the weather got too rough to install a transmitter."

After operating out of a temporary space in Salmon Creek for 8 months, KATH-TV moved back to their former location down-town. The new facility is on the just renovated 2nd floor of the building, now owned by Cycle Alaska who have a bike store and rental facility on the first floor.

The new service marks both a milestone and major improvement in picture quality. "Comparing an analog signal to a digital HD signal is like comparing night and day." says Wilson. "We have a large antenna in our attic at home just a few blocks from KATH's analog transmitter, and the picture quality can be quite fuzzy at times to say the least. The HD signal looks flawless. Due to the digital technology, the signal is exactly the same quality as the TV in our control room." KATH's signal is the only HD signal on the air in Juneau, though other stations in town have been digital for a couple of years. "By going HD on cable in 2008, we were ready to leapfrog to the highest quality over-the-air TV signal in town when the digital transmitter arrived." adds Wilson.

Viewers will need either a Digital TV - any TV sold in the past couple of years - or an external "digital-to-analog converter box", available at most electronics stores in town for around $50, to watch on an older TV. You'll also need a UHF antenna to receive the over-the-air signals. "We actually transmit on frequency number 35, which is a UHF frequency. But your TV sees us as channel 5, so that's what you hit on the remote." says Wilson. KATH's old analog VHF signal on channel 5 is more susceptible to interference in Juneau's terrain which can cause 'ghosting' on viewers TV's as the signal 'echos' off the mountains. "The UHF signal doesn't bounce off the mountains as much. Plus UHF antennas are smaller." he says. Though most existing antennas will work, a smaller UHF antenna will also hold up better in the Taku winds if you mount it outside.

The upgrade also affects viewers on satellite TV providers Dish-Network and DirecTV across Southeast Alaska. Those services currently use the analog signal, complete with it's problems, to relay KATH-TV to viewers across the region. "We are working with the satellite providers to get the digital signal up as fast as possible on their services" says Wilson. Last month Echostar, who handles the signal for the satellite providers, installed and tested equipment in Juneau in preparation for the new digital signal. Dish-Network and DirecTV have final say on if and when they distribute the signal in HD to their subscribers. "We tested the transmitter and the signal measurements looked really good. They are all ready to go and they will have our HD signal in their system right away." said Wilson.

KATH-TV has also recently expanded their HD program offering with new HD programs over the summer. Partner station KTUU from Anchorage has also recently upgraded their statewide news, including Juneau coverage via KATH, to 16:9 so it fills the HD screen. The downtown facilities coupled with new fiber optic technology also improve the reliability of the HD signals during the stormy and snowy fall and winter, in time for NBC flagship programs Sunday Night Football; which culminates in the Superbowl in February. "We also have the London Olympics next summer." adds Wilson. "We've come a long way in the last 3 years; our quality looks amazing."

http://kath.tv/?page=faq

By: Mikko Wilson - mikko@kath.tv