WeatherStar

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WeatherStar (sometimes rendered Weather Star or WeatherSTAR; "STAR" being an acronym for Satellite Transponder Addressable Receiver)[1] refers to the technology used by American cable and satellite television network The Weather Channel (TWC) to generate its Local Forecast segments (currently known as Local on the 8s) on cable and IPTV systems nationwide. The hardware takes the form of a computerized unit installed at a cable system's headend. It receives, generates, and inserts local forecast and other weather information, including weather advisories and warnings, into TWC's national programming.

History[edit]

Since its introduction at TWC's launch in May 1982, several generations of the WeatherStar have been used:

Weather Star I[edit]

The original WeatherStar system, the Weather Star I, was released upon The Weather Channel's launch. It would (like subsequent WeatherStar units) receive local weather data from TWC and the National Weather Service, via data encoded in the vertical blanking interval of TWC's video feed, as well as receiving extra data from a subcarrier transmitted above TWC's video and audio signals on its transponder on satellite. The Weather Star I was manufactured and developed for TWC by Salt Lake City, Utah-based Compuvid. A couple of years before TWC was founded, Compuvid had already made a similar product which was installed at cable television systems owned by Landmark Communications, TWC's corporate parent at the time and the channel's founding owner. This system displayed weather conditions, forecasts and announcements via a set of weather sensors locally installed at the cable headend. The Weather Star I was an updated version of this unit, receiving data from both TWC and the National Weather Service.

The Weather Star I lacked the ability to generate graphics and was only capable of displaying white text on various backgrounds: purple for the "Latest Observations" and "Weather Information" (which displayed random data, usually weather-related trivia, past weather events in the area, or information on upcoming programming) pages, grey for the "36 Hour Forecast" page, brown for scrolling weather advisories, and red for scrolling weather warnings. Until the release of the Weather Star III, The Weather Channel only used a single one-minute local forecast sequence featuring each of the three above-mentioned forecast screens. As with all future WeatherStar models, the Weather Star I could key its text over TWC's national video feed, most often to display the current conditions at the bottom of the screen.

Even though the Weather Star I met the Federal Communications Commission's Part 15 regulations for emanated RF interference (RFI), it still radiated enough to interfere with VHF channel 2 on the broadcast band, resulting in problems at the cable television system's headend where the Weather Star I unit was installed. This problem was temporarily solved by having ferrite chokes attached to all cables and wires attached to the Weather Star. The Weather Star I was also notorious for frequent text jamming and text garbling issues.

Weather Star II[edit]

The Weather Star II, released in 1984, had improved RF shielding and an improved overall hardware design. Otherwise, it was similar in features to the Weather Star I.

Weather Star III[edit]

The Weather Star III, released in 1986 as an upgrade to the Weather Star II, was another text-only unit that was essentially identical to the two prior WeatherStar models, though with additional internal improvements and forecast products (and consequently, more local forecast sequences). However, TWC decided to drop the "Weather Information" product soon after the introduction of the STAR III.

In 2001, the FCC granted TWC a waiver until December 31, 2004 of its requirement of aural tones to accompany broadcast of "scrolled" or "crawled" emergency information, which otherwise went into effect in 2002, for the Weather Star jr. and Weather Star III.[2][3] The Weather Star III was capable of generating an aural tone only during the first display of a weather warning, not every time, as required by the regulations.[3] The waiver was granted with the understanding that TWC would "replace the Star IIIs in 2003/2004".[3] TWC released an "Audio Weather Alert Enhancement" for the Weather Star Jr. and Weather Star III in June 2004, so that they would emit "a series of audible beeps" every time a National Weather Service Tornado Warning, Flash Flood Warning, or Severe Thunderstorm Warning was displayed.[4]

The Weather Star III was completely retired in December 2004. From 1989 to 1992, The Weather Network and its French language sister network MétéoMedia – the Canadian equivalents of TWC – used Weather Star III technology to display local forecasts, which were displayed on a sky blue background, a colour that TWC's units did not use.

Former systems[edit]

On June 26, 2014, The Weather Channel discontinued broadcasting its analog satellite feed. These systems were retired as a result of the analog satellite feed's shutdown:

  • The Weather Star 4000 was the first WeatherStar model capable of displaying graphics. First developed in 1988, it was designed and manufactured by Canadian electronics company Applied Microelectronics Institute (now Amirix). The Weather Star 4000 remains in use in some smaller communities, as of 2014, although it is in the process of being phased out in some areas in favor of more advanced units including the IntelliStar. The first Star 4000s were programmed to operate in a text-only mode, similar to the STAR III, but with two improvements: an improved font was introduced, as was a graphical current radar page at the end of the Local Forecast, showing precipitation that was occurring in the viewer's local geographic area. Within a brief period of time, the Weather Star 4000 began to produce graphically based local forecast segments, including maps for the regional observation and forecast products. A customized version of the Weather Star 4000 was used by The Weather Network until 1997, when it switched to a technically different system that disseminates local weather information, known as PMX.
  • The Weather Star Jr. was a budget model manufactured by Wegener Communications for cable headends in smaller communities.[5] It was slated for release in 1994, following field testing at a small number of cable systems, at a price of $500.[5] The system was based on Wegener's Series 2450 graphics display platform.[6] It featured the products used by the Star III, but utilized the typeface used by the 4000. The Weather Channel was able to upgrade Weather Star Jr. units to meet the FCC's 2002 deadline that broadcasts of "scrolled" or "crawled" emergency information be accompanied by an aural tone for accessibility reasons.[7] When the change in FCC regulations forced the retirement of the Star III, headends using that unit upgraded to the Weather Star Jr. or more advanced units.
  • The Weather Star XL is an IRIX-based computer manufactured by SGI and was introduced at the end of 1998. The Star XL was a major leap over the 4000 with advanced technical capabilities such as modernized graphics (with Akzidenz-Grotesk as the main typeface), narrated current conditions and extended forecast products, and new weather icons that would be used on the channel for eight years after its launch. Its current on-screen appearance closely resembles the original graphical design of the WeatherStar's successor, the IntelliStar. The Star XL was also the first platform of WeatherStar to be adapted and modified by The Weather Channel for its Weatherscan service, a 24-hour local weather channel carried on select cable systems nationwide (primarily on the digital tiers); three years later, the Weatherscan XL units would be phased out and switched to IntelliStar technology as part of the first trial of the system. However, the Star XL has a high manufacturing cost (US$6,500) and weighs 55 pounds. The WeatherStar XL was the first STAR system to utilize Vocal Local, a pre-recorded audio track that features narration of certain forecast products (in both the form of narrating the current conditions and descriptive forecast products and introducing certain other products), which differs from the narration track function used in the WeatherStar 4000 from 1987 to 1995.

Current systems[edit]

  • The IntelliStar was rolled out on Weatherscan in February 2003; the "domestic" (TWC) version was then introduced in the top media markets, including Dallas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, in early to mid-2004. Initially, its graphics were essentially the same as those seen on the WeatherStar XL (though using Interstate as the typeface), until December 2006, when the IntelliStar received its own, even more realistic icon set. The amount of information provided had dramatically increased: schoolday/weekday forecasts were provided, more local maps are used, UV and other health information was shown; however, most of the products were dropped in April 2013, as a result of the channel reducing its local forecast segments to one minute (instead of varying between one to two minutes, depending on the segment). Traffic information for certain markets, provided by Traffic Pulse, was also shown in markets in which the company provided traffic data until TWC's content agreement with Traffic Pulse expired in 2010.
  • The IntelliStar 2, which is used to generate local forecasts for The Weather Channel HD, was introduced on a New York City cable headend on September 5, 2008 as the IntelliStar 2 HD ALPHA. It originally did not feature any narration, a Lower Display Line bar or animations of the icons. Officially released in July 2010, the IntelliStar 2 is the first system to feature a high-definition 1080i widescreen output. With the system's full release, many of the existing issues that were present with the ALPHA were corrected. The IntelliStar 2 features an animated lower display line, and various products including current weather conditions, weather bulletins, three-hour Doppler radar loops for the region and the metropolitan area, a forecast graph for the next 12 hours, descriptive forecasts for the next 24 hours and "The Week Ahead," a seven-day forecast graphic. From its release until November 12, 2013, the IntelliStar 2 used different graphics than the IntelliStar (before both systems implemented a uniform graphics package, the IntelliStar used graphics based on the channel's 2005 package while the IntelliStar 2 used graphics based on the channel's 2008 graphics). Vocal Local narration is done by TWC meteorologist/storm tracker Jim Cantore, the track used in the first generation IntelliStar is done by Allen Jackson. The system is currently rolling out in a gradual process on major cable systems across the country. The unit is not expected to replace the IntelliStar or other units on The Weather Channel's standard definition feed or on Weatherscan.
  • The IntelliStar 2 Jr is the low-cost digital successor to the analog WeatherStar systems used by the American cable and satellite television network The Weather Channel, that is used for inserting local weather information into the channel's programming, namely in a portion known as "Local on the 8s". Like previous iterations of the WeatherStar system, the unit is installed at each cable provider's headend. The system is capable of operating natively in both analog and digital cable systems.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Television Star Page". The Weather Channel. Retrieved 2010-09-27. 
  2. ^ 99-339 10-26-2001 Mass Media Bureau: Waiver Order (PDF). Federal Communications Commission. November 2, 2001.  Full text of FCC waiver.
  3. ^ a b c United States. Federal Communications Commission (2001). FCC Record: A Comprehensive Compilation of Decisions, Reports, Public Notices, and Other Documents of the Federal Communications Commission of the United States. Federal Communications Commission. pp. 19784–19787.  Identical to above waiver in published book form.
  4. ^ Audio Weather Alert Enhancement Release Notes: Weather Star Jr. and Weather Star III (PDF). The Weather Channel. June 2004. 
  5. ^ a b "Weather Star Jr. available in mid-1994". Communications Engineering Digest, Volume 20, Issue 1-7. International Thomson Communications. 1994. p. 59. "The Weather Channel announced that delivery of its new, low-cost Weather Star Jr. model will begin in the middle of the year. The new model, manufactured by Wegener Communications and priced at $500, was developed for small systems that want to launch The Weather Channel but can't afford the more expensive Weather Star models. The unit is being field tested in eight cable systems around the U.S. before being released later this year, company officials said." 
  6. ^ Instruction Manual: The Weather Star Jr. Installation and User's Guide (PDF). Wegener Communications. July 1997. p. A-1. Archived from the original on 2002-10-12. 
  7. ^ "The Weather Channel Current Conditions". The Weather Channel. Archived from the original on 2002-10-12. 

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