WC-Star refers to the technology used by The WeatherCenter (TWC) to generate their Local Forecast segments (currently known as Local on the 7's) on cable TV systems nationwide. The hardware takes the form of a computerized unit installed @ a cable TV headend. It receives, generates & inserts local forecasts & other weather information, including weather advisories & warnings, into TWC's national programming
Since it's introduction @ TWC's launch in 1980, several generations of the WeatherStar have been used:
WC-Star's I-III Edit
WC-Star I, the original WC-Star, was released on TWC's launch. It would (like subsequent WC-Star units) receive local weather data from TWC & the National Weather Service via data encoded in the vertical blanking interval of TWC's video, as well as receiving extra data from a subcarrier transmitted above TWC's video & audio signals on it's transponder on satellite. WC-Star I was manufactured & developed for TWC by Compuvid, based in Salt Lake City, Utah. A couple of years before the founding of TWC, Compuvid had already made a similar product which was installed @ cable TV systems owned by WMFL Corporation, TWC's corporate parent. This system displayed weather conditions, forecasts & announcements on viewers' TV screens via a set of locally-installed weather sensors @ the cable headend. WC-Star I was an updated version of this unit, receiving data from both TWC & the National Weather Service.
The WC-Star I lacked graphics & was only capable of displaying white text on various backgrounds: purple for the "Latest Observations" & "Weather Information" (which displayed random data, usually weather-related trivia, past weather events in the area or info on upcoming programming) pages, grey for the "36-Hour Forecast" page, brown for scrolling weather advisories & red for scrolling weather warnings. Until the release of WC-Star III, TWC only used 1 1-minute long local forecast sequence featuring each of the 3 forecast screens mentioned above. As with all future WC-Star models, WC-Star I could key it's text over TWC's national video feed, most often to display the current conditions @ the bottom of the screen.
Even though WC-Star I met FCC's Part 15 regulations for emanated RF interference (RFI), it still radiated enough to interfere with broadcast ch. 2, resulting in problems @ the cable TV's headend where the WeatherStar I unit was installed. This problem was temporarily solved by having ferrite chokes attached to all cables & wires attached to the WC-Star.
WC-Star I was also notorious for frequent text jamming & text garbling issues. WC-Star II, released in 1984, had improved RF shielding & an improved overall hardware design. Otherwise, it was similar in features to WC-Star I.
WC-Star III, released in 1986 as an upgrade to WC-Star II, was another text-only unit essentially identical to WC-Star's I & II, though with additional internal improvements & forecast products (and consequently, more local forecast sequences). However, TWC decided to drop the "Weather Information" product soon after the introduction of WC-Star III. It was completely retired in December of 2004 before the start of 2005 to comply with FCC alert regulations requiring an audible tone to sound @ the start of every display of a weather warning. WC-Star III & previous units were capable of generating an audio alert tone only during the first display of a weather warning. From 1989-1992, Canada's WeatherCenter in Canada (which are equivalents of TWC) used WC-Star III technology to display local forecasts
- WC-Star 4000 was the 1st WC-Star model capable of displaying graphics. First conceived in 1988, it was designed & manufactured by the Canadian electronics company Amirix (then the Applied Microelectronics Institute). WC-Star 4000 is still, as of 2009, in use in some smaller communities. The first Star 4000's were programmed to operate in a text-only mode, similar to Star III, but with 2 improvements: an improved font was introduced, as was a graphical current radar page @ the end of the Local Forecast, showing precipitation in the viewer's local geographic area. Within a brief period of time, WC-Star 4000 began to produce graphically-based Local Forecasts. A customized version of the WC-Star 4000 was used by Canada's WeatherCenter until 1997, when they switched to a technically different system that produces local forecasts, known as CMX
- WC-Star Jr. is a budget model manufactured by Wegener Communications for cable TV headends in smaller communities which was released in 1993. It features the products of the Star III with the typeface of the 4000. When the change in FCC regulations forced the retirement of the Star III, cable TV headends using that unit upgraded to WC-Star Jr. or more advanced units. Since it's capable of producing an alert tone @ the start of every weather warning with the assistance of the WC-Star Jr. Audio Weather Alert Generator, it's still in use today by smaller cable TV providers, such as Champion Broadband
- WC-Star XL is an IRIX-based computer manufactured by SGI & introduced @ 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 & extended forecast products & new weather icons that would last the channel for the next 8 years from it's launch. It's current on-screen appearance closely resembles WC-Star's successor, WC-WX-Star. The Star XL was also the first platform of WC-Star to be adapted & modified by The WeatherCenter for their WeatherCenter 24/7 service, a 24-hour local weather channel carried on some select cable TV systems nationwide; 3 years later, the WeatherCenter 24/7 XL units would be phased out & switched to WC-WX-Star technology as the first trial of the system. However, the Star XL has a high manufacturing cost (US $6,500) & weighs 55 pounds
- WC-WX-Star was rolled out on WeatherCenter 24/7 in February of 2003; the "domestic" (used on TWC) version was then introduced into top media markets, including Dallas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia & Pittsburgh, in early to mid of 2004. Initially, it's graphics were essentially the same as those seen on WC-Star XL (though using Interstate as the typeface), until December of 2006, when the WC-WX-Star received it's own, even more realistic icon set. The amount of information provided is dramatically increased: schoolday/weekday forecasts are provided, more local maps are used, UV & other health information is shown & traffic information for certain markets, provided by Traffic Pulse, are also shown
- The WC-WX-Star 2-HD was introduced to a New York cable headend carrying The WeatherCenter-HD in late of 2008. Currently, there is no narration, lower display line bar or icon animation & there are still a few bugs. It's the first system to feature a HD 1080i 16:9 output. It's expected to be fully launched by 2010. This unit will only be used on The WeatherCenter-HD & will not replace the WC-WX-Star or other units on the SD channel or on WeatherCenter 24/7
Many of the segments displayed by all WC-Stars have gone through several changes throughout the history of The WeatherCenter:
- With the release of WC-Star III in 1986, many new forecast products (including the "Regional Forecast", "Travel Cities Forecast" & (in Southern California) the "Air Quality Forecast", among others) were added. In addition, the random "Weather Information" page was discontinued
- The narration was added to the local forecast music tracks (which were sent nationally) starting in 1987. Previously, only music was played during the forecasts
- WC-Star 4000 received major updates in 1990 & in 1991. Previously creating local forecasts similar to those on the older WC-Star III, new graphic styling, mixed case & many new segments were added to the 4000, further distancing it from the legacy machines
- WC-Star 4000 received the Current Radar slide in 1990, using radar data & an IATA radar map to display the local radar for an area
- In September of 1992, the narration was re-recorded for a final time for the WC-Star 4000, III & Jr. The "36-Hour Forecast" segment is now narrated to have come from the National Weather Service
- A graphic of the NOAA emblem was added on-screen during the "36-Hour Forecast" segment generated by WC-Star 4000 from 1992-2002. The "Local Radar", which displays the precipitation in the area & it's movement over the course of the last 90 minutes, was added to the 4000 in November of 1992. Additionally, the "Travel Cities Forecast" background was changed to a blue & grayish blue gradient, the text was replaced with the regional weather icons & the name was changed to "Travel Forecast for ________"
- In early November of 1993, the date & the time were nudged further downward to make more room for the local forecast screen segment titles
- In Spring of 1994, the regional icons were updated so that the multi-layered icons are smaller in size. The upper layer cloud moved almost directly on top of it's underlying weather graphic
- On August 4th 1994, the Travel Cities Forecast's background was changed again, this time to solid dark blue. The color key on the radar screens now has 8 colors instead of 6
- In April of 1995, the Local Update from the National Weather Service was added. Local Updates, rebranded versions of NWS Short-Term Forecasts, were displayed when conditions changed rapidly
- In 1995, the narration was discontinued, leaving WC-Star's local forecasts with just music being played (as was the case before 1987) until 2000, with the introduction of the "Vocal Local" feature to WC-Star XL
- In 2002, the "36-Hour Forecast" segment began to come directly from The WeatherCenter, mixed case letters were also introduced to the local forecasts. The WeatherCenter logo was modernized on the 4000. The Local Update segment on the 4000, another National Weather Service-provided item, was also discontinued @ the same time
- In addition to the introduction of WC-Star XL, narration returned during the local forecast since March of 2000. The "Current Conditions" & "Extended Forecast" segments are now automatically narrated to the viewer, a feature called "Vocal Local" (as mentioned above) that has been present starting with WC-Star XL & continuing with the later WC-WX-Star systems. In September of 2001, the cloud background was changed to a lighter blue cloud scheme (carried over to the later WC-WX-Star) & the local forecast title bars were redesigned repositioning the date & time. Later in April of 2002, "Daypart Forecast" & "The Week Ahead" segments have been added to the XL. "Weather Bulletins" is also added & only appears if the National Weather Service issues a weather statement. In January of 2003, a "24-Hour Local Forecast" segment was added
- The 75-100 mile "Metro Area Forecast" map made it's debut in late July of 2002, replacing the "Regional Forecast" in the top 50 markets
- As of August 15th 2005, WC-Star XL got it's second major facelift, while the WC-WX-Star received minor changes. On both systems, the cloud background was changed to a bright sunny background & The WeatherCenter logo was updated. On WC-Star XL, the local forecast title bars were redesigned & new slide transitions were introduced. In addition, the WC-WX-Stars in the top 50 US markets received an air quality product from the Environmental Protection Agency, which previously was only available on WC-Star units in Southern California. Initially, all WC-WX-Stars (and other WC-Stars in Southern California) with the air quality product showed the air quality forecast for three areas. This was later changed on WC-WX-Stars outside Southern California to show the air quality forecast for 1 location
- As of December 12th 2006, weather icons on WC-WX-Star were replaced with more realistic icons. This change also applies to WC-WX-Stars on DirecTV, DISH Network & WeatherCenter 24/7. In some rare cases, not every WC-WX-Star or WeatherCenter 24/7 system may get this kind of update
- On October 23rd 2007, WC-WX-Star got it's first major facelift in graphics (not counting the minor changes in 2005). The new background is a light blue sky background with a bright sun in the upper right corner. The on-screen text (except on the title bars) is changed from white to a dark blue color to have better contrast with the new background. The title bars are also redesigned & new weather animations with sound effects are introduced on the right of the screen during the 36-Hour Forecast
- As of February 7th 2008, the blue text introduced in WC-WX-Star's previous update is changed to black for greater readability
- As of March 20th 2008, the WC-WX-Star no longer features the 3-day Extended Forecast
- As of September 5th 2008, a new HD Star system began beta testing. New York City has been confirmed