refers to the technology used by The Weather Channel
(TWC) to generate their Local Forecast segments (currently known as Local on the 8s
) on cable TV systems nationwide. The hardware takes the form of a computerized unit installed at the headend
of a cable TV
company which receives, generates, and inserts local forecast and other weather information, including weather advisories and warnings, into TWC's national programming.
Since its introduction at TWC's launch in 1982
, several generations of the WeatherStar have been used:
- The original WeatherStar (WeatherStar I), like subsequent WeatherStar units, would receive local weather data from TWC and the National Weather Service via data encoded in the VBI of TWC's video, as well as receiving extra data from an extra subcarrier transmitted above TWC's video and audio signals on its transponder on satellite. The WeatherStar I was manufactured and 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 at cable TV systems owned by Landmark Communications, TWC's corporate parent at the time. This system displayed weather conditions, forecasts, and announcements on viewers' TV screens via a set of locally-installed weather sensors at the cable headend. The WeatherStar I was an updated version of this unit, receiving data from both TWC and the National Weather Service. The WeatherStar I lacked graphics and was only capable of displaying white text on various backgrounds: dark blue for normal Local Forecast pages (WeatherStar I units used by The Weather Network in Canada used sky blue for local forecasts), grey for the scrolling "Travel Cities Forecast" page, as well as the 36 Hour Forecast page, brown for scrolling weather advisories, and red for scrolling weather warnings. As with all future WeatherStar models, the WeatherStar 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 WeatherStar I met the Federal Communications Commission's Part 15 regulations for emanated RF interference (RFI), it still radiated enough to interfere with broadcast channel 2, resulting in problems at 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 and wires attached to the WeatherStar.
- The WeatherStar II, which had improved RF shielding and an improved overall hardware design. Otherwise, it was similar in features to the WeatherStar I.
- The WeatherStar III, subsequently referred to as the WeatherStar 3000, was another text-only unit essentially identical to the WeatherStars I and II, though with additional internal improvements. It was completely retired in December 2004 before the start of 2005 to comply with FCC alert regulations requiring an audible tone to sound at the start of every display of a weather warning. The WeatherStar 3000 and previous units were capable of generating an audio alert tone only during the first display of a weather warning.
- The WeatherStar 4000 was the first WeatherStar model capable of displaying graphics. First conceived in 1988, it was designed and manufactured by the Canadian electronics company Amirix (then the Applied Microelectronics Institute). The WeatherStar 4000 is still in use in some smaller communities. The first WeatherStar 4000s were programmed to operate in a text-only mode, similar to the WeatherStar 3000, 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 in the viewer's local geographic area. Within a brief period of time, the WeatherStar 4000 began to produce graphically-based Local Forecasts. A customized version of the WeatherStar 4000 was used by The Weather Network in Canada until 1997.
- The WeatherStar Jr. is a budget model manufactured by Wegener Communications for cable TV headends in smaller communities. It has the same improved font as the WeatherStar 4000, but has a text-only output, similar to the WeatherStar 3000 and previous units. When the change in FCC regulations forced the retirement of the WeatherStar 3000, cable TV headends using that unit upgraded to the WeatherStar Jr. or more advanced units. Since it is capable of producing an alert tone at the start of every weather warning, it is still in use today, but because of its limited capabilities, it is found only in small communities where the cable TV headend is unable or unwilling to pay for a more expensive WeatherStar.
- The WeatherStar XL is manufactured by SGI and introduced around late 1998- early 1999. The WeatherStar XL has a much-improved graphics capability over the WeatherStar 4000, and its on-screen appearance closely resembles the WeatherStar's successor, the IntelliStar. The WeatherStar XL was also the first platform of WeatherStar to be adapted and modified by The Weather Channel for their WeatherScan service, a 24-hour local weather channel carried on some select cable TV systems nationwide. However, the XL is also the most expensive unit and is somewhat high maintenance. Consequently, the number of XL's in use continues to dwindle.
- The IntelliStar was introduced into The Weather Channel's top 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 with a more contemporary font), until 2006, when the IntelliStar received its 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 and other health information is shown, and traffic information for certain markets, provided by Traffic Pulse, are also shown.
- An as-of-yet unnamed system (unofficially the WeatherSTAR HD) was introduced into the top markets carrying The Weather Channel's HD channel in late 2008. Currently, there is no narration, LDL bar, or icon animation, and there are still a few bugs http://www.taiganet.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=1505&st=0&]. It is the first system to feature a high-definition 1080i 16:9 output. It is expected to be fully launched sometime in 2009.
Many of the segments displayed by all WeatherStars have gone through several changes throughout the history of The Weather Channel:
- The narration of TWC staff announcer Dan Chandler is added to the local forecasts starting in 1987. Previously, only music was played during the forecasts.
- In September 1992, the narration of TWC staff announcer Dan Chandler has one final set for WeatherStar 4000, 3000, and Jr., The "36 Hour Forecast" segment has 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 the WeatherStar 4000 from 1992-2002. The "Local Radar", which displays the precipitation in the area and its movement over the course of the last 90 minutes, was added to the 4000 in November 1992. Additionally, the "Travel Cities Forecast" background gradient was blue and grayish blue, the text was replaced with the regional weather icons, and the name was changed to "Travel Forecast for ________".
- In the early November 1993, the date and time nudged further downward to make more room for the local forecast screen segment titles.
- In Spring 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 its underlying weather graphic.
- On August 4, 1994, Travel Cities Forecast was removed the background gradient from blue and grayish blue to dark blue. The radar screen becomes 8 color dimensional graphics from the previous 6.
- From April 1995 to the summer of 2002, many maps and weather products were randomly selected for the "Local Update" segment generated by the WeatherStar, which took more than one screen.
- In 1995, Dan Chandler's narration was discontinued, leaving the WeatherStar local forecasts with just music being played (as was the case before 1987) until around 1998-99, with the introduction of the "Vocal Local" feature starting with the introduction of the WeatherStar XL.
- In 2002, the "36 Hour Forecast" was displayed on-screen using lowercase letters (previously all caps) for all STARs. Along with this, the NOAA logo displayed on-screen was discontinued, and The Weather Channel logo was modernized.
- In addition to the introduction of the WeatherStar XL, narration voiced by TWC staff announcer Allen Jackson was added during the local forecast since March 2000. The "Current Conditions" and "Extended Forecast" segments are now automatically narrated to the viewer using Jackson's voice, a feature called "Vocal Local" (as mentioned above) that has been present starting with the WeatherStar XL and continuing with the later Intellistar systems. In September 2001, weather.com is added underneath The Weather Channel logo, the cloud background was changed to a lighter blue cloud scheme (with the later IntelliStar), and the local forecast title bars were redesigned repositioning the date and time. In March 2002, the nighttime weather icons were removed, such as "Partly Cloudy", "Clear", "Mostly Cloudy" and others. Later in April 2002, "Daypart Forecast" and "The Week Ahead" segments have been added to the XL. "Weather Bulletins" is also added and will only appear during the severe weather alert. In January 2003, a "24 Hour Local Forecast" segment was added.
- The 75-100 mile "Metro Area Forecast" map made its debut in late July of 2002, replacing the "Regional Forecast" in the top 50 markets.
- As of August 15, 2005, the WeatherStar XL gets its second major facelift, while the IntelliStar gets minor changes. On both systems, the cloud background was changed to a bright sunny background and The Weather Channel logo was updated. On the WeatherStar XL, the local forecast title bars were redesigned and new slide transitions were introduced.
- As of December 12, 2006, weather icons on the IntelliStar were replaced with more realistic icons. This change also applies to IntelliStars on DirecTV & Dish Network, Weatherscan, as well as weather.com In some cases rare cases, not every IntelliStar or Weatherscan system may get this kind of update.
- As of October 23, 2007, the IntelliStar gets its 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, and new weather animations with sound effects are introduced on the right of the screen during the 36-Hour Forecast.
- As of February 7, 2008, the blue text introduced in the IntelliStar's previous update is changed to black for greater readability.
- As of March 20, 2008, the IntelliStar no longer features the 3-day Extended Forecast.
- As of September 5, 2008, The Weatherstar HD is in beta testing in top HD markets, With New York City being a confirmed location.