Weather Star 4000
|Weather Star 4000|
|Status:||Retired – Decommissioned by The Weather Channel on June 26, 2014.|
The Weather Star 4000 was the first graphic-capable model of the WeatherStar line manufactured for The Weather Channel. It was first introduced in December 1989 and was designed by Canadian electronics company Applied Microelectronics Institute (now Amirix); the WeatherStar 4000 was manufactured by Northern Telecom.
It had an improved display font over its predecessor, the Weather Star III, with mixed-case rendering (though this did not appear on launch). The first 4000s that were placed in service were programmed to operate in a text-only mode, like its predecessors (using its improved font instead). However, the 4000 used slightly different flavors (arrangements of information and forecast products) that included, beginning in April 1990, a graphical radar page at the end of the local forecast. While widely used during most of the 1990s, many cable companies began to replace the 4000 with the newer Weather Star XL in 1998 and 1999 and – later – the IntelliStar in the next decade. The 4000 remained in use primarily in smaller and rural cable providers through 2014, where upgrading to a more modern Weather Star would be a significant expense.
On June 26, 2014, The Weather Channel discontinued broadcasting its analog satellite feed, thus officially retiring all Weather Star units prior to the IntelliStar, including the 4000. To address the need for a low-cost replacement, The Weather Channel developed the IntelliStar 2 Jr. platform in 2013, which is capable of operating natively on both analog and digital cable systems.
A Weather Star 4000 came with these features:
- Graphical weather products, such as icons and maps for regional products.
- An internal local radar product (the first on any STAR), in both time-lapse and static variants (the time-lapse radar was added in a major late 1992 update; the previous Weather Stars had the capability to display radar, but had to be connected to a third-party source).
- The ability to receive text-based local forecasts created by TWC meteorologists (and before that the National Weather Service).
- A lower display line (LDL), with forecast information in the top 50 U.S. markets. While the IntelliStar LDL is cued to air all the time, the 4000, Junior, and XL LDLs are not cued to air anymore except with a cuing mishap.
- The ability to crawl or scroll weather warnings from the National Weather Service.
- Specialty products for certain areas: the Air Quality Forecast for southern California (which would make its national debut on the IntelliStar), Tides for coastal areas, and the Marine Forecast.
Until the mid-1990s, The Weather Channel sold an optional sensor package that could be connected to a Weather Star to display weather conditions at the headend office on the LDL, including the current temperature, the highest and lowest temperatures recorded since midnight local time, relative humidity, wind speed, direction, and gusts, and current daily and monthly precipitation totals.
Radar products were not available on the Weather Star 4000 outside of the contiguous 48 states and Puerto Rico.
- In Alaska and (in one case) in New York City, the Latest Observations product was repeated.
- In Hawaii, the radar was centered in the state of Washington with a label permanently displaying "Radar Data Temporarily Unavailable".
The Weather Star 4000 contained several specialized cards, each designed with their own purpose. Inside the Weather Star 4000 were five CPUs in total, two Motorola 68010 microprocessors, two Intel 8031 microcontrollers, and one Intel 8044 microcontroller.
The Weather Star 4000 ran VRTX32/68k as its operating system with a custom program built to handle data and graphics operations via scripts. While VRTX was stored in ROM, the program and scripts that powered the 4000 were stored in its RAMFS file system, which it received over the satellite baseband uplink. These scripts were authored, edited and compiled on PCs running DOS. The scripts were compiled into intermediate code, as opposed to 68X machine code. All of these scripts were sent to a MicroVAX Server which stored and sent the scripts to the Weather Star 4000s in the field.
Weather Star 4000 timeline in the U.S.
|February 1990||In these early days, the 4000 was functionally a replica of the Weather Star III, only with a cleaner font.|
|April 1990||The "Current Radar" segment was added to the 4000, making it the first STAR with its own radar imagery. At this time, the segment was called "Your Local Radar".|
|July 1990||WeatherStar 4000 gets new graphics featuring colorful orange and blue backgrounds matching TWC's national weather segments at the time. The Weather Channel's logo appears on the local forecast for the first time, and the "Regional Forecast" map debuts with motionless weather icons. The time and date appear on the LDL (Lower Display Line).|
|Early 1991||The five-minute N flavor local forecast, which was shown when TWC rewound the tapes for its pre-recorded overnight programming, is discontinued.|
|February 14, 1991||
|April 17, 1991||Weather icons are added to the "Current Conditions" segment; however, they are very large and lack a nighttime set.|
|May 1991||The "Current Conditions" segment is finalized.|
|July 1991||Chandler re-records the narration for the Weather Star 4000; the narration for the E and K flavors' is once again restored.|
|Summer 1992||The fade effect transitioning to and from the Regional Forecast product is removed.
|August 9, 1992||A new playlist debuts on The Weather Channel, with redone narration on all STARs (Dan Chandler's final set). The 36 Hour Forecast narration now mentions the National Weather Service.|
|Fall 1992||The Regional Forecast product icons return after a hiatus, during which they received a major revamp.|
|November 1992||A major change in flavors occurs:
|October 1993||The Regional Conditions map replaces the "Regional Forecast" during the K Flavor and Dan Chandler updates the narration on the flavor.|
|Early November 1993||The date and time are nudged further downward to allow room for the local forecast screen segment titles.|
|Second half of 1993||
|Early 1994||The Weather Channel begins broadcasting regional commercials that can be blocked out by local forecasts generated by a Weather Star. Local Forecasts with lengths of 1:30 and 2:30 do the blocking of these 30-second commercials. STARs using non-narration audio would play this commercial audio. This was used in the summer of 1994 to advertise a TWC telephone survey about the satellite forecast for satellite customers.|
|Spring 1994||The regional icons are 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.|
|August 4, 1994||The "Travel Cities Forecast" background gradient is removed, and the Radar map screen becomes eight colors from its previous six-color display.|
|Early 1995||Some of the icons on the Regional Icon set are changed, such as "Snow" and others are added, such as "Sunny" and "Windy."|
|April 2, 1995||Flavor lineups are changed once again as the "30 Day Outlook" is discontinued by the National Weather Service (and thus TWC) and the "Local Update" segment is introduced from the National Weather Service as generated by the WeatherStar, which took up more than one screen. It served as a NOWcast-type summary of presently occurring weather and weather developments expected to occur over the next few hours. Dan Chandler's narration is discontinued. A Severe Weather Mode is also added to the 4000: if a severe weather warning crawl is present, a special playlist would play consisting of only current and local area conditions and an extended local radar.|
|Early 1998||The J flavor is discontinued as the Travel Cities Forecast is dropped and only appears when The Weather Channel is experiencing some minor or major technical difficulties (the Travel Cities Forecast was not dropped on the Weather Star III and is still used in the Weather Star Jr's M flavor).|
|September 1998||The first signs of graphical system degradation, are reported, with patchy reports from as early as 1997. Later signs of degradation reported consist of software rot or data degradation, including problems, such as the new moon graphic on the Almanac changing colors or the Local Radar's background becoming inverted. These problems are attributed to the age of the graphics rendering hardware, as well as integrity issues with the on-board EEPROMs.|
|Early 2005||The text used on the Station ID became bolder and larger. Some of the old text is still in use up until August 2005.|
As STAR 4000 units were in operation for many years, they were prone to graphical and other miscellaneous glitches, including:
- The STAR will not generate any text or very little text, but will draw graphics and pass on the TWC video feed.
- The STAR will loop its products, especially if the TWC feed is lost or the flavor has glitches, especially the overnight J flavor in 1997.
- The STAR will "repaint" (redraw) the graphical elements it displays.
- The contents of the Current Conditions will be incomplete.
- The STAR has problems drawing the icons.
- The radar screens display in the wrong color scheme. This is related to a palette swap that occurs when changing from the normal screens to radar.
- "Degradation": The STAR will have problems with the background graphics or Almanac moon phases.
- The wrong narration would be used for the STAR (a III with narration for the 4000 or 4000 with III narration). This was the cable operator's error in hooking up the STAR.
- This article was rescued from Deletionpedia, and was originally available on Wikipedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
- Photos of a WeatherStar 4000 system
- Amirix Systems Inc., the designer/manufacturer of the WeatherStar 4000
- WeatherStar 4000 support page at support.weather.com
- Video clips featuring the weather products and forecasts available on the Weather Star 4000