This article is incomplete.
Weather Star, also rendered WeatherStar or WeatherSTAR, is the name given to a series of computers utilized by The Weather Channel for the distribution and display of localized weather forecasts for communities across the United States. The primary purpose of Weather Star computer units is to display a graphical presentation of local weather data during the channel's Local on the 8s segments, although Weather Stars also display weather alerts and additional information attached to on-air commercials. STAR is an acronym for Satellite Transponder Addressable Receiver, in reference to the method (via satellite) in which it receives weather data and is controlled in the field.
The Weather Channel, as a national broadcaster, distributes its signal to cable companies across the country. Because forecasts for major cities across the country are displayed on the national video signal (both on the lower third of the screen—the lower display line or LDL—and Local on the 8s), the network needed a way to display localized weather information, including alerts, in each location in the United States with a cable television company — this is the function of the Weather Star. Within the cable system, a building known as a headend, a Weather Star sits between and is connected to a satellite receiver (receiving The Weather Channel's signal) and a modulator, a device that turns the audiovisual signal into a proper cable channel.
The Weather Star is not responsible for the creation or generation of weather data; rather, it simply receives data from a given source (such as the National Weather Service or The Weather Channel itself) and displays it over the national video feed of The Weather Channel. This can result in unusual data display issues if an incorrect value is sent, as was what occurred on October 13, 2015, when many viewers of the network noticed that the overnight temperature for their area was “forecasted” to be 999°F — in actuality, this was a data error intercepted by local Weather Star units.
Well before The Weather Channel was launched, the need for localized weather conditions in areas receiving the network was realized. When channel founder Frank Batten began to recruit experts to begin brainstorming the channel that would become The Weather Channel, he tapped Gordon Herring, a cable marketing expert from Batten’s own cable company TeleCable, to help in the development process. Herring agreed, but on the condition that the network supplied local weather information in addition to national coverage. Batten noted that Herring came up with this idea, in addition to the ideas of a device installed at a cable company that would display this local information and delivering local weather information to this device over the network’s satellite feed. Herring was inspired by his recent experience of being part of a Landmark task force designed to explore the potential uses of teletext technology for news and information display. Herring's concept for the local weather device involved, as Batten described it, an adaptation of teletext technology "to build an addressable receiver capable of receiving and storing localized information from a satellite transponder." By the time the initial work on the technology had begun in mid-to-late 1981, this concept had become part of the name of the computer unit, in which Star was an acronym for Satellite Transponder Addressable Receiver. The developers of the network gave the task of developing this device to Compuvid in mid-1981. By the end of December of that year, the company had devised a prototype; however, representatives of the network deemed it unacceptable, causing the device to remain unfinished for some time prior to the launch of the channel. The finished product was the original Weather Star (Weather Star I), which would be upgraded over time due to severe technical difficulties. Some of these difficulties included garbled text on screen, individual text characters taking up large portions of the screen, and even a radiation leakage that affected VHF channel 2 in some cable systems. As time went on and more upgrades were completed to solve these issues, the Weather Star I became the Weather Star II, and eventually, in 1986, the upgraded Star II was renamed the Weather Star III, which would be used by some cable systems until its retirement in 2004.
General improvements in presentation quality also spurred new computer models, beginning with the Weather Star 4000 in 1990, which introduced graphical weather displays including maps, weather icons, and varying colors. This would be improved upon by the Weather Star XL in 1998, which improved map and image quality and introduced narrations, the IntelliStar in 2003, which drastically improved upon all aspects of the presentation, and the IntelliStar 2 HD in 2010, which was part of the channel's innovative steps into high definition television. As general presentation improvements spurred new Weather Stars, so too did cost concerns on the part of smaller cable companies. To this end, The Weather Channel developed the fully text-based Weather Star Jr. in 1994 as well as the IntelliStar 2 Jr., a cost-effective standard definition version of the IntelliStar 2, much later in 2013. Currently, the IntelliStar 2 Jr. and the IntelliStar 2 xD, a streamlined and more flexible high definition version of the IntelliStar 2, are in active use.
In addition to the use of Weather Star systems on The Weather Channel network proper (which were referred to as domestic systems), the company also employed versions of the Star systems to generate its standalone automated channel, Weatherscan. The network began using Weather Star XL units for Weatherscan (then called Weatherscan Local) in 1999, later replacing them completely with IntelliStar units by 2004. Select IntelliStar units in use for Weatherscan would go on to outlive their domestic IntelliStar counterparts, which were retired in 2015, for seven more years. These last IntelliStar systems were retired with the discontinuation of the Weatherscan channel in 2022.
For more information, click on the individual article links for each model.
The following is a brief overview of the different models of Weather Stars that have been produced over the years.
Weather Star (original)
The original Weather Star was released in 1982 when The Weather Channel debuted. In general, the original Weather Star was a fully text-based model with little capability for graphics generation other than text and blocks of color. It had the ability to receive forecasting data directly from the NWS, alongside statements and products issued by them. There were three major revisions of the original Weather Star, often often referred to as three different models due to their distinct names.
The first iteration of the original Weather Star was the Weather Star I. This original version suffered from a variety of problems, including outputting radiation that interfered with cable providers' antenna reception on VHF channel 2.
Weather Star II
Revisions to the Weather Star I to fix its major flaws resulted in minor hardware changes that led to its redubbing as the Weather Star II in 1984. This was a minor revision to the Weather Star I that had few changes that were noticeable by viewers of the network.
In 1985, the Federal Communications Commission was making plans to reduce the distance between geosynchronous satellites to make more room for newer satellites. This caused a variety of technical issues with existing Star units' handling of localized weather data. In response to this, TWC partnered up with Wegener Communications through a $2 million deal to figure out ways to adjust the Star's data handling. The updated revision of the Star, the Weather Star III, was rolled out as a result of these changes. Just like with the Weather Star II, there were no other noticeable changes. The on-air graphical appearance of the Star would remain the same until the Weather Star 4000 was released in 1990.
Advances in computing technology allowed for the development and release of the Weather Star 4000 in 1990. During development, the Star 4000 was originally called the Star 4 (IV). TWC describes the release of the Star 4000 as abysmal, due to the fact they needed a more capable Star supporting two languages to allow their Canadian partner, Lavalin, to work with the Star 4000, which was their original plan in 1989. The plans did not go through, and the Star 4000 was released to cable companies in 1990. The Star 4000 was considered a significant improvement over the III, being capable of advanced graphical weather data displays for the time utilizing weather icons, maps, and radar data. The Weather Star 4000 remains one of the most recognizable and unique Star models, being well-known for its vibrant blue and orange color scheme during local forecast segments between 1990 and 1999.
The Weather Star Jr. was a budget model of the Weather Star marketed to cable companies that could not afford the more advanced models, released in 1994. It was similar to the III in capabilities, being text-based and relatively rudimentary in this regard. Notably, unlike the III, it did not have the innate ability to generate audio alert tones during weather warning messages, which led to the release of a corresponding alert tone generator, the Weather Star Jr Audio Weather Alert, in 2002 after a ruling from the Federal Communications Commission requiring audible tones accompanying emergency bulletins.
The Weather Star XL was an advanced model for the time when it was released in 1999, being based on the Silicon Graphics O2 computer, a workstation largely meant for multimedia work. The Star XL was a major improvement in graphical video display, with the capability of displaying millions of colors, highly detailed maps, detailed animated icons, photographic images, anti-aliased fonts, and animation sequences used for backgrounds, among other features. It also introduced audible narrations introducing various forecast products such as the current conditions screen and detailing forecast information on the three-day extended forecast, a narration system known as Vocal Local.
When The Weather Channel launched its standalone sister network, Weatherscan (as Weatherscan Local), in 1999, it put a version of the Weather Star XL with differing software to use to generate the channel's content at local cable companies. The Weatherscan Weather Star XL was fully superseded by a Weatherscan version of the IntelliStar in 2004.
The IntelliStar was another major advancement in graphic display and localization when it was released in 2003. An Intel CPU-based PC running FreeBSD, the IntelliStar was capable of rendering its own 3D shapes for backgrounds and animating on-screen elements as needed. It introduced many new products seen on Local on the 8s, such as school day and outdoor activity forecasts. It also dramatically improved upon the Vocal Local narration capabilities of the XL, sporting a large system of individualized narrations for individual weather conditions, temperatures, and wind speeds.
When the IntelliStar was initially released in 2003, it was initially released solely for replacing Weather Star XLs in their capacity generating the Weatherscan channel, with IntelliStars for the main TWC network coming later in 2004. The Weatherscan IntelliStar, like its XL counterpart, ran a specialized version of its software designed to generate content for Weatherscan.
When The Weather Channel was preparing to transition to high definition in the late 2000s, the need for a new HD-capable model of IntelliStar was realized. The IntelliStar 2 HD was the first in the IntelliStar 2 line, followed by the Jr. and xD. Windows-based PCs, with the newer models running on more modern hardware, the IntelliStar 2 models are capable of much more advanced live 3D graphics rendering compared to the IntelliStar.
The IntelliStar 2 HD was released in mid-2010, the original high definition Weather Star model. Being a product of the early transition era into high definition television, the IntelliStar 2 HD was a very bulky computer with two custom-engineered cards used for video processing.
The IntelliStar 2 Jr. is the current standard definition Weather Star model. It was released in 2013 as both a cost-effective IntelliStar 2 offering and a replacement for the earlier Weather Star models, which were to be decommissioned in 2014 (with the original IntelliStar following them in 2015).
The IntelliStar 2 xD is the current high definition Weather Star model, although it also has the ability to produce a standard definition signal using a letterboxed 16:9 ratio version of the national video feed. It was released in 2014 as a streamlined replacement for the aging IntelliStar 2 HD. It is a fully digital system, with no analog video inputs or outputs.
When speaking of Weather Star units, a variety of technical terms have been used to describe aspects of Weather Star local forecast presentations:
- Domestic: when referring to the Weather Star XL or IntelliStar, a Weather Star unit that was used for overlaying local information over The Weather Channel itself, a Weather Star not being used to generate the Weatherscan channel, which was a standalone channel owned by but separate from The Weather Channel
- Flavor: the sequence of weather forecast products seen on a local forecast presentation, such as the current conditions being shown first, then radar, getaway cities forecast, etc.
- Lower display line (LDL): the lower-third or smaller bar of local weather information seen on The Weather Channel; also used for local advertising crawls during the local forecast presentation
- National feed: The Weather Channel's video feed as delivered over satellite to cable companies; this video feed on its own without the overlaid graphics produced by a local Weather Star unit
- Product: a segment seen on the local forecast presentation with a distinct purpose, such as "current conditions" for a city's current weather conditions or "the week ahead" for a seven-day weather forecast
The following is a gallery of on-air graphics generated by Weather Star systems for Local on the 8s. The list is ordered, as best as possible, from oldest Star to newest.
- Local on the 8s, the segment on The Weather Channel generated by Weather Star units
- Weatherscan, former channel generated by Weather Star XL units (1998-2004) and IntelliStar units (2003 - 2022)
- Batten, Frank (2002). The Improbable Rise of a Media Phenomenon. Harvard Business Publishing. pp. 42–43. ISBN 1-57851-559-9.
- Batten, Frank (2002). The Improbable Rise of a Media Phenomenon. Harvard Business Publishing. p. 68. ISBN 1-57851-559-9.
- Batten, Frank (2002). The Improbable Rise of a Media Phenomenon. Harvard Business Publishing. p. 201. ISBN 1-57851-559-9.