This is the time of year to speculate about the upcoming NAB Show. Last year, it was dubbed the “business class” show because the aisles were wider, but the indications are that this year it will be as busy as former years. For broadcast engineers, NAB will be, as usual, the place to see the new product launches and also to see what the future holds.
The 2010 NAB Show promises to be the year 3-D products start shipping, not just the technology shows of last year. However, 3-D isn't yet mainstream. Only a handful of broadcasters have announced plans, and there is going to be a lag before a significant percentage of viewers have 3-D displays. Just like the early days of HD, it's sure to have a slow start. There is, however, one big difference. At the start of HD transmissions, the main display technology was the CRT. It wasn't until LCD and plasma displays dominated the market that it became a regular consumer purchase.
With 3-D, the display technology already exists, but low manufacturing volumes keep prices up. Add to that the availability of 3-D Blu-ray to view an ever-increasing catalog of 3-D movies, and the stage is set for the next evolution of television technology.
The stalking horse of mobile is slowly gaining momentum, but the issues surrounding business models still stand, and last year did nothing to improve the situation. As smartphones become ubiquitous, the handheld displays suited to viewing video are out there; the stage is set.
This year sees much improved coverage of the World Cup for the mobile viewer. It promises “breakfast to bedtime” viewing for the four weeks of the tournament. This year's event will see cameras reserved for mobile coverage, with tighter angles suited to the small screen. ENG crews will follow every team for background stories on training and buildup. The Cup promises to be one of the first events to cater specifically to the mobile viewer alongside the conventional SD and HD coverage. Will this drive penetration of mobile TV? Most likely, yes.
Aside from the headline-holding 3-D and mobile TV, there is a quiet revolution in over-the-top (OTT) video. This year, more receiver manufacturers are adding an IP port to premium models, which will enable OTT. Add OTT to VOD cable, and content owners add new channels to mine the archive.
Incrementally, we are moving toward the anytime, anywhere and any format goals stated some years ago. What doesn't change is the number of eyeballs. It's like selling groceries; people can only eat so much. To deliver the same content to the same audience but through many different distribution paths adds to delivery costs. For broadcasters, the problems are how to leverage technology to lower distribution costs and how to use technology to differentiate their offerings.
This all adds up to a lot to see in the four days of the show. Planning your foray onto the show floor like a military operation is the only way to deliver value for your visit. This raises the inevitable conflicts between planned appointments and time for networking. The question remains: With social networking via the Web, and the plethora of information available to download or view at a mouse click, how valuable is a show? Well that depends on whether you like the handshake and the eye contact. My view is that personal contact remains an important means of communication, and when it comes to signing deals, I still see it as an essential part of business.
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