Mario Orazio /
05.30.2007
Mario Awards 2007: A 'Revolutionary' NAB

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You might not have noticed that half of 2.2 Mbps is 557 kbps. That’s what folks who looked into the new MPH DTV transmission system at NAB 2007 were told anyhow. Learning new stuff like that makes the world’s biggest TV-technology show great.

Here’s some of what I learned on the show floor this year: Spanish ham doesn’t need to be refrigerated; it was carved right off the bone at the VSN booth. There are a lot of very tall women in the world. And there’s a company called Harbor Products located in totally land-locked Carson City, Nev. That last could be useful to you.

STICK TO IT

You might have heard about the adhesive on duck tape curing warts (not all docs agree). The adhesive on gaffer tape sticks best to itself. And the adhesive on duck, gaffer, electrical, or marking tape always gums up whatever you’ve put it on when you peel it off.

The reason it’s duck tape and not duct tape is that, if you put it on an actual heating duct, it’ll shrivel up and fall off. That’s one reason I fell in love with Harbor Products’ silicone Rescue Tape; it’s good to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’ll also insulate 8,000 volts per layer and hold in leaks even at 700 psi. It doesn’t care about grease, water, most solvents or acids, road salt, or even the UV in sunlight. And it leaves no adhesive residue because it ain’t got any adhesive. It just bonds to itself in seconds and comes off only when you want it off. This could be the most revolutionary product at an NAB show in years.

DESIGN YOUR OWN SOUND

If you need electronics in your revolution, check out the beyerdynamic Headzone. It ain’t the first surround-sound headphone system—not by a long shot—but it might be the only one with an antenna on top. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Headzone lets you design the listening environment that the headphones are supposed to simulate. Room size, speaker positions, listener position, and even acoustic characteristics of the wall are all adjustable. Do you normally monitor in a mixing theater? How about a tiny control room? There’s no problem either way.

Then there’s that antenna. It senses the location and orientation of the headphones and keeps the virtual speaker locations fixed. Turn left, and the left source moves right. Lean in, and the angle to the left and right sources increases. Revolve on a bar stool, and spinning sound accompanies you. Revolutionary, indeed!

STACK IT UP

When it comes to revolution, some folks think discs. CDs and DVDs have revolutionized consumer media, and hard drives have done the same for editing and playout. So, what comes next?

Sony told folks this year they always thought solid-state camcorder capture was a good idea (I am not making this up). Then there are holographic and multilayer optical discs. But they’re all a little deficient when it comes to mass replication, and there’s new technology involved.

That’s why I loved Maxell’s Stacked Volumetric Optical Discs. DVDs are made by stamping out an information layer and then coating it with protective layers. SVOD skips the protection and instead stacks a bunch of the ultra-thin discs into a hard-to-damage cartridge. With DVD technology, you get 940 GB per hundred-disc stack; with blue-laser, 5 TB. And you can even play individual disks on an ordinary player (with an adaptor plate). Each time the disk goes around, it’s a revolution.

ANYTIME, ANYWHERE

Mobile phones are pretty revolutionary, too, and some folks already gather news footage that way. Maybe someday pocket devices will completely eliminate news vans, but I don’t think so. In the meantime, folks are using everything from satellite to sneakernet to get stories back to the station.

Somewhere in that range is mobile-phone-based data transmission, but there are a few problems with it, like limited data rate and the possibility that the carrier you’re using might be out of available channels just when you need them (ever seen the effect of a tornado on a cell tower?). That’s where WAAV’s AirBox X2 cellular router comes in.

The X2 part means it can use two different carriers at once. If one’s tower’s down, maybe the other’s ain’t. It also means you get to increase the data rate. As a bonus, you can use its GPS to figure out which van is closest to a story. And try using satellite or a microwave mast while you’re chasing a twister. The revolution will be televised.

COLORFUL LANGUAGE

Propellers make revolutions; they also make noise, as anyone who’s ever used fan-cooled color changers on lights knows. Geez, methinks color changers can be the noisiest things in a studio, which might not have been so bad in the era of the ten-cent speaker in an analog TV but it ain’t going to cut it with digital 5.1 surround sound.

Up to now, you’ve had a choice: live with the noise from the color-changer fans, go for different lighting instruments for different colors, skip the color changes, or turn off the fans and hope for the best. The first is noisy, the second expensive, the third boring, and the fourth keeps fire departments at full employment. But now there’s the Ocean Optics SeaChanger.

It uses dichroic filter wheels to produce more colors than most video screens can display. They don’t much care about heat or humidity, and they let through more light to boot (in-band transmission greater than 98 percent). Needless to say, the colors are selected by the filter wheels’ revolutions.

A CURE FOR THE COLOR BLIND?

About color, think about this: You already know about closed captioning for the hearing impaired. And maybe you also know about audio description services for the visually impaired. But what about the color blind?

If they can’t see color at all, they could try “subjective” Benham color, but methinks the flickering would drive them nuts in a single sitcom, and it’s no guarantee of perceiving hues anyway. But what about the much larger group that can see color but not perfectly?

Curon’s CVD (color vision deficiency) system tests viewers to determine their impairments and then adjusts display colors to create images that look the way they were intended to be seen. Samsung has already added it to some TVs. Yeah, this works only for TVs serving individual viewers (or groups with identical color-vision impairments), but it’s a good idea anyhow. Next time you run something on the Russian revolution, maybe everyone will be able to see the reds.

‘RED’ BARON

Last year I wrote about “the vapors of the Red tent.” Red Digital Cinema had little more than an idea for a camera, but was selling it (and collecting money) all the same. By the big Las Vegas show this year they still hadn’t delivered a single product, but they had a lot more than vapors to show off.

Peter “King Kong” “Lord of the Rings” Jackson, according to Red personnel, asked to shoot a two-day “camera test” in New Zealand two-and-a-half weeks before NAB, so they brought their two prototype cameras, Boris & Natasha. Then they discovered that a Peter Jackson “camera test” is not like other camera tests.

What was shown in their booth this year, with a 4K projector filling a theatrical screen, was an entire World War I movie, complete with aerial dogfight, firing tank, explosions, etc. The pictures could use a little refinement, but they were stunning nonetheless, and delivery is clearly now in sight. Maybe their $17,500 will be a wee mite higher for a complete working package, but it’s still a revolutionary price for a 4K camera with a 35-mm-sized imager.

EYE CONTACT

Errol Morris ain’t quite as famous a director as Peter Jackson, but he ranks pretty high among documentarians. He’s also one of the people to have invented something he calls an Interrotron. In brief, it’s two lens-line prompters on two cameras, each camera feeding the other’s prompter.

One camera shoots the subject; the other shoots Morris. That way, the unskilled subject can look at Morris reacting to what’s being said instead of staring into a lens. It’s a great idea, but it requires two cameras, two prompters, and the space to set all that up.

VFGadgets.com’s EyeDirect HD P1 brings it down to a single, small device that can be stuck on the front of a handheld camera. The director (who could also be the person shooting) just looks into a hole to the side of the camera, and two-way eye-to-eye contact is established. As a bonus, the same rig can be used to hold a regular prompter. And, if you want to switch from a right-side to left-side view, all that’s required is half a revolution.

EyeDirect was invented by Steve McWilliams, director of The Steve Show, a full service television production company in Dallas.

HAS LCD ARRIVED?

The prompter screen you stick into an EyeDirect could be any old thing. So could the screen you use to identify the feed heading to a recorder. But the picture that a video operator or colorist looks at has got to be as near perfect as it can be. For more than half a century, that’s meant a CRT, but folks are starting to get tired of supplying CRT monitors (although no one seems to have mentioned that trend to Ikegami, thank goodness).

eCinema Systems was maybe the first to try to make an LCD monitor good enough for color matching, and maybe they succeeded. They ain’t alone anymore. But, while they’ve got the color down pretty danged well, the slow speed of LCD cells ain’t been the greatest at showing motion—especially interlaced motion.

Now there’s Sony’s BVM-L230 LCD reference monitor with LED backlighting. Aside from what they do for color range, the LEDs turn off pretty instantly. Sony was showing a high-speed continuous pan, and it looked danged fine. Maybe they ain’t hit perfection yet, but the revolution to overturn the CRT has breached another barricade.

ALL IN ONE

There have been other revolutions folks have come to late. For instance, there’s the one-person control room. J-Lab, Rushworks, and even Grass Valley (with their pretty cool Indigo) have done stuff in this area, but what struck me as revolutionary at NAB2007 was the Broadcast Pix Slate.

Of course, it’s a digital production switcher with effects. Throw in a stillstore, clipstore, camera control (both signal and position), character generator, aspect-ratio adjustment, audio mixing, redundant control, and lots more, including my favorite, a multiviewer.

Yes, a single LCD panel can show you all sources and outputs, including tally indications. Prices start at under $10,000 list. And, if that’s not revolutionary enough, the multiviewer can include an analog-style clock with a sweep second hand, apparently revolving around a virtual shaft.

As for the rest, I only regret that I have but 10 awards to give for my fish wrap. Last year, I gave Astro an award for electronic chromatic aberration correction for ultra HD; this year Panasonic put it into two HD cameras.

JVC and BMC probably showed the world’s least expensive wireless HD rig. Harris had a server (QuiC) that automatically tests files when it ain’t playing them. Samsung demoed mobile handheld DTV. Let It Wave applied bandlet technology to HD frame-rate conversion. Snell & Wilcox maybe applied some intelligence to content repurposing. Miracube was a cool 3-D display.

Two-time Mario Award winner Ricsonix built a variable audio delay into an XLR connector. And, heck, I even liked the 2200/2=557 MPH transmission system. I guess I’ll be back next year.


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