Gerald Walker /
11.01.2002 12:00 PM
IBC2002 called a lift

By the final day of IBC, 17 September, it was OK to exhale. Since the organizers and exhibitors had been holding their breaths for some weeks leading up to the convention in Amsterdam, it was about time to breathe again. After the shock of the terrorist attacks on the USA cut sharply into IBC2001 and the ensuing economic downturn in the industry, it was difficult to predict just how this year’s event would play out.



In the end, the organizers were satisfied with attendance of 40,400. At a final day press conference, it prompted IBC President John Wilson to observe that the convention had provided a much-needed lift for the industry and raised the hope that better times were in store.

Reflecting the era of caution in the broadcasting world, there were no radical technical introductions. “Steady as she goes” was the dominant theme. Thus, it was not surprising to hear announcements of new business and joint ventures overriding the new product introductions.

Along those lines, Scientific-Atlanta emphasized the melding of BarcoNet’s product range, R&D organization, and marketing structure since that acquisition last year. Nick Fielibert, vice president & CTO Europe & Asia, stated that the company maintains its commitment to open standards and systems interoperability, adding that the combined S-A and BarcoNet products for satellite and cable applications fulfill the commitment.

Similarly, Thomson Broadcast described at length the marriage of the Grass Valley product range since that purchase almost a year ago. However, it did seem strange to hear Grass Valley marketers discuss Philips cameras at a Thomson press event. (Soon after IBC, the Thomson umbrella also spread over Canal+ Technologies, in yet another acquisition of controlling shares.)

The blockbuster announcement among the many business deals was the culmination of the BBC News Jupiter project for the redesign of the entire network operations. BBC Technology was responsible for the design and implementation of the overall system, and the Quantel generationQ news system was a big winner.

The system is centered on 13 Quantel sQServers, with a total of more than 1400 hours’ broadcast resolution storage and 1300 hours of browse quality storage — all held on the same servers, locked together under a single Quantel ISA database. The system supports 20 craft edit stations, each based on the new Qedit Pro platform, and 142 journalist desktop editors using Qcut and Qview software shared among a possible 600+ journalists’ PCs.

According to BBC Technology, this end-to-end digital newsroom solution will not only have an impact on the broadcast news industry as a whole, but also it will form a model for the BBC’s long-form production facilities in the future.

Systems integration

To the inevitable question on the show floors, “Have you seen anything new?”, the answers were usually, “Not really.” Nevertheless, there were product enhancements that contributed to the major broadcast trends of the day, in particular the emphasis on interactive television and systems designed for medium-size broadcast enterprises.

Foremost on the technology burner was the Microsoft demonstration of Windows Media 9, which was touted as a breakthrough in how the broadcast industry can integrate open standards such as MPEG-2 compression with innovations such as Windows Media 9.

Floor and session discussions were quick to pick up on the building battle between Windows Media 9 and MPEG-4. Microsoft was clearly pulling out the stops to win converts with its booth demonstrations. It was running WMP-9 at one-half the speed of similar demonstrations of MPEG-4, and the results were spectactular. Who knows how much technology and how many tricks might have gone into the presentation, but the images looked quite good. The presentations were a clear marketing plus for Microsoft.

The Pro-MPEG group was also demonstrating the new MPEG-4 encoding/decoding sytems. Unfortunately, the sour taste from the first round of MPEG-4 licensing fees announced in the USA was still present. The second round of fees, which included a $1 million cap wasn’t welcomed with much more enthusiaum. However, the Pro-MPEG folks have a well-developed technology, and we’ve not heard the last on user fees. If that issue can be defanged, we’ll enjoy a real battle between Microsoft and the MPEG/MHP forces.

IBC visitors were able to see the first demonstration of Windows Media 9 Series being delivered over a DVB-T mobile network to coaches at the RAI. NTL Broadcast and TANDBERG Television mounted the demonstration in conjunction with Microsoft and a number of specialists, including SkyStream Networks, to create an end-to-end DVB broadcast system.

It featured both file transfer and live streaming of real-time video over satellite and terrestrial networks. One might observe that IBC has become a consumer electronics show, considering the demonstrations of set-top boxes coupled with MHP roll-out and the arrival of personal video recorders (PVRs). These developments tie into the high profile at IBC of interactive television (iTV) and video on demand (VOD) in cable and satellite, as well as terrestrial, applications.

Philips demonstrated its first digital satellite set-top boxes running on Multimedia Home Platform (MHP) middleware. The receivers will be introduced at the end of the year in Germany and Austria to coincide with the start of free-to-air MHP satellite services. Conforming with Release 1.02 of the MHP standard, the STBs will enable reception of enhanced and interactive services. Next year, Philips plans to introduce STBs in support of MHP DVB-T services. NDS showed a range of products for new services. These include the XTV third- generaton PVR system, iVideo-Guard content protection for iTV applications, and TVXreach set-top box peripheral to communicate with Bluetooth-enabled devices.

Telcos are also pursuing video services. NEXSTREAM unveiled the ADSL SuperEncoder, which promises improved picture quality within reduced bandwidth for video services over ADSL networks. The 2RU device includes a single video encoder powered by the Super-Encoder engine, two stereo audio encoders, data input and VBI processor. It features dual-pass encoding as well as integrated noise reduction, including motion-compensated noise reduction, edge processing and nonlinear filtering. According to Bertrand Mabille, chief executive officer, NEXTREAM will unveil a new product line with new compression technology at NAB2003.

For its part, Inovia Telecoms demonstrated its Digital Video over DSL (DVoDSL). At IBC, the company said it brings together via its DVoDSL solution vendors in middleware, STB, encoders and other building blocks needed to create the video over DSL application.

For cable operators in DVB markets, Scientific-Atlanta debuted a digital interactive system designed to increase the intelligence of interactive networks. The EyeQ system, which will be compatible with DVB, DOCSIS/Euro-DOCSIS and cable operator billing systems, will include DVB headend equipment, a DVB-compliant conditional-access system, interactive control computer, interactive DVB set-top boxes, middleware and an interactive program guide.

On the satellite front, Kingston inmedia introduced iTV services aimed at lowering the cost of entry in order to drive the take-up of interactive television. The services offered include a hosting facility in Centre K with direct connection to Astra uplinking services from data servers. Besides iTV uplinking, the company is offering on-site telco connectivity through direct access to the Kingston Communications switch via high-capacity fiber routes. Also featured is carousel hosting for streaming interactive content.

Lowering the cost of entry level was also the theme at Scopus Network Technologies, which had teamed up with Betaresearch to present “betacube.” Essentially, “betacube” integrates Beta-research’s “betacrypt2” conditional-access system and “beta-nexxt” customer care and billing system with the Scopus CODICO compression platform. The system is targeted at mid-size PayTV operations, either cable or direct to home networks.

No stranger to the conditional-access (CA) markets, Irdeto Access focused on the large-scale, multi-channel operators with the Irdeto CypherCast version 2. Integrated with Irdeto Plsys and Irdeto GigaCrypt card, version 2 means that multiple encryption units can be controlled from one single encryption manager. In addition, the company announced a security strategy based on issuing new smart cards on a regular basis. According to CEO Graham Kill, the strategy is to reduce the risks and costs involved in recovering from a security breach.

Kasenna also set out to knock down the entry-level cost of VOD software. The company unveiled software for »1500 per server for small stream count systems with full-featured video server including MPEG-1, -2 and -4 support. Based on Kasenna’s Media-Base platform, OmniBase is designed for delivery of IP streams over 100 Base-T networks and is available on Linus, Irix and Solaris platforms. It is initially targeted for VOD applications in hotels, point-of-sale terminals and cruise ships.

On the middleware front, Canal+ Technologies launched Mediahighway Advanced. Interactive services enabled by the system include time-shifting to allow viewers to pause live TV and start again from where they stopped and virtual VCR functions to record a program in one click. It also lets the viewer browse the Web while a video of the TV program runs in a corner of the screen for navigation between TV and the Internet. MHP, HTML, JavaScript and XML are supported by Mediahighway Advanced.

The strategy for OpenTV, as seen at IBC, was to present a complete iTV solution through media alliances. For example, OpenTV and iTV company Euronext Amsterdam, together with iTV software developer NPTV, unveiled an authoring solution enabling deployment of a range of interactive services to the more than 27 million OpenTV-enabled households worldwide. The system integrates the iTV Factory solution from NPTV and OpenTV’s Publisher 1.3, an XML-based publishing solution.

Automation

“Think small to medium” was the message from automation vendors. OmniBus Systems unveiled its next-generation control software, the OmniBus Desktop, which will be launched officially at NAB2003. The PC takes over tasks ordinarily assigned to large-scale computers. OmniBus Technical Director Ian Fletcher said that Desktop is based on industry-standard hardware and protocols and “offers users a configurable, interactive control panel to facilitate fully scalable integration of complete broadcast processes across an entire facility.”

Encoda Systems brought the DAL Channel Manager A6500 to the European broadcast arena. The A6500 is aimed at broadcasters with multiple regional networks and local stations looking for a system that can add channels with minimal additional investment, plus provide an upgrade path. The company maintained that this system offers features that were formerly only available on a much larger scale. The A6500 includes device control, media management and ingest. Like the large networks previously installed by Encoda, the system’s dedicated hardware enables staff to track multiple outgoing feeds from a single station, providing visibility across all channels. Any source and any material can be transmitted on any channel. The real-time operating system allows changes to be made to an event while it is playing.

While extolling the advantages of recent installations, IBIS (Integrated Broadcast Information Systems) showed the IBIS Server Archive, a comprehensive server management system added to the SprinTx package of server applications designed for the news and sports environment. Featured on the stand was a demonstration of the end-to-end transmission system recently installed at the 24/7 music channel in Kiev, Ukraine, showing multiple DVEs and dynamic graphic overlays, prepared via IBIS PreCue entry-level scheduling system and played out via IBIS Landscape automation control system.

Pro-Bel Division of Chyron introduced a number of automation products. Device Manager allows device control assignment between playout streams with the allocation determined by device requirements within live schedules. Workstation Manager allows multichannel workstations to be dynamically assigned, allocating the controlled channels to a particular workstation, and the associated monitoring and control are routed as part of this process.

Product parade

While the grand plans for future services were being unfolded, there was also room at IBC for new bread and butter products for everyday living.




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