Broadcasters are making the final push towards converting to digital, and now that prices have fallen to reasonable levels, they are installing high-definition studios at their stations.
Networks are getting up and running in high definition, or upgrading studios and control rooms to make them even more efficient. Executives want to be able to easily swap components in and out of their systems, to automate as many processes as possible and do it all without breaking the bank.
Vendors understand those needs, so this year's NAB Show offerings included lots of automated editors, switchers and workflow systems; top notch, reasonably priced cameras and monitors; and feature rich products with plenty of options.
Here's an overview of what several of the top vendors brought to market.
Interoperability is the name of the game for Harris Corp. at this year's NAB Show.
For years, Harris has been pushing the industry to create standards so that all newsroom hardware and software can work together. In February, Harris announced the creation of a $2.5 million, 43-rack interoperability lab based in Toronto as part of its One initiative. There, Harris will work to ensure products from other vendors work seamlessly with their own.
"We're really serious about this interoperability between products," said Stan Moote, vice president of corporate development at Harris Broadcast Communications in Mason, Ohio. "We have the ability to do this because we're the only vendor who provides such a wide variety of products."
Part of that initiative includes upgrading Harris products--such as routers, switchers and servers--to 3 Gbps capacity to handle the emerging 1080p high-definition format. Many Harris products that now run at 1.5 Gbps can be upgraded to 3 Gbps with a software key.
"That allows the broadcaster who is moving toward the next generation of equipment to future-proof toward the next standard," Moote said.
Harris also is working on a standard that will support mobile television applications, something broadcasters want done quickly. The company is running a live test of a commercial mobile TV exciter based on the MPH standard it's developing with LG, which is demonstrating mobile TV devices at NAB.
"Assuming our standard gets adopted, we will be able to quickly bring to market an exciter solution and get broadcasters up on and running for mobile and handheld devices as soon as possible," said Dave Glidden, vice president of marketing operations.
Inside the newsroom, Harris is rolling out the NewsForce HD/SD end-to-end workflow solution.
The system runs on top of the Harris open-standards-based Nexio storage area network and incorporates several kinds of MOS-enabled editors, including the NewsForce editing line. The NewsForce newsroom system integrates with AP's ENPS, Avid's iNews and other systems, as well as with Apple Final Cut Pro. It also features a file-based quality control server called "QUIC," which automatically checks and corrects audio and video levels on incoming content, a process many broadcasters have said they would like to be able to automate.
"The big news here is really the way things work together," says Peter Douglas, director of news and sports solutions, strategic marketing and technology for Harris.
NEW XDCAM ADDITIONS
This year, Sony's focus is on its XDCAM PDW-700 2/3-inch CCD camcorder integrated with the PDW-HD1500 recording deck; and the smaller, more nimble XDCAM PMW-EX1.
The PDW-HD1500 can record approximately 95 minutes at 50 Mbps, 150 minutes at 35 Mbps, and 200 minutes at 25 Mbps HD. The PDW-700 camcorder allows for up to 50 GB of storage at 50 Mbps, and can record in both 1080i and 720p at a maximum
Sony XDCAM resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. Sony is demonstrating the camera's capability to record on optical disc as well as its newly developed flash memory system, SxS Pro.
"That gives the customer versatility with optical being the primary acquisition piece," said Bob Ott, Sony Electronics vice president of optical and professional products.
The PDW-700 retails around $30,000, while the PDW-HD1500 lists around $21,000.
The Sony XDCAM PMW-EX1 is a high-definition camcorder, released in November, which lists for $7,790 but is available online for as little as $5,515.
The EX1 uses SxS Pro to record video at a rate of 800 Mbps. Equipped with two memory card slots, the EX1 can record up to 100 minutes of HD footage at 35 Mbps or 140 minutes at 25 Mbps using two 16 GB SxS cards.
"The camera was not targeted toward broadcasters," Ott said, "but they have purchased it and they like it. We have one broadcaster that's purchased more than 50."
Thomson Grass Valley is demonstrating two system upgrades meant to automate and integrate broadcasters' high-definition newsrooms while improving workflow.
TGV's new Ignite IQ software, which will be available at the end of the year, adds more automation to the original Ignite system.
Thomson Grass Valley Ignite
For example, IQ can preprogram every news segment and let it run automatically to air, or a producer can change segment order on the fly. It automatically switches newsroom cameras and auto-corrects shots to keep the anchor or reporter properly framed at all times. And it can control audio and video mixers, graphics systems and video servers while integrating with existing newsroom control systems.
"It covers all of the necessary third-party peripheral products that a manually controlled environment usually operates," said Alex Holtz, director for the Integrated Production Solutions product line at Thomson Grass Valley.
For customers already using TGV's Kayak video switcher, an overlay version of Ignite called Ignite Lite will be available. By the third quarter, TGV will roll out a stripped-down version of Ignite that integrates the Yamaha LS9 16- and 32-channel audio mixers used widely across smaller markets.
Ignite IQ's and Lite's pricing varies depending on the system, but costs can run anywhere from $150,000 to $2 million, depending on scalability and redundancy requirements..***image10***
Thomson Grass Valley also is releasing its Aurora Craft editing system, a spin-off of the company's richly featured Aurora nonlinear editing system, said Ed Cassica, TGV's director of product marketing for servers and digital news production.
Aurora Craft integrates Thomson Grass Valley's Edius editor, which it acquired two years ago. Edius is a collaborative server-based system that allows several people to use the same files simultaneously. Aurora Craft will be available in the second quarter, with pricing dependent on system configuration.
BUILDING ON AVC-INTRA
Heading into the NAB Show, Panasonic introduced several products using its AVC-Intra compression scheme, including studio and field cameras, recorders, monitors and a multiformat HD/SD switcher. It's also rolling out 64 GB P2 cards, which will expand the storage capacity of many of its cameras and field recorders.
The company brought a range of cameras to Las Vegas, from prosumer to high-end studio models.
In February, Panasonic started shipping the AK-HC3500, which is one of the cameras NBC will use to shoot the Beijing Olympics. Panasonic introduced the camera at last year's NAB Show, at a list price of $56,000. The AK-HC3500 incorporates three 2/3-inch CCDs, a newly developed 38-bit signal processor and a 14-bit A/D converter, delivering images in 1080/59.94i and 1080/50i.***image11***
"It also has the ability to manipulate the image to the environment," said Bob Harris, Panasonic's vice president of marketing.
Panasonic announced the AV-HS400 video switcher in early March. The new switcher mixes HD and SD video sources, with optional boards to upconvert standard definition to high definition. The AV-HS400 includes a multiviewer that allows users to output four, six or 10 feeds from different sources to a single high-res display, incorporating a 10-bit frame synchronizer.
The base model includes four each HD/SD-SDI inputs and outputs, but it can be expanded to up to eight I/Os--for $1,150 with a dual-HD analog component board; or $2,390 with a DVI/component one.
Panasonic is also demonstrating the BT-LH1760, its new 17-inch widescreen high-definition LCD production monitor, which it claims provides the same motion handling and latency advantages formerly only available with CRT monitors. The monitor uses an in-plane switching panel with 1280x768 resolution, and it features a 120 Hz refresh rate, double that of standard LCD monitors, allowing it to handle fast motion.
The LH1760 will ship in April for a list price under $5,000.
WIRELESS HD ENG
Hitachi is entering the high-end studio camera market at this year's NAB Show by adding several features to its SK-HD1000 camera--an array of 2/3-inch CCDs; tapeless recording; an optional cross-converter to shoot and transmit in 1080i or 720p; a digital triaxial and a wireless HD transmission system. Some of the features are ready now; others are coming later this year.
Hitachi HD HD1000"We've always been a studio camera manufacturer and this is our play to get into high definition,"says Sean Moran, Hitachi's national sales manager for broadcast and professional products. "It's our first low-cost HD offering."
Hitachi designed the SKD-HD1000 in two parts for added flexibility. Clients can use optical fiber, digital triaxial cable, high-definition wireless or even coaxial cable to transmit images from the camera.
The company expects to release its HDTV digital triax transmission system by the end of the year.
The HD wireless system will "afford newscasters the ability to go out into the field and be able to broadcast live HD video back to the studio," Moran said. He recognizes there are "still some hiccups in that process," due to the Sprint Nextel 2 GHz BAS migration.
Hitachi is also rolling out a dockable tapeless recorder that can run on the back of the SK-HD1000, although that system may end up being more appropriate for a lower-cost, field-focused camera that Hitachi plans to introduce at NAB 2009.
The SK-HD100 retails for $53,000 without lenses.
HD FIELD TRANSMITTERS
RF Central's new RFX-CMT-II camera-mounted transmitters are designed to help broadcasters prepare for the day when they are ready to wirelessly transmit high definition pictures back to the studio.
"These transmitters provide a clear path for stations to migrate from SD to HD," said Keith Blaisdell, the company's director of engineering and production. "A customer can buy a CMT-II now in standard definition and then pay for an upgrade when he's ready to go to high definition."
RF Central's CMT-II transmitters "work with virtually every type of camera on the market," Blaisdell said. "They can handle a variety of different inputs coming from a variety of different cameras."
RF Central is offering two models of the CMT-II--one for the licensed 2 GHz band most commonly used for ENG, and, another for the unlicensed 5.8 GHz band, used for transmitting HD images within a sports arena, for example.
The CMT-II 2 GHz costs $30,000 for the SD model, and another $6,000 for the HD upgrade. The 5.8 GHz SD version is a bit more expensive at $32,950, with the HD upgrade remaining the same price.
RF Central also is introducing the PRX-II COFDM handheld monitor and receiver at NAB that will be available both for the 2 GHz and 5.8 GHz bands. The PRX-II, which currently is available only in standard definition, features a 5.6-inch LCD screen. Camera crews and producers in the field can use the monitor to wirelessly receive, view and record video. The PRX-II will list for about $2,500.
CONTROL ROOM IN A BOX
Billerica, Mass.-based Broadcast Pix is adding high definition capability to its Slate line of file-based switchers, which include character generators, clip stores, still-image stores and monitoring, all of which can be networked with content from edit bays.
"This product is quite different," said Ken Swanton, president of Broadcast Pix. "It really has all the stuff in it that you would find in a control room. It creates a live HD studio. All you have to do is add cameras."
Thus far, Slate switchers are largely used in smaller applications, such as auxiliary studios or backup systems, although some producers have found the Slate is more robust than they expected.
"We sold a system to an NBC station where they did a digital weather channel that took up their whole control room for five hours every day. They bought our product and now they are able to do the channel with one person sitting in the corner, and they don't have to tie up their control room," says Swanton.
Capitol Broadcasting's WRAL Raleigh, N.C., was the first high-definition station in the country to buy the Slate, which the station uses to run its ancillary digital channels.
Broadcast Pix is offering three versions of the Slate switcher. The smallest, the Slate 100 HD, is priced at $14,400 and is intended for smaller applications. The Slate 1000 HD adds a professional switcher control panel and runs $22,400 The Slate 3000 HD, which adds a Harris HD router and thus several more I/O channels, runs $38,900.
Broadcast Pix introduced a larger, more robust Slate switcher intended for larger broadcast operations prior to the 2008 NAB Show.