Broadcast Engineering hosted the 7th annual Digital Television conference in early December in Atlanta, GA. The conference marked an important turn for the event in several ways.
First, the conference was moved from Chicago, where it had been held for five years. Despite the successful Chicago venue, Broadcast Engineering staff members wanted to make it easier for new attendees to participate in the show.
Second, we all hoped it would be warmer in Atlanta than previous years in Chicago, and it was warmer. Unfortunately, it certainly wasn't warm. Some attendees, this writer included, found themselves wearing coats in the meeting hall because of the cold.
The conference registered record attendance, and exhibit sales also set a new record for number of booths and for total floor space.
Doyle Technologies, a Renton, WA, systems integrator and consultant, coordinated the sessions this year. The president of the firm, Greg Doyle, keyed the Wednesday afternoon sessions with an in-depth presentation on the design of facility infrastructure and networking. He showed attendees how to effectively plan for the digital technology communications, routing and networking systems they'll need to support DTV, HDTV and new digital services like datacasting.
Other Wednesday sessions included one of the DTV Conference's favorite speakers, Peter Symes, VDNS Engineering Administration, Grass Valley Group. His presentation reviewed the current development of MPEG-2, but more importantly the coming new flavors of MPEG. Attendees were treated to a glimpse of the new levels of MPEG and their capabilities. More importantly, they learned how these new MPEGs will affect the way they produce and transmit video and audio programming. (Peter Symes' complete presentation on the new MPEGs will be presented in the March issue of Broadcast Engineering.)
Tour de force The Atlanta location afforded attendees the opportunity to tour two unique facilities, CNN and Crawford Communications. Those on the CNN tour saw a behind-the-scenes view of the world's number one cable news network. Many who took the tour didn't realize the facility originated much more than just the familiar CNN and CNN Headline news channels. The Airport News channel, international news channels, CNNfn, and CNNSI feeds and the internet streaming news channels are but a small part of the overall CNN operation.
Crawford Communications recently moved to a new facility, which made the tour all the more interesting. As one of the nation's top production houses, Crawford provides sophisticated postproduction services with some of the top editors and producers. Suites are equipped with a Henry Infinity, a Discreet Logic Inferno and Fire, a Philips Spirit DataCine and other leading-edge technology. The tour was a great opportunity for engineers who might not otherwise see such technology at work.
Streaming media sessions The third significant difference from previous conferences was the emphasis on streaming media technology. A full-day seminar on designing, installing and using streaming hardware was held on Friday, the last day of the show.
The first streaming question many engineers need answered is "What type of encoding is needed and at what rates should I support?" Mark Warner, Real Broadcast Networks, provided live demonstrations of programs encoded at different rates. This was a useful session for those needing to set up a streaming facility at their TV stations.
To cap the days streaming media tutorial, Greg Doyle and his crew from Doyle Technologies (Randy Trullinger and Barry Ballanger) built a custom encoding/decoding station to demonstrate multiple stream and data rate encoding methods. This allowed attendees to see firsthand how encoding was done, what equipment was needed and the results of the choices that must be made with any encoded stream. After the conference, participants were allowed to spend some hands-on time with the equipment so they would be better qualified to manage encoding technology at their own facilities.
Also supporting the streaming technology theme were presentations from iBEAM and Season Tickets, both streaming media/datacasting-centric corporations. Clips of multicasting versus file and video streaming were demonstrated, along with error detection and correction schemes. Attendees came away knowing how to plan for the inauguration of streaming programs at their facilities.
DTV Shootout The Thursday evening sessions are always popular, but this year's was even more so. A special panel called "DTV Shootout" was added to this year's program. Moderated by Michael Silbergleid, president of The SilverKnight Group, Inc., the session was designed to bring some clarity to a confusing and controversial issue. Attendees greatly enjoyed Silbergleid's "Jerry Springer-like" orchestration of the session.
Panelists for the Shootout included Ed Williams, Sr. Engineer, DTV Strategic Services group for PBS; Pete Putman, consultant and president of PHP Communications and writer for Broadcast Engineering's allied publication,Video Systems; and Mark Hyman, vice president corporate relations for the Sinclair Broadcast Group.
Each panelist was given five minutes to present his perspectives on DTV and its implementation. Then Silbergleid launched the evening's lively discussion with his pointed questions.
He asked the audience how many of their stations were transmitting DTV. Fewer than 15 responded in the affirmative. When asked how many had purchased an HDTV receiver, none in the audience responded positively.
Ed Williams spoke as a DTV proponent and was countered by Mark Hyman. Hyman offered that he wasn't opposing DTV, but thought broadcasters should be given the opportunity to have the advantages COFDM brings.
Pete Putman was both politically and physically in the center of the issue. A ham radio operator, he understands the physics of UHF/VHF antennas well. He showed several of his custom antenna designs at the session. In an effort to show that DTV can be received, he demonstrated DTV reception of the local FOX affiliate from the basement of the Hyatt Regency hotel at the conference site. Given the numerous reports of how difficult DTV reception is, this was amazing to many.
In closing, Ed Williams suggested that engineers voted with their own money by buying HDTV sets. Hyman said that the issue was larger than just HD and that TV stations needed options to develop new services, which are better supported by the COFDM platform.
While few minds may have been changed, Silberglide's moderation made the evening fun and informative for all. In addition, the free pizza was superb.
Datacasting Sam Matheny, VP/GM of DTV Plus, quickly captured the audience's rapt attention with his presentation on datacasting. For some, the issue of datacasting was new, for others it was something thought to be unnecessary at most TV stations. Matheny suggested otherwise.
Using his company as an example, Matheny reviewed how datacasting worked, what equipment was needed to implement it and how such systems could be managed. By the great number of questions directed to him during the question and answer session, it was obvious that this audience was hungry for more information. (For more information on datacasting, check the Broadcast Engineering website; www.broadcastengineering.com. Another good article on the subject is; July 2000, "Datacasting: Is it legal?" By Mitchell Lazarus.)
Next year's conference is scheduled to be held in Atlanta. By then, the issue of COFDM will probably be resolved. However, there will still be plenty of questions and issues to discuss, so plan now to attend.
Editor's note: For more information on Greg Doyle's tutorials on networking and streaming media, go to the company's website, www.doyletech.com.