NAB2004: HD here, there, everywhere

Posting attendance numbers like those of the plush pre-9/11 years, NAB2004 was awash in high-definition production systems. From the pre-opening press conferences to the crowded show floors, the talk was HD. Indeed, one influential consumer industry spokesman admonished an audience of broadcasters to avoid the temptation of using their digital frequencies for multichannel services and instead go full-speed ahead with HDTV. He argued that HD is the better way to “sell” consumers on DTV.

Total attendance jumped from 88,020 in 2003 to almost 98,000 this year. International attendance also increased, despite the new visa and entry requirements imposed by the USA. Total international registration was 22,320, compared to 18,942 in 2003.

Besides the HD mania, other trends at NAB2004 included advances in interoperability and digital asset management. No one mentions “convergence” of IT and video anymore, which means it is actually happening as opposed to a buzzword.

For example, Snell & Wilcox announced that it will release at no charge a comprehensive set of software developer tools, called MXF Express, designed to help broadcasters and equipment vendors ensure interoperability among file-sharing products and systems through the Material eXchange Format (MXF). The company also released for free MXF Desktop, a software-based MXF file player that will bring MXF compatibility to any Windows PC desktop.

MXF is a major new building block for IT-based broadcast and post-production environments that promises platform independence including compression, network protocol and operating systems. An open industry format with broad-based vendor support, MXF has been tested for interoperability and offers scalability for future source formats and metadata schemes.

To date, major global broadcasters such as CNN, BBC, CBS and Channel 4 have announced support in their facilities for MXF. Several vendors have joined Snell & Wilcox in supporting MXF, including Avid Technology, Cisco Systems, daVinci Systems, JVC, Leitch, Matrox, Quantel, SeaChange, SGI, Sony and Thomson Grass Valley.

MXF Express includes the following features:

  • Support for OP1a, OP-Atom, MPEG, DV, BWAV and AES profiles that allow various media configurations within a single MXF file.
  • C++ libraries that enable developers to add MXF awareness to their products.
  • Diretshow filters for easy MXF player/writer creation with sample code.
  • High-quality sample MXF files for testing and evaluation based on the Snell & Wilcox Test Card M.

On the media management front, Blue Order announced the launch of Media Archive professional, which can be installed “out of the box.” The system was developed specifically for a limited group of users, broadcasters and post-production facilities that have to work collaboratively and that have to handle large numbers of rich media files. The feature set supports all major workflows within content creation, production, archiving and cataloging.

In addition, Blue Order and OmniBus are collaborating on a system that will enable users to manage their media assets in complex work-flows that encompass both automation and media asset management. The integration will include the Blue Order Enterprise Media Asset Management software, Media Archive and OmniBus Systems' G3 automation infrastructure.

In another show of interoperability zeal with HD targets, Avid revealed DNxHD encoding technology. Avid plans to provide editing support for a broad range of high-definition media formats across its Avid Xpress Pro, NewsCutter XP, Media Composer Adrenaline, NewsCutter Adrenaline FX and Avid|DS Nitris systems. DNxHD is a 10-bit encoding technology that enables collaborative HD post-production with the same storage bandwidth and capacity requirements as standard-definition files. The source code will be licensed free of charge through the Avid Web site to any user who wants to compile it on any platform.

Bringing down HD costs

The message that exhibitors were sending was that HD has become more affordable in the latest entries. For example, Panasonic and Apple announced implementation of IEEE 1394 FireWire with 100Mb/s DV-HD (the native video compression of Panasonic DVCPRO HD recording systems). This implementation promises to lower price points to HD post-production and content distribution.

The two companies are bringing HD over FireWire to desktop and mobile editing with Panasonic's new AJ-HD1200A and Apple's Final Cut Pro HD editing software. With the DVCPRO HD VTR, 24fps or 60fps progressive scan material shot by the Panasonic VariCam HD Cinema camera or 1080i studio/sports truck footage recorded by DVCPRO HD VTRs can be transferred directly into Final Cut Pro HD without generation loss. Final Cut Pro HD users can also automatically extract 3:2 pulldown from any 24fps HD VariCam footage, saving an additional 60 percent in disk storage space.

Meanwhile, Leitch launched what it called HD Integrated Content Environment (ICE) from editing to transmission. On the editing side, the company introduced real-time editing performance to the HD realm with VelocityHD. The nonlinear editing system features full-quality HD playback of two video streams, two dynamic graphics streams, true dual-stream real-time HD transitions and effects, and optional 3-D effects with the A3DX DVE daughtercard. VelocityHD supports 1080i, 1080pSF and 720p frame formats at all common frame rates with compressed and uncompressed (8-bit and 10-bit) recording and playback, as well as the flexibility to mix compressed and uncompressed footage in the same project.

Leitch also featured the NEXIO MPEG transport stream server, NX4000MTS, which supports multiple compression formats in both standard- and high-definition resolution. For its bread and butter routing lineup, Leitch brought out Panacea routing switchers. The Panacea Clean Switch handles multiple channels of SD and HD signals simultaneously. Scaling from 32×32 to 512×512, the Integrator Gold wideband digital multi-rate router provides scalable routing of almost any signal — from analog or SDI/ASI to HDTV — and is capable of mixing analog and digital video signals in the same frame with optional input and output SD conversion modules.

The major news from Leitch was the acquisition of Videotek, a test and measurement manufacturer, for approximately E18 million. This transaction combines the Videotek line of test equipment, video demodulators, routing switchers, color correctors and processors with Leitch's content production, storage, processing, transmission and monitoring products.

Noting that even the best conditional-access systems do not entirely protect against content theft, Thales Broadcast & Multimedia introduced ThalesCrypt, a DTV security platform to protect contribution links. It is capable of adapting to any terrestrial, cable, satellite or broadband network.

Tailored for small to medium networks, ThalesCrypt is scalable from one to 10,000 reception sites. The Security Service Platform consists of three integrated components:

  • ThalesCrypt rights management system, which specifies which sites are authorized to de-scramble which content and provides an additional protection layer.
  • Thales CRYOLITE, a DTV scrambler that encrypts the content using the DVB-CSA algorithm, performs the content ciphering and provides high-level management interfaces to facilitate day-to-day operations.
  • Thales GRAPHITE, a DTV receiver/de-scrambler that receives and de-scrambles incoming streams using the ThalesCrypt module.

Sony was also on the HD-on-a-budget bandwagon for its disk-based systems. For example, the XPRI nonlinear editor is available in a range of cost-effective configurations for MPEG IMX production. This long-form editor supports HD production entirely in native HDCAM format. Capable of browsing low-resolution proxies and ingesting high-resolution content as well as EDL information and meta-data directly from Professional Disc production tools, XPRI Version 7 software runs on standard PCs. New for the XDCAM disk-based camera was direct compatibility between content captured using the camera and Avid's native MPEG IMX (30Mb/s, 40Mb/s and 50Mb/s) and DVCAM nonlinear editing systems, including NewsCutter and Media Composer.

For news gathering, Sony featured SONAPS, a news production solution that integrates with the XDCAM camcorder and XPRI edit ranges. According to Sony, the SONAPS plan includes future migration to multiformat HD news production.

HD stands

The EVS stand was all HD or HD upgradeable. The company introduced MXF-based exchange of content with third-party systems using formats such as DV, DVCPRO and IMX. The HD LSM-XT and other HD XT servers were demonstrated in a fashion similar to the way they were employed during the Super Bowl: networked and supporting XFile automatic archiving units. Besides providing live slow-motion replays, XT servers are being used as highlights editors and for the playout of pre-produced material, usually under control of the vision switcher.

For its part, Axon Digital Design introduced 20 new products for HD and SD applications. The HD products are modular cards that fit into existing Synapse card frames. Because HD cards and SD cards can be mixed in the same card frame, existing users with new HD needs can add the new capability to their existing systems.

The new cards include up- and downconversion, HD to VGA/DVI, embedding, de-embedding, frame synchronization, color correction and fiber solutions. With the introduction of its new HD products and its new MPEG capabilities, the Synapse product range consists of more than 90 active modules.

With HD cameras headed for ENG/EFP assignments, the lenses cannot be far behind. Thus, Thales Angenieux debuted the digital 26×7.8AIF high-definition and high-resolution series Tele Super Zoom lenses. The digital 26X series provides an extended focal range for field production crews shooting news and sports. The lens features a focal range of 7.8mm to 203mm (5.6mm to 406mm with a 2x extender) and an aperture of f/1.8 for the HR version and f/2.2 for the HD version.

Test and measurement hardware is also in the HD running. One solution in particular would be to introduce portable instruments similar to those now available for SD systems. That's exactly what Hamlet promoted at NAB. The new platform, based on custom-designed chips, combines high-definition digital signal handling capabilities, small footprint and low-power consumption leading to handheld instruments. The first new product based on this platform is FlexiScope, a palmtop waveform monitor with an integral 3.8-inch TFT XVGA display. More hand-held HD units will follow, according to Hamlet.

Audio too

Not to be upstaged by the HD show in the video halls, the audio exhibitors had broadcast news to break. Studer launched the Vista 8 large-frame broadcast console developed in the Vistonics range. It combines the automation capabilities of the Vista 7 and the on-air ergonomics of the Vista 6. However, Vista 8 has a completely redesigned central control bay housing 12 faders and a Vistonics TFT screen with direct access to up to 52 output signals. It's also designed to fit into smaller control rooms and OB vehicles. Vista 8 has been sold to Primevision in Denmark for TV/HDTV live broadcasting and production.

Featured at the AEQ stand was the BC 2000 D router. Promoted as something “more than an audio switching router,” it allows centralized or decentralized audio management, the link and communications to all studios, and up to 2048×2048 channels with no limitation of simultaneous connections. The router features a decentralized system linked by MADI connections between all the sub-racks. It handles digital, analog, and even microphone inputs and outputs, as well as non-audio signals such as Dolby E and MPEG.

Working networks

For some time, broadcasters have been using a combination of satellite and fiber-optic links as cost-effective network operations. Why pay for transponder time when less expensive fiber links are available for content contribution?

Now Intelsat has packaged the idea into a new service introduced at NAB. It marked the launch of Intelsat's North American video fiber network, enabled by Level 3 Communications. The service offers broadcasters worldwide an opportunity to transmit video to, from and within North America.

Called Terrestrial Media Transport (TMT), the network is the North American extension of Intelsat's GlobalConnex suite of services using a worldwide hybrid terrestrial and satellite infrastructure. It's specifically designed to handle both SD and HD digital video transmissions for news and sports distribution, contribution and syndication. NASCAR, for example, is using the TMT network for its international distribution. The scalable, fiber-based network features multiple format support, added security in co-location facilities and end-to-end monitoring.

Scientific-Atlanta highlighted a number of networking solutions, including a couple of HD products. Heading the list was the PowerVu D9850 program receiver (Release 3) designed for cable headends to shift analog distribution to digital transmission. It features 10Mb/s (standard) and 50Mb/s IP (optional) data output with Ethernet port, as well as SDI output with embedded audio. The D9850 enables DVB/Imitext subtitling and supports AES-3id audio.

Also announced for later this year was the PowerVu D9050 HDTV encoder for programmers, broadcasters and telcos worldwide to distribute HD content. This encoder offers the flexibility of either bandwidth-efficient compression for HD streams or SD programming within the same multiplex. The new Explorer 8000HD high-definition video recorder (DVR) is Scientific-Atlanta's first set-top to deliver a dual-tuner DVR and HDTV video with digital surround sound in the same box.

TANDBERG Television launched a high-definition version of its Intelligent Compression Engine (ICE) platform. Essentially, it was a demonstration of 1080i and 720p HD video encoded alternatively with MPEG-2, MPEG-4 AVC and Windows Media 9 Series. The ICE video and audio compression platform is a pathway for implementing Windows Media 9 Series Advanced Profile and MPEG-4 part 10 (H.254/AVC) technologies. The HD version ICE cards are included in the SD encoders, EN5930 (MPEG-4) and EN5920 (Windows Media 9).