NAB2007: Why Bother?

Next month, more than 100,000 people will converge on the Las Vegas Convention Center to attend the 2007 convention of the National Association of Broadcasters. Why? The NAB show is certainly the world’s largest exhibition of professional audio, video and broadcast technologies. In recent years, it has also moved to
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Next month, more than 100,000 people will converge on the Las Vegas Convention Center to attend the 2007 convention of the National Association of Broadcasters. Why?

The NAB show is certainly the world’s largest exhibition of professional audio, video and broadcast technologies. In recent years, it has also moved toward videoconferencing, the Internet and the like. Of course, those products suggest one reason to question a trip to NAB.

Given the number of exhibitors announced at the time of this writing, spending every possible moment on the show floor, taking no time off for meals or other bodily functions, and moving between exhibits at the speed of light, an NAB2007 visitor would have about a minute and a third to devote to each manufacturer’s exhibit. That’s if any conference sessions during exhibition hours are skipped, too.

Meanwhile, those videoconferencing and Internet exhibitors present a picture of a world in which electronic communication eliminates a need to travel. Perhaps they’re right. Sony showed HD videoconferencing last year; other exhibitors have shown ways of integrating technical session graphics into streaming media.

Admittedly, there are a few products for which an in-person analysis might be worthwhile. Consider cameras, lenses, lights, microphones, mounts and those signal processors that affect image or sound quality. Unfortunately, the NAB environment is not very conducive to their evaluation.

It is said that the metal walls of the convention center impede indoor ATSC reception. The pure sound quality of a microphone will be difficult to ascertain amid the hubbub on the exhibit floor.

At many camera exhibits, you might be lucky to get within 10 bodies of a product of interest, you’ll be straining to see an overhead monitor and you’ll be looking at a well-lit set instead of a half-in-shadow football field. And that’s for the cameras being shown; many of those of interest are in invitation-only back rooms. Last year, that included Panasonic’s AJ-HPX2000 and what Sony eventually named the F23.

This year, Panasonic’s AK-HC3500 camera, with 2.2-megapixel imagers and a diagonal half-pixel offset, sounds intriguing. But will it be on the show floor or hidden away where most visitors can’t see it?

At previous NAB shows, lens manufacturers offered charts of modulation-transfer functions for different colors. In the age of HDTV, when such charts would be most useful, they’re no longer distributed.

Instead, a visitor can look at a lens on a camera shooting a lit set at one exhibit, try to keep it in mind while traversing the show floor, and then compare it mentally with a lens on a different camera shooting a different set with different lighting at another exhibit.

Then there are the boxes: routing switchers, distribution amplifiers, multiplexers, modems, graphics generators, disk drives and the like. Perhaps it would be nice to see a back panel’s connectors. That might not be possible in the crowded world of the NAB show floor, but a photo or diagram is usually available on the Internet. The same is true for dimensions, weight and functionality.

Is a personal visit really necessary to evaluate a digital rights management system? If a manufacturer claims a high reliability rate for a server, is that something one can ascertain at an NAB show?

The Harris ATSC-mobile system referred to as Project Eagle also seems intriguing. According to the company, after a small loss of bit rate simply for using the system, it will offer twice the robust transmission capacity of the A-VSB technique shown by Rohde & Schwarz and Samsung at NAB2006. That is, A-VSB was discussed at NAB2006—its mobile reception capability was first publicly demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year.

CES is another big event. There are smaller ones: the annual SMPTE convention and the SMPTE winter conference, DVExpo, GVExpo, InfoComm, the Hollywood Post Alliance Technology Retreat, etc. Each is of a size allowing visitors more access to equipment and more time for questions and networking. Unfortunately, with restricted travel budgets, some organizations choose to send personnel to only one event each year.

The NAB convention might seem like your best bet, because everything and everyone is there. However, because it is so big, it’s a tough place to extract useful information.

Why not consider skipping the Big One this year? Don’t worry, you’ll see reports of highlights here and in other media. Plus, then there’ll be more room for the rest of us.

Mark Schubin is an engineering consultant with a diverse range of clients, from the Metropolitan Opera to Sesame Workshop.