What's Not At NAB2002 (And Never Will Be)

As I write this, tens of thousands of broadcast and teleproduction professionals are preparing for the annual exodus to Las Vegas. At NAB, those professionals will search for answers to their problems. Those answers will take the form of equipment and technology. Unfortunately, the majority of those attending NAB believe that equipment and technology are their holy grail. They're not.

Equipment and technology will tell you if something is wrong. Sometimes, whatever is wrong can be corrected for you automatically. Here are two examples:
Dolby will be showing its new LM100 loudness meter to help address the problem of loudness inconsistencies between channels and programs. This new analysis tool provides a broadcast-friendly solution for measuring the loudness of content, and enables broadcasters to eradicate the subjective loudness differences in their television audio. The LM100 is capable of accepting PCM, Dolby Digital (AC-3), Dolby E, analog, and combined RF cable television signals. It lets you know if you have a loudness inconsistency problem so you can fix it.

Tektronix will be showing its AVDC100 audio-to-video delay corrector to solve the problem of monitoring lip-sync errors in MPEG-based infrastructures caused by encoding and decoding processes. The technology is based on patented Tektronix digital video watermarking technology and can automatically correct lip-sync errors as they occur in realtime. The AVDC100 not only lets you know that you have a lip-sync problem, but can also automatically correct it for you.

What these products from Dolby and Tektronix have in common (in addition to the fact that they help solve audio-related problems), is that their users share one common trait: They care. Quality control (or as some call it, "quality of service") only works if someone cares. If the apparent loudness of your commercials is noticeably higher than your program, you have a problemÑbut only if someone cares. If you've got a two-frame lip-sync offsetÑit's only a problem if somebody cares.

Why We (Don't) Care

Typically, we only care when two things happen, someone complains or revenue is impacted. Editors (the video and film type, not the magazine type) probably care more than any other person in the production chain. Editors care so much that they know problems exist within their programs, but leave them in because those problems solve other bigger problems. They also know that the odds are in their favor that no one (including a great many producers and directors) will ever notice their purposely-created problems. Why do editors care so much? Because editing is a craft.

Television, however, is a business. While the technology and equipment exist to solve a multitude of problems, someone has to care enough to purchase and use the equipment before someone complains or revenue is impacted. Saying that you can live with a problem is just another way of saying that no one is complaining and revenue will be fine. It's a cop-out. Saying that the problem is too complex is a cop-out too, especially when solutions exist to automatically correct certain problems.

Let's be honest -- most complaints don't really matter either. I'll bet that if you've had one call from a viewer complaining about loudness or lip-sync, that you've had many. You just didn't care. What makes you care? One single call from an advertiser. But by then--it's usually too late.n Jonathan Bellows is a contributing editor for DigitalTV.

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Dolby Laboratories

National Association of Broadcasters