5Qs About NAB 2016: James E. O'Neal

LAS VEGAS—TV Technology asked a cross-section of NAB Show-goers a series of five questions regarding what they considered the main themes, evidence of those, whether or not these initiatives will take hold, and what promising technologies from past NAB Shows did not see daylight. (A complete list of quotes from respondents and links to their full 5Qs is at “NAB 2016 in 21 Quotes.”)

James E. O’Neal, retired television engineer and historian:
Q1.How many NAB Shows have you attended?
J.O. First one was in 1977. I haven’t attended every show since then, but have been at the majority of them since. I know the count goes well in excess of 30.

Q2.What, in your opinion, were the main themes of the show this year?
J.O. I though the big pushes were ATSC 3.0, UHD, and VR. I can’t really ignore the spectrum auction and repack—there were certainly a lot of sessions and interested persons—but right now, nothing is set in concrete and I’m more focused on the technology end of TV anyway. (I’m neither a station owner nor broadband wireless player and don’t really have a dog in that fight.)

Q3.What were some examples of these themes?
J.O. A whole day of ATSC 3.0-themed presentations on Saturday, the ATSC 3.0 “park” in South Upper, ATSC 3.0 posters, etc. As for UHD, 4K and even 8K technology scattered all through the halls. No one talks about “regular HD” anymore; it gets about as much attention as 3DTV. As for VR and its cousin AR, it seems like a lot of exhibitors were ready with the goggles and headphones to let show-goers experience this new sensation. 

Q4.Do you foresee any or all of these technologies or initiatives taking hold?
J.O. I think they’re all going to hit within the next few years. ATSC 3.0 is very much on track to roll out, with two very successful “Plug Fest” compatibility trials completed and hardware manufacturers getting serious about designs. The commitment of Korean broadcasters to telecast the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in 4K and the appearance of 4K receivers in big box stores during the past couple of years (with no over-the-air content available yet) speaks volumes about the global appearance of UHD broadcasting sooner rather than later, regardless of whether it’s delivered by ATSC 3.0 or DVB. I’m not a big VR/AR fan, but I know there are a lot of them out there and the technology is going to keep growing. Equipment and content producers will have to be ready.

Q5.What technology that impressed you most at a past show didn’t see the light of day?
J.O. This is a tough one, as I’ve been to so many shows and they tend to run together over time. Most of the technologies that I thought were really cutting edge when I first saw them have become part of the business now. I’m thinking of the first time I saw a real color “minicam,” a frame synchronizer, the first SC/H-ed sync generator, a cartridge loading VTR, really high-quality “chip” cameras, the video file server, SDI, high-power solid-state TV transmitters, the recording of video on solid-state media, HDTV, “lights-out” station automation, satellite, non-linear editing, LED lighting, bonded cellular video transmission, and a lot of other stuff that was really high-tech at the time of its rollout at NAB Shows of the past.
Some of it seemed almost science fiction at the time, but all of these things eventually became and/or have become part of the TV landscape. I suppose the biggest flop that I witnessed, at least in recent years, was 3DTV. While I did see some good demos at past shows, I was never really a big fan and haven’t shed any tears over its demise.