CES: DTV Status Report
Similar to last year, digital displays, such as DLP, LCD, and plasma, were top news at CES 2004. The growth in DTV product sales in 2003 was even greater than the CEA expected. With total sales to dealers of more than four million units, a 56% increase according to the CEA, DTV products are going full force.
While last year a handful of cable companies were experimenting with HDTV and people were still debating over whether cable would carry HDTV at all, this year more than 70 million U.S. households (according to the NCTA) have access to cable HDTV. One of the biggest problems facing cable HDTV viewers has been the lack of a cable-ready standard. The recent FCC agreement with cable companies regarding a standard one-way cable HDTV delivery system (called CableCard) has given CE companies the ability to make true HDTV cable-ready products.
Also, recent FCC regulations requiring DTV manufacturers to include ATSC tuners in at least 50% of all digital sets over 36 inches by July have had an effect on the new product lines announced this year. Many manufacturers are adding more than just ATSC tuners to make up the price difference in their integrated DTV sets. Companies such as Sharp, Thomson, and Panasonic announced high-end DLP, plasma, and LCD DTV displays with ATSC tuners. To make these displays fully HDTV ready, these companies are also including CableCard slots, DVI, or HDMI inputs, and, sometimes, IEEE1394 (also known as FireWire and iLink) connectivity.
Thomson, maker of the RCA Scenium line of DTV products, displayed a new line of very thin DLP rear projection displays. These sets, besides being less than 6 inches thick and wall-mountable, were equipped with ATSC tuners, CableCard slots, and FireWire. The FireWire connection allows it to interact with a new DTV recorder from RCA to be able to record and playback the DTV signal directly. With new integrated sets and matching DTV products like these, the average consumer can easily watch and record HDTV from cable or over the air without having to worry about set-top boxes.
RTNDA: Spectrum Rules Bad
The Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) says a revised spectrum relocation plan adopted by the FCC would make it harder, more expensive, and sometimes impossible for news organizations to conduct electronic newsgathering.
In comments filed last month with the FCC to support a request for reconsideration prepared by the Association for Maximum Service Television and the NAB, RTNDA says the FCC’s revised plan for relocating broadcast users of spectrum at 2GHz to make room for mobile satellite services would undermine the quality and viability of local news in most markets.
Broadcasters outside the top 30 markets, particularly those in markets 31-100, have as great a commitment to local news as do stations in larger markets, said the RTNDA. “The revised relocation plan would make it impossible for those stations to sustain quality local news reporting, particularly coverage of breaking news and emergency situations,” said the organization in a recent press statement.
RTNDA points out that the revised relocation plan forces small- and mid-market broadcasters to shoulder the exorbitant costs of relocation—costs the FCC traditionally says new users of spectrum should bear. “Requiring these broadcasters, whose budgets are already stretched thin, to incur the significant additional expense of replacing ENG equipment to accommodate the new relocation plan will inevitably result in cutbacks that impact negatively on the quality and local nature of news broadcasts.” This comes at a time when broadcasters are already facing fiscal challenges created by the transition to DTV.
SAIC To Sell Eagle Non-Line-Of-Sight Sat Phones
Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC, www.saic.com) will now sell Eagle’s (www.eaglebroadband.com) Orb’ Phone Exchange satellite communications platform.
While using Globalstar and Iridium, Eagle’s Orb’ Phone Exchange technology delivers voice and data services to non-line-of-sight operating environments, such as within buildings, aircraft, ships, dense metropolitan areas, and remote/underground locations.
The agreement grants SAIC non-exclusive distribution rights for the Orb’ Phone Exchange in both domestic and international markets and establishes a framework for marketing and selling, solution bundling, product enhancements, and business development.
WMFE Taps PCS
WMFE, the PBS member station in Orlando, has selected Professional Communications Systems (PCS) to design, supply equipment for, and install a seven-channel SD/HD master control and digital infrastructure system. The contract between the two companies is valued at $3.2 million.
The six-SD-channel, one-HD-channel master control system will be supported by a wideband digital routing system for video and AES audio. A file server and archiving system will be used for storage and playback of program material, and software will allow content management and low-resolution browsing and playback. The entire system will be under automation control.
AFA Builds “Wealth”
A.F. Associates (AFA) has been contracted by Herring Broadcasting to design and build facilities to produce and originate “Wealth TV,” an HD network scheduled to launch in the summer of 2004.
This is the first project utilizing the facility AFA bought in the January 1 acquisition of Sony’s Systems Integration Center in San Jose. Technical facilities will include HD studios, various post-production suites, digital content management, and network origination for the San Diego-based network. Major equipment will include Sony HDC930 cameras, a Sony MVS-8000 production switcher, Pinnacle servers, Harris automation, and Final Cut Pro editing systems.
Hughes Cuts 50 Jobs
Hughes Electronics, which was recently acquired by News Corp., has initiated an organizational restructuring at its corporate headquarters. The restructuring allows HUGHES to consolidate several functions that have been based at the company into its DIRECTV unit. As a result of the restructuring, approximately 50 positions have been eliminated at the HUGHES corporate office, while approximately 30 other positions have been relocated to DIRECTV.
“The decision to eliminate jobs is always a difficult one, and this organizational restructuring is no exception. I want to thank those departing employees for their contributions to HUGHES over the years and wish them well in the future,” said Chase Carey, president and CEO of HUGHES. “This restructuring supports our goal of achieving greater operational efficiencies and our vision of operating HUGHES with an entrepreneurial spirit and energy that will enable us to build on our successes and be the recognized leader in our respective businesses.”
Employees whose positions were eliminated received a severance package to assist them in transitioning to new employment.
FOX Delivers HD With Terayon
FOX, which last year announced its plans to deliver at least half of its primetime schedule in high definition for the fall TV season, has tapped Terayon’s BP 5100 broadcast platform to power its HD broadcast delivery system. Terayon is working with Thomson, FOX’s prime technology partner, in this effort. The Terayon BP 5100 enables the integration of high-quality HD programming at its affiliated stations, while at the same time allowing localized on-screen branding.
Terayon designed the BP 5100 to maintain the capability to achieve marketing and profitability goals through localized HD logo insertion, stream quality management and digital-to-digital splicing between local and network HD content. It enables broadcasters to implement such services without leaving the digital domain or requiring any additional decoding and encoding equipment at each affiliate site.
“Terayon has a long history of video innovations and the BP 5100, the latest evolution of our core technology, addresses unique needs in the broadcast market as networks move to HD,” said Jeff Barco, vice president and general manager, Terayon Digital Video Solutions. “Terayon’s expansion into the broadcast market represents the first of many new markets where our technology can be applied.”
“FOX has set an aggressive set of goals for its rollout of HD, including long-term economic sustainability, the highest possible picture and sound quality, and preservation of station bandwidth,” said Andrew G. Setos, president of engineering, FOX Group. “The partnership that we have formed with Thomson and Terayon is essential to realizing these goals.”
“We are very pleased to continue to deepen our relationship with News Corp. and support its innovative HD distribution model,” said Marc Valentin, president, Thomson Broadcast & Media Solutions. “We have worked with Terayon for many years and look forward to providing the FOX Broadcasting Company and its affiliates the best possible support and technology in this endeavor.”
The (HD) State Of The Union
If last month’s State of the Union address looked a bit sharper and crisper, it’s because it was shot in HD. The pool coverage, which was produced by ABC News, provided live feeds of the address in 720p, 1080i, and widescreen 480i DTV formats, as well as a standard NTSC feed.
Only two weeks out, ABC News learned that the pool rotation fell to them for the presidential address. ABC contacted National Mobile Television (NMT) to supply the feed. The companies soon learned that there was a problem: Back in the early 1990s, the Capitol was wired with then state-of-the-art triax. ABC News and NMT had to find an HD truck that could work with the House’s now-antiquated triax system.
New Century Productions’ NCP V HD was what was needed. In addition to triax compatibility, the NCP V HD is equipped with a Thomson XtenDD HD production switcher, PESA Cheetah 96 x 64 HD router and Tiger 124 x 124 SD router, five EVS HD maXS production servers, a Panasonic D5 HD VTR, two Panasonic DVCPRO HD VTRs, and a Grass Valley Profile server. The NCP V HD’s camera complement is equally impressive, with 16 Thomson LDK 6000 mk II Worldcam handheld multi-format HD cameras and a host of Canon lenses, as well as a Panasonic AJ-HDC27A DVCPROHD ENG camcorder.
If you noticed a drop-off in quality with the handheld wireless cameras, you’ve got good eyes. Due to the lack of HD RF gear, the handhelds were 16:9 standard definition.
For transmission, ABC uplinked 720p to Telstar 5 with CBS and NBC—taking the feed and converting it to their 1080i and 480i (NTSC) formats. Fox received a 480i feed over a 270Mbps terrestrial link.
—Michael Silbergleid and Government Video magazine.