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Broadcast equipment vendors weathering slow recovery

Broadcast equipment vendors continue to navigate the challenging waters of the economic environment with new and existing technology to help broadcasters improve efficiency, create new revenue streams and reduce the costs of operations. The latter seemed utmost on everyone’s minds at last week’s HD World conference in New York City.

Many of those companies exhibiting products and systems (Grass Valley and Panasonic were absent) reported that sales were increasing slowly as broadcasters that held off spending are now getting the capital they need to proceed with the migration to full HD production on all levels. This includes the move to 1080p broadcasting and, as BSkyB and DIRECTV have announced, new 24/7 3-D channels to launch early next year.

The HD World show itself has shaped up to be a relatively small but vibrant gathering event for New York area broadcasters, where all of the major networks are headquartered. Many production employees were in attendance — at the technical sessions as well as to see new technology — as were representatives from major station groups and single stations from across the East Coast.

On the exhibit floor, there were many signs of product advancement, albeit evolutionary in nature, which showed that despite sluggish sales, manufactures are moving forward with their technology and building what customers need to meet budgetary limitations.

Ikegami showed a 2/3in CMOS 1080p/60 camera (model HDK 79EC) with a new high-speed option and new WiFi connectivity software for its GFCam camera to speed the logging process in the field. The HDK-79EC camera offers high-speed sensor readout of 1080/120i and 720/120p for super slow motion video capture, and high-speed readout of 1080/60p.

Perhaps showing that the company sees a brighter future for its broadcast cameras and other technology, Ikegami is building a new facility for camera R&D and manufacturing on its existing campus in Japan, which will be finished by the end of the year.

Utah Scientific showed a new master control board that fits into its 400 series router frames, to bring those two tasks under the control of a single operator. It’s a two-channel box that includes routing, logo and commercial insertion, EAS capability and more. The product is said to be ideal for webcasting channels and other types of hyperlocal services, although there are several station groups (including Max Media in Montana) that are using multiple 2RU boxes for HD centralcasting of several over-the-air channels simultaneously with success.

Speaking of hyperlocal, Snell exhibited its Mozart system, which ties its Kahuna switcher, an audio board and other peripherals together with special control software (developed by Mozart Medialab, in Norway) to allow a single operator to run an entire newscast. Snell has sold a few to stations in Europe, but none so far in the United States. (Sinclair Broadcast Group, which has purchased several Kahuna switchers for its stations is said to be in negotiations to set up a system in a major southern market.) Snell is pitching the Mozart newscast automation system as an as ideal tool for digital subchannels that can include hyperlocal content not found on the main TV channel.

Since the announced merger of Pro-Bel and Snell in March, the combining of product lines is evolving, although at a slow pace, with many of the modular products from Snell existing iQ inventory now under the control of Pro-Bel routing switchers. More integration, and some product elimination, is due next year.

Sony continues on its course of offering both optical disc (XDCAM) and solid-state (EX/SxS) production systems, and at HD World it showed an existing PDWHR1 XCDAM deck with a new removable flash media option that holds two SxS cards. The new solid-state option is — due for official introduction at NAB 2010 — ideal for stations that have XDCAM cameras and are adding affordable EX3 cameras for additional videographers in the field. Of note, material on SxS cards can be read and transferred to an editing system at a much faster transfer rate than optical disc.

Making its North American debut, Harris showed its new X50 frame synchronizer/converter, a single-channel, 1RU frame designed for small stations and mobile production trucks as well as for production studios and networks. It features up-, down- and crossconversion, eight analog and four AES inputs and outputs, and 16 channels of embedded audio processing. Standard features include color correction, closed-caption/teletext capabilities, control and monitoring via a built-in Web server, support for Active Format Description and two fully controllable aspect ratio converters.

The X50 supports SD and HD formats‚ including optional 3Gb/s 1080p Level A and Level B processing for hybrid television and production systems. It can be used to process analog and digital baseband video and audio. Fiber input and output is available as a plug-in option.

TANDBERG Television presented a demonstration of its new CE-XH42 MPEG-4 encoder that allows users of contribution-level content to send high-quality 4:2:2 material in less bandwidth than that required of MPEG-2. The company’s RX8200 decoder sits at the receive end.

The demo showed a side-by-side comparison of 1080i material “transmitted” as an MPEG-2 stream at 60Mb/s next to an MPEG-4 stream at 40Mb/s, and the quality was virtually identical. A company rep said the box can support three 1080i HD channels at 20Mb/s each. Saving bandwidth means less transmission costs, and there’s no apparent compromise in quality. Broadcasters need for these high-quality links between live events and the studio or from studio to studio. NBC will use dozen of the new encoders for the upcoming Winter Olympics from Canada this February, although at 4:2:0 processing.

Along with its ProHD camera lineup that has sold well to midmarket stations across the country, (although the economy has slowed things down a bit), JVC showed a new 42in 3-D monitor it said can be used in post production for editing and stereoscopic processing preview, using low-cost glasses for viewing. The monitor will also be available to consumers this Christmas season.

The one product category seeing a steady increase in business throughout the downturn is fiber-optic cabling that can handle full 3Gb/s signals. Companies like MultiDyne and Telecast Fiber Systems both reported brisk sales, in light of the desire among some customers to produce HD events in the bandwidth-hungry 1080p/60 format and for 3-D TV telecasts.