Everyone in the business knows the NAB Show can be a sensory overload, like touring the Louvre in an hour on a Segway. Given a little time and distance, however, the show always reveals big picture trends and shifts in the industry.
One given is that the companies exhibiting on the show floor have to respond to the demands of broadcasters. The radical shift therein is that those demands, once quite stable in the world of analog technology, will never achieve that sort of stasis in the digital realm.
Dedicated hardware is giving way to software, which keeps encompassing more functions. Tape is giving way to various file types that have to be transcoded and managed by disparate equipment. Manual control is giving way to automation in a way that requires greater and greater complexity, monitoring and flexibility.
The bottom line is that broadcasting will no longer support single-product businesses, but rather those that fulfill a given, evolving function, in conjunction with market dynamics.
DIALING FOR DOLLARS
One of the more prevalent trends in the broadcast business today is the effort to save money. Capitol markets are tight; as tight as many industry veterans have ever seen them.
“And it happened in nine months,” said one long-time station group executive. “Before that, there were people throwing money at you.”
Sara Foss, recently named chief of VCI Solutions in Springfield, Mass., uses a twofold query in responding to the broadcast market: “Where is the new money, and how to manage the infrastructure to save costs.”
VCI makes software for traffic, scheduling, and billing, functions increasingly being integrated into the digital workflow of TV stations as new forms of distribution are developed.
“Customers want a holistic multiplatform buy, with metrics included,” Foss said. “This technology used to equate dollars. Now it“s additional inventory on new platforms.”
Ross Video of Ottawa responded to the market with OverDrive, an automated production control system that handles character generation, camera robotics, audio mixers, video servers, routers, still stores, and other devices.
Panasonic slashed the cost of HD acquisition with its new $2,500 HD camcorder, the AG-HMC70. The model was developed to target the church and institutional sector.
“This is where I think HDV had their stronghold, and [AVCHD] is our technology that we feel has significant advantages over HDV,” said Robert Harris, vice president of marketing for Panasonic Broadcast, a division of the North American branch of Matsushita. “HDV is tape-based versus AVCHD, which is solid state. It works just like a digital camera. Everybody understands that because they have digital still cameras.”
While the AG-HMC70 wasn“t designed for ENG, observers agree that it would make a viable choice for small-market stations that want to do hi-def capture in the field.
Other companies are focusing directly on hi-def for the field, as more and more stations launch local news in HD.
JVC considered cost savings by ponying up an ENG workflow that doesn“t require conversion. The company“s new GY-HD250U camera compresses to 20 Mbps, enabling FireWire transmission to a laptop or even direct transmission to air. Wayne, N.J.-based JVC also added QuickTime formatting to its line so footage could be directly accessed through Final Cut Pro.
“It can be edited natively without converting,” said JVC Marketing Vice President Dave Walton. “Apple Final Cut is not frequently considered for news, but young people are cutting their teeth on Apple.”
JVC also rolled out solid-state capture cards similar to those in still digital cameras, to capitalize on form familiarity, and the cost comparability to Betacam SP videotape.
In Park Ridge, N.J., Sony“s Electronics division continues to expand its extensive camera line to meet the growing and diversified demand for HD acquisition, including the HDV format. The company rolled out a 1080p HDV model with an interchangeable lens, the HVR-Z7U, priced on several Web sites at around $3,100. Sony also expanded its solid-state line with the new $13,000 (MSRP), 1080i/720p switchable PMW-EX3, and a player/recorder, the PMW-EX30.
The migration to HD news is a primary driver in the development of lenses at Canon U.S.A. in Lake Success, N.Y. The company“s autofocus HD studio lens takes care of the pesky depth-of-field issue with hi-def cameras. Canon“s Gordon Tubbs said HD has about half the depth of field as SD.
“You can see the difference on the air,” he said. “The news anchor can roll out of focus if they move in their chair.”
The finance factor also affected lens development, particularly when decent HD cameras can be had in the $2,500 range. Price drove Canon to redesign a lens line, Tubbs said, but optics remain pricey. Gear retailer B&H shows one of the new low-cost Canon HDgc 2/3-inch lenses at $6,900. It“s still a far cry from the company“s e-HDxs line, which runs from around $20,000 to $34,000 at B&H.
French lens maker AngÃ©nieux also answered the call for lower-cost HD ENG lenses with a 19× priced at less than $10,000.
Similar dynamics are in play at Fujinon, the Addison, Texas, division of the Fujifilm Group. This year“s was Dave Waddell 26th NAB Show with Fujinon. The expansion of HD local news from studio to the field is creating demand for hi-def ENG lenses that are “priced about 35 percent less than higher-end lenses,” Waddell said.
“3-D is another development,” he said. “We designed lenses for James Cameron“s and Vince Pace“s 3-D camera.”
SPEAKING OF STEROSCOPY
3-D got big play at NAB this year as “the next big thing,” even though mobile broadcasting isn“t yet off the ground. 3-D for TV may or may not be a ways off, but Bruce Long is evangelistic about it. Long came to Iconix in Santa Barbara, Calif., out of the film industry because of his enthusiasm for the company“s little tiny HD cams. Long, previously chief of National Lampoon Productions, noted that 3-D movies open at a ratio of six to seven times higher than old-fashioned 2-D films. Iconix placed its R&D into 3-D with the Studio2K, designed for movie and broadcast 3-D capture.
Weather graphics represents another primary area where 3-D is showing up. Baron Services of Huntsville, Ala., demoed a new renderless hi-def 3-D weather package dubbed “Omni.”
MUX TIMES TWO
Two forms of multiplicity also are driving development in the industry--multiplexing within cannel capacity, and multiplatform distribution.
Muxing is a driver at SeaChange. The Acton, Mass., video-on-demand specialist is focusing its broadcast offering on multichannel play-to-air as the digital transition end date closes in.
Harris is front and center on the mobile broadcast initiative with a new exciter, the Apex 2MX, designed specifically to allow stations to quickly launch mobile TV service.
“Eight-hundred of our customers desperately want to get into it next year,” said Tim Thorsteinson, president of the Melbourne, Fla., company“s broadcast division.
The growth in platform types means more transcoding, assuring continued development at Rhozet, a division of Harmonic located in Sunnyvale, Calif.
“There is no broadcaster just broadcasting anymore,” said David Trescot, vice president of Rhozet.
That very phenomenon impelled the launch of AmberFin, the new division created by Snell & Wilcox of Basingstoke, England. to market and manage the company“s content repurposing software. AmberFin also reflects another development that emerged at NAB--that of businesses moving into new areas, particularly service provision.
The broadcast industry is searching for its future business model, and so are the companies that supply it. To that end, Chyron made a definitive move into the service sector. The Melville, N.Y., company has traditionally resembled the majority of businesses serving the broadcast industry in that they focused on a product with a specific function.
With its acquisition of Axis Graphics, a Web-based graphics creation service, Chyron“s provision now encompasses that function.
“It puts Chyron into broadband graphics and newspapers,” said David Ward, vice president and general manager of the Europe/Africa/Middle Eastern division.
Sunnyvale, Calif., server maker Omneon made a move toward service provision, if not jumping directly into it, with its acquisition of Castify, a French software concern. Omneon“s resulting ProCast products perform global file transport more efficiently than traditional methods. The move represents Omneon“s continued migration beyond static storage into content management.
Another continuing trend in the broadcast business is reflected in the growth of routing capacity.
“In 1990, we figured the sweet spot was 64,” said Tom Harmon, president and CEO of Utah Scientific. Now, he said, “every device has HD and SD outputs. We have an 1,152×1,152 in Washington, D.C. with Verizon.”
Not all that long ago, 1,152 was a ridiculously huge number of I/Os. No more. Jay Kuca of Nvision also shared some thoughts on the mad growth of router capacity.
“Multicasting is one driver,” he said, “and a lot of things that used to be hard-wired are now routed. Monitor walls are a big driver. A couple of years ago, 1,000×1,000 seemed insane. Now, we get a couple of inquiries a month for larger matrices.”
Higher resolution in the form of 1080p is another consideration for Nvision, which is why the company is leaning big on 3 Gbps routing. Nvision President Chuck Meyer weighed in on this point.
“Maybe you can“t know today you“re going to do 1080p throughout the facility... but we“re certainly seeing islands,” he said.
Broadcast International of Salt Lake City developer of CodecSys, uses a reductionist approach to increasing plant capacity. CodecSys uses multiple settings of H.264 for compression, matching the best application to a given scene or even a single frame and switching between them on the fly. The patented codec technology does in 3 Mbps what H.264 does in eight to 10 Mbps, according to Robert Chipman, vice president of sales and marketing for BI.
Chipman said an MPEG-2 version of CodecSys is in development, and is planned for introduction toward the end of the year.
IntraCom is addressing capacity from yet another direction--the ubiquity of the Internet. The Northridge, Calif., company introduced an intercom system that allows matrix capability via broadband, meaning a browser-enabled cell phone becomes an intercom device.
“It means you can set up an Intercom with anyone who has Web access,” said Television Broadcast’s engineering consultant. “So if you have someone shooting in Antarctica, you can talk to them as if they“re in the studio.”
IN THE REAR VIEW
There was more to be taken away from the show in Las Vegas--the large international contingent taking advantage of the weak dollar; the skepticism and excitement about mobile broadcasting; the impending end of the analog era and the pointed keynote from actor Tim Robbins, chiding broadcasters about news content.
It was nearly enough to bury one of the better moments of the show, when veteran broadcaster Charles Osgood, accepted the NAB“s Distinguished Service Award. “For 40 years, the alarm clock has gone off at 2:30 a.m.” so The Osgood Files can be written for their morning radio broadcast. “My first reaction still is, “there must be a terrible mistake.”
He likened it to receiving the Distinguished Service Award, and then proceeded to deliver an ode to broadcasting in the form of Seussian verse.
Even from a Segway, the Mona Lisa would be memorable.