This year’s NAB Show was all about the content. Signs inside the Las Vegas Convention Center and out touted the importance of content acquisition and distribution. And no matter what aisle you walked, vendors were ready to sell everything a broadcaster needs to acquire and manage content for high-definition.
For local stations, acquiring HD content is critical to survival in the coming years. So it was no wonder that this year’s trade show provided a broad range of new tools specially designed for dealing with HD field acquisition for news and production.
In the past year, many more stations have realized that HD content from the field is necessary to complement new HDTV sets. Although viewers in many cities are watching local newscasts that consist of high quality 16:9 formatted sets and graphics, they are then subjected to lower-quality 4:3 standard-definition images from the field. The end result is a less than consistent display of 16:9 set shots and pillar boxed 4:3 scenes from field remotes for HD viewers.
Stations have made their transition to HD rather slowly, due to the prohibitive costs associated with a complete field-to-transmitter upgrade that is needed to carry HD signals. Many broadcasters have chosen to use their news sets and studio cameras as the starting point for transitioning to HD because it provided a more economical means to view the majority of the news in HD. Acquiring HD images from the field requires new cameras, lenses, microwave gear, and in most cases new editing systems with a file based workflow. This has been an investment and a commitment that many broadcasters have held off on making as they waited for a more mature and less costly line of HD ENG gear to hit the market.
(click thumbnail)Sony DNW-700 XDCAMAFFORDABLE HD
Vendors at the NAB Show highlighted the new and more affordable technologies that will provide viable options for stations looking to complete their HD field and production chains. These products ranged from new HD cameras and lenses to the microwave platforms needed to transmit the media assets back to the station.
For many stations looking to begin HD field acquisition, the ENG camera is the starting point, and in some cases it can be the most expensive investment. Then there are the HD lenses needed to maximize the resolution of a camera’s images. Many stations have between five and 20 cameras, which along with new lenses can cost hundreds of thousands, if not a million dollars to replace.
For those stations in the market for new cameras, Sony, Ikegami, Thomson and Panasonic all demonstrated their newest HD equipment with Canon and Fujinon providing matching new lens options.
Sony debuted its much-anticipated 2/3-inch XDCAM—the DNW-700—that provides the image quality of its popular HDCAM with its new disk-based format. Sony also showcased its smaller PMW-EX1 and EX3 cameras for stations looking for a lower-cost alternative with high-quality images in an entry-level professional HD camera.
(click thumbnail)Ikegami HDS-V10 GFCamAt the Panasonic booth, the vendor displayed its HD version of the Flash memory-based P2 camera system, the AJ-HPX3000, which is capable of recording in DVCPRO HD50 as well as AVC-Intra frame formats. Not to be left out in the cold, Ikegami offered a third recording media format with its Flash memory-based GFCam, the HDS-V10. This MPEG-2-based system uses a GFPAK cartridge system that comes in 16, 32 and 64 GB sizes.
“The camera will compete at a price point about five thousand times less than the Sony XDCAM with delivery planned for the fall,” said Rich Shultz, Ikegami’s Midwests and Canadaian regional sales manager.
All three brand-name cameras offer excellent images and are loaded with features. The biggest difference is their recording media; each offers different benefits, workflow options, and cost differentials. This will require the purchasers to make both file and media format decisions that will directly affect operating costs and the cost of the equipment needed to complete their stations’ workflow.
The Sony XDCAM disk-based option has more moving parts that could fail, but it provides a lower cost per unit and a form of media that can be archived. The Ikegami GFPAKs offer fewer moving parts but a higher cost per media. Thomson debuted expanded recording capacity for its Grass Valley Infinity system at the show, with a new version of its preferred media, the REV PRO Digital Media Drive. And while flash-based memory costs have come down year after year, Panasonic’s solid-state memory cards are the highest cost per unit, but are probably the most durable and longest lasting.
Dennis Dillon, a well-known director of photography at the network level, was at the Sony booth touting his personal experience with the new XDCAM he had just used to shoot the Pennsylvania primary. “The back end of this camera is why I am going with it,” he said. “It is low maintenance and the disk offers flexibility and an immediately archivable media format.”
To complement the high-resolution capabilities and 2/3-inch chip sets in all of the new cameras, lens manufacturers Canon and Fujinon displayed their new HD offerings mounted on each vendor’s camera. Though standard 2/3-inch lenses will mount and work on the new cameras, the lens manufacturers recommend against it. To demonstrate their point they each created high color and high contrast demonstration displays highlighting the benefits of a lens capable of providing a high-definition image to the entire surface area of the imaging chipset.
Brightness and contrast also played a big role as a feature in ENG monitors. Marshall demonstrated its new ENG-targeted Sunbright series LCD units designed specifically for outdoor use.
“With our anti-reflective screen coating and a choice of 4-pin XLR or IDX power, these monitors have more flexibility and performance than any of the old CRT field monitors.”
Ground-based ENG camera vendors were not the only ones showcasing new HD options. The helicopter-mounted camera systems from both FSI and Axys featured Sony HDC-1500-based systems with high-magnification lens choices from Fujinon and Thales Angenieux. The aerial-based camera platform is one of the most dramatic ways of highlighting HD coverage. Whether it’s capturing a sunset or the face of a stranded hiker, HD images can make an already unique visual perspective even more exiting.
Electronic newsgathering wouldn’t be complete without vehicles that are capable of managing high-definition signals and transmitting them back to their stations. Regardless of camera type and acquisition media, the trucks being built by Wolf Coach, TEC, and Frontline all offer infrastructure capable of handling HD signals up to 1080p. Flexibility is key in the new truck designs, with IO panels offering connectivity for sources ranging from analog and SDI to HDMI. Inside the vehicles, vendors like Wolf Coach are using Evertz’s new HD2020 Passport for up/down/ cross-conversion.
“We are putting these feature-rich, one-unit- does-it-all boxes in our trucks to enable all signals entering the vehicle to leave in HD, no matter what the source,” said Tom Jennings, director of broadcast sales for Wolf Coach.
The final link in the ENG chain is the capability of transmitting an HD signal back from the field. Whether ground or helicopter based, new COFDM microwave systems are providing options on the new BAS spectrum. Companies like MRC, RF Central, BMS and Nucomm are not only providing these critical truck to station links, but they also have developed short range wireless HD systems for camera to truck transmission. With these new systems it is now possible to create a completely wireless HD link from the camera to the station.
For stations looking to close the loop in their content production chain with full HD images and signals from the field, there is now a complete range of solutions providing flexibility in format, acquisition media, and price range. There is no silver bullet that will solve all the issues of HD ENG acquisition, but this year more than ever before, buyers had a chance to see examples and demonstrations of the many elements needed to build a robust HD ENG system.