Industry optimism evident at SMPTE meeting in New York

Although there were no actual figures available, last week’s Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers technical conference in New York City might well have been the best attended in years. The SMPTE seminars and technical papers were generally crowded (as was the afternoon luncheon) and nearly 50 companies displayed their technology to a steady, if light stream of inquisitive attendees.

Most companies agreed that the healthy attendance and behind-the-scenes sales activity was another sign of the improving industry economy and a willingness among broadcasters—mostly cable and satellite—to build out their infrastructures for HD distribution. Noticeably absent from the gathering was equipment displays from Panasonic and Thomson.

While there were exhibits of new production technology from Ross Video and Sony (which showed footage of its new XDCam gear), the most popular products at the 145th SMPTE Technical Conference and Exhibition appeared to be encoders and decoders, used to digitize material shot on tape for editing and playback, as well as digital signal backhaul for electronic newsgathering.

Companies displaying MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and Windows Media Series 9 encoding technology, such as Evertz, Masstech Group, Snell & Wilcox, TANDBERG TV, Teranex, and newcomer Modulus Video, all reported considerable interest and sales from satellite TV providers for the gear, that now offers real-time processing and multi-format I/O support.

Tektronix said it sold 200 of its MTM 400 MPEG transport stream monitors (in a deal worth $2 million) to direct broadcast provider Echostar for its DISH Network satellite facilities around the country. New for SMPTE, the MTM 400 now also monitors QAM signals used by cable TV operators.

“The real interest in HD is coming from outside the traditional broadcast industry,” said Bob Natwick, vice president of marketing from Modulus Video. The new Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup was founded in January by ex-Divicom personnel (among others). Modulus Video's new product, the AVE-SD, uses MPEG-4 AVC software coding and LSI chip technology in a standard-definition, real-time processing product that will be available by the spring. An HD version of the AVE-SD will follow later next year.

TANDBERG Television’s new ATSC and DVB compliant E5780 HD encoder efficiently manages bandwidth and is used for a new on-site transmission service started by the company that is helping ESPN HD and others get an HD signal back to their headquarters. .

TANDBERG TV demonstrated its new E5780 HD encoder and TT1280 receiver, which are now shipping, and a new HD distribution service that the company has initiated to help live event producers transmit HD signals. ESPN is using the service for all of its ESPN HD telecasts, employing a TANDBERG engineer and a rack of portable equipment to send signals back to Bristol, Conn. from each venue. A company representative said the new service is a great way for customers to try the equipment before making the investment to buy.

Immediately following a two-day asset management conference hosted by the Global Society of Asset Management (G-SAM) in the same venue, the topic of asset management was covered again in a variety of session papers and equipment demonstrations throughout the four-day engineering gathering. Also making a presence was remote signal monitoring and video server technology (from Leitch, Omneon Video Networks and SeaChange International).

OmniBus Systems demonstrated its G3 architecture of “task-specific” software applications that includes one module specifically dedicated to media asset management. John Wadle, its vice president of Technology, presented a well-received paper on the concept.

In the area of multichannel multi-view video and audio signal display, Evertz, Miranda Technologies and Wohler Technologies all showed new and enhanced monitoring software systems. Evertz demonstrated its MVP multi-image display. Though introduced at the NAB show last April, the system has been enhanced to include dual output display processing and SNMP support to enable remote monitoring of a video signal.

The PANORAMAdtv MON8-1 provides confidence monitoring of multiple signals in studios and control rooms in only 1 U of rack space.

PANORAMAdtv, the video division of Wohler Technologies, introduced a new LCD video monitoring product used for confidence supervision of multiple signals in studios and control rooms. The MON8-1 uses white LED backlights, which the company claims is a “highly significant technical breakthrough.”

The device contains eight 1.8" LCD screens, each one with a composite video input, a loop-through output, and termination switches-- all in 1 RU of rack space. The white LEDs have a lifespan of more than 100,000 hours, according to Wohler, compared to 25,000 hours for LCD monitors using fluorescent backlights internally.

Among a variety of wired and wireless intercom systems, Clear-Com Communication Systems showed its new CellCom digital wireless intercom that combines license-free digital transmission with a base station that interconnects with wired communications. Various configurations of user groups and single point-to-point users can be established within an area of up to 1,000 meters using a series of transceiver antennas.

The system is not yet available in the U.S. due to a lack of available frequency space above 2 GHz. A European version, operating in the 1.88-1.93 band Ghz, will be shipping by next March.

While it had to be better than the previous New York-based SMPTE conference that occurred two months after the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks, this year’s gathering of television engineers bodes well for the next NAB convention in April 2004.

“There’s an energy that hasn’t existed in the past two years,” said Lisa Hobbs, director of marketing at TANDBERG TV. “As an industry, manufacturers are always hoping for the best, but I can honestly say that things are looking up.”

Her sentiments were echoed by several TV engineers at the conference who said they had been allotted more money for multi-format, HD compatible equipment spending.

For more information visit Visit SMPTE Fellows, for a list of new members.

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