Momentum building for MPEG-4 HD SNG

As the number of local stations offering their newscasts in HD climbs, station engineers, news directors and general managers are faced with deciding when the time is right to transition field acquisition to HD.

It appears many stations with HD newscasts are choosing to shoot 16:9 SD in the field and upconvert that material to HD for integration into their newscasts. Often, budgets and a decision to wait for the 2GHz BAS project to be completed are cited as the reasons. That’s not to say that HD field acquisition is non-existent on the local level.

“HD Technology Update” spoke with Ron Rosenthal, Intelsat regional VP of broadcast solutions in North America, during NAB2008 in April about where HD satellite newsgathering (SNG) stands. Being responsible for the company’s broadcast solutions, Rosenthal is positioned to identify whether HD SNG is a network-only practice or if demand is growing from local stations for HD SNG contribution.

HD Technology Update: Where does HD SNG stand today from a usage point of view? Is it basically used by networks, or are local affiliates beginning to request transponder time for HD SNG contribution too?

Ron Rosenthal: Throughout last year, we’ve seen a tremendous increase with regard to the number of stations that are truly distributing HD content to their viewers. They’ve upgraded their studio operations and now the onus is on them to truly upgrade their SNG with regard to providing HD services from the field.

What does that entail? That entails remote production facilities, upgrading their truck to be HD-capable and remote flyaway assets and applications to enable the local stations, the broadcasters and the networks to provide SNG services in HD from the field. So for the viewer sitting at home who’s just purchased an HDTV set, they want to see their local news studio shots in HD. It’s very important for those remote field shots and those standup locations to be HD-capable. Intelsat is enabling its customers to provide those services to their viewers.

HD Technology Update: Are you seeing broadcasters relying on efficient modulation technologies like DVB-S2 and encoding technologies like MPEG-4 H.264 to reduce bandwidth demands for SNG live shots?

Ron Rosenthal: Absolutely, MPEG-4 right now has really been the talk of the show (NAB2008) with regard to vendors that provide MPEG-4 compression schemes for SNG services, whereas the industry in the past has been a little apprehensive about MPEG-4 due to latency issues. Those latency issues seem to have been rectified, and I definitely see over the next six to eight months many networks, stations and broadcasters purchasing MPEG-4 equipment for HD SNG as well as HD transmission and distribution services.

HD Technology Update: Another big buzz at this show is IP and video. Could you discuss how IP is playing into today’s SNG?

Ron Rosenthal: IP is definitely very important for many reasons — IP for voice communications, IP for transmission of video service, IP for the obvious — the Internet connectivity from the field. We are working with other companies, such as iDirect for IP services and access, and being cognizant that there are going to be applications for IP connectivity from the field for remote SNG where those locations, stories and applications will require larger bandwidth requirements. Intelsat, as a carrier and service provider with more than 54 satellites can provide such bandwidth increments, given that we’ve regroomed some of our capacity based on the requirements domestically and internationally. We can provide small bandwidth increments and large bandwidth increments depending upon the application.

HD Technology Update: I recently interviewed the head of the Satellite Users Interference Reduction Group (SUIRG), and some of their efforts are to incorporate an ID into SNG video transmissions so the source of interference can be easily identified and shut down. Where do things stand in terms of interference these days and the adoption of this ID technology?

Ron Rosenthal: As a carrier with more than 54 satellites globally, this is obviously something very important to Intelsat — the fact that any interference issues severely impact our operations on a global basis. Throughout my tenure first with PanAmSat and now Intelsat, working with our operations group and staying in very close contact with the engineering and network services and my customers, we have been extremely not only reactive, but, more importantly, proactive in going out and identifying interference carriers and mitigating this issue through our various procedures and policies.

We actually have a program where we go and do the triangulation to determine where the interference is originating. So as the technologies evolve to identify any interference, whether it’s malicious or accidental, we are taking an extremely proactive role in identifying and deterring any interference.

HD Technology Update: The same group recently did a study showing the high potential for interference in the C-band spectrum from the rollout of WiMAX technology. Any thoughts on this, and what’s the experience so far?

Ron Rosenthal: We’ve been very instrumental working with the WRC in some of the frequency issues and the allocation of the C-band. We had a major win in Geneva in October (2007) regarding frequency allocation of C-band. So, it’s obviously in our interest and the interest of our customers to maintain the C-band frequencies.

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