You may have noticed that I haven't been running NAB product announcements in RF Report. The reason is TV Technology and associated NewBay Media e-mail newsletters have been reporting on them on an almost real-time basis, much faster than I can with a weekly publication. I have been reading the announcements and taking calls from vendors about NAB ever since CES ended and rather than focus on individual products, I thought I'd highlight some of the themes I see developing on the floor in Las Vegas next week.
Broadcast manufacturers need something to sell and perhaps more important broadcasters need a reason to buy. During past NAB shows, the focus, at least on the RF side, was on the DTV transition and completing final DTV facilities, before or soon after the 2009 DTV transition. With the FCC's promotion of the National Broadband Plan and proposed elimination of almost half the usable TV channels and, by necessity, many off-air TV stations, manufacturers are going to have a hard time convincing stations to buy new antennas and improve their signal unless they happen to have one of the 17 lucky UHF channels or a VHF channel. It isn't even clear these stations will be able to keep their channels. While it seems unthinkable to me the FCC could do such damage to free, off-air broadcasting, even the possibility will cause stations to hold off on big transmission system upgrades.
The one area that is getting a lot of attention is Mobile handheld DTV. You've probably read several articles about Mobile DTV at NAB already. Broadcast TV is great for reaching devices used where a cable or satellite dish isn't convenient. The increase in demand for video on smartphones and tablets presents an excellent opportunity for broadcasters. I expect manufacturers will be sticking the "Mobile DTV" name on a wide variety of products. While I don't expect to see "Mobile DTV-ready" video cables, transmit antenna manufacturers will be touting the improvements that their elliptical polarized antennas provide for Mobile handheld DTV reception. The uncertainty over spectrum is also likely to be used to promote broadband antennas, with elliptical polarization, of course.
Transmitter manufacturers see an opportunity to sell more amplifiers and more energy efficient transmitters to meet the increased power needed for elliptical or circular polarization, although given the uncertainty over broadcast channels I expect their focus will be on Mobile DTV exciters and related equipment.
The Sprint-Nextel 2 GHz reallocation gave stations new digital ENG equipment, but it didn't replace the analog microwave links needed to bring HD video back to the studio. I'm seeing more interest in fixed links over the last year than I have since the DTV transition started. Mobile DTV will play a role here too--some older microwave systems can drop or add null packets and corrupt the Mobile DTV signal.
When wandering the exhibit halls, look for the test equipment you'll need to keep all of this new DTV gear, including Mobile DTV, working. That's often ignored when gear is first purchased, but becomes critical a few years later.
I'm interested in what you find next week in the smaller booths related to RF that hasn't been widely publicized. Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org and if you are the first to mention it I'll give you credit if I describe it in the next two issues of RF Report.
Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.
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