Put on those sneakers; here comes HD

On the way to HD operation, surprisingly, linear workflows are re-emerging, says Leonard Fabiano, chief technology officer for Pathfire and a member of its original start-up team.

Sneakernet, shuffling tapes and even labels and pens are back in fashion at some stations as they struggle to accommodate the higher bandwidth demands HD places on their existing SD network infrastructure, he says.

HD Technology Update: Will most early adopters of IT-based workflows at stations be able to accommodate HD with their existing infrastructure, or will they need to start over from scratch? In other words, will their existing network cable, routers, hard drives, etc., be adequate for an HD file-based workflow?

Leonard Fabiano: Ironically, cutting edge HD broadcasting has forced a number of facilities back to linear workflows. This means sneakernet is back in many newsrooms. It won't be long, however, before the required network infrastructure and required interoperability catch up again in the HD world.

In the case of HD program delivery, linear HD feeds are placing a burden on many facilities that have already embraced file-based workflows. These are the facilities that are enjoying the streamlined workflows and efficiencies associated with file-based delivery of content. We hear from these folks on a regular basis asking us when file-based HD programming and news will be available. Pathfire is ready to deliver the service today.

HDTU: At this point, what is the premium broadcasters can expect to pay for HD-capable acquisition, production and playout technology vs. SD? How has that equation changed during the past few years?

LF: There is a premium that should be expected for HD-ready technology. Updates to software, codecs and associated hardware are all, for the most part, required during an upgrade process. At Pathfire, we focus on file-based workflow solutions that limit the amount of costly HD linear tools (video routers, tape decks, etc.) broadcasters are required to purchase.

HDTU: Broadcasters are locked into MPEG-2 for distribution of their main program channel in a DTV world. Do you see any role for MPEG-4 H.264 in broadcast distribution?

LF: While we are not directly involved in the distribution side of HD in local markets, Pathfire is committed to use advanced compression solutions like MPEG4/H.264. There is still much work to be done to optimize these formats and to make them fully production ready in a broadcast environment. By focusing on advanced compression, video quality will not suffer and the cost of production will remain manageable and affordable.

HDTU: How would you describe the market for HD commercials, nationally, regionally and locally?

LF: Demand is growing. The demand from broadcasters seems to be a bit ahead of supply.

Pathfire is positioned to support the growing demand thanks to its alliance with Warner Brothers. The Pathfire and Warner Brothers alliance has created a full-service, end-to-end HD ad distribution network, capable of delivering content to more than 1400 broadcast facilities.

Recently, Warner Brothers delivered movie promotional ads encoded at Los Angeles-based GDMX to Meredith Corporation's WGCL-TV in Atlanta. This delivery used the existing Pathfire infrastructure to enable the satellite delivery of the ad content. In Atlanta, the content arrived on the DMG Server located at WGCL, and was transferred to the station's play-to-air server via a file transfer process.

HDTU: Sprint Nextel is footing the tab for the retooling of broadcast microwave infrastructure used to comply with the FCC's mandate to relocate 2GHz TV BAS service to new 12MHz digital channels. Even as that's happening, other technologies are emerging for field contribution of HD footage for news. What are your thoughts?

LF: While today a good portion of acquisition is done through linear feeds from remote locations, there is a real trend toward file-based workflows. This is the case both in the SD and HD worlds. As you might imagine, the problem is more acute in the HD world, and Pathfire is dedicated to solving this problem through Pathfire Direct — our file-based news acquisition solution designed to work from both fixed locations and mobile locations in the field.

HDTU: Is there anything else you would like to add?

LF: Pathfire's DMG distribution network, which remains a primary tool for distribution of syndication (programming) and news for the largest content providers, is positioned to deliver HD files to broadcast facilities. By working with industry leaders on the station side and the content provider side, we have taken the absolutely necessary step of coming up with a standardized file/object format to make the transition to HD manageable on both sides of the distribution chain.

Editor's note: These and many other insightful comments are part of the Competitive Television Summit supplement appearing in the February issue of Broadcast Engineering. Watch for it.

Tell us what you think!
HDTU invites response from our readers. Please submit your comments to editor@broadcastengineering.com. We'll follow up with your comments in an upcoming issue.