Searching for Tech Trends at NAB

Mobility, Web delivery and new media recording advance


(click thumbnail)NHK showed Ultra High-Definition Television for the first time outside of Japan.
Vendors at the 2006 NAB were there to sell specific tools for specific jobs. Speakers at sessions offered both solutions and direction. But taken as a whole, NAB can be an indicator of what's hot and what's not; the trends of the industry.

For starters, NHK gave everyone a look at 20 plus years into the future when it showed Ultra High-Definition Television for the first time outside of Japan. At four times both the horizontal and vertical resolution of HDTV, 16 high-def screens could be shown on the 30-foot screen.

Today's version of high-def was also seen in abundance, foretelling equipment that will be better, cheaper and smaller.

In the camera area, CMOS sensors continued to make headway against the entrenched CCD imagers. Ikegami introduced a new multi-format CMOS imaging sensor that was demonstrated imaging at 720/120p and 1080/60p.

The sports events coverage market is certainly an innovation driver, and Sony set a new benchmark for cameras capable of both slo-mo and regular game coverage with its 3-times slow motion HDC-3300 camera system.

On the outer-edge of such slow-motion imaging is Vision Research's phantom HD, featuring a single CMOS imager that can capture high-definition video at up to 1,000 fps for up to one second.

In a world where smaller is better, Iconix introduced a roughly 1.5-inch by 1.5 inch by 2-inch 3-CCD high-definition camera. It weighs 2.5-ounces and takes 1/3-inch C-mount lenses.


There seemed to be no clear winner in the ENG camcorder three-way race between recording to optical disks, solid-state media or removable hard drives. All three technologies are continuing to make sales.

Panasonic now faces more competition in the solid-state recording camp from Grass Valley's Infinity Series camcorders. These record directly onto non-proprietary, readily available Compact Flash memory cards. Media costs had been viewed as a barrier to solid-state acquisition.

HDV is racing ahead. While it seems like we first heard about the HDV format just a year or so ago, JVC showed a second generation of HDV camcorders, imaging with 720/60p capability.

Panasonic did not step into HDV, and took every opportunity to remind buyers that its DVCPRO HD recording format compresses each frame's information separately, rather than the interframe compression utilized by the competition.

One of the formats that Grass Valley's Infinity cameras can record in is JPEG 2000, a wavelet codec. Red Digital Cinema and Silicon Imaging also introduced high-definition wavelet recording technology aimed at the electronic cinematography market.


Workflow continued to be a catch phrase of those proffering devices designed to let stations do more with less. Typical was Omnibus' ITX master control automation system, where instead of plugging together physical peripheral devices such as switchers, routers, CGs, servers and the like, they're all included in the Windows-based software.

Convention attendees from small and mid-sized markets found their automation requirements being addressed as well, with products such as Sundance Digital's FlexEvents. This package helps organize all of the secondary graphic events touting upcoming shows, news flashes and so forth.

For video productions requiring collaboration, Avid introduced Interplay, which connects editors using the company's Media Composer systems to asset management, workflow automation and security control.

In display devices, Panasonic definitely had a showstopper with its 103-inch plasma flat screen home-theater monitor, but video professionals could look at an anecdotal indicator of the progress of professional grade LCD flat screen displays.

In years past, camera makers have shied away from using LCD panels to display the output of cameras in their booths, as the slower LCD refresh rate yielded to strobing when cameras were quickly panned. This NAB saw more cameras outputting to LCD monitors in those booths, an indication we may finally see flat screens that out perform evaluation-grade CRTs.

The concept of a television station as an IT facility that just happens to do video was backed by a slew of networking tools designed to distribute video and audio over IP networks.

And it wasn't just IP at the video facility. IPTV World was a new addition to this NAB, in recognition that IPTV networks are already being built as competitors to cable and satellite delivery to the home.

One sign this is all happening now was the fact that Microsoft's not-all-that-small booth was still doing shoulder-to-shoulder business on Thursday afternoon, as the exhibition hall was ready to close its doors.


Broadcasters are getting serious in their quests for new revenue streams through mobile TV. NAB hosted a Web and Mobile Development Conference aimed at content creation, and a Mobile Video and TV Forum that concentrated on how to make money from it.

You know that broadcasters (and in particular, manufacturers) are taking mobile TV seriously when broadcast equipment powerhouse Harris introduced a new TV transmitter platform specifically designed for broadcasting to mobile devices. Likewise, one of the drivers behind Grass Valley's acquisition of Thales last year was to gain access to its IPTV solutions, and in particular, its transmitters, which will be used by Qualcomm's MediaFLO, in a deal that was announced shortly after the show. Rohde & Schwartz announced a similar partnership, providing its test and measurement gear to monitor the quality signal of MediaFLO.

Other real world products aimed at mobile TV were at the show, including Vizrt's Viz|3G, which allows content providers to deliver its graphics to any device designed to receive multimedia. Viz|3G lets the designer design content once, and graphics are rendered locally in a resolution that fits each display device.

With technology somewhat along the same lines, Snell & Wilcox showcased Helios, a new a software-based video content repurposing platform that turns video content into a high-quality, low-bit-rate video stream for mobile TV appliances.

While IPTV and Mobile TV are designed to let large operators deliver content, as broadband to the home becomes the rule not the exception, there were predictions that Internet TV will allow content providers to make an end-run around media gatekeepers and deliver their productions directly to viewers.

Audio may be getting an upgrade as well. With home theaters offering not just large screen viewing but sophisticated surround audio, NAB hosted the 5.1 Pro Audio Pavilion, a one-stop-shop for engineers wanting to bone up on producing 5.1 surround sound.

Producing newscasts in 5.1 is certainly some years off, but Holophone showed its H3-D Microphone that can provide high-quality stereo sound to an ENG camera's audio tracks now, but at the same time embed 5.1 audio so that when archive material is used 10 years from now, there'll be surround sound available.


Disaster operations, with Hurricane Katrina as the centerpiece, were on many minds at NAB. The RTNDA ran a session in which local New Orleans news executives related harrowing happenings and some lessons learned.

On the technical side, group-owned stations in the path of Katrina found they could move their master control operations to sister stations safe distances away. Networking tools have now appeared to better allow this "forced central casting" to save the bacon.

Another approach to staying on the air during a disaster was the MCR200 "master control room in a box" from Venue Services Group. It's a rollaway shipping-cased rack with all the equipment a station would need to set up shop in a safe place and ride out the storm.

Natural disasters weren't the only kinds of devastating events that vendors offered survival from. Storage failure protection was also on the list. RAID protection may be a thing of the past if Omneon's MediaGrid scalable storage technology catches on, with its ability to recover files lost in a node failure much faster than with RAID.