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Telairity VP reminds industry that HD ENG requires HD encoders, decoders

A visit last week to Telairity’s booth at IBC2007 revealed an unexpected tidbit of information about the ongoing BAS 2GHz relocation project: There’s confusion in some TV stations' thinking that the replacement project will make HD electronic newsgathering (ENG) a reality if they have HD cameras.

Many sources, HD Technology Update among them, have written extensively on the fact that the Sprint Nextel 2GHz BAS equipment replacement program takes stations halfway down the path to transmitting live HD standups from the field. In other words, the program gives stations the digital RF equipment needed, but there is still the matter of HD encoding and decoding that must be addressed.

HD Technology Update talked to Telairity VP of sales Greg Pine about this confusion.

HD Technology Update: What is the general level of understanding among broadcast engineers, news directors and managers at TV stations regarding what technology is required to do HD ENG, particularly now that the analog microwave equipment is being replaced by digital radios?

Greg Pine: From the calls I’ve made around the industry to chief engineers, operations directors and news directors [regarding the Sprint Nextel 2GHz BAS replacement equipment swap], Nextel has measured most of the equipment that needs to be replaced for their upgrade but is also extending the time it needs to do its reviews.

I’m finding that in some cases, the stations found that the Nextel exchange is going to be an SD-to-SD change, and that fact might not have made it up to their station management. There may be an impression that the Nextel exchange is going to be an HD news pickup, but it in fact may not provide the proper gear to do HD. Some stations may even be buying HD cameras based on their belief of what the Nextel deal may be.

I’ve talked to stations that have had up to five [equipment] audits, and have heard the auditors say, in essence, “This is the gear you have and this is the gear that needs to be changed.” They seem to be interpreting that as recognition that the equipment that is being changed will handle the transition from SD news pickup to HD news pickup, when in fact it may not be. My impression is that the Nextel exchange is, roughly speaking, an SD-to-SD model.

I think at different levels in the organizations, whether it’s from the news department to station management, there’s a perception that stations are getting the proper gear and it will be all HD, especially if they have HD cameras. I’m just not sure that’s true — and frankly, neither are they.

HD Technology Update: When you say the proper gear, are you specifically referring to HD encoders?

Greg Pine: Yes. My company is offering a low-latency encoder and decoder that are good for HD news pickup. But when I talk to some of the stations, they say, “Our gear is on order in the Nextel deal, and we’re just waiting for delivery.”

HD Technology Update: So, it’s your belief that some station managers think that the HD encoders and decoders are part of the Sprint Nextel 2GHz BAS replacement equipment deal?

Greg Pine: Yes. Some think so. But in other cases, they’re simply not sure.

HD Technology Update: You previously mentioned that to do HD ENG there is a general perception that there will be a latency issue — and that, in general, there is a trade off between latency and quality. You contend that isn’t necessarily the case. Why?

Greg Pine: A lot of people have not considered MPEG-4 Part 10 or H.264 for ENG backhaul simply because of the traditional delays that have been seen in the business. With our system, we have measured an end-to-end delay of less than 300ms.

In actual production, that gives stations the ability for the news anchor to have a conversation with the field reporter over a microwave link and still sound intelligent without huge delays.

HD Technology Update: What other issues related to HD ENG backhaul have you identified that are impeding its development?

Greg Pine: Right now, I think the whole trade-up program is a great thing for the stations because it is getting them new microwave gear. A lot of the stations are investing in HD cameras because of this trade-up.

We’re going to begin seeing a horse race in the news field where some of the stations begin to have a sharper picture than others. Some will shoot 4:3 or 16:9 SD and upsample at the station. Others will shoot actual HD. The race is going to be fought in the newsroom with the news directors, and then in the boardrooms.

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