10th Annual Mario Awards 2003

Iraq, they kept telling us over and over, is a country about the size of California. Okay. Got it. California, I'm telling you, is a state about the size of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

If you were staying at the Hilton hotel attached to the convention center and had an appointment at the booth of Bosch -- I mean BTS -- I mean Philips -- I mean Thomson -- I mean Grass Valley -- unless you had a helicopter methinks you spent a good hour en route.

Okay, maybe it was a bad hour, but I don't think so. The show floor was bigger and attendance was down -- so the BAR (the booth-to-attendee ratio) was approaching 1:1 -- but, for the first time in many Mario-Award cycles, the NAB show was chock full of new technology. It was tough to choose, so all of you losers can consider yourselves winners, too (if that'll keep you from suing me).


For instance, suppose you were in the market for a really cool intercom. You might have gone nuts over the Mercury system over at Trilogy that uses IP technology to span the globe as easily as it spans a control room. Or, like me, you could have drooled over Drake's FreeSpeak.

To call it a wireless intercom is to call the eruption of Krakatoa a pop. First there's the RF technology: cellular. If you've got a dead spot, you just shove in another active antenna. Then there are the smarts: They've essentially stuck an entire digital-matrix station into a belt-pack-but cleverly.

Don't trust the user? It's a dumb two-channel system that auto-configures. Trust? The world is open. Pages of different point-to-point or PL channels are just the beginning.

Yes! And other orgasmic words to that effect. Yee-hah!


In case I wasn't clear enough, I love Drake's FreeSpeak. I don't think I love Dalsa's Origin. It's a pretty big camera. As for the pictures they showed, they looked like someone decided to save money by not hiring a video operator. They had a wide-angle lens on the camera in the booth, but it probably would have had corner problems due to the imager size. And their own SMPTE paper talks about false color at high resolutions.

But methinks I've just run out of bad things to say. On the good side, this is an electronic-cinematography camera that a cinematographer could love (and some already seem to). It's got a beyond-the-frame, through-the-lens, optical viewfinder. It takes PL-mount 35-mm film lenses with no relay optics. It offers 35-mm-like depth of field. It's got a non-anamorphic 2:1 aspect ratio. And, depending on how you count, it's maybe got 4k x 2k resolution.

They showed those eight megapixels mapped pixel-for-pixel onto a ViewSonics monitor, and I don't think I've ever seen anything like it. If NHK's HDTV raised the bar for TV back in the 1970s, Dalsa just did it again. Yee-hah!


After de-mosaic-ing, the Dalsa Origin squirts out around 1.2 gigabytes a second. Ayup, I said gigabytes, not gigabits. That's not going to travel very far down a piece of triax. Heck, even ordinary, low-rez, HDTV cameras use fiber these days.

Triax is good. It moved us away from the ridiculous days of pound-per-foot TV-81, with a connector that took the better part of a week to install. Fiber is also good; look at Multidyne's 768 videos and 3072 audios on a single fiber cable.

What ain't so good, and I hesitate to say this, is the danged connectors on HD-camera fiber cables. They almost make me long for TV-81; at least the connections were more reliable.

Enter Telecast Fiber with S.H.E.D., their SMPTE Hybrid Elimination Devices. Stick an awful fiber connector in one side, and use a perfectly reasonable fiber connector on the other. The box on one end confuses the CCU into thinking the camera fired-up fine; the one on the other powers the camera. Yee-hah!


Now, then, you ain't going to get the full quality of the Dalsa Origin or even an HDTV camera on a little LCD monitor. You ain't even going to get the full quality of a cheapo surveillance camera on a one-inch LCD monitor.

There are times when you just want to know that there's a picture there, and for those times, one of those eight-LCD-monitors-in-one-rack-unit jobbies will do fine. Then there are times when you need something bigger.

The trouble is, if you've got something bigger, it's taking up rack space both when you need it and when you don't. Until now.

Both Marshall and Wohler had solutions this year. Marshall's sticks a large LCD monitor into a drawer. When you want to look at it, you pull it out. It almost got a Mario this year, but Wohler's AVMFlex beat it by a gooseneck.

The AVMFlex is kind of a traditional one-RU Wohler audio monitor, with an up-to-seven-inch LCD picture monitor right between the stereo speakers, where it belongs. Need to get at the stuff above or below the one rack unit? Just twist the gooseneck. Yee-hah!


The thing about a Wohler audio monitor is, you want to hear it. The thing about the bazillion cooling fans on equipment that gets smaller all the time is, you don't want to hear them. But you have to.

Oh, sure, you could build some kind of soundproof enclosure to stick stuff in, but the more the processing power the hotter the chips get. And, unless you want to achieve meltdown in nothing flat, you need to ventilate-maybe even air-condition-the enclosure, in which case you're back to listening to the fans (and maybe compressor).

That's why the Noren Acoustilock cabinets use heat pipes. Heat pipes are not those things that send hot water into radiators and bang in the winter. Heat pipes are those space-age, no-moving-parts, tiny tubes that transfer thermal energy from point A (the inside of a soundproof enclosure) to point B (the nice, cool outside) better than solid gold. Yee-hah!


The Acoustilock cabinets have transparent front covers so you can watch LEDs and/or meters. Camera lenses have nice clear glass so they don't mess up the images.

Well, anyhow, the glass is clear when you buy the lens. When it gets dirty, you can clean it. And, when it gets covered with windblown raindrops, you can-um-say that it adds to the realism of the shot. Yes, that's the ticket!

Just in case you'd rather have good video than a good excuse, there's now the Spintec Rain Deflector System. Now, then, it ain't exactly a brand-new idea to use spinning glass to get rid of rain. You'll find similar rain deflectors on the bridges of most ships.

But traditional rain deflectors, like old mechanical-television scanners and DVD players, spin their disks from the center. That ain't exactly conducive to shoulder-mount camera work.

Spintec's disk gets spun from the rim. You'd hardly even know by sight that it's on the camera. It adds a pound of weight, and it makes some noise (hey, it's raining, so you ain't going to get silence from a camera mic anyhow), and it sure does work! Yee-hah!


So you can't use a camera mic, but the talent is wearing nothing but a thong (and your 300-pound weather reporter never looked lovelier), so you're concerned about where to put a wireless transmitter? Worry no more. Zaxcom's tiny Spy unit is awfully small (and digital), but over at CP Communications' booth I found Quantum5X's QT-256 to be even smaller.

There seemed to be a lot of hoo-hah this year about who has the tiniest mics. Heck, some of last year's, like the Countryman E6, look like a piece of wire with a hole at the end.

Another audio hoo-hah this year was over Neumann's $6k digital mic (note to physicists: nope, it doesn't count air molecules and calculate rates; it just digitizes the signals from a traditional pickup). I'll say no more about that.

I don't need a digital mic. I don't need a smaller mic. But a smaller wireless transmitter is something else entirely, and the QT-256 seems to work fine and will fit in a thong. Yee-hah!


This might sound really disgusting, but-heck-"Disgusting" is my middle name (Dang! I just gave away another clue to my identity!). Let's say you decide to do that there weather-report-in-the-rain in surround sound, for a you-are-there feeling.

If you do it right, the viewer seems to be in the middle of the storm. If you do it wrong, maybe the viewer seems to be in the middle of the thong (I warned you it might be disgusting).

You can take a class in multi-channel-sound pickup, but, at some point, you're going to want to look at something to see how you're doing. Use your SpiderVision.

I like every product that Modulation Sciences has ever made, and SpiderVision is no exception. It's the first Surround-Sound display that makes sense to me. Heck, you can even identify clipping. Yee-hah!


Unlike Modulation Sciences, Enhance-Tech is a company I never even heard of before this year's NAB. And I did wonder a little bit about why the biggest logo on their spec sheet is the one that says the IDE-UltraStor is UL approved. Truth be told, I'm still wondering about that.

But enough about fire prevention. This product is more like getting-fired prevention. Methinks I noted earlier that the Dalsa Origin camera squirts out around 1.2 GB/s. In one minute, that'd be 72 GB. Get up to 25 minutes, and you're pushing a couple of terabytes.

A few years ago, a terabyte was maybe what you thought your whole network archive might fit onto-with room to spare. Now we've got to start thinking about petabytes.

No problem. The Enhance-Tech IDE-UltraStor captures 2 TB. In two rack units. For about $5k. With hot-swappable drives. And your favorite RAID level. Yee-hah!


My, my! Remember when the first IBM PC came out and 10 MB was considered a huge disk capacity? Each drive in the UltraStor has 25,000 times that capacity. My, my!

Remember the first frame sync? It filled a whole floor-to-ceiling rack. Well, now, they've gotten smaller over the years.

"How much smaller, Mario?"

May I use the Ensemble Designs BrightEye as an example? Thank you.

The BrightEye 1 is a frame sync; with a TBC; with analog and digital composite and component (and even Y/C) inputs and digital and even optical outputs; with reference input, of course; with internal test-signal generator that'll do color bars, SDI checkfield, or even a pathological test pattern; with front-panel controls and indicators and USB connection.

Okay, ready? It's 0.8 inches high and about 5.5 inches square. In other words, it's a floor-to-ceiling rack of equipment you can balance on your palm. Yee-hah!