A-1 Broadcast Quality? Here Comes Trickle Up

You might not have noticed that we don't all keep our personal helicopters in our garages. But, then, January is the coolest month, if not temperaturewise, at least at the great Las Vegas event, so I'm about to rant about consumer electronics.

I mean, wasn't the future grand? Methinks that by 1980, 50 years into the future for folks writing in 1930, we were all supposed to be commuting by air.

The 1939 World's Fair introduced us to the robots that were supposed to be our personal assistants by now. I'm still waiting for the shrunken doctors who can fix me from the inside the way they did in "Fantastic Voyage" in 1966, and I gave up holding my breath until I could book a Pan Am flight to the moon.

That last tidbit was from Stanley Kubrick's 1968 look into the distant future, "2001: A Space Odyssey." It wasn't just those commercial space flights that were supposed to be commonplace five years ago. We ain't yet got giant space stations with artificial gravity, bases on the moon or suspended animation.

There's a scene in the movie where an astronaut needs to get from a work pod into the main spacecraft through the vacuum of space without a pressurized suit. Now, then, in any other sci-fi movie, you'd just chortle at the asininity. But this was Kubrick. He researched it and found that the consensus of opinion in the space-medicine community was that the guy could actually survive.

So I'm willing to figure that the reason I can't fly Pan Am to the moon is that the airline went out of business 10 years before 2001, not on account of any lack of foresight on Kubrick's part. But then there's all the other wrong stuff in the movie.

In one scene, someone pops into a Bell System phone booth on the space station and makes a videophone call home. Okay, so there's no more Bell System, but some of you may be wondering what a phone booth is and what the big deal is about a call with pictures. Heck, that tiny mobile in your pocket comes with a color camera and a color screen.


Then there are the computers. They're mainframes.

"But, Mario, what's a mainframe?"

Exactly. If I told you Pan Am used to operate giant Boeing 314 flying boats, you'd probably ask me what sci-fi movie that came from. But flying boats were real, and so were mainframe computers--immense, centralized beasts with probably less calculating power than your digital-TV receiver. And that brings me around to my point, if I've got one.

In almost every area--transportation, building materials, food processing, sexless reproduction, world peace--the good old future ain't come to pass yet. But, in one area, it's so far behind the present that it's unrecognizable, and that area, dear pals, is consumer electronics. Moreover, that's getting to be a problem for those of us accustomed to having the best that TV technology offers.

Case in point: the broadcast-quality monitor. You used to be able to lord it over the poor schnooks who had to watch stuff on their home TVs. If only they could have seen it on the studio monitor!

Now, a bunch of you might have $40,000 Grade 1 broadcast HDTV monitors that offer maybe 900 lines of resolution. And what do the poor schnooks have?

At the CEATEC (Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies) consumer electronics show in Japan, Sharp showed a 64-inch LCD TV with 4,096x2,160 resolution. Yes, that's the same as what the top-of-the-line digital-cinema projectors have, and one whole heck of a lot better than the best monitor you own (unless you've got a Frontniche 56-inch LCD, in which case the Sharp consumer screen has only a little bit better resolution than yours).

Sony's new HVR-V1 HDTV camcorder is pretty cool; it's based on their consumer HDR-FX7. The technology eventually trickled up to broadcasters. When the little plane hit the building in New York last fall, Fox News got pictures on the air via a Treo smart phone. Heck, if you ain't prepared to put mobile-phone stills, video, and sound on the air, you're going to be scooped by some elementary-school blogger.

I love watching folks in our business trying to make their big walkie-talkies work over any sort of distance while nearby some kid is shooting the breeze over a cell phone that weighs less than a remote mic. Or maybe our folks are dragging a CRT-based monitor over near where some toddler in a stroller is amusing herself with a portable DVD/LCD combo.


Thank goodness we've got HD-SDI, so we can connect equipment with just one piece of coax that can handle almost 1.5 Gbps. Consumers just have HDMI, which, in version 1.3, goes to 10.2 Gbps. Oh, did I mention all the systems for wireless HDMI, so you don't need any cables at all?

Then there are the folks who think Rec. 709 color offers a wider gamut than Rec. 601. Nope. But, if you're looking for wide-range color, check out IEC Standard 61966-2-4. It covers the consumer extended-gamut xvYCC system.

Struggling with your tape library that needs to migrate to a new medium every few years? Maybe you don't want to hear about Panasonic's new consumer optical disc with a 100-year-plus lifetime (it plays on consumer players, too).

I ain't saying you shouldn't visit Las Vegas in April to see what's new in "broadcast" equipment. But, for getting your socks blown off, you should've scheduled your trip three months earlier and attended the International Consumer Electronics Show. Heck, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences moved its Engineering Emmy Awards to CES this year.

Plan now for next year. Maybe, if you're lucky, some kid there will give you his 3 Gbps router when he spots a new one on the show floor.