Iowa Public TV Looks at NAB

The gear is appealing, but public budgets are uncertain.
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The gear is appealing, but public budgets are uncertain.

This is the time of year when the folks at TV Technology ask me to dedicate the Digital Journal to the upcoming NAB and what technologies, services and equipment I'll be looking at for Iowa Public Television. In theory, this should not be all that difficult, since I do have a list of things for my staff and I to look at while we're at the conference.

What makes it challenging to write this article is that at this moment I have absolutely no idea how much money we'll have to spend on equipment.

For most of us, the days when we could wander up and down the aisles stopping at displays that piqued our interest are gone. NAB is now an endurance test with a never-ending list of appointments and demonstrations just to see the things you absolutely must see.

IPTV is an agency of the State of Iowa and at this writing, state lawmakers have just commenced their two-month legislative session. I am relatively sure that we will receive somewhere between zero and $28 million dollars for DTV conversion projects.

When the window is that wide, it is extremely difficult to prioritize a vast list of worthwhile projects. The really curious thing is that in theory, when my team and I go to NAB, we'll know how much money we have been granted; so in truth, we could be looking at everything, nothing or some things. Fortunately for us, a primary reason for us to attend the NAB is the engineering conference, so even if we have no money for capital improvements, the educational component still makes our attendance worthwhile.

EDUCATION SOLUTION

Probably the most nebulous item on my list is datacasting. In the early 1960s, the laser was invented and was a solution in search of a problem. In many ways I think datacasting is like that. It is a "cool" technology that fires the imagination, but for the most part our industry is struggling to identify what problems it can solve. The truth is, datacasting is probably going to be an entrepreneurial endeavor for some time and it is going to take some visionary leadership to solve some problems just to prove that it can be done.

IPTV has a strong commitment to K-12 education and supporting schools. We believe that there are a number of ways that we'll be able to implement and use datacasting to improve the classroom experience for teachers and students, especially in rural areas where broadband connectivity is either too costly or not available. Of course, the problem with the K-12 marketplace is that it takes all of its money just to pay teachers, heat the schools and supply books, so there is virtually no money left for new technology.

So, we cannot look at this as a profit center. Our motivation is that by improving the classroom experience, we get kids more interested in learning and we keep them in school. To this end, IPTV has been doing datacast experiments with equipment from Triveni, Thales, KenCast and others. We're also working with various state agencies on homeland security issues and have demonstrated datacasts of AMBER alerts and biological hazard reports. Although none of these projects are truly ready for primetime, they do provide some ideas for direction and goals to move towards.

THE ROUTE TO HD

Routing will be another area that our team will be evaluating. IPTV has already begun acquiring and editing in HD. We have created a couple of islands of HD editing using an Avid DS/HD and a Final Cut Pro HD system. Because we are still a composite analog facility, we move cart-mounted HDCam decks from room to room depending on the edit session needs. This is not a particular efficient way of dealing with HD but it does get the job done and we weren't required to buy a standalone HD router.

Monitoring and test equipment will also be high on our list. Even with as few HD edit systems as we currently have, we still don't have enough basic test and monitoring equipment to efficiently manage the tasks. We will look at low-cost hardware that can be dedicated to a particular edit system, as well as engineering shop-style equipment for servicing some of the more complex problems.

In the shop environment, automated test systems would seem to be a necessity given the complexity of the hardware. The double-edged sword of digital hardware appearing to work perfectly right up to the point where it stops working altogether requires test systems capable of repetitive testing with the ability to store and track performance over time.