TV Tech Writers Weigh In on NAB 2013

LAS VEGAS -- This year’s show seemed to pick up where last year’s left off and was a fitting coda to the 4K craze that kicked off 2013 at CES. Our writers weigh in on their impressions...

Karl Paulsen, Media Storage Technology
The 2013 NAB Show will be remembered as the year that 4K as well as IP-based video distribution, routing and switching came of age. A paradigm shift in network- and video router-based system infrastructures now mitigates, in part, the legacy requirements that forced lower data rate encoding and decoding of SD, HD (and beyond) video for carriage as IP-based signals over Ethernet. Sony expects to release chipsets to OEMs this year which will allow synchronous video carriage over 1 and 10GbE (Ethernet), as IP, to reach the marketplace. New router platforms are adding “data-layers” and 4K routing, as well as extremely high density video routing matrices in 2000x2000 plus architectures in a single rack frame. These technologies are eye openers for those that came to learn and to buy. The feeling was that the attendees had a true, serious interest in finding out what the next generation of television is all about.

4K seemed to bring more real opportunities than 3D stereoscopic, such as in sports where super slow-mo and “HD image cutouts from 4K captures” make it possible to extract and track an HD sub-image from the larger 4K image. NAB saw more manufacturers than expected entering the 4K domain. Some took existing switchers and added software to gang groups of inputs to form the 4K “panel-set,” creating multifunctional, multiformat products with future proofing from existing products.

Jay Ankeney, Focus on Editing
Everyone was talking about the “cloud” at the NAB Show, but they weren’t always referring to collaborative workflows over IP. The most alarming cloud that hung over the Las Vegas Convention Center was the reality that more and more broadcast equipment manufacturers are finding it tough to make a profit in this game.

Was the downturn in flat panel TV sales responsible for one major display manufacturer to not hold an on-site press conference for the first time in recent memory? Will broadcasters lose the mobile video market to wireless carriers due to lack of profit incentives?

One major NLE company released a free-to-download version of their edit system for the Mac, making it the first such offering to run on all three major operating systems—Windows, Linux and OS X. But if that NLE innovator has given away almost a half million downloads of their software for free, how can they or their competitors get out from under that cloud?

Then there are 4K displays, leading to 8K and above. But like home 3D, is this once again a technology-driven marketing push that is devoid of consumer interest pull? To get the benefit of those higher resolution images, a home theater would need a pretty huge screen and it is still to be determined whether the average living room needs to be dominated by a 2001-sized video monolith whose head stretches right up into that aforementioned cloud.

Steve Krant, Correspondent
At my first NAB in Chicago in the early ‘70s, everything and everyone pretty much fit into one Chicago lakeshore hotel and it was all about the business and technology of broadcasting.

Not so much these days—it’s certainly bigger, with more “gee-whiz” exhibits and attendees from all over—but far fewer broadcasters. North Hall, with the most call letter-centric exhibitors, seemed eerily quiet except for a few anchor tenants after Monday’s opening rush; the herds had moved onto the content creation playgrounds in Central and South. 4K topped the buzz chart, but after 3D’s spectacular belly flop, I’m avoiding the Kool-aid. Spectacular images—there’s definitely a place for it in sports and original production—yet without a strong retail commitment to selling the benefits, not just planting sets on a display floor, will probably meet the same fate.

The “cloud,” this year’s co-headliner, with its own North Hall mini-pavilion, isn’t as much an innovation as a maturing of existing technologies. Migrating content, distributed control environments, etc. have been around awhile, but the underlying infrastructure is far more robust and capable.

Al Kovalick, Cloudspotter’s Journal
The trend to the “all IT” media infrastructure continues. There are clear vendor moves to support cloud storage/archiving, cloud-based web apps (SaaS) including platforms supporting production and broadcast operations. It’s exciting to see a few products with 10G Ethernet ports and supporting equivalent SDI payload over IP.

SMPTE, the EBU and VSF announced a “Joint Task Force on Networked Media,” which will map out a strategy for defining packet-based network infrastructures for the professional media industry supported by vendors, broadcasters and industry organizations. The key objective is to create, store, transfer and stream professional media using IT systems.

Twenty years ago, the transition from analog to digital created huge vendor challenges and opportunities. Likewise today, the move from AV-specific to an all IT/cloud world will shake up some vendors, create new ones and usher in amazing gains in operational performance and cost reduction.

Geoff Poister, Correspondent

Analog, DV, SD, HD, 2K, 3D, 4K, 8K = 15 years/Internet.

A quick look at this formula says that image-making technology has progressed at an accelerating pace while being divided by the Internet.

If you placed this on a timeline, there would be a long gentle slope prior to DV, followed by a sharp upward curve. That’s because once television, video and film went digital, it became governed by Moore’s Law.

The NAB Show is an ongoing testament to an industry struggling to keep up with accelerating changes in technology. But perhaps the biggest factor is the divisor in the equation: The Internet.

In addition to technology, discussions in the NAB sessions centered on how to navigate in a field where we don’t know where the screen is. Television is now described as two major species: Linear, which comes as a continuous stream; and another animal that is captured and displayed on mobile devices anywhere at any time. Both are now entering an uneasy partnership with telephone and wireless providers.

My takeaway from NAB is that technology will accelerate exponentially. That is not a problem, but an opportunity. The problem is the audience, which is now enmeshed in a digital world and is becoming as elusive as data from a stealth aircraft.