National Association of Broadcasters Exhibition
Las Vegas, Nevada
by Jim Bennett (April 1996)
As we enter the second half of the nineties decade, it's clear to see that change will accelerate beyond anything we've ever imagined - a communications revolution that will affect the entire planet. In my "previous life" as an international automotive executive, I frequently used technology such as computers, data networks, video and television to improve business effectiveness and global communications. HDTV and other technology advances opens up a new era.
I believe that NAB 1996 represents a new commitment by Eddie Fritts, NAB President/CEO and his staff, to expand the event to better address an accelerating communications revolution. In previous years, it was becoming evident NAB was outgrowing the Las Vegas Convention Center. With the addition of the Sands Expo Center to house the entire NAB Multimedia World Conference, we enter a new Internet phase for the association. This includes new data networking and telecommunications conferences along with hundreds of NAB broadcast exhibitors. Also, real time Internet coverage of NAB is another indicator of future communications directions.
Television will be more technology-based with greater influence from computers and the Internet. While all this is exciting, the people making the decisions and spending the money must make sure that equipment works, longevity is assured and scalability is feasible. Also, how of this advanced technology affects production and overhead costs needs careful consideration. Some of the products displayed at this year's event are starting to address these very issues.
More format wars are shaping up with Panasonic's DVCPRO, Sony's DVCAM and JVC's Digital-S entering the arena. People are wondering if Digital-S and Betacam SX will be the key players. Each system has its own pros and cons - here's a quick look at some of the key products.
Panasonic's DVCPRO system featured lightweight, low cost ENG cameras and some full featured studio decks integrated into new systems. Their DVCPRO laptop portable editing system, with a 4X player and integrated video workstation, really caught my eye as a "go anywhere and do almost anything system".
The pocket sized DVCPRO digital cassettes offer affordable component digital video and CD quality audio. They may lower equipment costs, media cost, and contribute to reduced operating and maintenance expenses. The DVCPRO format uses metal particle cassettes with no memory chips. These memory chips allow the storage of scene locations, but Panasonic opted to use less expensive cassettes to keep media cost down. Sony's DV and DVCAM use the more expensive metal evaporated cassettes with memory 7chips but cost more. They do offer some editing advantages.
I was informed that Panasonic broadcast video equipment will be used in NBC's Atlanta Olympic coverage. D-3 digital composite format will be the main recording medium and the D-5 digital component format will be used for graphics creation and storage for the event. This is the third consecutive Olympics in which NBC is using Panasonic equipment. Panasonic is aggressively pushing this format on all fronts.
Sony has pushed its SX format to encompass current and future needs of "an all digital broadcast universe". Based on a 4:2:2 format, the effort encompasses acquisition, editing, storage and digital transmission. A full range of product and services are promised, which could help build the future of digital video on many fronts.
However, as Sony pushed its full digital camera vision, it received heated discussions on its use of MPEG compression in its Betacam SX line. It seems broadcasters are getting tired of incompatible tape formats. Who can blame them?
Sony's Betacam SX, MPG 4:2:2 Profile ML standards and the Sony/Oracle server technology was offered as a broadcasting solution to connect more standards than ever before. However, it's evident much more debate will ensue before larger adoption takes place.
JVC continued its introduction of the Digital-S format by using 4:2:2 8-bit component processing and 3.3:1 compression ratio yielding a 50 Mbps data rate. The BR-D40 Dockable recorder was highlighted for acquisition to achieve versatility and affordability. The company is aggressively pricing these components to compete with analog systems, but promises to deliver high end performance. The budget conscious corporate and independent production community may find this JVC solution very attractive.
The DV format products were of interest, especially the GR-DV 1 mini camcorder. It's the size of a small pocket radio and produces exceptional results.
The huge Polaroid PTC- 9000 HDTV broadcast video camera was shown. It's the first broadcast camera to meet the 750 line progressive standard and features a resolution of 1280 by 720 lines with a 16 by 9 aspect ratio and a progressive scan rate of 60 frames per second. At $500,000, it's expensive, but very impressive.
There were over 150 non-linear editing systems shown at NAB. The choices were mind-boggling and attendees were trying to wade through all the format and systems choices. In mixing this with the expanded Internet and Multimedia exhibits, most people were having difficulty figuring everything out. PC based Windows systems seemed to be in predominance, with a fair representation of Mac and SGI systems. Here are some overall impressions from my notepad.
Avid had the biggest and most crowded booth of all the editing vendors. With more than 50 workstations on display and huge crowds, it was impossible to see everything. Their Film Composer has evolved to allow script based editing instead of relying on time code alone. The Avid Droid edit controller is a joint effort with Lucasfilm and it provided some interesting effects seen in many of Lucas' film releases.
Even with downsizing and management reorganization, Avid has had numerous major product announcements. Even Apple was included with Avid products such as Media Composer, which is now available for the Power Mac. Enhanced editing capabilities abound for Mac's upper end systems, as well as budget systems such as MCXpress.
Again, Sony had the largest overall booth at the event and showed several new concepts in editing technology. Under a "Total Solutions" approach, they showed the advanced DNE-50 portable editing workstation which functions as a off line video editing system and news script editor. Essentially, it's a notebook computer connected to a Sony docking station with a 3.5 inch magneto-optical drive that can store 40 minutes of video.
The Sony/Oracle Journalist workstation promises to improve broadcast news department efficiency, by combining newsroom and scripting software while enhancing non-linear editing capabilities. A mockup SX laptop editing prototype was shown to set the stage to compete with Panasonic's DVCPRO laptop editor.
Building on its PCI slot expertise, Pinnacle offers Genie Plus, that integrates into tape based desktop editing systems, including DV to create advanced 3-D effects, transitions and layering of high picture quality. All of this translates into delivering professional effects, at a far lower price point than ever before.
Panasonic introduced a very small light weight liquid crystal display monitor, weighing less than 1 pound with a list price of $450. Model AG-LC35P features a 3.2 inch color monitor with low power consumption and compact design. It's suitable for use in the company's new series of DC powered VHS and S-VHS VCR's. The monitor will be useful in mobile applications such as aviation, surveillance and law-enforcement.
Fibre Channel was explained in a series of seminars and was used on the show floor to help attendees better understand the technology. This new technology can move video around very, very quickly. As a future distribution technology, it will be critically important in the distribution of digital images in the information and video age. Key companies to watch for Fibre Channel developments include Mega Drive Systems' disk arrays, Hewlett-Packard's Media Stream servers, Ciprico's new 7000 series disk arrays and Tektronix's professional disk recorder.
Database management and the ability to quickly and accurately browse video assets will be critically important in the future. R&D is just starting in this important area and I hope we'll start see some major contributions from big players like Oracle soon. With the massive amounts of digital data being acquired at an increasing rate, locating digital assets will be critical to help keep everything straight.
With so many things happening at once, our only hope to keep up with developments is to cooperate and compete to develop the best ideas and systems.
© 1996 Jim Bennett All rights reserved.