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National Association of Broadcasters Exhibition
Las Vegas, Nevada
by Jim Bennett (May 1998)

Birth of Digital Age
NAB marks its 75th anniversary and proclaims 1998 the birth of the digital era. But is this a continuing evolution that gets more complex and bewildering to most broadcasters each year? Granted they have come a long way from the 1920's and the first organizational meeting at Chicago's Drake Hotel in which fifty-four people were present. At NAB 1998, overall attendance was 104,805, with 22,654 international attendees and over 1300 companies exhibiting. Is there a road map or approach to make better sense of all this when you have to make tough acquisition and long term support decisions?

In the early days, these professionals dealt with radio. After the 1929 stock market crash, radio became the home's "must have free staple" for information and entertainment. In 1927, the first wired television broadcast occurred along with some moderate governmental legislation. Events like Orson Welles' War Of The Worlds in 1938, FDR's 1941 World War II radio broadcast, establishment of the 1951 Emergency Broadcast System and the first color TV broadcast in 1954 were some milestones for the mid development era.

At the dawn of the digital era, everything gets much more complex and fast paced. NAB throws support behind HDTV and achieves the first terrestrial HDTV demo in 1987, NAB urges the FCC to adopt the ATSC standard for digital television and North Carolina member WRAL-HD initiates the first U. S. broadcast of HDTV in 1996. The association responds to the FCC's additional spectrum loans by fostering and guiding developments into the new era of digital and high definition TV in 1997 and competition increases.

The NAB knows from "hands on" experience, how the system and consumers work This helps define the current competitive situation between the newly emerging digital communications companies and the established broadcasting industry. They will probably continue their long and contentious development process experienced throughout this decade. But for anyone to succeed they need to better understand what needs to be done and mutually cooperate.

Tsunami of Change
There is a virtual "Tsunami of Change" in standards, people, equipment, software, programming, facilities, business models and etc. Organizations are facing a dizzying array of options to consider, while being responsible to quickly determine the most cost effective and long lasting way to transmit digital signals to consumers as soon as Fall, 1998. Let's see how NAB 98 influences that process.

Steve Jobs and the Digital Future
In Monday's All Industry Opening and Keynote Address, Apple's co-founder Steve Jobs starts with "We need to talk about digital media---We have a collective problem". "The problem now is that we have a zillion standards and how do we deal with all of this?" With his experience in igniting the personal computer revolution in the 1970's and reinvention of the 80's PC with the Macintosh, we listen carefully.

He candidly continues, "The computer community knows nothing about entertainment. However, much of the entertainment community is not particularly technically literate either." This digital thing is happening, whether any of us want it or not. It can happen in a messy way, or in a much nicer way." He concludes "We are dying to work with you guys to try to figure out how, together, we can bring some architecture to this Tower of Babel that's happening right now".

The speech's marketing direction was entertaining and contained examples of items that "need fixing", but additional "next step suggestions" would have been appreciated. When we attempted to obtain more information from Apple representatives---few details were available or offered. They were more intent on extolling the virtues of Quick Time 3 and etc. As with Apple's wonderfully creative and memorable advertisements, it's not only important to "Think Different" but equally important to communicate clearly to all and deploy consistently to the customer level.

Intel Joins Television
Before NAB 97, Intel was aggressively partnering and promoting with PC manufacturers, to lobby a PC industry standard to the FCC. In effect, they hoped to force broadcasters and consumer electronic manufacturers to adopt it. In December, 1997, Intel changed sides and promised to build set-top converters with the display formats broadcasters prefer in this huge new digital TV market at reasonable cost to consumers.

Many sources say the PC makers are reading the new market wrong. Consumers want easy to use, user friendly and inexpensive products that don't require endless upgrades and "fiddling". Price points in the $100 to $500 range or seem to be gaining support to gain access to the 200+ million existing TV's which need to be modified or added to in the future.

Intel's Senior VP, Ron Whittier delivered the NAB 98 MultiMedia World Keynote urging broadcasters to stay away from pushing content piecemeal through a single pipeline. He said "they should take advantage of recent technological advances that allow them to blend multiple data formats together into an easily navigable and seamless whole". Additionally, "convergence vs. Integration" was discussed. Whittier feels integration better conveys what is happening as broadcast and computer industries blend traditional and interactive content together.

The many Intel demos included Intercast Viewer 2.0 which simulates a TV viewing experience on the Web. The phenomenon "Volleyball Paradigm" was mentioned and explained as "when consumers view images from TV to computer to TV without distinguishable change". Read more about Intercast.

As some colleagues noted , "Don't mess with people's TV's. The television rules family entertainment and the PC will just have to learn how to fit in." Web TV enhanced the television portion of it's product to make it user friendly. Even now, computers are becoming more Web and TV like because consumers want the technology placed in the background.

It appears Intel will follow the money, whether it's Intercast or something else. Mitchell Kertzman, CEO of Sybase said "Consumers, whatever the industry, look for solutions that are flexible over time, and do not require large investments.

Multimedia Boot Camp
On the weekend before NAB officially opened it's exhibits, a Multimedia Bootcamp was held to improve awareness and knowledge between traditional and newly emerging technologies. These sessions provided an overview of major changes, defined unfamiliar terms, while showing how businesses can prepare and participate in new opportunities.

SMPTE also held several sessions and presented white papers on Metadata and asset management approaches, which helped define and clarify how they can be applied. If one understands and sees the benefits of a new approach, they will be more likely to effectively use and recommend it.

HDTV will start Q4 1998
"Right now we stand at the threshold of HDTV broadcasting. The truth is, none of us are ready for HDTV, even though we have been working hard for the last decade to prepare. There is still a lot to be done but broadcasting will begin in ten large markets in November" states Richard Green, CEO of CableLabs. HBO is planning to convert 800 movie titles that will run in 1999 in the 1080i format.

Green's company learned three key things in its transition to digital technology.

The convergence of industries is real and the trend certain. We need to be thinking and working with our counterparts in other industries. The rate of technological development change in television keeps increasing and is now approaching the Moore's law cadence. Consumers will truly drive the Digital Evolution. Their interest must be the primary consideration in the introduction of this new technology.

His comments on technology change rates is especially appropriate, "Technical change is like a steamroller, if you're not on it, you're destined to be part of the road." Some examples include:

  • Photography took 112 years to go from discovery to commercial product
  • Telephone required 56 years for commercial success.
  • Radio required 35 years
  • Radar took 15 years
  • Television required 12 years
  • Atomic bomb took 6 years to become reality
  • Transistors went from lab to market in 5 years

    Today, a product can be invented, produced, packaged, marketed and become obsolete in the course of a year. Green aptly states" The computer industry and consumer electronics industry are on a collision course bringing this dilemma to the retail market. Will consumers be willing to replace their television sets every 18 months? Will they replace their television sets with computers?" He doesn't know but thinks the dilemma can be addressed by a software-based delivery system

    "The failure of industry and government to think of the emerging digital revolution as an inter-related, national system of industries is our most significant obstacle." observes Green with a memorable take-away from Raiders of the Lost Ark: "Those who live by the sword die by someone else's bullet".

    Furthermore, some industries have learned this the hard way: "The consumer is going to determine the future." There is no business principal more sound than that of keeping an open mind and measuring the customer's needs.

    Our industries are becoming increasingly interdependent and we need a unified will to reorient past efforts into today's conditions. Re-examine old turf battles and recognize the future will not be reached by individual industry segments in competitive isolation. Put aside the usual industry-centric, technology-based solutions to the future and develop a system which gives customer choice in which all can compete on the basis of attributes like content, price and quality.

    In closing , Green expressed "It is my hope that the cable, computer, broadcast and consumer electronic industries will all join this effort, recognizing that the current convergence of technology leads to a convergence of economic self-interest."

    Noteworthy Developments
    The exhibit floors like Las Vegas keep growing exponentially each year in a seemingly chaotic manner. All the competing standards, specifications, claims and sheer volume of "stuff" only allows a brief overview of things that caught my attention.

    DTV/HDTV exhibits by Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) and Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association (CEMA) They said 1998 is a crucial year for launching digital television broadcast in the United States and internationally.

    ASTC offered many sessions and demonstrations to present the latest product and launch plans for DTV in the US and with at least 18 DTV standards. Over 100 exhibits let you see and hear the new images and sounds while learning about the adoption progress in North America and worldwide. DVB demonstrated it's family of DTV transmission proposed for Europe and other regions. Datacast LLC demonstrated high speed data services embedded in NTSC transmissions which further underscores datacasting efforts. In the end, the market will decide.

    CEMA showcased the inaugural round of consumer DTV receivers and HDTV's by Panasonic, Sharp, and Zenith in family room environments at various quality levels. While Sony maintained its large presence on the show floor and Bally's and stayed at the upper price and quality levels.

    Products
    Highlights of products are limited because of a much needed format rationalization and solidification which will take years to occur.

    Panasonic presented it's AT-H3015W HD monitor with 16:9 aspect ratio and the new DT-M3050W monitor which is compatible with various ASTC and PC formats. Several DTV consumer sets were available but were not HDTV units. They also introduced the new DVCPRO50 family of cameras.

    Sony brought it's Digital Reality show to NAB 98 in systems like "Open MPEG World Broadcasting Infrastructure" to showcase 12 new field production systems, 11 studio production systems, 5 post production systems and various station elements including the HDC-750 field camera. Also of interest was the "Celebrity" digital highway broadcast truck which is DTV ready and the DSR-70 DVCAM-BASED laptop editing system, which is a nice addition to on-site editing.

    JVC presented several progressive and 1080i cameras and announced development of a 100 Mbps Digital S unit for sometime in the future. Hughes-JVC also introduced it's Model G1000 Graphics projector that combines performance, portability and affordability as well as the high end 360D Super Bright Projector at 6000 lumens of light and 1440 TV lines of resolution.

    Canon continues to showcase my personal "price/performance/size" favorite camera announced at COMDEX 97 in November, 1997. The Prosumer XL1 camcorder still draws large crowds even at NAB. Manufacturers take note, there is strong interest in moderately priced, high performing, ergonomically correct cameras.

    Pinnacle Systems' broadcast, desktop, and consumer groups provided attendee's with demos of cutting-edge tools that create impressive productions faster and more affordable than ever. Their innovative digital manipulation tools performed a variety of on-air, production functions such as the addition of special effects, image management, capture, storage, play out and title creation. The Aladdin system is an industry standard for real time video processing. Its Lightning advanced image management system is extremely fast and provides for better asset management. In the format wars, the Aladdin PRO can begin life in analog and later upgrade to digital, which should help the consumer's decision process. The Miro VIDEO DV300 is a cost effective DV camcorder image solution which can scan, capture, edit and print programs very cost effectively.

    Puffin Designs introduced Commotion 1.5 which has a motion tracker built in to its award winning playback, paint and rotoscoping application for the desktop. This addition adds high end functionality traditionally seen only in workstation based systems.

    Play Inc.'s Trinity and Electric Image headline billed as "The Most Powerful Production Tool In The History of Television" may be overblown, but it's price of $4,995 has certainly got everyone's attention. It's features include an 8 input D1 production switcher, 3D digital video effects, non-linear/linear editor, character generator, paint, compositing and animation, virtual sets and chroma key.

    Fantastic Corporation continues to merge the best of computing with the best of television by using multicasting of Web information over satellite networks and other media to locations that already receive satellite TV via dishes or cable.

    Next Steps And Closing Thoughts
    Developing a better understanding and appreciation of other technologies and how they can be effectively applied in real world situations is essential. Your next steps can be as straight forward as reading Michael Silberglied's well-written book, The Guide To Digital Television or contacting Snell & Wilcox to obtain practical information and solutions on how to convert to digital television. Their digital transition guides, books, papers and consultation services are geared to inform and assist you in making the correct digital choices based on real world experience.

    NAB98's digital mantra continues in the innovative traveling digital road show called "The Harris/PBS DTV Express". It is a state-of-the-art educational and technological wonder housed in a custom built 66 foot tractor-trailer. The mission is to inform broadcasters, policymakers, community leaders, educators, media and consumers about the new capabilities and opportunities made possible by digital television. This project covers areas such as digital multicasting, new ways of datacasting, enhanced interactivity and High Definition Television. The program includes demonstrations and scenarios of a living of tomorrow, a classroom of the future, as well as a fully operational digital television broadcast facility. all housed in a custom 66 foot road show vehicle. DTV Express will visit 40 markets across the United States over a 15 month period.

    We are in a period of dynamic technological change for a wide range of communications services. This has posed demanding and exciting challenges for both the industry and consumers. Since the regulatory battles are largely a thing of the past, we must all meet the challenges ahead by working together.

    The promise of convergence or integration will happen because so much money is at stake. The computer and broadcasters need to continue to work out their differences and develop solutions and products that are best for customers, who are in fact the final decision makers. We live in interesting times.

    Copyright 1998 Jim Bennett All rights reserved.

  •    
    Article Overview
    Birth of Digital Age
    Tsunami of Change
    Steve Jobs and the Digital Future
    Intel Joins Television
    Multimedia Boot Camp
    HDTV will start Q4 1998
    Noteworthy Developments
    Next Steps And Closing Thoughts
     

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