IBC 2006: Is HD Coming, or is it Already Here?

When streaming was in its infancy, with postage stamp-sized images at 3-5 frames per second, high definition was still a twinkle in the eye of even the most forward-thinking beholder. Initial tests had been done on analog HD systems, and digital HD was on the drawing boards, but both were still years away from commercial acceptance.

At the 2004 International Broadcasting Convention (IBC), that began to change. The halls were full of broadcasters "kicking the tires" of HD prototypes, and the 2005 National Association of Broadcasters (NAB found additional interest and completion of initial orders for HD acquisition equipment to complement existing HD transmission equipment. By late 2005, even the holdouts in the low-end professional space—like Canon, which rested on its popular XL2 MiniDV camera—introduced HDV cameras that recorded a compressed HD signal at 25 Megabits per second on standard MiniDV tapes.

Yet streaming product manufacturers have been loath to follow suit. The question du jour at Viewcast’s NAB 2006 booth was "where is your HD solution"–and this was often coming from broadcasters who had only a year earlier received their first HD acquisition equipment. The only two companies in the "streaming" space that could be considered contenders were Inlet, run by Neal Page who had started and run the Osprey product line that ViewCast eventually acquired, and DigitalRapids, whose StreamHD is reviewed in the September 2006 issue of Streaming Media magazine.

From the looks of the pre-show press releases coming out of IBC 2006, which opens today in Amsterdam, it appears that several new players were also listening. Blackmagic Design, a company that has long had the potential to enter the streaming market with its low-cost, exceptionally high-quality standard- and high-definition SDI cards, began responding to broadcasters’ requests for a quality HD streaming card at NAB 2006. Another player in the streaming space is also preparing to launch an HD boardset in the next few months, which we’ll review in the November issue of Streaming Media magazine. Perhaps even ViewCast—whose market it is to lose—will introduce an HD boardset next week.

In many ways, it’s as if the streaming industry is now the one being dragged kicking and screaming into HD by broadcasters, a marked shift from the late 1990s and early 2000s, when streaming media players were goading broadcasters to make the jump into internet delivery of news clips and start-up internet TV stations were challenging the old paradigms of broadcasting. Having listened and responded to the challenge of the internet, albeit slowly, broadcasters began asking to review HD streaming boardsets in late 2003 and have continued to ask for this option at every major show for the last three years.

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