NAB 2009 Highlights

To handle enterprise-grade cloud computing scenarios often requires a cloud storage solution, like those offered by Amazon and other players in the cloud computing space. I had a brief conversation with a company called Parascale that seeks to bring cloud storage to the enterprise, with some interesting implications for broadcast automation and streaming. This is one to watch as they've just emerged from stealth mode to start marketing under the Parascale name.

But while the trend toward cloud services was clear at NAB, there's still plenty of debate over which approach is the most cost-effective. Newly announced cloud transcoding service HD Cloud, headed up by former MTVi and Sonicnet head Nicholas Butterworth and (contrary to its moniker) not at all limited to HD content, came out at NAB to tout an ROI it claimed to be three times more efficient than in-house transcoding over the life of the hardware or software.

At the other extreme was AmberFin, which spun off from Snell & Wilcox in April 2008 and has long been a major player in broadcast image processing. AmberFin was at NAB pushing its iCR software, which starts in the $20,000 range. Not surprisingly, CTO Bruce Devlin, who worked on the MXF file format specification that iCR employs, argued that, in the long run, the up-front investment in iCR would pay off for publishers of massive amounts of content. The top-of-the-line iCR product, iCR 5000, also features advanced quality control functionality.

Even the traditional companies like Snell & Wilcox, who recently merged with Pro-Bell, and Sony are showing off broadcast automation systems that will impact the networks' ability to easily stream content. Sony showed off its ELC-MVS01, a software package for integration of standard- and high-definition news control room systems, with the ability to handle live production automation as well as queuing of rebroadcasts for the web and other "near live" events, when tied together with video servers and master video switchers, such as Sony's MVS-8000A and MVS-8000G models.

Metadata
This topic continues to dominate a variety of discussions surrounding automation, acquisition and delivery. Adobe made several announcements during the week regarding its intent to drive Flash to set-top boxes, and stressed in meetings the ability to move metadata throughout the workflow.

One particular area of interest is the linkage of speech transcripts to various parts of a video clip, as well as collaborative tools such as online scriptwriting tools that also tie to the editing and production workflow, but can also be embedded in the stream on a frame-accurate basis. While Adobe acknowledges they are not the first to provide script-linking to the editing timeline—Avid did this several years ago—the company thinks its holistic approach to metadata will make it the competitor to beat.

"Some of our customers have requested the ability to fit their own speech-to-text solutions in to our workflow," says Adobe's Simon Hayhurst, "and our production and delivery tools are extensible enough to allow just that type of flexibility. We don't want to slow down the acquisition, production and delivery process, but we do want to be a vital partner in all aspects of content creation and delivery."

HD
Sounding out a note about high-definition content, Sony's Alec Shapiro noted that many cameras are now moving from 10-bit A/D (analog-to-digital conversion) to a much more robust color space of 14-bit A/D conversion.

"High-quality productions are still very much in demand," says Shapiro, senior vice president of Sony Electronics’ Broadcast and Production Systems Division, "and the HD conversion continues in broadcast, as well as education, houses of worship, government and sports."

Sony is acutely aware of the impending transition to digital over-the-air television transmission (DTV), which was originally set to occur in February but will now occur in June. While many have touted this transition as an HD transition, the converter boxes being subsidized by the U.S. government are not capable of passing HD signals. This fact, coupled with the fact that many broadcasters have had to spend money to move to digital transmission may mean that the HD transition occurs faster on the web than it does in television.

Still, Shapiro appears optimistic the transition to HD content will be driven top down rather than from the web upwards.

"Sony HD [equipment] helps TV producers, technical directors, cinematographers, news crews and others bring new and exciting HD content to their audiences and viewers," says Shapiro.

On the other end of the spectrum, Digital Rapids showed off a second-round prototype of its TouchStream portable HD encoding solution. While the units won't be shipping until later this year, they will be on display at Streaming Media East in New York from May 12-13, 2009. The small portable device features a ruggedized case, a touch-screen interface, and the ability to buy a unit with one set of live encoding options, but turn on other options via after-sale software key options.

Also occupying the other end of the spectrum was HaiVision, which was showing off its MAKO-HD H.264, which encodes 1080p60 and sells for $8,995. According to HaiVision SVP Peter Maag, it's currently being deployed, along with the company's Video Furnace 5 software, in a range of medical and digital signage applications.

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