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ABC: From A to D at NAB

ABC is in the midst of a gradual conversion of its primary program distribution from analog to digital satellite.

"The first step is to get the [three] network control rooms configured for digital delivery, and we're doing that this year," says Preston Davis, president, ABC Broadcast Operations & Engineering. So, at NAB, ABC will be evaluating digital switchers, MPEG encoding and decoding devices, automated satellite monitoring and control systems, and "virtual-monitor walls" that use flat-panel displays or projection systems instead of CRT monitors.

ABC hopes to specify a standardized integrated receiver/decoder for affiliates. The current schedule is to begin converting stations in early 2004 and complete it by early 2005.

With more than 300 hours in first-run prime time HDTV programming, ABC isn't looking to buy much 720p gear. It is looking for a dedicated HDTV slow-motion system; at last month's Super Bowl, it relied on the variable-frame-rate capability of its progressive cameras. It will also look at refinements in HDTV production gear: cameras and lenses, clip servers, and graphics.

On the newsroom front, ABC decided to go with Avid for nonlinear editing. Davis continues to evaluate asset management and archiving technology but has not yet found an affordable and practical solution.

"I've been holding out for a number of years for an optically based archiving solution," he says. "Sony's announcement of an optical-disk camcorder might be a giant step in that direction."

Program playout still relies heavily on Betacam tape, although ABC does use Profile video servers for short-form content, commercials and sports clips.

Davis isn't in a hurry to convert to servers for long-form–program origination. "The scale is affordable, but you still need to load content into the server," he says. "Digitizing takes time, and, unless it's content you're going to repeat with some frequency, it doesn't make sense to load it into a server."

Davis is interested in COFDM-based microwave gear for newsgathering and sports production. "I'll be looking at developments in COFDM microwave and flexible ways to have mobile cameras that can maintain a solid signal when you move around a stadium."