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ABC on the HD Lookout

Some 40 members of ABC’s broadcast operations and engineering group will make the trip to the NAB Show to attempt to uncover some tech gems.

“We always go out to NAB hoping to find something that is not on our radar screen,” says Preston Davis, president of ABC broadcast operations and engineering. However, Davis and his team have a few definite items on their shopping list. ABC’s successful high-definition broadcast of last month’s presidential inauguration, which involved 36 HDTV cameras and four production vehicles, gave the network valuable experience and uncovered a few technology gaps, says Davis.

“We are still looking for HD wireless equipment, like digital microwave systems, that can handle the HDTV bandwidth for the type of wireless HD cameras that would be used on something like the parade route during the inauguration,” says Davis. “HD satellite newsgathering [SNG] equipment is also still very much on the list.”

ABC is still evaluating new digital-storage media for news production and archiving, including Sony’s XDCAM optical-based solution, which stores video on special DVD disks using blue-laser technology; Panasonic’s P2 system, with records content on solid-state flash memory cards; and Ikegami’s EditCam, which stores video on a removable hard disk. ABC is due to receive all three products by early March and will be testing each in conjunction with Avid Technology’s nonlinear editors and iNews’ newsroom system, which ABC has been deploying over the past two years. “We’ll be testing each as a system, not just as a standard acquisition device,” says Davis.

While considering electronic newsgathering (ENG) camera systems, ABC will be looking closely at JVC’s HDV as a low-cost, high-definition acquisition format for news.

With two new production control rooms under construction in New York, Davis is looking for multi-format switchers that operate in both SD and HD modes. ABC wants HDTV graphics devices, including character generators and digital video-effects systems.

“We’re hoping to see more devices and low-cost choices for HDTV graphics production, as well as shared storage devices for graphics,” says Davis.

ABC also wants devices for sending digital ENG or SNG feeds with less bandwidth or delivering ABC content to wireless devices like PDAs.

The network already delivers content to PDAs through ABC News Now, a broadband-based service it tested as a digital network through the 2004 electoral cycle. It was carried by some 70 ABC affiliates as a part of their DTV broadcasts and was also available to 6.5 million cable subscribers. ABC concluded the broadcast trial late last month, leaving it as an Internet-based service, but the digital network will launch again this spring. Davis is now figuring what receiver equipment local stations will need.

As he explains, every new tech attempt is just a test to discover problems. “At the moment,” he says, “we’re building an ABC News Now pilot system as a way to understand how to manage the bandwidth and what equipment will be needed at the station for a service like that.”

Shopping List

  • HD solutions for ENG and SNG
  • Digital acquisition systems
  • Asset-management software
  • HDTV graphics
  • Virtual-monitoring solutions
  • Advanced encoding technologies