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Back to the Future

Bob Zitter understands priorities. The Las Vegas confab is important, says HBO's executive VP of technology operations and chief technology officer, because vendors still tie their product-development cycles to the event.

"We send people out there to investigate and learn, and then provide feedback into our decision-making process," Zitter says.

HBO currently shows about 77% of its on-air schedule in true 1080i HDTV, with the rest upconverted. While it has no plans to make a major purchase to convert its standard-definition studios to HDTV production, the network will buy HDTV technology where it makes long-term sense.

"When we look at facilities, such as our studio and network origination facility, we know the day is out there when everything will be in high-definition," says Zitter. "So we're looking at purchase decisions for equipment based on the expected life of the equipment, to decide when to buy in high-definition or standard-definition. The idea is to gradually evolve all the equipment to HD."

For example, says Zitter, buying standard-definition editing gear probably isn't practical unless it is for a short-term upgrade of an existing suite. The same also holds for SD monitors.

In fact, new monitor technology, such as plasma or LCD, is a big focus for Zitter.

"At the CES show, you could put all the CRT [cathode ray tube] TVs you saw there in a phone booth," says Zitter, who expects the same trend to impact the professional monitor space.

According to him, "The bigger issue with monitors is that people are moving away from glass tubes. What's coming next at the quality level we need in the studio."

Other technologies Zitter will be investigating are new IP routers and graphics equipment for production, effects, and on-air use. HBO is assigning IP addresses to all its networks to manage them internally.

"We're also looking at software systems we think are reliable for media management and facility management. We have a system that was built in-house a number of years ago that is due to be replaced. Finding a new one out in the marketplace instead of designing our own would be preferable."

HBO's biggest technical priority this spring is the continuation of a three-year-long migration of its program origination from videotape to servers.

After last year's NAB, HBO announced its decision to use a mix of server and nonlinear storage technology from Sun Microsystems, Hitachi, and Thomson Grass Valley to handle program archiving, online storage, and playout.

So far, the project is progressing well, says Zitter. Cinemax HD launched last fall as HBO's first totally server-generated network.

Four more networks are scheduled to shift to server origination in the next few months.

"The eventual origination system will be two-mirrored 50-tB systems," says Zitter.

While the HBO server system is grand in scale, the premium network is keeping asset management simple. Zitter doesn't think it makes economic sense to invest in a high-end asset-management system. Instead, HBO is using a mix of the Profiles' control system and some proprietary software to manage its program servers' operations.