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Filling the Gaps

Like a chef shopping for just a few special ingredients to complete a gourmet meal, Bob Ross, CBS senior vice president for East Coast operations, will spend the NAB show finding the bits and pieces that he says will help complete the HD production environment. “We have good cameras and good switchers, but we still need things to tie it all together,” he says.

Those things include graphics devices that are a little more HD-friendly and editing systems that can more quickly work with high-def. “We’re also looking for price reductions on those things as well,” he says. “There’s still a bit of a penalty for doing stuff in HD, so we’d like to see it be equal.”

With the end of standard-definition analog in sight, he says, some HD gear has become as inexpensive as SD equipment. But some equipment still comes with a 2%-5% premium, while others can be even more costly depending on the amount of additional processing power needed.

The HDV cameras from Sony and JVC are a perfect example of the kind of pricing structure Ross wants. “You can buy an HD camera for $3,000 now, and that’s how much a DV prosumer camcorder cost only a few years ago,” he says.

All the talk of HD is also beginning to spread to the newsgathering side. Although the technology for HD electronic newsgathering (ENG) is in place for building things like HD news vehicles, Ross says, it is still difficult to acquire broadcast news in HD. “I think we’ll see some pretty cool stuff at NAB that will allow people to do cost-effective news gathering,” he predicts.

Topping CBS’ wish list are ways to get news signals back from the field via microwave. Ross has seen some interesting combinations and solutions, but two issues remain. On one hand, the signal has to be compressed to a manageable size so it can be sent back to the station. On the other, it can’t have a lot of “latency,” or time delay.

“If there are two seconds of latency because it’s getting compressed, you can’t do a Q&A with the reporter,” he says. “I’m hoping to see more than a couple manufacturers have a solution for that because that’s the last real breakthrough we need.”

CBS is in the midst of building a new broadcast origination center in New York that will be server-based. While nothing needs to be invented to put it together, Ross is looking for the right pieces. “The technology is changing over so fast that, as soon as you make a decision, you’re kind of stuck,” he says. “So all the software tools we’ve been developing are generic from a hardware standpoint.”

CBS won’t look for tons of storage, since it doesn’t keep much programming online. But servers and routers are on its NAB shopping list. Audio and video routers are becoming smaller as IT-based routers gain popularity.

CBS is in an awkward phase. “The problem at the broadcast center is that we’re still moving a lot of video around,” Ross says. “We’ll move some of it around in an IT function, but we still have a huge infrastructure to support for video. We have 40 fiber feeds coming into the building and multiple inputs from different countries in different formats, and all of it needs to be converted to video.”

Shopping List

  • HD graphics gear
  • HD acquisition equipment
  • HD ENG transmission gear
  • Routing switches
  • Video servers