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Fox Hunting

After last year’s show, Fox is due for a stress-free NAB. Having pressed hard to launch HDTV prime time and sports broadcasts this past fall, Fox’s technology team can relax somewhat, as the HDTV plant in Los Angeles and the HDTV-receiving and MPEG-splicing gear at affiliates continue to run smoothly.

“We have virtually every component we had in the SD [standard-definition] world, and mercifully, the manufacturers have stepped up and developed products that give us a comparable program to what we had in SD,” says Richard Friedel, executive vice president and general manager, Fox Networks engineering and operations.

“One area we are really focused on is an affiliate branding project,” says Friedel. He would like to identify technology that will allow Fox affiliates to insert local branding, such as call letters, time and temperature displays, into local SD and HD broadcasts.

“We’re in the midst of planning,” says Friedel. “The promotions people are already doing creative, and we’re already talking to vendors. There’s a lot of stuff in discussion, but we have to find the hardware. We’re hoping for a one-box solution for both HD and SD.”

Fox wants to find more-effective gear for monitoring audio and video, now that the HD launch has doubled the workload for master-control operators.

“They could be watching as many as nine football games in HD and SD, with two sets of commercials,” says Friedel. “They have to watch the audio, the video and the captioning. It’s really difficult to find good ways for one or a few people to efficiently look at all that stuff.”

Fox will be investigating virtual monitor-wall technology and brainstorming with vendors like Evertz, Miranda and Barco for new video-monitoring solutions. “We’re trying to find better ways to present information,” says Friedel, “but we don’t necessarily have a lot of good ideas.”

Fox uses various products from Wohler, Dolby and Tektronix to monitor its Dolby Digital 5.1-channel audio output, but Friedel says there is room for improvement. For program playout, Fox is currently relying on Thomson Grass Valley Profile video servers, but the network is looking to purchase additional HD server equipment.

Another hot item is automation software, with a particular focus on systems that are designed for live production and run on robust operating systems, such as Unix or Linux. Says Friedel, “We’re not too thrilled about using Windows for a mission-critical, real-time kind of system.”

Fox will be shopping for on-air audio-production consoles, where it still relies on 10-year old AMS Neve models for such shows as Fox NFL Sunday. It wants to upgrade its sports editing operations from old Grass Valley and Sony linear tape-based systems to nonlinear editors and is close to selecting a vendor.

Friedel will look at new digital systems, such as Sony’s optical-based XDCAM and Panasonic’s solid-state P2 solution. So far, Fox is leaning toward the P2 format, says Friedel, despite the relative expense of the flash-memory cards it uses.

“We really are enamored with the idea of solid-state memory and no moving parts, no thermal or electrical problems, but we don’t know how fast that technology is going to roll out,” he says. “The company as a whole is taking a strong look at that.”

Shopping List

  • Local-branding solutions
  • Virtual monitor-wall technology
  • Digital audio-monitoring gear
  • HD playout servers
  • Audio-production consoles
  • Digital acquisition systems