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Getting Agile at NAB

Can you tell us about AgileVision?

AgileVision is a relatively new joint venture, formed last year by Sarnoff Corp. and Mercury Computer Systems. They got together following a successful technology suite demo at NAB last year of a product system concept that fundamentally was built on Sarnoff' s MPEG splicing algorithms. They then formed a joint engineering team, and the company was created in September. The interesting part about it as a start-up is, we' re hitting the ground running because we have this engineering team that has been working on the product for almost a year.

What will you be showing at NAB?

We'll be demonstrating our initial product. The strengths of the two venture partners are extremely synergistic: Sarnoff has the splicing algorithms, and Mercury Computer System has the hardware platforms that use massively parallel processing architecture that is now becoming the industry standard.

We have the level of computational power we need for processing DTV signals from standard definition to full HD. And the end result is a platform that we' ll be introducing as an integrated, single-box solution to get a broadcaster on the air with the DTV signal. The initial product will accept an incoming compressed ATSC stream and allow the splicing in of local content or spots, compressed logo insertion, PSIP table generation, and capability to handle the Emergency Alert System. It also interfaces with the station' s automation system and has a standard two-hour content cache, in basic configuration, so that local spots or graphics can be stored in the system. It then puts out an encoded ATSC stream.

The other aspect is datacasting. The platform includes a multiplexing capability for datacasting services, and this is looming larger in importance with broadcasters as a way to develop a business model for DTV. It has a data agent that takes the datacast stream, multiplexes the information and inserts it into the null packets of the ATSC stream.

When will it be available and at what cost?

Delivery will be fourth quarter, and the ballpark is about $225,000 list.

Do you have a competitor in this area?

We have competitors with regard to the pieces of the functionality that it can deliver. But there isn' t anyone to our knowledge that has taken a single platform to the level of integration that we' ve taken this platform.

What's your general take on the DTV market and the opportunities for broadcasters?

There are lots of issues: the 8-VSB vs. COFDM debate, the current lack of penetration of DTV receivers. Clearly, the broadcasters are wrestling struggling with what the business model can really be. I think what most broadcasters see with the DTV channel is some unique future capability with regard to services beyond generating a standard-definition TV signal. Broadcasters figure that somewhere there' s a pony in there, and what they need to do is protect the pony. I think the recent emphasis on data services is letting the pony begin to emerge. But broadcasters need ways to minimally enable the transmission of DTV, and we believe that the AgileVision platform does that and addresses some of the capabilities for the current business direction.

So what do you think will be some of the hot topics at NAB?

HDTV has been a hot topic at NAB since 1987 or 1988, and it will continue to be. But I think the datacasting and data services, like the announcements of Geocast and iBlast, will have a heavy emphasis on data opportunities.

What can broadcasters expect from digital technology at NAB?

If you look at the first wave of the digitization of the industry, it was fundamentally a lot of analog boxes replaced by digital boxes, digitizing analog processes. It' s not until the second wave of digital arrives that it changes the way people operate. I believe that the AgileVision platform is an example of that technology: It changes the way broadcasters operate in a facility. There will be other companies with second-generation or second-wave technology at NAB that will change the operation process. It will be the capability of second-wave digital technology that will be interesting at this NAB.

Many stations are still analog. What will drive them to digital?

It boils down to cost-effective solutions. They certainly see that digital technology is here. There are some benefits to it, but, as the technology matures, the benefits improve and efficiencies increase.