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High-Def “Tipping Point” at IBC

The broadcast industry's mood at the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) last week was like the weather in Amsterdam: sunny and warm. Tech vendors reported robust European sales driven by the rollout of high-definition television in several countries.

The show drew a record 44,808 attendees, up from about 41,000 last year. Although mobile TV generated buzz at the National Association of Broadcasters show in April, big-screen HD was the star in Holland, despite a “Mobile Zone” showcasing the latest cellphone-video efforts. Several manufacturers introduced high-def production gear, including cameras and editing software designed to support European video frame rates. Sony and Grass Valley spoke of a sharp spike in HDTV equipment sales.

“We have reached the tipping point of the industry's adoption of HD,” says Sony Executive VP Mitsu Ohki, citing the Olympics and World Cup as the main drivers. Sony's HD sales have risen from 38% of overall worldwide equipment sales in fiscal 2004 to 53% in fiscal 2005, he says, with 2006 strong as well.

Sony introduced a professional camcorder and portable hard-disk recording unit based on the low-cost HDV compressed format. Since the gear's launch in January 2005, Sony figures to have shipped 91,000 professional HDV units worldwide by the end of this month.

Grass Valley's high-def cameras and switchers have been enjoying 40% and 76% year-over-year growth, respectively, says President Marc Valentin. Since announcing an MPEG-4 high-def encoder at NAB, Grass Valley has already taken orders for more than 50 units. Valentin projects that some 2.8 billion euros (around $3.55 billion) worth of gear for HD entertainment and sports will be sold over the next three years. In that vein, Grass Valley announced a $116,000 high-end HD camera aimed at outside broadcast operations and a $142,000 HD wireless camera system.

Grass Valley is also seeing fresh growth in high-def news, announcing more than 8 million euros ($10.15 million) worth of sales of its HD editing and production- automation systems. Customers include CBS O&Os KCBS Los Angeles and KYW Philadelphia, ABC affiliate KMGH Denver, and Al Jazeera International in the Middle East.

“The next big thing in high-def is news,” opines Valentin.

With more HD content being produced on both sides of the pond, changing between U.S. and European frame rates (60 Hertz compared with 50 Hz) becomes more important. Image-processing specialist Snell & Wilcox is targeting that with its HD standards converter, the Alchemist Ph.C-HD. It also demonstrated its HDTV upconverter, the Quasar-Ph.C, at IBC. CEO Simon Derry says business is booming: “HD has been a concrete take-off that has clearly stimulated business across the board. It's a phenomenon that is drawing lots of purchases.”