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IBC News: HD news heats up for Grass Valley

After a busy early part of 2006 supplying equipment for HDTV sports broadcasts, Grass Valley is starting to see fresh growth in selling high-def gear for news production, announcing over 8 million euros of fresh sales of its HD editing and production automation software at the IBC show in Amsterdam Thursday.

New orders for Grass Valley’s HD news production gear have come from CBS O&O’s KCBS Los Angeles and KYW Philadelphia, CBS affiliate KLAS Las Vegas, and ABC affiliate KMGH Denver in the U.S.; Aljazeera International in the Middle East; and VTM in Brussels, Belgium. The focus of the recent sales is Grass Valley’s Aurora HD software suite, which includes Aurora Edit (formerly NewsEdit), Aurora Ingest, Aurora Browse and Aurora Playout applications.

“The next big thing in high-def is news,” says Grass Valley President Marc Valentin. “It’s still early days for high-def, but we expect 2007 will be the watershed year for high-def news, as 2006 was for sports and entertainment.”

Valentin estimates that Grass Valley is involved in 80% of HD news installations globally, with half of those sales generated by its Ignite automated news production system and the rest coming from high-def news editing.

Grass Valley VP Jeff Rosica says that producing local news in HD is becoming a competitive issue, and that HD news has just as much appeals as sports or movies, as the crisp images “literally smack you in the face.” At the Grass Valley press event, he showed a short clip from KABC Los Angeles, which is using a large Ignite system to produce its newscasts in HD.

One area where Grass Valley offered little news was on its tapeless Infinity high-def camera system, which was due to begin shipping in July but has been delayed by engineering tweaks based on customer feedback. For example, Grass Valley redesigned the cooling system on the camera to make it self-enclosed, so it doesn’t suck in outside air and potentially drag dust into the system.

“We’ve got to get it right the first time,” says Rosica, who says the ship date for the $25,000 camera has been pushed back three to four months.

Grass Valley has completed alpha testing for Infinity with five major customers, including the BBC, and is due to begin beta testing with undisclosed customers in a few weeks. Rosica says the company’s goal is still to ship 100 Infinity cameras by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, there is still a projected 2.8 billion euros worth of gear that will be sold for HD entertainment and sports over the next three years, according to Valentin. In that vein, Grass Valley announced a new high-end HD camera aimed at outside broadcast operations, the LDK 8000, available in the fourth quarter for $116,600; and a new HD wireless camera system for sports applications that uses JPEG2000 compression to support bandwidths of 55-75 megabits per second. That system starts at $142,000 and will be available in early 2007.