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IBC Rides the Hi-Def Wave

There was a definite buzz at the IBC show in Amsterdam last week, where a record attendance of over 47,000 broadcasters, cable and satellite operators and telco executives toured the floor of the RAI exhibition hall and participated in a forward-looking conference program that addressed new technologies like 3D HD and mobile TV.

While the economic news from the U.S. was bleak during IBC as the investment banking community fell into turmoil, the overall mood in Amsterdam was upbeat. Major broadcast vendors declared that sales were strong, particularly in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, driven by the adoption of high-definition sports and news production.

Companies that supplied equipment for last month's groundbreaking HD production of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing took the opportunity to pat themselves on the back, and large vendors like Harris and Sony reported double-digit growth in the European market from large system sales.

IBC offered a glimpse of HD's worldwide future. Japanese broadcaster NHK teamed with the U.K.'s BBC, Italy's RAI and the European Broadcasting Union to show a live broadcast of its Super Hi-Vision HD system, which features 7680x4320 resolution and 22.2-channel surround sound, and various booths and conference sessions touted the prospects for stereoscopic 3D HD production, including a live 3D HD broadcast from Los Angeles with DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Here's a sampling of news from major vendors:

Thomson: HD Sports Strength

To highlight its contributions in providing high-end field and super-slo-mo cameras for the Olympics and other big-event productions, French conglomerate Thomson held its IBC press event at the Amsterdam Arena stadium, home to the Amsterdam Ajax soccer squad.

Thomson demonstrated the capability of its LDK 8300 3x HD super slo-mo camera, which was used heavily at the Olympics by mobile vendors like Belgium-based Alfacam, by shooting live slo-mo footage of two Ajax players dribbling a soccer ball on the Arena field. And Thomson Senior VP Jeff Rosica announced a major sale of HD production and playback gear to MLB Network, Major League Baseball's startup cable network.

MLB Network will rely on a tapeless production and playback system consisting of some 36 Thomson Grass Valley K2 HD media servers, 25 Aurora high-definition editing systems, and a comprehensive Aurora software suite of applications to handle the entire HD postproduction chain from ingest to browse to playout.

Thomson also trumpeted several big HD news sales: TV Globo in Brazil has invested $1.8 million to convert two of its local affiliates to HD news production using the Infinity tapeless camcorder and K2/Aurora shared-storage production systems; ESPN has purchased two of Thomson's Ignite HD automated news production systems for its production control rooms; MediaCorp in Singapore has implemented a tapeless production system based on Aurora editors and K2 servers; and Australia Broadcasting Corp. has struck a major deal to roll out Ignite throughout its major city and regional areas.

In the playout area, Rosica also announced that NBC, a longtime customer for Thomson Grass Valley servers going back to the company's seminal Profile product, is using K2 HD servers for a fully automated playout solution across its eight owned stations. The system was launched last month to help support NBC's Olympic coverage.

Panasonic Touts Olympic Role

Panasonic used IBC to discuss its role in last month's Olympic Games in Beijing and describe the continued progress of AVCHD, a low-cost compressed camera format that records video on standard SD [Secure Digital] solid-state memory cards instead of the specialized P2 memory cards used by its higher-end DVCPRO HD camcorder line.

In an elaborate presentation, Jaume Rey, head of Panasonic Broadcast's European business, showed Games footage and listed equipment Panasonic supplied to host broadcaster Beijing Olympic Broadcasting (BOB), which used DVCPRO HD as its official recording format: over 100 camcorders, including solid-state P2 HD AJ-HPX3000 and AJ-HPX2000 models; 250 recorders, including the new P2 HD AJ-HPM110 P2 Mobile; and approximately 1,500 production monitors. Panasonic's giant AstroVision screens and Ramsa audio equipment were also used to support the opening and closing ceremonies.

Panasonic has shipped over 100,000 units of P2 HD worldwide to some 900 broadcasters, Rey says, and 29 third-party vendors showed their support for the format at IBC. Rey says the popularity of the P2 format isn't just about a recording format without moving parts, but about the complete file-based workflow that it enables. “It's not about tapeless, it's about IT,” he says.

Panasonic is launching a major distribution effort in Europe to push the AVCHD format, by forming sales agreements with dealers in France, Germany, Italy, Scandinavia and the U.K. Under the distribution deal, which focuses on the AG-HMC151 and shoulder-mounted AG-HMC71 cameras, the dealers have committed to take an initial 3,000 AVCHD units in the 2008 fiscal year.

Miranda Announces Big ABC Deal

Miranda Technologies has partnered with U.K.-based automation supplier Pebble Beach Systems to offer a new multi-channel playout system based on Miranda's Xchannel playout server.

The combined solution is aimed at existing Pebble Beach automation customers looking to cost-effectively launch new channels while maintaining high-quality branding.

It is based on a tight integration between Pebble Beach's Neptune automation and Anchor media management and Miranda's Xchannel playout server. Xchannel, which combines a video server, master control switcher and a branding processor in one device and plays out high-quality template-based graphics, starts at about $40,000 for a two-channel (HD plus SD) system.

By coupling with IT-based storage, Pebble Beach's Anchor media management can be used to move clips and graphics to and from the Xchannel servers. The Pebble Beach automation can also manage secondary branding events directly.

Miranda also introduced a single-card 3-gigabit-per-second HD/SD video and audio processor, the XVP-3901, which is designed to adapt feeds to match a facility's “house format,” and performs all the necessary up/down/cross conversion, color-space and aspect ratio conversion to maintain the chosen output formatting, irrespective of the input format. It can accept 3Gbps/HD/SD feeds, and continuously deliver independent 3G/HD and SD outputs.

Miranda has already won a large contract from ABC to provide the XVP-3901 and other signal processing and monitoring systems for ABC's new HD Central Switching Center (CSC) in New York, which is being built to serve as the network's primary central routing and signal processing facility for all inbound feeds, internal routing and distribution, and quality control monitoring.

ABC will use hundreds of the XVP-3901 single-card processors to convert and condition incoming news and special-event feeds. In addition to correcting level and delay issues, the processors will perform Dolby E decoding and up/down/cross conversion with independent HD/3Gbs and SD outputs. ABC master control operators will use the Miranda iControl monitoring desktop to get a graphical view of the signal path, and the facility will include a large video monitoring wall based on 20 large flat panel displays fed by Miranda's Kaleido-X multi-viewers.

Harris Sends Up New Transmitter Line

Harris Broadcast Communications' biggest product introduction was a new line of UHF television transmitters it is aiming at European TV stations and other international broadcasters that have yet to migrate to digital terrestrial transmission.

The Maxiva family of liquid-cooled TV transmitters for high-power UHF broadcasting and air-cooled solid-state units for low-power UHF transmissions are designed to make Harris more price-competitive in Europe and will use Harris' “PowerSmart” architecture, a power-amplification technique based on chip technology from Freescale Semiconductor. PowerSmart enables the Maxiva line to deliver the same effective power in half the rack space and requires about half the electricity to run compared to previous transmitters.

“This is probably the most exciting lineup of transmission products we've had in 10 to 15 years,” said Harris Broadcast President Tim Thorsteinson.

While Harris' broadcast segment sales grew 7.3% overall in 2008, to $643 million, Thorsteinson says sales in the U.S. were flat and international sales were growing in the 15% to 20% range. The Middle East drew most of the growth for the EMEA region, with large HD system sales to deep-pocketed customers like Abu Dhabi Media.

Harris announced several new sales to European broadcasters of large playout systems based on its Nexio AMP (advanced media platform) server, with the most significant being a new digital playout center for German broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1, which should be completed next March. The Munich facility is getting 34 Nexio servers for recording, quality control and playout, five Velocity ESX storage-area-network HD/SD editing systems and ADC automation software, along with project support, training and commissioning from Harris.

JVC, Sony Team on Solid-State Storage

JVC struck an alliance with Sony to license Sony's XDCAM EX MPEG-2 camera format and the SxS flash memory cards that it uses to record video, bringing a solid-state recording option to JVC's popular ProHD camcorder line.

Under the licensing deal, JVC plans to introduce a dockable recorder for its ProHD GY-HD200/250 series hi-def camcorders that will allow them to record video as XDCAM EX files on the SxS solid-state flash memory cards jointly developed by Sony and SanDisk Corp.

The KA-MR100G dockable recorder will have one memory card slot and connect to the cameras via a special adapter plate, the KA-UM100G. It is expected to ship next March with a list price of under $3,000.

“It provides backward-compatibility for existing customers, and they can record on both tape and the SxS card at the same time,” says Ian Scott, director of JVC Pro Video for the U.K.

While ProHD cameras have been capable of tapeless recording for some time through add-on modules like Focus Enhancements' FireStore disk drives, Scott says there has been strong demand among ProHD users for a solid-state option because of solid-state's workflow advantages and elimination of moving parts.

In that vein, JVC plans to make a camcorder that directly integrates SxS recording that will be available sometime in 2009. In the meantime, Scott says, the dockable solid-state unit means that “customers will not be left drifting with obsolete equipment.”

Sony Rides Systems Biz in Europe

Sony Broadcast announced a large systems-integration contract with U.K. satellite operator BSkyB and says that overall, its systems business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa has grown some 40% in the last 18 months.

Sony Professional Services has built 15 high-definition OB (outside broadcast) trucks this year, says David Bush, marketing director, and has orders for eight more for 2009. Other recent big systems deals for Sony include relocating Sky Italia's broadcast facilities; integrating Sony's server-based advanced networked production solution, SONAPS, into France's Canal+ and Italy's RAI; and creating a digital signage solution for the French postal system, which placed 5,000 Sony LCD monitors in 2,500 post offices.

Sony will serve as the lead systems integrator for News Corp.-owned BSkyB as it creates a new HD broadcasting facility in its West London headquarters, providing strategic guidance and design integration. Due for completion in 2011, the new Sky building will deliver flexible, HD-capable multi-platform content production facilities and multi-platform playout and distribution capabilities.

Last year was the first time Sony sold more HD gear than SD gear into Europe, and that trend continued in 2008, says Naomi Climer, VP of Sony Europe. Climer says that sales of HD production equipment continue to be strong, with new growth in Eastern Europe and Russia. To date, Sony has sold over 43,000 units of the high-end HDCAM SR format globally, while HD system camera sales have reached 8,800, switcher sales hit 6,900 and Sony's professional LCD monitors totaled 210,000 units.

Sony's XDCAM HD format is also gaining momentum in Europe. The company has shipped some 2,000 units of the high-end 4:2:2, 50 Mbps XDCAM HD optical-disc-based gear into Europe. Meanwhile, sales of solid-state-based XDCAM EX have passed 6,000 units in Europe since its introduction last year.