IBC2007: Notes From the Show Floor

The IBC show celebrated its 40th anniversary in Amsterdam last week with its biggest event ever, drawing a record 46,964 visitors and some 1,300 exhibits from more than 120 countries to the RAI convention center. While non-techies may yawn, this year high-definition production and master-control gear, MPEG-4 compression systems, and IPTV technology, ranging from middleware to IP set-tops, were the hot trends on the show floor. Below are some snapshots:

Sony ShowsSolid-StateCamcorder

Broadcast equipment giant Sony demonstrated a working version of the solid-state XDCAM camera that it introduced at NAB. The new PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX compact camcorder will begin shipping in November at a list price of around $9,000. It records high-definition video on two 16 gigabyte (GB) PC Express solid-state memory cards, with each 16 GB SxS PRO card capable of storing an hour of HD video (at 25 Mbps). To support the new camera, Sony has also developed a viewing deck and a simple PC Express disk-drive unit.

“We firmly believe now is the time to enhance our XDCAM lineup with a solid-state option,” said David Bush, director of marketing for Sony Europe.

Sony, which has sold some 23,000 XDCAM optical-disc units to date, announced that its Blu-ray-based XDCAM discs will now feature dual-layer recording, giving a disc a continuous recording time of up to four hours. It said that an XDCAM HD camcorder and deck that use higher-quality 4:2:2 encoding will be available in early 2008.

Sony also announced two new LCD monitors, as well as large sales of its SONAPS networked news production system to RAI in Italy and Canal+ in France.

Thomson Launches Slo-Mo Camera

Thomson Grass Valley unveiled a new HD field camera, the LDK800 SportCam, with built-in 2x super-slo-mo capability. The new camera is a dockable, two-piece unit that will sell for about the same price as Thomson's established WorldCam, said Thomson Grass Valley senior VP Jeff Rosica, allowing truck vendors to make super-slo-mo more of an everyday feature. Thomson also announced a 15 million euro ($20 million) deal to build four HD outside broadcast (OB) vans for Middle Eastern broadcaster Abu Dhabi Media, as well as a large deal for Netherlands production company Alfacam to outfit 10 OB vans with some 120 HD field cameras and 10 Kayak HD production switchers.

Thomson's long-awaited Infinity tapeless camcorder, which is designed to use a range of compression formats and recording media, won't ship until this fall, said Rosica. Thomson announced that Abu Dhabi, which is buying a broad HD news production system from Thomson, and Dutch production company Flevoland will be early Infinity customers. Thomson also announced sales of networked HD news production systems to Czech broadcaster TV Nova and Brazilian broadcaster Rede Record. Rosica said that HD sales continue to grow, both in the U.S. and overseas.

“In reality, HD is no longer a story, as soon HD will be regular TV,” Rosica notes. “It will be commonplace in news and control room automation.”

Harris Bows Playout Server

Harris Broadcast unveiled a new video server platform, NEXIO AMP, which leverages the company's expertise in automation software, asset management, graphics and monitoring by tightly integrating them into the product. NEXIO AMP pairs a high-performance, high-definition/standard-definition (HD/SD) architecture with a range of software-enabled media services that will be offered as options, allowing a broadcaster to integrate signal quality control, channel branding, multiviewer I/O monitoring and playout automation capabilities within a 3-rack-unit (RU) chassis.

“Really what we're doing is taking the best intellectual property from across Harris and applying that to developing new technology,” said Harris VP of marketing Brian Cabeceiras.

NEXIO AMP is based on an advanced storage architecture built around Harris' all-new AMP MediaCore engine, which incorporates multiple processing chips and integrates into the NEXIO storage area network (SAN). For redundancy, it uses the Harris RAIDsoft software RAID management system and new, patent-pending technology called “Intrinsic Mirroring,” which provides simultaneous media mirroring to a second SAN at the point of ingest, with no replication or copying required.

Two versions will be available: the NX3601HDI with integrated storage and the NX3601HDX for shared storage networks. Options include signal quality control based on the Videotek QuiC media analysis server, playout automation based on the H-Class ADC playout automation system, multiviewer I/O monitoring based on the CENTRIO multiviewer, and channel branding based on the IconStation master control graphics system.

Omneon SupportsPanasonicHi-Def Format

Video server vendor Omneon said its popular Spectrum server will now support Panasonic's DVCPRO HD acquisition format, through a new line of modular input/output components.

Omneon, which has already been supporting Sony's MPEG-2-based XDCAM HD format in the Spectrum as it expands its business from playout to production applications, introduced the MediaPort 6000 series, which uses DVCPRO HD's DV-based compression scheme. The first available component is the MediaPort 6101, which provides real-time recording and playback of DVCPRO HD material.

That new device will allow raw video to be encoded in real time, creating editable DVCPRO HD files within the Spectrum. Files can also be transferred to a Spectrum from DVCPRO HD-compatible editors, such as Apple's Final Cut Pro. The MediaPort 6101, which can be connected to any existing Spectrum server, will also decode the DVCPRO HD files for on-air playback.

Omneon VP of worldwide marketing Geoff Stedman said that Omneon is also working to eventually support AVC-Intra (Advanced Video Coding intra-frame), a new compression format that Panasonic has developed for its P2 HD solid-state camcorders.

Miranda Offers 3D Graphics Solution

Miranda Technologies introduced a 3D graphics authoring and rendering platform, X-3D, which incorporates advanced processing technology from 3D graphics specialist firm Ventuz and is aimed at high-end HD and SD graphics for news and sports production.

The new system provides 3D rendering and generates sophisticated animation effects, texture and material mappings, shading and 3D lighting. The processor's 3D design and authoring application, XVentuz, uses a template-oriented structure to simplify graphics authoring, control and graphics re-use.

X-3D also integrates closely with Miranda's Xmedia Suite of template-based graphics systems, which allows journalists to quickly create graphics on the desktop and has been adopted by station group Media General as a way to streamline graphics production. Xmedia provides asset management and data interfacing to proprietary feeds and databases, and uses the MOS (Media Object Server) protocol to interface with newsroom computer systems.

“X-3D brings 3D graphics to daily production,” said Marco Lopez, VP of product development for Miranda.

Miranda also introduced a compact, 4-rack-unit (RU) version of its popular Kaleido-X multi-image display processor aimed at midsized broadcasters, and announced that its Densite Series digital audio processor card now has the ability to “upmix” stereo audio to 5.1-channel Dolby Digital Audio, thanks to Linear Acoustic's upMAX audio.

With the upconversion of standard-definition video to high-definition now standard practice among broadcasters, Lopez said “it only makes sense” to provide similar capability for audio.

OmniBus Provides HD PlayoutFor DirecTV

Automation vendor OmniBus Systems said that DirecTV is using its iTX software-based transmission system to support the satellite operator's major expansion of high-definition programming, which begins later this month. DirecTV's 80-channel installation, which OmniBus said is in the final stages of deployment, represents by far the biggest sale to date for iTX, which pair OmniBus software with off-the-shelf hardware.

“ïTX is very real now, and the DirecTV announcement should wake a lot of people up,” said OmniBus Chief Technology Officer Ian Fletcher. “It shows it's not just a low-end product, as it's being used for high-end HD by one of the world's premier broadcasters.”

DirecTV was one of the early beta-testers for iTX and helped define some of the requirements for the system, according to Fletcher. After deciding to go with the OmniBus system for the HD CONUS project, the satellite operator began testing iTX on-site in April. The system has two iTX units per channel for redundancy, and includes HD ingest and integration with DirecTV's business and control systems. It also makes use of the Dolby Digital multichannel audio capabilities available in iTX, and gives DirecTV the ability to insert branding or video on all the channels, depending on its requirements.

“One of the attractions of iTX for them is not just the cost efficiencies, but the agility to do more with it if they want,” said Fletcher.

Snell & Wilcox Tackles File-Based Workflows

U.K.-based image processing specialist Snell & Wilcox introduced a version of its content mastering and repurposing workstation, iCR 2.5, which is aimed at file-based operations and allows fully automated content mastering and repurposing. Snell & Wilcox has found that customers ingesting digital content have to re-encode about 40% of it due to quality control (QC) issues. So the new version of iCR has automated, real-time QC functionality for a wide range of third-party file types and videotape ingest, along with comprehensive QC review tools that generate detailed error reports and allow operators to review and annotate QC alarms.

“We're trying to integrate QC into the file-based workflow without having to revert to real-time devices,” said Snell & Wilcox VP of marketing Joe Zaller.

Other new features for iCR include support for uncompressed video and a wide range of video codecs including DV, DVCPRO and QuickTime; a 30% increase in overall repurposing speed; and real-time MPEG-1, WM9 and QuickTime proxies with burn-in timecode, creating a more efficient workflow without requiring a separate proxy generation system. Snell & Wilcox also introduced a software version of its Alchemist Ph.C frame-rate standards converter, called Alchemist IP, that runs on standard PC hardware.

HarmonicDevelops New MPEG-4 Encoder

Harmonic introduced the Ion AVC, an MPEG-4 encoder aimed at standard-definition video applications. The new product is designed to support constant-bit-rate encoding applications for smaller telcos and cable operators through a cost-effective, “dense” compression platform---as in fitting a lot of streams into a small package. It delivers four simultaneous MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) standard definition (SD) channels from a 1-rack-unit (RU) system.

“It's H.264 for the masses,” said Arnaud Perrier, senior manager of encoder product marketing for Harmonic.

The company also announced that its high-end DiviCom Electra 7000 MPEG-4 encoder will support 1080-line progressive-scan (1080p) video at 24 frames per second, the same picture format that is used in digital cinematography, Blu-ray high-definition digital video discs and the latest consumer HD displays. Harmonic, which is supplying MPEG-4 encoders for DirecTV's expansion of national HD channels this fall, also demonstrated 1080p video at 50 frames per second (the European frame rate, compared to North America's 60 fps) compressed through MPEG-4 at a bit rate of 15 Mbps. While there aren't set-tops in place to receive such signals yet, sports programmers like ESPN have suggested they will begin producing in the 1080p/60 format in the next couple of years, and Harmonic wanted to showcase its technology as a “proof-of-concept,” said Perrier.

SeaChange Opens 'Drawer of Drives'

VOD and video server vendor SeaChange introduced an ultra-dense storage product, the “Drawer of Drives,” designed for offline and archive storage applications. The system is capable of providing up to 72 terabytes (TB) of storage, or some 3,300 hours of high-definition video compressed at a high-quality 50 megabits per second (Mbps), in a compact, 5-rack-unit (RU) chassis.

The Drawer of Drives, which should begin shipping early next year, consists of six “drawers,” each containing 12 hot-swappable disk drives that can store 1 TB each. It can also be connected to SeaChange's nearline ML1G storage server to create a 1-petabyte storage facility, or as SeaChange spokesman Chris Nicholson described it, a “central repository where you can dump everything.”

SeaChange has been experiencing strong sales in Europe, according to Nicholson, and the company announced the sale of a large high-definition play-to-air system to Belgian broadcaster VTM. The system is based on SeaChange's Broadcast MediaLibrary/MediaClient platform and will link to VTM's tapeless production workflow.

Pro-Bel Intros Small Routers

U.K.-based routing, infrastructure and automation supplier Pro-Bel introduced Pyxis, a range of small-scale, multi-format routers targeted at post-production firms, small studios and edit suites. Pyxis is designed to complement Pro-Bel's existing larger Sirius and Cygnus routers, and is available with a range of cards in either 1-rack-unit (RU) or 3-RU frames, from 16 x 16 up to 72 x 72 cross-points. Designed to be able to mix and match signal types, Pyxis can handle 3 gigabit-per-second, 1080p HD; 1.5 Gbps HD; and SD/ASI signals in 72 x 72, 34 x 34 and 17 x 17 configurations. AES and analog audio comes in 288 x 288, 216 x 216, 144 x 144 and 72 x 72, which can be configured as mono or stereo. There are also wideband analog video cards available, as well as RS422 in 128, 64 and 32 ports. The SDI and analog video cards can also handle a wide variety of telco signals including STM-1, STM-4, T4, E4, T3 and E3 in addition to XVGA signals.