NAB 2009: Highlights From the NAB Floor

Harris Pursues Alternate Markets

The highlight of Harris Broadcast's NAB exhibition was a complete mobile DTV system that local stations can eventually use to deliver programming to cellphones, netbooks and other portable devices.

The company's biggest customer news, however, was from outside the broadcast market: a digital-signage deal to pump video into 20 McDonald's fast-food restaurants around the country; and a contract with the National Basketball Association's Orlando Magic franchise to create HD broadcast production and IPTV systems for the team's new arena, slated to open in 2010.

According to Harris Broadcast president Tim Thorsteinson, the company's overall business has been soft over the last year. But Harris is starting to find new business, he says, from “non-traditional” customers like McDonald's and the Orlando Magic.

“We're diversifying our business beyond traditional, ad-supported broadcasters to subscription-based and 'adjacent-market' customers,” Thorsteinson says. “And we're leveraging our R&D spend in broadcast to go after new opportunities.”

The system Harris has created for McDonald's uses the company's InfoCaster digital signage technology to display broadcast-quality content for the McDonald's Channel, a private network with educational and family-friendly fare. The file-based InfoCaster systems are monitored remotely from the Harris Advanced Media Center in Melbourne, Fla.; Harris handles program ingest, quality assurance and content scheduling for every display.

The system Harris is creating for the Magic's new arena combines digital signage with an IPTV network. It will be used by the team to present video on scoreboards, TV monitors in suites, and in digital signage throughout the facility as well as in “interactive fan zones” in the front lobby and in the parking-garage entrances.

Inmarsat Boosts BGAN Speed

Mobile satellite communications firm Inmarsat's Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) service, which provides IP-based streaming from small portable terminals and is used extensively by CNN and Fox News for war coverage, got an upgrade at NAB with the launch of BGAN X-Stream. The new service combines two standard 256 kilobit-per-second (kbps) BGAN channels into one 512 kbps pipe that can be accessed by existing broadcast-class terminals from Hughes and Thrane & Thrane. This follows the practice pioneered by CNN of bonding two BGAN channels to boost streaming speeds and improve picture quality for broadcast.

BGAN X-Stream guarantees streaming rates at a minimum speed of 384 kbps, but beta customers have experienced throughput up to 450 kbps, says Inmarsat director of business development Frank August. Most broadcast customers already have the Class One terminals needed for BGAN X-Stream, August says, so “all they have to do is a firmware upgrade.”

Hugh Donnan, manager of enterprise markets for BGAN terminal dealer and Inmarsat unit Stratos, says the BGAN X-Stream service, which costs around $31.25 per minute compared to about $23 for the 256 kbps service, was attracting strong interest in Las Vegas from both networks and local broadcasters like Raycom Media.

Panasonic Cuts Card Prices

Panasonic introduced the E-Series, a new, cheaper line of solid-state memory cards designed to work with its P2 camcorders and aimed at broadcasters who have complained about high media costs within the P2 workflow.

The E-Series cards, which are available in 16-, 32- and 64-gigabyte (GB) models, are priced much lower than standard P2 cards and will transfer content at higher speeds, up to 1.2 gigabits per second. But they are also designed to have a shorter life span.

The 16 GB and 32 GB E-Series P2 cards will be available this month at a suggested list price of $420 and $625, respectively; the 64 GB E-Series P2 card will be available in August at a suggested list price of $998.

By comparison, standard P2 cards at those storage sizes list for $900, $1,650 and $2,600, respectively.

According to Panasonic, when recorded once daily at full capacity (100%), the E-Series cards are reusable for up to five years; when used at half capacity (50%), the cards will record for up to 10 years. The camcorder's LCD/viewfinder will give a notification when an E-Series card approaches the end of its life cycle.

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