This week, the people of broadcast television make their way to Las Vegas for the annual gathering of the National Association of Broadcasters.
For broadcasters in particular, it’s a weird time to be in television. The word itself — television — is equal parts strongly nostalgic and tele-vestigial. Say “television” to a millennial and you’re a relic. Say it to any of us who grew up with that one screen as the central viewing device, it’s home.
The identity crisis facing traditional television is evident even in the show’s tagline this year: “Where Content Comes to Life.”
We took a quick poll of our favorite go-to broadcastside technologists over the last few week to find out what’s on their shopping lists for this year’s show. Not surprisingly, 4K video and its consumer-facing brand, UltraHD, will be the main event — but not all technologists are convinced it’s a go.
“I want to see if live-TV production gear, like big production switchers, has made any progress — we’re building a big new production facility, but so far it’s only being outfi tted for HD,” said one network-side technologist.
Refresher: UltraHD and 4K video is the next big thing coming from the consumer-electronics side of the television ecosystem, but the rest of that ecosystem is still catching up. From the HDMI connectors into 4K TVs, to the physical media (Blu-ray is arguably still “not big enough” to hold 4K video), to the bandwidth requirements to the cameras and whatever else we’re missing, there’s work to be done.
But! The challenges facing the rollout of 4K are nearly identical to those HD faced when it first hit the market. And if the NAB show floor is any indication (and to use a medical analogy), there are white blood cells flooding all the problem areas, seeking to make each juncture healthy and well.
Then there’s the other stuff that typically lines the floor of a convention for broadcast engineers. Or not.
“Betcha I don’t see any transmitters or towers,” said another engineer, who wondered when the “B” in “NAB” might switch from “broadcasters” to “broadband.”
And, like everywhere else, “cloud” and the transition to Internet-protocol everything, from image capture to production to post-production to screen, will crowd the exhibit hall. “It will be interesting to see how many possible functions can be stuffed into the cloud, or say that they can,” noted a content-side technologist.
Added another: “Wait a minute: If a broadcast tower is high enough, does that count as being in the cloud?”
Ah, the existential engineers in our tele-vestigial worlds. What would we do without them?
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