By general consensus, this year's NAB Spring Convention, or 'NABshow' as it styles itself, was one of the best ever. Wider aisles and a respectable rather than manic level of attendance made the event, in the words of one exhibitor, 'Business Class'. NAB was always the prototype show where you could sense the directions in which manufacturers were trying to steer the broadcast business. Like it or not, this year's message was loud and clear: 3D HDTV.
The 3D demos came in many varieties, most using a combination of field-frequency switched-polarity screen-shield and nose-worn passive polarising filters. Results were generally good though whether the 3D effect justified the nuisance of wearing the goggles is a matter of personal taste. Other exhibitors used an array of extremely thin vertical lenses to permit direct-view 3D – the 3D postcard concept - while a smaller number such as NHK used a honeycomb of circular lenses.
Opposite NHK, NICT demonstrated various esoteric technologies including electronic holography and haptic (touchable) 3D imaging. The televised object was a metal disc which you could see in 3D, feel with stylus and even push onto its back. Could be useful for pushing in-your-face documentary presenters off screen.
My favourite exhibit was JVC's prototype 2D into 3D real-time electronic processor. Ordinary HD video goes in and pseudo 3D emerges. The design team reasoned that any reasonably large area of blue is probably the sky so can safely be assigned to the background. Similarly a large area of green is probably grass so can equally safely be assigned to the foreground. Yellow is probably neither grass nor sky so can be position to a middle depth layer. All very hit and miss but a nice try. The overall display (a normal flat HD screen with the usual kind of polarising filter) had a strangely concave look to it, as though the screen centre had ballooned inward.
3D apart, there was plenty new in the 2D HD arena if you looked for it.
Camera Corps' Q-Ball HD/SD ultra-compact remote camera made its first ever exhibition appearance. Designed for point-of-view applications, Q-Ball can be chosen to blend in with a wide range of studio set designs or, at the producer's discretion, to add visual excitement of its own. The complete Q-Ball head is smaller in diameter than a Compact Disc incorporates a full HD/SD dual-mode colour camera, high-precision pan and tilt system, 10:1 zoom optics and infra-red night-vision capability, all under remote control. The Q-Ball is fully compatible with all Camera Corps' existing pan/tilt and CCU controllers. Integral low-noise motors allow the camera to be repositioned smoothly between shots or while on-air. Pan and tilt can be operated at any speed from 4 seconds to as slow as 20 minutes per rotation cycle through an unlimited number of turns with no visible stepping. Four channels of embedded audio can be output from the camera interface. The Q-Ball in its current form incorporates a 1/3 inch 2 megapixel 16:9 CMOS sensor delivering 1080i/720p HD or 625/525 SD, both at 50 or 59.94 Hz and in 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio. Signal-to-noise ratio is >50 dB. Focus can be controlled manually or automatically. The Q-Ball weighs 1.3 kg including mounting shaft and can be operated at any angle. The camera interface operates from 9 to 18 V DC power supply.
Canon's BU-50H HD remote camera incorporates an indoor pan/tilt head, a 20X zoom lens and a 3 CCD HD imager. Extensive control of the pan-tilt, lens functions and video adjustments are provided. The BU-50H can output an uncompressed HD-SDI (or SD-SDI) signal. Control protocol is non-proprietary.
Fujinon announced the XA50X9.5B ESM HD telephoto lens. Designed for use with 2/3in HD cameras, is has an integral camera support and requires no additional camera lens support. The XA50X9.5B ESM has 50X magnification and a 9.5 mm to 475 mm focal length. A remote control 2X extender is included. Maximum relative aperture is 1.7 from 9.5 mm to 311 mm.
Gekko Technology announced a considerable advance in lighting with the development of 'kleer colour', the world's first adjustable, focusable single source multi-colour light. This uses a single array high-power light-emitting diode which can be tuned under software control to produce millions of different colour temperatures. It is designed to give lighting directors and camera crews unprecedented control of colour temperature and illumination level. Unlike multi-source RGB colour-mix devices, it delivers a broad spectrum of light that can be adjusted by the operator to match a vast array of hues across the visible range. Self-monitoring sensors are paramount to ensure stable colour across a range of output levels as well as correcting changes in performance caused by ambient temperature and component ageing. In addition to primary and intermediate colours, kleer colour can precisely emulate a high quality tungsten reference source. It can be switched quickly and easily to produce 2900K, 3200K, 4300K, 5600K and 6500K as well as a wide range of colour gels. The first luminaire to use Gekko's 'kleer colour' light source is kedo, a focusable spotlight equivalent in output to a 1 kW Fresnel.
Hitachi's new Z-HD5000 is a portable dockable HDTV studio and EFP camera, with native scan in 1080/59.94i or 1080/50i. It is designed for studio, field, and mobile video production. The camera can be docked to an optical fibre, triax, or RF wireless adapter, or a P2 HD recorder for standalone recording. Features include a CCD shutter with five preset speeds; automatic exposure which maintains the video level with a fixed lens F-stop; and the ability to lock scan the camera video to images from asynchronous computer monitors, video walls, or projectors without flicker. It also offers a wide range of set-up features, including: 12-vector and linear matrix masking for hue and saturation levels, skin tone masking and automatic skin tone detail circuits, quick focus, knee saturation and auto knee, grey scale and automatic shading, user-programmable switches, and a choice of black/white or colour viewfinder displays.
In addition to a prototype dual-lens camcorder capturing 3D HD straight to P2 memory cards, Panasonic announced an expanded P2 line. The new E-Series includes 16 Gbyte (model AJ-P2E016X), 32Gbyte (model AJ-P2E032X) and 64 Gbyte (model AJ-P2E064X) cards which are claimed to be good for an average of five years of normal operation. Transfer rates are up to 1.2 Gbit/s. When recorded to once daily at full capacity, the cards are reusable for up to five years; when used at half capacity, the cards will continue to record for up to 10 years. A notification is given (in the camcorder's LCD/viewfinder or the card reader's display) as the card approaches the end of its life cycle. Details of the card's capacity and life can also be displayed and tracked on a computer via downloadable P2 formatter software.
Polecam announced three additions to its range of mobile production equipment. Spanning up to 8 meters, the 7th Heaven jib has the longest reach of any ultra-mobile HD/SD camera support system currently available. Combined with Polecam's FishFace underwater head and housing, you can also shoot deep underwater without getting your feet wet or having to come up for air. The Universal RCP MkIII system provides comprehensive control of up to five different camera types from the one panel via a single highly robust data channel. Lastly, Polecam's Poledoms offer a quick change of jib colour appropriate to the shoot: Arctic White, Desert Camouflage, Fluorescent Orange, Jungle Camouflage and Urban Camouflage.
Sony introduced the SRW-9000 HDCAM SR camcorder. This uses 2/3-inch CCDs with a 14-bit A/D converter and digital signal processing to capture up to 1080/60P images. In standard configuration, the camcorder is capable of 4:2:2 10-bit recording at 1080/23.98P, 24P, 25P, 29.97P, and 1080/50i/59.94i. It can also record 4:2:2 1080/50P/59.94P. The HKSR-9001 option board adds dual-link HD-SDI outputs and an extra input port for connection to external audio. A picture cache board (HKSR-9002) allows the camcorder to capture and record images with variable speed from 1 to 60 fps.
Providing more than twice the processing power than the company's Alpha platform and a channel count that sets a new industry benchmark, Calrec's Apollo audio desk Bluefin2, the next generation of Bluefin HDSP, which provides unrivalled resources at multiple sample rates. At 48kHz Bluefin2 provides Apollo with 1020 channel processing paths, 128 program busses, 96 IFB/Track outputs and 48 auxiliaries. At 96kHz, Apollo provides 510 channel processing paths, 64 program buses, 48 IFB/Track outputs and 24 auxiliaries.
Apollo also has a second dynamics section in each channel, more than 70 minutes of assignable delay and three independent APFL systems for multiple operator use. The Apollo control surface manages all these channels over 12 layers and on up to 320 physical faders. In addition, the Calrec A/B path selection system is retained for those users who wish to use the desk in a similar manner as Calrec’s Alpha platform products. Layers and the A/B path system can be disabled if not required.
Jnger Audio exhibited new additions to its C8000 system which is designed for managing Dolby 5.1 audio and Dolby-coded streaming. It is designed to adjust the level from any source at any time, with no pumping, breathing or distortion. It is based on a simultaneous combination of an AGC, a transient processor for fast changes and a look-ahead peak limiter for continuous unattended control of any programme material, regardless of its original source.
Sonifex' Redbox RB-DSD1 digital silence detection unit operates in a similar way to the existing RB-SD1 but has AES/EBU, S/PDIF and TOSlink inputs and outputs instead of analogue inputs and output respectively. Designed to switch from one input to another in the event of loss of audio, the unit is suitable for transmitter sites, or after the master output of a studio, to switch in another audio source, or simultaneous broadcast, should a master source fail. Sample rate converters on each input mean that sources of different sample rates can be used with the output sample rate being defined independently.
Tascam's DR-100 handheld solid-state audio recorder offers high-quality recording directly in WAV or MP3 format. It includes a pair of built-in cardioid microphones plus an additional pair of and omni-directionals, as well as XLR mic inputs with switchable 48V phantom power. The recording levels can easily be controlled by a twin hardware control (ganged potentiometers) rather than a menu option. Recordings can be started manually, automatically by level, advanced (buffered by up to 2 seconds), delayed (to prevent key presses from being recorded) or with the help of a remote control.
Eyeheight introduced two additions to its modular product range. Available in SD or multi-definition versions, the CW-2M font crawler CW-2M produces a single line of right-to-left scrolling text in multiple fonts and colours, plus date and time. Fonts can be downloaded using the eyeheight netCrawl PC application. Features include full frame background with alpha channel, automation control and web applet control.
Snell (formerly Snell & Wilcox and Pro-Bel) introduced the Pro-Bel 800 SD/HD/3 Gbit/s routing switcher, claimed to be the industry's first router with up to 1152 x 1152 inputs and outputs, redundant crosspoint architecture and auxiliary outputs for external devices such as multiviewers. The Pro-Bel 800 enables input signals to be looped into external video processing devices such as format converters before they reach the router's crosspoint architecture.
Blackmagic's UltraScope is a combination PCI Express card and software package designed to work in a low-cost PC with 24 inch monitor for display. It allows simultaneous display of six waveform views including: RGB/YUV parade display, composite waveform, vector, histogram, 8 channel audio meters, stereo audio scope and picture view.
Pixelmetrix' DVStation-Mini2 DVB-T is a transport stream analyser and monitoring probe. It is designed for operational monitoring and assurance of the quality and continuity of DVB-T services. On-air content validation allows automatic identify discrepancies between the expected baseline and actual broadcast content. With DVB-H, it can be used to analyse time-slice generation, DVB-H FEC and long-term performance monitoring.
Tektronix announced additional facilities for its range of waveform monitors and rasterisers. These now offer simultaneous decoding and monitoring of CEA-708 and CEA-608 closed captioning data and support Active Format Description (AFD) and CGMS-A / Broadcast Flag data decoding and monitoring. For multi-channel audio, new Dolby E Guard Band monitoring provides user-selectable thresholds and an intuitive bar meter on the audio display to make it easy for operators to spot Dolby E audio problems. New black picture and frozen picture detection alarms help broadcasters and network operators detect, identify, and diagnose picture quality problems more effectively.
NAB returns to Las Vegas next April though I understand both decks of the South Hall will be halved in size. That will scale the show down from collossal to enormous. It will also help to beef up the Central and North Halls.