Highlights from NAB — And Some Predictions

After recently spending four days nab-logo-0510at the 2010 National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference in Las Vegas, I’d like to offer my exhibit-hall perspective on what’s hot in the world of video content production and distribution. This year’s attendance was up — 88,044 registered attendees vs. last year’s 82,650. I don’t think this represented a flood of job-seekers and there seemed to be no decrease in spending (or attendance) by exhibitors, either.

3D is being taken very seriously as a growing business opportunity. One metric of the maturity of this technology is how it has moved from demos and specialized exhibit areas to an integrated part of exhibitors’ booth. One could not walk more than a few feet without seeing some part of the 3D ecosystem: 3D cameras, displays, content production and distribution are now a significant part of all of the majors’ business plans.
Sony, Panasonic and many others placed a large emphasis on 3D production tools and video production workflow. Cameras, pro monitors, processors, switchers and VTRs are available now with 3D capability. Even the NAB opening session featured 3D promotional material, with a keynote address delivered by Hiroshi Yoshioka, Sony President of the Consumer, Professional & Devices Group. Joking with the audience about won and lost format wars, he offered, “If you want to place a bet on 3D, put your money on Sony.”

Dolby announced their development of a 3D Open Specification for broadcast 3D delivery, which details how 3D images can be encoded and carried using frame-compatible techniques through a conventional 2D broadcast infrastructure. The specification is said to be fully compatible with enhancement layer approaches, enabling extensibility to full-resolution 3D in the future, and allowing professional equipment manufacturers to create frame-compatible 3D encoding tools utilizing an open packing format. The specification is scheduled to be available in May.

LCD reference monitors continue to improve in quality and performance–to the point where we may be exceeding CRT performance — a milestone indeed.

Dolby unveiled a 42″ LCD Reference Monitor that is said to be “the world’s first LCD-based video reference display that accurately reveals true and deep black levels with higher contrast across the entire color spectrum.” Scheduled for availability later this year, the PRM-4200 Professional Reference Monitor is a Grade-1 monitor that uses an RGB backlight unit with LEDs that are modulated individually on a frame-by-frame basis. The LCD panel is also modulated in real time as part of a dual-modulation process. Their demo operated the unit in both a darkened and well-lit room, at various levels of screen brightness; the performance was extraordinary.

Sony, Tamuz, TVLogic and others showed OLED monitors in various applications, including production, camera monitors, and 3D visualization for film and broadcast production.

Mobile TV is set to take off. Specialized exhibit areas and individual exhibitors showed numerous integrated and add-on solutions for receiving mobile video using the new ATSC Mobile standard. Products included portable MDTVs, USB receivers, WiFi repeaters, mobile phones, personal computers, and netbooks. While interactivity is at an early stage, numerous software and service vendors are clearly gearing up to provide a compelling experience to viewers on-the-go. The Open Mobile Video Coalition announced that field trials of various services will start on May 3 in Washington, DC, and twelve broadcast groups announced plans to form a standalone joint venture to develop a new national mobile content service.

My assessment — 3D and mobile TV are being pushed in a big way by the content industry, it will only get more frenetic, and the delivery of content will continue to evolve in ways that current players are only beginning to understand. Expect the single “broadcast-like” ecosystem to evolve into a very personalized, customized media consumption process, with both large and (many) small players. This is just one observer’s take on a vast topic — look for more in-depth reporting of these and many other products and technologies in this month’s Mobile Display Report andLarge Display Report.

Aldo Cugnini is a consultant for Insight Media. Reach him at aldo@insightmedia.info