ABC Seeks Second-Generation HD


For ABC, HDTV is old news. The network’s priority at NAB is replacing the first-generation 720-line progressive-scan (720p) HD playback gear that it installed at its New York broadcast center back in 1998 to launch HD broadcasts.

“We’re very focused on getting out of that first-generation HD equipment, much being prototype equipment in the 720p variety, and getting into more-mature equipment,” says Preston Davis, president of ABC broadcast operations and engineering, who will go to Las Vegas with 40 staffers looking at HD control switchers, tape machines and routers.

Davis also wants to replace proprietary HD graphics systems with new off-the-shelf, standards-based PC products. “We’re really feeling some urgency,” he says, “as the systems we have at the network are older and in need of replacement.”

ABC’s other priority is more general: identifying production equipment that can easily accept both standard-definition and HD content.

“We’re going to be straddling the SD and HD fence for some years to come in terms of delivering both analog SD and HDTV to viewers,” says Davis. “We’re looking for products that allow us to mix and match.”

Editing products, such as the nonlinear Avid systems that ABC uses, have been able to support both SD and HD for some time. Other gear—for instance, switchers—has lagged behind in providing dual SD/HD functionality, but that is beginning to change.

ABC will explore compression technologies and faster, cheaper ways to move content. The network is quickly deploying IP-over-satellite systems and would like to tap into the emerging WiMax wireless broadband infrastructures being developed in some cities.

Another hot topic is high-def newsgathering, including HD acquisition gear, microwave systems and satellite uplinks. “I don’t believe that we’re at a point where we would produce solely in HD,” says Davis. “So again, we’re focused on tools that allow us to gather and distribute in both [HD and SD] formats. We’re feeling some pressure now, as our current ENG [electronic-news­gathering] camcorder systems are beginning to feel signs of fatigue.”

ABC is looking at hard-disk–based cameras, such as Thomson Grass Valley’s Infinity system and Ikegami’s Editcam, as well as Sony’s optical XDCAM HD format. Adopting a tapeless camera has a broad impact on workflow, and Davis needs to see a tighter link between such products and ABC’s current Avid editing and content-ingest systems before making a purchase. He is also keeping an eye on Apple’s Final Cut Pro editing software, which works with several of the new tapeless systems, and he hasn’t ruled out Panasonic’s P2 solid-state format.

Many broadcasters consider the P2 storage cards, which sell for $1,400 and can store eight minutes of HD video, too expensive. But Davis isn’t sure the cost is a deal-breaker.

“If you can stream it off and get it into an edit system quickly, and then push that card back into the field, and the transfer is reliable enough that you can rely on it as your master, it almost doesn’t matter how much those things are,” he explains. “But if I have to keep it on a shelf for some time, I have to evaluate that differently.”