ABC's quest for 720p technology

Also looking into adopting emerging technologies such as DVD-based production systems
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ABC has quite a shopping list for NAB 2001, but this year it's more about evolution than revolution.

It has been a leader in HDTV and, over the past several years, has been ramping up for production in its format of choice, 720p.

"We'll be looking at all of the 720p equipment available at NAB," says ABC President of Broadcast Operations and Engineering Preston Davis.

Specifically, ABC is on a quest for a 720p-capable digital video effects device. "That's one area where we've been disappointed," Davis says. "There's very little in HD video effects and even less for 720p. We're hopeful that we will see more effort in the area of 720p DVE."

To better support its SD and HD production, ABC is converting is analog infrastructure to 601 and will be looking for high-speed gigabit network technology. With much of its HDTV facilities in place and its DTV conversion well under way, the network is exploring ways of maximizing its operations by phasing in new digital systems. This year, Davis will have more time to focus on emerging technologies, such as DVD-based production solutions.

For broadcasters, DVDs promise to streamline operations from acquisition through editing. "All the acquisition formats today are tape based, so they're linear," Davis explains. Using DVDs would let broadcasters eliminate the step between acquisition and nonlinear editing where they transfer and digitize the material.

"The challenge right now is being able to store enough material on a DVD," Davis says. Although DVDs can hold a significant amount of compressed information for film (24 frames per second), it cannot store enough data for video (60 frames per second). Davis says he's expecting to see some improvements in this area from manufacturers, including Sony, Panasonic, Philips and Ikegami.

Davis also expects to see advances in collaborative nonlinear editing systems and shared storage units. "A year ago, manufacturers were focused on elegant stand-alone suites, and I think they will have made some progress in linking these systems together to create this collaborative environment."

ABC is also looking to expand its use of video servers and will be on the lookout for new developments. The network currently has four Pro-Bel video servers that it uses for programming playout for prime time and sports clips. Davis says he will be looking at systems from all major manufacturers for programming playback, commercial playback and time delay.

Automation, also, is a priority for the network; it currently uses an older traffic system with no automation software. "We need systems with a great deal of flexibility to accommodate last minute changes," Davis says. ABC will be looking for systems that offer both automation and traffic functionality or individual systems that can seamlessly integrate.

The network does use automation in its satellite distribution center and will be exploring improvements in the software for managing additional channels. Davis expects to see enhancements in MPEG-2 compression that will allow the network "to compress as many channels into a single transponder as possible."

ABC also will be exploring current and emerging tape formats and taking a "hard look" at Sony's DV tape format, Davis says. ABC already is using a Sony D-2 tape machine and has purchased some Digital Betacam equipment, which it field-tested for its Hopkins 24/7
six-part documentary series on Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Medical Center.

Also on ABC's NAB shopping list are master control switchers, graphics devices and analog-to-digital converters; it is "desperately looking" for a replacement for its Tektronix frame synchronizers, according to Davis.

Although not on the top of his list, Davis says, ABC will also be exploring the emerging areas of video streaming, broadband, and datacasting. "We need to know what technologies are out there for managing the process of streaming content," Davis explains. "We need to understand and take advantage of the opportunities as they present themselves."