Keep It Simple, Suppliers!


The HD transition will be top of mind for CNN staffers at NAB, especially with vendors like Sony, Grass Valley and Panasonic all offering viable HD field-acquisition formats. But CNN isn’t just looking at the quality of the picture; it’s sizing up the ease of the transition.

“This show is part of our final phase of research into HD field-acquisition formats,” says Gordon Castle, TBS Inc. senior technology fellow, production. With CNN destined to embrace a file-based format and workflow sooner rather than later, the massive news organization wants equipment that can be dropped into its existing workflow with minimal impact. “Media costs, ergonomics and how efficiently it can be put into our environment are what really matters,” says Castle.

How a format handles metadata and the compression technology it relies on is also important. Not all nonlinear editing systems, servers and editing systems are compatible with all of the cameras, and the Sony, Grass Valley and Panasonic cameras all have different compression schemes.

“As our plans become more concrete,” says Castle, “the reality is that any buying decision isn’t as simple as meeting a set of requirements.”

Right now, CNN is improving the infrastructure of its facilities in Atlanta and Los Angeles, with the latter still possibly requiring a move to a new building.

New terminal gear for the CNN Atlanta facility is on the list; everything that appears on any CNN channel goes through Atlanta’s CNN Center at some point, so it’s vitally important that news data get there effortlessly. “We’re looking for ways to successfully transition those facilities for the future,” says Castle.

Bob Hesskamp, CNN VP of broadcast engineering and systems technology, says digital “glue”—cross- converters, routers, encoders, signal processors and other related gear—is always on the shopping list. New monitoring and next-generation master-control gear is also getting a closer look for the new facility in Los Angeles. “Monitoring and an overarching plan for reliability also top the list of things to see,” says Hesskamp.

Castle believes that the low-cost HDV format and developments in the new MPEG-4 compression format will be hot topics at the show.

Says Castle, “It would be great to see somebody showing MPEG-4 editing.” He would also like to see an MPEG-4–based broadcast or play­back video server.

CNN is the largest multi-platform distributor of content in the world, so the network sends an army of technicians and news executives to the show. “As big as NAB is, there is still no single better research point for looking at things and access,” Castle says. “Manufacturers bring their technology experts to the show, and access to them is very doable.”

More important, says Jack Womack, CNN U.S. senior VP, domestic news operations and administration, the show enables CNN non-tech execs to get a handle on where things are headed.

“Our CFO,” he says, “will get a chance to see the various alternatives and options we have technically. And in the past two or three years, we’ve been able to have good cross-network collaboration at NAB.”