NAB is all about Discovery

Growing network looks to this year's show for information, research

For Bethesda, Md.-based Discovery Communications, NAB this year will be a forum for research and learning rather than a shopping trip.

"We don't use NAB as the trigger mechanism for making purchasing decisions," says Jay Schneider, senior vice president, production, operations and engineering services for Discovery. "We [buy] as needed throughout the year. NAB allows us to get an update on the state of the industry."

And that's not always easy. As the industry broadens, NAB has placed much more emphasis on the Internet, cable interactive services, media management, server solutions and streaming media, Schneider says.

"Most manufacturers have done an excellent job at taking basic platforms like NT and Mac to create a whole panorama of television [video and audio] products," he adds. "It's a tribute to the state of the computer industry that they've produced such flexible systems for television video and audio applications."

Schneider will be scouring the show floor looking for advances in nonlinear editing equipment. He says he's especially interested in learning how far manufacturers have come in developing systems with open architecture to integrate with media management and on-air playback.

"The major challenge is with proprietary file formats and for the industry overall to adapt standard formats, such as MPEG," he says.

Discovery currently is "heavily involved" with Avid, so Schneider will be looking at new products and developments from the nonlinear editing system manufacturer. It also will be looking for advances in interoperability from Quantel and Fast Technologies.

"Systems for the most part aren't interoperable, so it's fairly labor intensive," he says. "When we create something on Avid, we need to literally output it for media management solution or on-air application. We're anxious to see what progress they've made, and we'll be looking throughout the show to see what advancements are available."

He says he's also interested in seeing how far technology has come to creating "the elusive tapeless environment that we're all trying to get to. We're looking at NAB for real progress on that front," he adds.

Currently, each step of the production process requires manual translation of the data from ingest to the digitization of the material through finishing and play-to-air.

The "ultimate solution" will be the ability to ingest the file format and metadata format that is usable throughout the entire chain.

"We are looking at industry standards that will allow an off-the-shelf solution and permit us to choose the appropriate manufacturer for a particular application within an end-to-end production and on-air chain," he notes.

For HDTV production, Schneider will be looking at 24p production gear, which offers the means to downconvert to other formats, and the availability of a range of interfaces.

He is hoping that more manufacturers will offer 24p and multi-standard cameras. He's also hoping to find tape equipment that will protect legacy formats, while also being able to playback HD material.

Discovery's current production equipment includes mostly Digital Betacam, with some Beta SP and DVCPRO. Because Sony was one of the first manufacturers to offer 24p equipment for broadcast HDTV production and because Discovery has a lot of legacy Sony equipment, Schneider is interested in seeing what the manufacturer is offering this year.

"Across the board, we're all very anxious to see industrywide acceptance of 24p," he says. "It's important for us to be assured that the industry, as a whole, is confident in the use of 24p."

Schneider is not expecting NAB to be an easy four days. In fact, it's become almost impossible to cover all the ground.

"If you go with a narrow focus, you can get through it," Schneider says. "It is a challenge for companies, such as Discovery, that have such a wide range of content and distribution platforms to get the maximum benefit of the convention due to its physical size and informational breadth."