The NAB Show Cheat Sheet

Three top trends to understand before hitting the convention floor
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The NAB Convention will feature plenty of seminars on regulation. And the Radio-Television News Directors Association confab, held concurrently, will provide journalists with lots of issues to mull. But the NAB Show is, at its heart, a technical show, and that is why 100,000 media execs attend. Nearly 1,400 technology exhibitors, occupying 820,000 feet of exhibitor space at the Las Vegas Convention Center, make it clear that tech rules.

But, for the non-tech executive, the NAB Show (April 18-21) can often feel like a rookie visit to the craps table: Everyone else seems to know what they're doing, speaking their own language and getting excited about developments an uninformed observer can't understand.

Here's a guide of sorts to help you discern the trends and jargon that you will hear and see at NAB 2005 and to tell you where you can discover the latest gear for yourself.

Advanced Video Compression

What it is: Over the past decade, the MPEG-2 video-compression standard has revolutionized the industry, using digital technology to “compress” video and audio signals into smaller signals.

For example, the video formats used to shoot high-definition video typically record so much data that it needs to be recorded at upwards of 100 megabits per second (Mbps). But when HDTV is broadcast over the air or on cable or satellite, MPEG-2 compression packs that video into a stream that is less than 20 Mbps, one-fifth the size. MPEG-2 also makes it easier to store more content on video servers.

At this year's show, expect to hear about Advanced Video Compression (AVC), a next-generation technique that is twice as efficient as MPEG-2. It goes by many names, including MPEG-4 AVC and MPEG-4 Part 10. Microsoft even has a flavor of it called VC1. While long-term use of AVC includes delivering more channels and services to consumers (DirecTV, for example, will use it to deliver local HD signals), the near-term uses include cutting down on required satellite capacity for distributing TV content to affiliated stations, and bringing in news feeds from across the globe. A network, for example, could use MPEG-4 AVC to either cut costs related to satellite-transponder rental or increase the amount of content they send out to affiliates.

Where you can see it: Visit the booths of any of the makers of gear used to compress and uncompress the signals. The big names (and their booth numbers) include Harmonic (South Upper Hall, Booth 10707), Microsoft (South Lower Hall, Booth 332), Modulus (SU9636), Tandberg (SU7858) and Terayon (SU11316).

DVB-H

What it is: While cellular-service providers like Verizon and Sprint begin rolling out deeper video services, the excitement of the moment continues to be receiving live video signals on cellphones and PDAs. The DVB, a committee tasked with setting European digital-video-broadcast, will demonstrate its own solution: DVB-H (the H stands for handheld). Demonstrations of DVB-H at the IBC exhibition in Amsterdam last September were spellbinding, and the group will be repeating those demos in Las Vegas this week.

Samsung, Nokia and Microsoft will provide some of the technologies (and phones) that will make it all happen. DVB broadcasts are limited to certain frequencies in the U.S. (so broadcasters would need additional transmission facilities), but the potential of the market is huge. ABI Research, which monitors this technological frontier, predicts the wireless-TV segment will be a $27 billion global business by the end of the decade.

Where you can see it: Head for the DVB-H booth (SU11408) and Harris' (Central Hall, Booth 1907). In a related development, check out a presentation on mobile reception using the U.S. ATSC 8-VSB digital-broadcasting standard, to be held in meeting room N112 on April 19 at 3 p.m.

HDV

What it is: HDV was originally introduced in 2003 as a consumer-level high-definition recording format. It is based on MPEG-2 and uses the DV and mini-DV cassette tapes that have become ubiquitous in consumer camcorder use to record 720p HD at about 19 Mbps and 1080i at about 25 Mbps. Those bandwidths are much smaller than the typical HD-recording formats.

This year, expect HDV to gain serious consideration as a professional-broadcast format, particularly for news acquisition and local-advertising production. It won't match the other HDTV acquisition formats in terms of picture quality, but many see it as a cost-effective way to do near-HDTV–resolution acquisition.

Both JVC and Sony will highlight HDV camcorders that have professional-level imaging technology and other features. Sony's will appeal to those who want to shoot at 1080i, while JVC's will be more attractive to those who want to do 720p work. The JVC unit will cost less than $10,000, while the Sony unit will set you back about $5,000.

Where you can see it: Visit Sony (SU6406) and JVC (CH4526). Also get to Apple (SL1902) and Avid (SL600) for demos of HDV editing.

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