Some of the gap between what broadcasters want from an HD encoder and what they can actually have will be closed at NAB when Tandberg rolls out its 5780 HD encoder, offering statistical-multiplexing capability plus 4:2:2 encoding by year-end.
"It has a completely different platform and processing chipsets," says Director of Marketing Lisa Hobbs. "With all the features and functionality that people want with encoders today, we were beginning to run out of processing power."
The new features will become available in a two-phase rollout. The first phase, slated for the third quarter, includes the new processor, the addition of the SMPTE 334 specification to permit embedding of closed captioning in the HDSDI stream, and the implementation of time codes. The time-code feature is critical for the use of HD encoders for program dailies.
In the fourth quarter, the second phase will add statistical multiplexing of the HD signal and 4:2:2 encoding, a capability previously unavailable in the market. Statistical multiplexing allows more efficient use of available bandwidth because bits are allocated more properly and wasted less.
"Today, we can put signals into variable-bit-rate mode, but really only the SD encoders work in a truly statistically multiplexed fashion," Hobbs explains. "The HD encoder sits in its own little group doing variable bit-rate. But now we'll be able to put both the SD and HD signals into one statistically multiplexed group, and they'll share bits across them. That provides more free bits for data services or other things."
The 4:2:2 encoding feature could be a big hit, although Hobbs is fairly certain that other encoder manufacturers also will introduce 4:2:2 at NAB. With 4:2:2, the encoder can be used for HD contribution backhauls and will have better chroma and editing capabilities. The unit will cost $65,000 including the 4:2:2 option. Without it, the price is expected to be around $50,000. The new features will also be available as an upgrade for the 5720 SD encoder.
Tandberg's Windows Media 9 encoder will also make its NAB debut. Applications include VDSL or ADSL broadband demands that need low bit rates to transmit content, but Hobbs also says there has been some interest for newsgathering needs. The receive side of the newsgathering operation would still be PC-based, but Windows Media 9 allows for the use of smaller satellite-transponder slices than can be done with other methods. Transmission rates with the encoder are 300 kb/s to 3 Mb/s.
Al Nunez, vice president of sales and operations, Tandberg Television Americas, notes that the move to lesser-bandwidth encoders is being driven by applications, not simply by cost-cutting. Newsgatherers "want feedback from a venue that they otherwise wouldn't be able to hear from if they needed a full transponder or traditional satellite space."
The Windows Media 9 encoder will be shipping toward the end of the year.