Wanted: Technology that delivers

Granite hunts for convergence offerings that do more than just hold promise

Whatever enjoyment Granite Vice President of Engineering Bud Harrison gets from scouring NAB for new technology will be tempered by the knowledge that broadcast offerings aren't always as "bleeding edge" as they could be.

"At the risk of offending some folks, I would say we are behind on some developments," says Harrison. "At computer shows, you can see that the computer division of one company is much more advanced than the broadcast division, for example, in the delivery of streaming media and other things that leverage digital content. Consequently, in delivery and integration, the computer side is a lot further down the development path."

With that in mind, he will be looking diligently for next-generation "convergence pieces" that offer not only the latest in acquisition, storage, manipulation, archiving, delivery and asset management but the means to interoperate so broadcasters can increase collective value.

Harrison means business. On the heels of NAB 1999, New York-based Granite finalized agreements for DTV transmitters and encoder equipment; at NAB 2000, it struck a deal to transition to Panasonic's DVCPRO as a groupwide format.

This year, Harrison will ask vendors how they can integrate DVCPRO with systems and services in a way that brings new functionality to the newsroom. Accomplishing that will require careful coordination among departments, whether it's field gear, newsroom systems, editing, networking or archiving.

For example, the specification of a nonlinear editing system may be heavily influenced by engineering, whereas a newsroom computer system purchase may be heavily influenced by news. "If the two come together and start to leverage some of the technological advantages, you get a nonlinear editing system that integrates closely with the newsroom computer system," Harrison says. "Now producers could actually screen their actualities across this network."

Meanwhile, the transition to DTV is on track, with two of nine stations completed to date (KNTV-TV San Jose, Calif., and KBWB-TV San Francisco). Master purchase agreements are in place with Harris for transmitters and Dielectric for antennas.

At the San Jose and San Francisco stations, "we have been working with vendors on refinements, mostly having to do with encoders, PSIP and the ability of the receivers to decode the signal," Harrison says.

The stations' recent capital- budget requests have tended toward field and newsroom equipment, including cameras and editing systems. Also at the top of the list are server systems, which got bumped from the NAB 2000 shopping list for DTV necessities and basic tower work. This year, Harrison's standards will be high.

"One of my problems with server systems now is that a Leitch will not talk to a SeaChange, which will not talk to a MAV70," he says. "It's a little bit of a tug-of-war. Vendors don't want their product to become commoditized. On the other hand, I want a fully commoditized product to give me the greatest flexibility."

This is particularly true now that rapid advances in hardware and software mean that some systems have service lives measured in single-digit years. Accordingly, Harrison has been forced to rethink the way he looks at broadcast technology.

Other items on the list include automation products, along with DTV terminal gear-all the bits and pieces to get a network data stream in, process it, decode it for monitoring, brand it, upconvert it and switch the stream out to the transmitter.

Through it all, Harrison won't be afraid to suggest breaking the mold, especially when doing it "the way it's always been done" could mean losing ground to nimbler competitors on the playing field of broadcast quality, for example.

"The news director doesn't care if you give him/her video etched on stone tablets," he says. "They need the actuality quickly and reliably."