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Gearing Up for NAB

Two weeks from now, the Las Vegas Convention Center will be the center of attention for the broadcast world. The annual National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show attracts content producers, broadcasters, engineers, and even the key telecom providers hoping to make a play in the traditional broadcast space. NAB remains a key show for streaming media tools, including those not necessarily focused on the broadcast market.

Streaming media has an increasingly important role in broadcast, from cable multiple system operator delivery to full-fledged IPTV, so it is little wonder that streaming media product manufacturers and service providers will be out in force, hawking their wares.

Ateme, a French codec manufacturer that has teamed up with chip manufacturer Altera, will showcase their high-definition H.264 encoder solution. Altera specializes in creating field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) and showed off a prototype board last year. This year, the board is expected to ship in final version, combining an Altera FPGA and a Texas Instruments DSP (from the TMS320 family). According to a press release, "this results in a very compact 3-inch by 3-inch board format, allowing operators to dramatically increase HD channel density ." Pricing had not been made public as of press time.

Another company showcasing a high-density encoding solution is Visionary Solutions, Inc. (VSI). The small company has created highly specialized video and high-resolution imaging components for key customers, but in the last two years has also released its own small form-factor MPEG-2 encoder. The company is expected to demonstrate a high-density "blade" form factor for numerous MPEG-2 encoders in a few RUs of rack space, as well as an H.264 small form-factor encoder similar to their current MPEG-2 encoder.

A visit to Redmond in mid-March brought to our attention some core enhancement work that Microsoft’s Windows Media division will be showing off at NAB. The visit with Eric Schmidt, group product manager for the Windows Media division, didn’t yield specific details, and it’s not clear what impact the subsequent announcement of Vista’s launch delay will have, but Schmidt did note that the new 64-bit Windows Media Advanced encoder has already been released and will be featured prominently in several workflow scenarios that are sure to attract the interest of broadcasters and potential Windows Media partners.

Fraunhofer, whose world-class research is often licensed by broadcast product manufacturers, will also be showcasing a new technology at the AVC (H.264) Alliance booth. Fraunhofer’s goal, according to a press release, is to show that "protected video and audio streaming over IP" is feasible without significant delay or degradation. The release continues: "The combination of MPEG-4 AVC and MPEG-4 High Efficiency AAC, alongside the recently released specifications Internet Streaming Media Alliance Cryp 1.1 and Open Mobile Alliance DRM 2.0 allows broadcasters to easily supply their mobile audience with news, TV shows, or movies" while maintaining content control.

Streambox will also show off their high-definition encoding solution, which was recently awarded a Streaming Media magazine 2006 Editor’s Choice award. Streambox’s ACT-L3 video transport system has been used in a variety of high-profile events, such as the recent Olympics, and has been deployed by both international broadcasters such as CNN as well as public television stations.

One recent example is the use of Streambox’s encoding/decoding solution by Virginia Public Television affiliate WVPT, which is using Streambox for SD transmission and is looking to make the move—as all broadcasters must over the next few years—to high definition broadcast.

"We work with SD signals now, but the next realm for us is HD program distribution, and we’re already looking at ways to deliver HD content from our studios to cable providers in our area," says WVPT COO Tony Mancari. "Like any business, we return to those vendors that provide a product that meets our demands. As we move forward into the world of HD broadcasting, we’ll certainly be exploring the Streambox HD codec set."

No visit to NAB would be complete without a visit to the dueling Avid-Apple booths, strategically located at the entrance to the convention center’s South Hall. This year looks like it will live up to previous years’ precedents, as Apple has recently begun shipping its Universal Binary versions of Final Cut Studio, which is now optimized for both Intel- and PowerPC-based chips. With all the press surrounding Final Cut Studio 5.1 and Apple’s decision to support Windows XP in its upcoming operating system, less ink has flowed about a key component of Apple’s broadcast strategy: QuickTime Broadcaster. Apple recently updated this free tool to support the Intel dual-core architecture of its latest laptops and desktops, and anticipation is high that Apple’s first pro machines sporting the Intel processors will also be released around NAB, providing a formidable combination of processing and broadcasting power, especially for broadcasters looking to enter the 3GPP mobile or H.264 broadcast space.

Finally, NAB 2006 will see the official launch of Streaming Media magazine. If you haven’t yet done so, click here to sign up for your free subscription.

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