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NAB 2005: Feet Don’t Fail Me Now

The NAB show floor is not for the faint of heart: with more than 105,000 registered attendees and almost 2 million square feet of exhibit space at NAB 2005 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, attempting to take in the entire show in three days is a nearly impossible feat.

In order to provide a high-level overview of the entire show, we did cover the entire floor. As a result, three words summarize streaming's presence at NAB (beyond "must rest feet"): larger, smaller, more.

"Larger" due to the increase in the number of streaming service providers exhibiting at the show or meeting with customers. From East Bay Media and eonStreams to Globix, Savvis, and beyond, streaming media service providers showcased their ability to successfully deliver customer content to an audience of discerning broadcast representatives.

But the streaming service providers weren’t the only ones who boosted their profile this year:
• Macromedia also had a larger presence than in years previous, touting its upgraded Flash Video format in partnership with On2 Technologies.
• Accordent grew its presence at the show, showcasing its software products and partnerships with streaming service providers.
• thePlatform presented a compelling argument for its network- and codec-independent management and publishing software to small independent content owners as well as major broadcasters.

The label "smaller" applied, because streaming media hardware providers demonstrated prototypes and shipping versions of encoding solutions that packed more processing power into smaller packages:
• Media Excel demonstrated a prototype H.264 PVR board that can be used either in an IP-based set-top box or as a small PCI card in a standard computer.
• Visionary Solutions, Inc. followed up their successful launch of the AVN200 MPEG-2 encoder with the AVN210 broadcast version, complete with balanced audio and other features broadcasters had requested.
• Viewcast showed off a prototype 2-up rack unit encoding solution that featured two encoding boards, confidence audio and video monitoring built right into the front panel; Viewcast used the show to elicit additional feedback from its target market, and comments overheard at the booth were complimentary about the potential for the unit to fulfill "mission critical" needs.

But wait, there’s "more." The buzz around VC1 and H.264 continues to grow as viable delivery alternatives to MPEG-2. While NAB is not set to replace Supercomm anytime soon, the signs of the beginning of a groundswell toward IPTV were apparent. Though several years from overtaking sattelite, terrestial airwaves, and cable MSOs as the delivery methods of choice for NAB's core attendees, IPTV made its presence felt in various ways:
• Apple showcased its network-based distributed H.264 High Definition rendering, as part of DVD Studio Pro 4
• Ateme and Altera showcased a prototype real-time H.264 encoding board
• Ateme and Nero showcased H.264 encoding and Recode in Nero's DVD software suite• Harmonic showed a real-time VC1 encoder board, the DiviCom MV1000, with output that can be carried within an MPEG-2 transport stream
• Inlet's Fathom boardset and accompanying Seen by Scene segment encoding software demonstrated real-time VC1 high-definition output. Seen by Scene provided an efficient and easy-to-use visual representation of difficult or problem segments that could be re-encoded without the need to re-encode the entire file, lowering the time-to-air barrier for broadcasters
• Media Excel demonstrated an MPEG-2 HD to MPEG-4 (H.264) transcoder/transrater hardware board
• Modulus Video showcased its real-time broadcast H.264 encoders both in its own booth and in several partner booths

Finally, a wrap-up of NAB would not be complete without a look at a couple key high-def technologies introduced at the show:
• Apple and Avid both showed off HDV versions of their software-only editing systems (Apple Final Cut Pro 5 and Avid Xpress Pro HD, respectively). Apple added multi-camera editing to FCP to solve a shortcoming it had faced against more expensive Avid units.
• Focus Enhancements showcased the FS-4 Pro HD portable hard drive video recorder, which simultaneously allows capture of HDV to tape and hard disk; while Focus' FS-4 unit's capture to disk is primarily meant to shorten the editing cycle, its format-specific disk capture can also significantly shorten the encode process for high-definition VC1 or H.264 output.

In conclusion, streaming's presence at the show was larger than in previous years, and even though streaming and encoding devices are shrinking in size and bandwidth requirements per stream are dropping, expect to see more interest in streaming technologies as high-definition content creation and delivery reaches critical mass in late 2005 and early 2006.

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