The broadcasting world is rapidly changing over to digital technologies, spurring the need for faster equipment that handles more data streams. At the recent National Association of Broadcasters conference, vendors unveiled a variety of new products that will meet the growing demand for digital editing.
Underscoring the shift to digital editing and transmission technologies, NAB's ongoing count of digital broadcast stations inched past 800 in April. Digital TV signals are now being broadcast in 187 markets that reach more than 97% of the U.S. population.
Electronic system manufacturers continue to roll out hardware and software that make it simpler for broadcasters to turn out high-quality productions quickly. One focus is to utilize low-cost PCs. Avvida Systems Inc. (www.avvida.com) has unveiled a PCI board that can handle up to 10 data streams at once. That's far more capability than PC-based systems could process in the past, a spokesman said. "Competing cards handle only one or two streams," says Brian Tithecott, director of business development at Avvida.
The Tsunami board employs a DVI input so PC graphics can be transferred to the board at rates of 300 Mbytes/second. Data is processed by up to five FPGAs, which are coupled to four memory banks that hold up to 0.5 Gbytes of SDRAM.
In the field of larger specialized video systems, suppliers are working on new data compression technologies. The BitScream Broadcast Playout Video Server from Front Porch Digital Inc. (www.fpdigital.com) incorporates Microsoft's Media 9 Series, which provides more data compression capabilities than some popular alternatives. The company says the Microsoft technique is three times more efficient than MPEG-2, which is widely used today. The BitScream Video Server can be used in a playout system under control of Harris Broadcast Automation hardware, or it can be used as a standalone player/editor. Spokesmen note that the improved compression efficiency lowers the need for storage and network bandwidth without sacrificing image quality.
MPEG-4 offers a way to leverage the infrastructure built around MPEG-2 yet still lower the bandwidth requirements for moving high-quality images using transmission technologies such as DSL, digital cable, or digital terrestrial TV. That's the approach taken by VideoTele.com Inc. (www.videotele.com). Its Astria content processor line handles both MPEG formats, so users can move to MPEG-4 at their own pace. The DSP-based Astria platform, which has 16 Compact PCI slots, can process up to 200 video and audio channels. Its controller module employs a 233 MHz PowerPC with 128 Mbytes of memory, including 96 Mbytes of flash.