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SVG@NAB Viewpoints: Evolutionary Revolution in Action

April 28th, 2015 Posted in Headlines By Ken Kerschbaumer

Team SVG was out in force during NAB 2015, with nine reporters scouring the show floor and checking out the latest in technology as well as sitting down with dozens of industry leaders on both the exhibitor and attendee side. These reports from the entire SVG editorial staff offer nine individual perspectives that, collectively, form a single vision of what NAB 2015 meant for today and, more important, tomorrow.

Summing up a massive show in a few words (and trying to find a few trends) is always a gigantic task, but, by the end of Day 1 on the exhibit floor, two words characterized what I was seeing and hearing: evolutionary revolution. Three undercurrents were apparent throughout the show, and at least one was on display at nearly every booth: the move to IP, the move to 4K, and leveraging cellular/WiFi/broadband connectivity for both distribution to viewers and backhaul of content between facilities.

Why evolutionary revolution? Because each of those concepts will, one day, revolutionize the industry. But all of them are still in an early generation of development and will not mature for another three or four years.

For example, take 4K. Seeing 4K cameras on the NAB Show floor is nothing new, but the advances offered this year illustrate how common 4K acquisition has already become. More important, getting into the 4K game can be achieved for less than $1,000, and even the high end is well below the price levels for year 2 or 3 of the transition to HD.

That last point is an important one, because it’s always tempting to equate what happened in the transition to HD with what will happen in the transition to 4K. The early days of HD featured $300,000 cameras and $200,000 recording decks, price points that had content creators saying that HD news, for example, would never happen because not only was it too expensive but viewers wouldn’t notice. With 4K, however, those price points do not exist. Low-end content is moving to 4K, and, in fact, the content creators that were so important to the HD transition (namely, broadcast and cable networks) could well be the laggards in the 4K transition. Couple low-cost 4K acquisition with the ability to distribute 4K via the Internet, and the NAB Show transitions from a place where broadcast and cable networks dominate to one where all content creators congregate.

The seeds of next-generation content creation at NAB 2015 included more than just 4K. High-dynamic-range (HDR) demonstrations at booths from the likes of Dolby, Sony, Ericsson, and Canon featured stunning displays of vibrant colors and life-like images. It’s clear that HDR will be a major component of NAB 2016 and beyond. But, like all of the hot technologies this year, that revolution has to first evolve and offer real-world workflows and product solutions.

As for IP? Yes, there was plenty of discussion concerning IP, and a transition to IP is on the horizon. But there is still plenty to be sorted out. IP standards need to be established to allow full interchange between products from different manufacturers. And there is a learning curve for traditional video engineers, who need to become versed in the seemingly black arts of IP routing and signal management.

The biggest revolution might actually be what, exactly, the NAB Show is all about. Once upon a time, it was about buying physical gear and using physical cables to connect the gear so that content could be sent to viewers via an invisible signal. But the NAB Show is quickly becoming a showcase for software-based services, which will dominate future workflows.

Five years ago, there was plenty of uncertainty about the future of the show. Would it contract and shrink as TV advertising revenues plummeted? Would the need for high production values shrink as consumers increasingly watch programming online and via mobile devices?

There is still plenty of uncertainty about the NAB Show, but fears of its becoming a show about “good enough” are gone. The uncertainty now is how a vision on display, a vision demonstrated by the most stunning images ever seen on a trade-show floor, will make the transition to living room and mobile device.

There is lots of work to do. But there is lots of promise as well. Look for NAB 2016 and its exhibitors to take a big step toward making the vision a reality.