NAB 2019 in Review: Significant Changes Boost the Spotlight on Broadcast Audio
RF reallocation, transition to IP drive advances
The preliminary numbers for the 2019 NAB Show are in, and this year’s 91,460 registration is close to last year’s 92,912 final attendance. However, when it comes to audio, it was a very different story.
This year’s show was the first on a landscape remade by a combination of RF reallocation and the accelerated migration to IP-based signal transport. Thus, where digital technology had somewhat inured us to “new” products that were simply a version with one higher decimal point than the year before, there was a substantial number of actually new products, driven by the need to replace wireless audio systems made redundant by the loss of the 600 MHz band to mobile-wireless operators and to meet the demand for IP-based systems to move and process audio.
Several major-network sports-audio managers indicated that they would be looking to increase their IP infrastructure in coming months. “We’ll be looking at more IP-based tools that allow us to do our jobs more efficiently and effectively,” one told us on background.
He and his colleagues will have a lot to consider. For instance, on the IP side, Chris Fichera, VP, U.S. sales, Group One Ltd., which distributes Calrec, said, “We’ve got three new virtual products this year: the RP-1, VP-2, and Type-R. All are IP-based and designed to help us expand our customer base into new, smaller broadcast markets.”
Riedel Communications unveiled its Artist-1024 node, a new type of interface card that combines networking, mixing, and management on software-definable Universal Interface Cards (UICs). President/CEO Thomas Riedel explains, “The Artist-1024 node will suit new clients looking to have a comprehensive and future-ready system today as well as those clients who have supported us for years and are now ready to take the step to IP infrastructures.”
Clear-Com showed its new IP- V-Series Iris intercom panel, which provides low-latency AES67 AoIP audio for Eclipse HX users. When connected to Clear-Com’s AES67-compliant E-IPA audio-and-intercom-over-IP card, up to 64 Iris panels can be deployed. V-Series Iris panels also feature full-color user-configurable OLED displays to help users organize and locate keys with similar functions.
Other major vendors also showcased new IP-based solutions. Telos Alliance’s next generation of Telos Infinity IP Intercom solutions features the new Infinity Link for site-to-site connectivity over WAN, and its Linear Acoustic UPMAX ISC is a SMPTE ST 2110-30–compliant dedicated hardware upmixer supporting the immersive audio capabilities of ATSC 3.0. Lawo offered a new dual-fader option for its mc²56 console, and its Power Core RP is a fully featured remote-production solution for mc² audio consoles with integrated modular I/O, DSP, and IP streaming capabilities and with high-density DSP functionality in a WAN-capable IP node. Wheatstone’s new Strata 32 audio console packs 64 channels and the latest IP audio into a 40-in. frame for under $75,000 and is powered by the WheatNet-IP audio network, an AES67-compatible IP audio ecosystem with online mixing, audio processing. and virtual development tools.
IP enablement has been accelerated by the finalization of substantial aspects of standards, most notably SMPTE’s ST 2110 Professional Media Over Managed IP Networks standards suite, which streamlines the transition of audio (and video) over Internet Protocol.
“ST 2110 and virtualization through software are all major trends we’re seeing at the show this year,” observed Telos President John Schur.
Driven by the need to replace older RF audio systems, NAB 2019 reflected a jump in the number of new wireless-audio solutions offered by manufacturers. For instance, Shure showed off its new TwinPlex line of premium subminiature (5-mm) omnidirectional lavalier and headset microphones after a lengthy germination period. Alteros exhibited its new GTX FX8 direct-to-fiber breakout box, which mates with the company’s GTX 3224F series 6.5-GHz ultra-wideband (UWB) wireless platform.
NAB 2019 also reflected the larger M&A and joint-venture milieu swirling around the broadcast industry (the recent Disney/21st Century Fox deal and the pending AT&T/Time Warner acquisition — and the reported thousands of layoffs they’re expected to precipitate — were a constant undercurrent during the show). Although nothing of that magnitude occurred last week, this show did see increasing strategic interaction between brands as the shifting technology landscape, particularly around immersive sound, continues to evolve at a rapid clip.
For instance, Solid State Logic (now part of an amalgamation that also includes Calrec and DiGiCo) joined Sennheiser’s “AMBEO for VR” Partnership Program (SSL’s S500, S300, and TCR System T broadcast mixing consoles will now feature onboard AMBEO A-B conversion for the Sennheiser AMBEO VR mic), and Fraunhofer’s MPEG-H codec is in the process of being integrated into Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve 16 Studio platform, as editing and authoring tools for the platform’s Fairlight audio subsystem.
NAB 2019 was also the site of the DTV Audio Group’s annual Advanced Television Audio Forum. Held at the Alexis Park Hotel in Las Vegas the day before the show opened, the gathering, presented in association with SVG, examined how the transition to streamed-content delivery and the growth of virtualized IT-based production infrastructure are accelerating the evolution of advanced audio services. Expanded premium services like 4K and HDR are bringing new attention to audio with growing Dolby Atmos program offerings on Amazon Prime, iTunes, and Netflix along with BT, DirecTV, and Sky.
In addition, immersive experiences are now available on an increasingly wide range of mobile and fixed devices, and virtualized surround televisions and soundbars are offering more and more impressive experiences at better and better price points. These advances in consumer products and services, along with the unique audio features of ATSC 3.0, are creating what the DTVAG calls “a new television-audio renaissance.”