Greetings from NAB in Las Vegas, which has expanded into much more than a "broadcasting" convention -- at least judging by all the buzz here regarding Microsoft's VC-1 codec, set top boxes, and other TV formats that aren't strictly "broadcast."
And then there's the Advanced Video Coding Alliance, which appears to be the "Stop Microsoft Alliance." It's a new group that first exhibited at IBC in Amsterdam last fall, and seems to have all the major players as members -- including Sony, Thomson, Philips, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, JVC, Texas Instruments, Motorola, Broadcom, LSI Logic, Scientific Atlanta, Pace, and Pioneer, among others. But wait -- there actually is one major player missing from the alliance: Microsoft! If nothing else, you've got to give them credit for shortening the name -- even I have been getting a bit tired of saying, "MPEG 4 Part 10 AVC slash H.264". Such a cumbersomely named codec would surely lose out to the snappier "VC-1" over time. But now it's a battle of simple acronyms: VC-1 vs. AVC. Let the slugfest begin.
Practically every shuttle bus you see here has "OpenHD" plastered on its side. When I first saw this, I assumed it was another aspect of the anti-Microsoft/VC-1 campaign. Wrong. It took some tracking down, to a small booth located in the South Hall. In an Orwell-style twist of language, OpenHD is actually a Microsoft-based organization! It's an alliance to "get the best price/performance and reliability possible" using "Windows- based computing." Who is in the OpenHD alliance? Microsoft, Intel, Dell, HP, and Adobe -- Adobe being the only editing software currently in this "open" alliance. Hmm...
I came to NAB hoping to get a sense of the state of America's transition to high definition and digital TV. Very little to report there -- it looks like the same story everyone knows -- people are gravitating towards HD flat panel displays, and mostly watching SD format DVDs on them. There's an explosion in HD production tools here -- cameras and editing systems that handle 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. But as for news concerning the switchover to DTV, and the long-promised reclaiming of the analog TV bandwidth -- not much news here.
If you think things are going slow with HD here in the U.S., however, the state of Europe's transition to high definition appears to be at square one.
"What would you do differently in the United States if you were starting HD now, with a white sheet of paper?" asked David Wood, Head of New Technology for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). "This is where we are in Europe today." The EBU has come to the conclusion that since most Europeans are buying flat panel displays with WXGA resolution (wide XGA), 720p is preferable to 1080i for the near term. Longer term, 1080p/50.
The EBU is introducing an "HD Ready" logo for display manufacturers to indicate that the screen has at least 720p native resolution. And if you think Americans have trouble following the terminology, consider the plight of Europeans looking for HD equipment utilizing DVB transmission -- not to be confused with DVB-H, the recently introduced transmission system for handheld reception. Now that's a recipe for confusion!
More on NAB at New Test Gear Helps Cottage Codec Creators.