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Hyper convergence

A key highlight of the 2017 NAB Show was the convergence of media, entertainment and technology, and the limitless opportunities it presents

By Vinita Bhatia

At the start of every year, broadcast and content professionals dedicatedly block an entire week in their calendar unfailingly. For visitors and delegates, this is where they can learn about the increasing range of products and solutions that are transforming the way content is created, ingested, projected, consumed and distributed. For suppliers, this is the playground to showcase their latest range of bigger, faster and better offering to consumers. And, of course, this is the perfect setting for the two communities to interact and network with each other besides establishing longstanding relationships.

If you are still wondering which event we are referring to, it is the 2017 NAB Show–the place where seemingly impossible technologies in the broadcasting industry appear to be just an arm’s length away. The event, touted as the world’s largest annual convention, sees the convergence of media, entertainment and technology seamlessly, a fact that was encapsulated as theme of the trade show this year as ‘The M. E.T. Effect’.

This year, 215 first-time exhibitors, including Google, Gearhouse Broadcast, Aeson LED Display Technologies, ALC NetworX, Sigma Corp of America, and TiVo, were seen on the show floor. The exhibition featured around 1,806 companies spanning 1,091,792 net square feet of exhibit space. “This influx of new exhibitors highlights the unique position of NAB Show at the centre of the convergence of media, entertainment and technology,” said NAB Executive VP- conventions and business operations, Chris Brown. “These global companies showcased cutting-edge technologies and innovative new products that are reshaping the industry and the consumer experience.”

The organisers claimed that preliminary registered attendance figures stood at 1,03,443 for the 2017 NAB Show. Of these 26,714 were international attendees representing 161 countries. The 2016 NAB Show final attendance was 102,513 with 26,781 international attendees. The total exhibit space was 1,063,380 net square feet.

WHAT NEXT
NAB Show is a veritable showcase of next-generation solutions that push the envelope when it comes to hyper-connectivity. This year, too, IP seemed to be front and center at the event. There were vendors that displayed how virtualised environments are increasingly becoming an important component of any next-generation strategy, especially as companies are looking for better ways to build and future-proof solutions. While many companies have been theoretically talking about IP connectivity and the cloud over the years, this year some had actual products and solutions to display at the event. A case in point was Dejero, which has been delivering IP-connected, cloud-based video over IP distribution solutions to support the transport of live video and real-time data across remote or mobile IP networks for a while. With its modular EnGo transmitter, a news crew can go to a story knowing they can get their footage back to their facility from the field by blending networks, including cellular, Wi-Fi, ethernet, and satellite. So the company created a vehicle-mount kit for the EnGo at 2017 NAB Show, which it felt would excite visitors.

“This new accessory effectively allows our EnGo mobile transmitters to be mounted inside newsgathering or production vehicles and connected to an array of rooftop high-gain antennas to enhance its RF performance while driving, or in locations where cellular connectivity may be challenging,” said Bill Nardi, VP Broadcast Integration & Global Support at Dejero.
Imagine Communications, too, aimed to raise the bar for collaboration, transparency and innovation higher by introducing the Open Zenium project and sharing source code to the Zenium microservices library with a community of its customers and partners. Open Zenium provides media companies with the ability to customise, modify, design and deploy next-generation workflows and services with efficiency, scalability and performance as well as gain access to a vibrant software community backed by teams of developers, architects and DevOps engineers.

Masstech showed that not only can its solutions manage cloud storage in the same way as they handle on-premises storage, but it can also host some, or all, of system components in the cloud. Along with cloud support, it added new metadata generation capabilities using speech-to-text extraction and HTML5 plug-ins for other vendors’ production asset management and newsroom computer system user interfaces. NAB 2017 also saw the introduction of its Disaster Recovery playout solution, which provides a fully-automated content replication and playout platform for a broadcaster’s secondary playout site.
It addition to its latest product range, FilmLight highlighted its advanced software, Version 5.0. Its aim in colour grading and management is to provide a cumulative workflow from on-set through dailies and editorial to final grading and delivery. Version 5.0 expands the creative options and the creative tools for colourists—starting with the Base Grade, which mimics the way the eye sees colour to yield a more natural feel, making it a great tool for HDR grading, too.

DISTINCTIVE DESTINATIONS

The NAB Show featured some new technology-focused pavilions this year. These included the Facebook Live Video Solutions Pavilion, featuring numerous vendors demonstrating tools associated with the social platform’s recent engagement function; the Cybersecurity and Content Protection Pavilion, hosting companies leading the way in asset, data and network security and an IP showcase that will provide an industry-wide perspective on recent developments with IP technology. Additionally, there was the NextGen TV Hub: Powered by ATSC 3.0, showcasing the latest developments associated with the new broadcast standard; and the Connected Car Hackathon, a competition among developers centered on the increasingly autonomous capabilities of vehicles.

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) debuted the first-ever live 4K video stream from space during the session ‘Reaching for the Stars: Connecting to the Future with NASA and Hollywood’. NASA astronaut and International Space Station (ISS) commander Dr Peggy Whitson and NASA astronaut Jack Fischer conversed with Amazon Web Services Elemental CEO and co-founder, Sam Blackman live from the ISS and in 4K video. Following a conversation about the essential role video plays in facilitating the missions of NASA, the astronauts demonstrated experiments made possible in a zero-gravity environment.
Following the live stream, Carolyn Giardina, technology editor at The Hollywood Reporter, moderated a session featuring NASA astronaut Dr. Tracy Caldwell Dyson; NASA Imagery Experts Program Manager Rodney Grubbs; Bernadette McDaid, head of development, VR & AR, Bua Entertainment; Khawaja Shams, VP of engineering for AWS Elemental; and Dr. Dave McQueeney, senior principal investigator, IBM Watson Group about the latest technological advancements in space exploration and the vital role that video and camera technology plays within it.

The session ‘The Force Returns: ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ showcased how sound and visual effects worked together to help produce the box office hit for Lucasfilm. John Knoll, executive producer and VFX supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM); Hal Hickel, animation supervisor at ILM; and Matthew Wood, supervising sound editor at Skywalker Sound discussed how they brought the magic of ‘Star Wars’ to life featuring more than 1,700 visual effects shots, including new spaceships and droids, for which Skywalker Sound designed distinctive sounds. The session also addressed how ILM and Skywalker Sound balanced new and classic elements of the film through technical innovations like virtual production, their proprietary ‘Flux’ software and an innovative production pipeline.

Visitors were also provided an exclusive look at the development of the popular TV shows during the session, ‘’Game of Thrones’: Behind the Scenes with Filmmakers’. A part of the Creative Master Series and produced in partnership with the Motion Picture Sound Editors, the panel included producers and creative professionals who shared an insight on the innovative shooting styles and unique methods utilised in filming the epic HBO series.

Bernadette Caulfield, executive producer; Greg Spence, producer; Anette Haellmigk, director of photography; and Jonathan Freeman, ASC, director of photography, participated in the panel moderated by David Geffner, executive editor at ICG Magazine, and discussed bringing the ‘Game of Thrones’ lighting style to new locations and storylines, how they chose to block and edit the show’s emotional turning points, and how they harnessed postproduction to visually unify footage that included a cast of hundreds and nearly 1,900 visual effects shots. In addition to showing footage from season six, the filmmakers also discussed how they blended practical photography with computer graphics to create innovative scenes and how postproduction mastered the content that is distributed to an audience of over 25 million across all HBO platforms.

VISITOR EXPECTATIONS
Till a few years, the industry was excited with the implications of 4K HD streaming. But that already seems to be in the past as visitors were visibly excited to learn more about the transmission of 8K content.

The other technologies that had attendees really all keyed up was virtual reality (VR). Wolfgang Lempp, CEO at FilmLight said, “At the top end of post-production, users are looking to the highest standards, like 4K and beyond, 360˚ VR, high dynamic range and extended colour gamut. Many visitors were keen to look at these capabilities on our booth at NAB. They wanted to see how these advanced features fit into their current workflows. They may be finishing a project in HDR, possibly with high frame rates, but they will also have to provide uncompromised deliverables in lower resolutions, frame rates and colour spaces.”

According to Glodina Lostanlen, CMO at Imagine Communications, media companies continue to seek assurances that the next-generation technologies they invest in to inject the needed agility and technological flexibility into their operation will offer similar, if not superior, plug-and-plug capabilities as their SDI-based equipment. “Wide-scale interoperability of IP-based equipment from multiple vendors is an imperative for most media companies. It’s no surprise then that the IP Showcase, an AIMS and IABM-hosted interoperability and knowledge-sharing event, was one of the most popular areas of interests at this year’s NAB. Expanding on what many classified as the largest interoperability exercise on record at IBC2016, the NAB event attracted even more vendors and pushed the interoperability envelope even further,” she pointed out.

In addition to micro-services, cloud-native applications and the role of standards in accelerating the transition to IP-based infrastructures, a major topic of interest at NAB was the transition of broadcast companies to a new digital TV standard based on the ATSC 3.0 specification. Though the new standard is specific to North America and portions of the Asian broadcast community, the capabilities embodied in the new technology, specifically the ability of broadcasters to revolutionise their content delivery and monetisation models.

According to Lee Sheppard, SGL’s director of product management, cloud-based workflows are becoming a reality with companies offering services directly within cloud storage: encoding, transcoding, edit, QC, etc. While it is still early days, these services will offer significant benefits in terms of cost and organisational changes. “SGL is working closely with multiple companies to ensure that archive workflows can dovetail with cloud-based operating workflows,” he said.
Jay Batista, GM-US Operations, Tedial felt that adopting the SMPTE Interoperable Master Format (IMF) has become a key solution for major media producers and distributors, offering them real efficiencies and measurable savings. “Additionally, innovations in modern IP technology can now support the speed and quality of service requirements of broadcast media. Moving to an all IP infrastructure supports Studio-Video-Over-IP (SVIP) and can ‘virtualise’ every aspect of the broadcast chain,” he opined.

Savva Mueller, Masstech’s VP of Product Management and Marketing, pointed out that almost all of customers that his team spoke to at the NAB Show saw the cloud as a viable option for hosting their content and their business systems. “We also saw a massive need for solutions to the workflow bottlenecks that keep users from finding content, manipulating it, and publishing it. We also met with a number of media enterprises who wanted to get away from the continuously escalating costs charged by some storage management systems, which were very happy to see that we could provide an affordable alternative that enables them to painlessly switch out that system without migrating all of their content.”

Navigating through the many NAB Show pavilions, often busy with curious customers, can be overwhelming. But visitors believe that there is merit in attending the show, rather than reading about the latest products and trends later.
One NAB Show regular summed it up rather succinctly when he said, “Seeing is believing–especially when things are changing at such a quick pace around you. And one of the best places to understand the change is NAB, which is why I attend it religiously every year.” He might have a point, because in today’s tech-fuelled world, innovations take place rapidly and the only way to keep up with it is to be where the action is.

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