The NAB Show 2019 is done for another year and it looked, and sounded, pretty good. NAB revealed preliminary registered attendance of 91,460 for the 2019 edition of the expo, which it bills as “the world’s largest annual convention encompassing the convergence of media, entertainment and technology,” reflecting the fact that conventional “broadcast” is an increasingly smaller part of NAB’s portfolio, with streaming and mobile technologies taking more of the centre stage this year.
Mega-mergers changing the media landscape
Attendance this year was roughly the same as last year’s 92,912, and the organisation will likely issue an updated attendance number in coming weeks. But the show took place in the shadow of two massive M&A events: Disney closing its US$71.3 billion Fox deal, acquiring significant parts of 21st Century Fox; and AT&T’s even bigger US$85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner.
Those mega-mergers may not hold a lot of interest for technical readers, but they literally change the landscape of the media business, bolstering Disney’s already massive content machine and giving AT&T entry to the fast lane on the distribution highway. And between the two mergers, the pall of as many as 10,000 job redundancies was palpable. That may have gotten some attention, too.
Technology in Transition
That said, the technology side of the NAB Show 2019 reflected a media industry in transition. Key buzzwords on the video side included ATSC 3.0 (rolling out in the 40 largest U.S. TV markets by the end of 2020), Next Gen TV (more or less the industry’s consumer catchphrase for ATSC 3.0), 4K (already here), 8K (technically available but too big to stream using current pipes though nonetheless demoed brilliantly at the show by several companies, including Sony’s massive 63-foot Crystal LED wall at its stand), 5G (still a few years away from widespread availability but has companies like AT&T already hijacking it for marketing purposes).
Closing in on 5G
Nonetheless, 5G seemed tantalisingly close for an industry looking to move into the future on a budget (remember those mergers we mentioned?). For consumers, 5G promises higher bandwidth and lower latency, as well as the ability to handle more data, and do it faster, taking the download time for a movie to under four seconds. For content makers and distributors, it means things like shooting film and television directly to the cloud.
Studios will need that kind of capture/edit/mix capability, too: on one panel about cloud use, a Pixar tech manager noted that the studio’s 2017 3D computer-animated fantasy Coco, for instance, required roughly 750 different versions for theatrical distribution, including language and local sensibilities. The future will be a complicated place for a variety of reasons.
More Affordable Tech
But we did mention budgets and those will be important in a newly merged economic landscape. It’s one reason that Blackmagic Design’s stands keep getting bigger at every expo — the company has been genius at cobbling platforms like switchers that perform like an F-35 while costing more like a return fare on Ryan Air. One wag at a panel recommended that attendees stop by the stand “before they take over the entire South Hall, and then the entire industry.”
Blackmagic Design are the poster company for an overall continued decline in technology product costs, from the migration from hardware processors to plug-in versions and the shift from linear workflows to cloud-based ones on networks. Other companies are also targeting the cost-effective space, such as Roland, whose V-600UHD Multi-Format video switcher made its North American debut at the show and delivers 4K image quality in a switcher that lets users transition to 4K workflows “as demand and budget allow.”
Audio was a year or so out from under its own, darker cloud, in the wake of the 2017 RF reallocation. Since then, companies like Shure, Sennheiser and Audio-Technica have created entirely new wireless product lines, such as Shure’s new TwinPlex line of premium subminiature (5-mm) omnidirectional lavalier and headset microphones. Alteros showed 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, reflecting how far and wide wireless is reaching for in the newly constricted spectrum.
IP was on pretty much everyone’s mind and in their stands, from consoles to intercoms. For instance, Calrec had three new virtual products this year, the RP-1, VP-2 and Type-R, all IP based. 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, users can deploy up to 64 Iris panels per card. V-Series Iris panels also feature full color user-configurable OLED displays to help users organise and locate keys with similar functions.
Other major vendors with new IP-based solutions Telos Alliance showed the next generation of Telos Infinity IP Intercom solutions featuring the new Infinity Link for site-to-site connectivity over WAN and the Linear Acoustic UPMAX ISC, a SMPTE ST 2110-30-compliant dedicated hardware upmixer supporting the immersive audio capabilities of ATSC 3.0. Lawo’s Power Core RP is a fully featured remote production solution for the company’s 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 that packs 64 channels and the latest IP audio into a 40-inch frame, and is powered by Wheatstone’s WheatNet-IP audio network, an AES67 compatible IP audio ecosystem with online mixing, audio processing and virtual development tools. (SwitchBlade, a new AoIP appliance for Wheatstone’s WheatNet-IP audio network, won the NAB 2019 Product of the Year award in the Audio Production, Processing and Networking category.)
IP enablement this year was accelerated by the finalisation of substantial aspects of standards around them, 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 virtualisation through software are all major trends we’re seeing at the show this year,” observed Telos President John Schur at the show.
In Pod, We Trust
Perhaps the newest category at NAB 2019 was podcasting. The audio-centric format, which gained popularity with the advent of Apple’s iPod over 15 years ago, faded a bit in the last decade but has come roaring back as streaming has become dominant. At the show, Focusrite announced a step-by-step tutorial for recording audio for podcasts, while Audio-Technica introduced bundles catering to the pod crowd, including two bundles with USB outputs to directly connect with computers, and two with XLR outputs to connect with professional mixers or digital interfaces. All bundles feature a microphone with mount, ATH-M20x headphones and a new custom boom arm with desk mount.
All in all, a satisfying show, one that suggests there will be plenty of technology, in the form of products, formats and standards, to keep the broadcast-savvy busy, and given the industry’s shifting economics, the wolf from the door.
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