NABshow Silicon

By Paul Dempsey |  No Comments  |  Posted: May 10, 2011
Topics/Categories: Blog - EDA, - Tested Component to System  |  Tags: , , ,

I really enjoy the NABshow, the huge broadcast engineering event in Las Vegas. As a self-confessed movie buff, I actually enjoy it more than CES. Smaller crowds, too. Only about 90,000.

Of course, much of the silicon design here is proprietary – CCDs approaching 8k resolution, for example. But this year, you also had to note just how many in-roads the FPGA guys are making beyond prototyping. They drive many of the high-end cameras, editing and restoration systems.

Broadcast is typically a market for small-run kit that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, so getting the FPGA done and keeping it in place during full production makes economic sense. But the kicker of course is that you can get both the processing muscle and the I/O to do that now. The latest Red camera shows, quite literally, what can be done by programmable logic for high-performance computing.

And then there is the ongoing debate about interconnect. For me, the coolest piece of hardware at NAB was Arri’s Alexa-M. It’s a camera capable of professional 3D resolution that weighs about 5lbs and does sit quite comfortably on the palm of your hand.

Want an endorsement? Try James Cameron, director of Avatar. His new Cameron Pace Group, which aims to boost 3D production into mainstream TV as well as film, is taking the first production run of Alexa-Ms later this year.

The key to developing such lightweight equipment has been to shift as much of the electronics as possible out of the camera unit itself to make production more nimble and efficient. So it’s all about getting the data off the lens and down a very fat pipe very quickly to a processing hub.

Maybe that kind of configuration won’t make itself into the consumer camcorder market tomorrow morning (it’s always going to be a one-piece business) but those devices will evolve. And personally, I’ve always felt that UGC is going to be a big part of the drive to make 3D ubiquitous.

One other NAB trend that is already going consumer in a big way, though, is the connected TV (and we’ve got an excellent article on exactly that in our recent embedded special from MIPS Technologies). These web-enabled TVs were all over CES and so it followed that technologies to deliver content to them – most today offer apps that are discrete from the TV signal – was a big NAB play.

For example, UK technology group Snell pointed out that research suggests that more than 50% of viewers there have used some kind of ‘second screen’ while watching a traditional program to access related Twitter, Facebook or Web content. So, yes, there are iPads and other tablets, handhelds and laptops to consider as part of this trend.
With its Screentoo product, Snell was one of a number of NAB exhibitors looking to give TV channels a way of delivering their own on/second-screen content to enhance the TV experience, maintain their connection with the audience and, they hope, find some extra revenues. Makes perfect sense to me.

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