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B’casters Explore Multicast Options At NAB

Consumer Electronics Association president/CEO Gary Shapiro urged broadcasters at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention to put more energy behind HDTV broadcasts and less energy into “technological mirages” like multicasting.

However, less than two days later, 12 TV station groups turned their back on Shapiro’s request and agreed to work on multicasting systems similar to one currently offered by Salt Lake City-based USDTV.

Jeff Smulyan, the CEO of the EMMIS TV station group, is leading the broadcast effort. The plan calls for broadcasters to pool their digital spectrum and provide a wireless cable channel offering with local HD signals, plus 30 to 50 SD channels. Subscribers would pay about $25 a month and purchase a set-top box and antenna to receive the signals.

The key is the use of next-generation Advanced Video Compression systems like Microsoft’s Windows Media 9 and MPEG-4 Part 10, which has twice the efficiency of MPEG-2 compression. The use of AVC would allow for four to six channels to fit in about 6Mbps, or one-third of the available digital signal.

Smulyan and others don’t believe that the consumer electronics industry should be concerned about multicasting impinging on the quality of the HD signal.

While the show floor itself was focused heavily on expensive HDTV production equipment, there were a couple of low-end movements as HD gear makers see a “prosumer” market waiting to be served. Most of the announcements concerned HDV cameras. Sony displayed a prototype of its HDV camcorder and also demonstrated editing capability: an important feature given that those willing to spend $3,000 for a camcorder will also be willing to spend money for an editing system.

Another pro product was Panasonic’s P2 solid-state recording system that uses Flash-based memory, and an MPEG-based compact camcorder using P2 that will be available sometime next year.