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Sony, Panasonic on digital pathway

Apr 30, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Sony and Panasonic used very different styles to deliver their respective messages to the press at last week’s National Association of Broadcasters conference. Sony put on a show starring George Lucas; Panasonic took the more prosaic corporate lecturers-at-the-podium approach.
But both made it clear that the investment they have made in HDTV and digital television will be showing up everywhere and in every context.
“Our Anycast theme reflects Sony’s diverse product offerings and solutions to help content creators extend their business models to encompass narrowcasting, Webcasting and datacasting,” said Ed Grebow, deputy president of Sony Electronics and president of its Sony Broadcast and Professional Co. “The Anycast concept reflects how producers and distributors are seeking to deliver content over a variety of distribution channels-from televisions and PCs to hand-held devices-to anybody, anywhere, at any time.”
George Lucas testified that Sony’s HD cameras convinced him he would never use film to shoot movies again.
Not to be outdone, Panasonic Broadcast’s new president, Frank DeFina, announced that Panasonic is “driving the unification of information, networking and broadcast technologies to create new broadband media networks.”
At NAB, Panasonic showcased new digital media products such as “personal e-ware” (wearable electronics) and public-venue display systems. The company also demonstrated a prototype of a real time, wide area networked Asynchronous Transfer Mode system to send a full range of high-definition video content-made with its signature DVCPRO equipment-from point A to point B.
The company claimed that its new AJ-NP500 interface unit enables “lossless transmission of studio quality video signals up to high definition (formatted in 1080-I or 720-p).” This would let studios, post houses and broadcasters transmit product to each other faster, more easily and using less equipment. It could also conceivably pave the way for more streamlined, real-time delivery of HD-quality pay-per-view programming to consumers.
Panasonic is not the first to try to tailor ATM-a high-speed multiplexing and switching method of transmission-to broadcast needs. The first obstacle is taming its “asynchronous” (burstlike) nature to broadcasters’ preference for a constant bit rate. The industry also seems to have a preference for dedicated rather than shared communications lines. There is also the problem of last mile infrastructure-or rather the lack thereof-between a hub and the end user. And the existing tariff structure would be prohibitively expensive for sending video.
“Current encoders-be they produced by Motorola [as ours is] or YEM-can offer either burst or constant bit rates of transport,” said David Wiswell, group manager of Panasonic’s Advanced Digital Television Product Development & Engineering Group. “After that point, there’s a private network-so how you manage the ATM doesn’t matter because you’re not going into a common switchboard as you would with a tariffed [telecommunications] carrier.”
Mr. Wiswell noted that Panasonic had already tested the ATM approach with the NBC affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth, which has facilities in both cities and a dedicated dark fiber line from the local telephone company.
“This gave them the ability to use camera-originated-quality HD video over a great distance,” he said.
Further testing the ATM waters for long-distance HD-quality feeds is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration via its commercial agent Lockheed-Martin Consolidated Space Operations Contract. Its goal at NAB was to validate the new end-to-end communications architecture of the International Space Station by illustrating its ability to move HD content.
“We can source this data at high speed from any point on the planet-something that no commercial entity can do today,” LM-CSOC spokesman David Beering said.
So NASA, through LM-CSOC, intends to license the capacity it isn’t using to third parties and build a consortium to further develop and deploy the architecture.