With strong attendance and exhibitor presence, the annual gathering also offered intriguing looks to the future. Among the major hot topcs: the incentive auction, a spectrum repack and the possibility that a next-generation digital TV standard is well on its way to fruition.
For the television industry, the numbers tell a major part of the story of the 2015 NAB Show, which concluded April 16 in Las Vegas.
Taken together, they underscore the challenges and opportunities facing television broadcasters as they prepare for the incentive auction, a spectrum repack and the possibility that a next-generation digital TV standard is nearly at hand.
More broadly, the numbers also indicate that the NAB Show — and by extension television industry at large — is back.
Not only did the exhibit halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center convey a certain bustle and activity level that hasn’t been seen for years, but the attendance numbers from NAB indicate the convention has returned from the doldrums of 2009 — the first NAB Show following the beginning of the Great Recession.
Six years ago, attendance dipped to 82,650. This year’s edition saw 103,042 people attended, according to NAB figures released last week. That’s approaching the 105,000 attendee level of 2006 and 2008 and within striking distance of the 108,000 people who attended in 2007.
Two other numbers indicate the vibrant health of this year’s event: upwards of 1 million square feet of booth space was used and more than 1,700 companies and other organizations exhibited.
For television broadcasters, the NAB Show helped to bring into clearer focus extremely important numbers related to the FCC’s incentive auction and the repack of TV spectrum.
NAB President-CEO Gordon Smith presented the big picture while opening the NAB Show April 13. “If successful, the auction will leave the industry with 80 percent of its full power stations, but only 60 percent of our current spectrum,” he said.
Drilling a little deeper later in the day, Ari Meltzer, an attorney with Wiley Rein, a Washington, D.C., -based law firm, and GatesAir technology advisor Jay Adrick, laid out a few more facts during their “TV Spectrum Auction & Repack Update” Broadcast Engineering Conference session.
To a roughly half-filled room with no more than 80 people in attendance, Adrick explained that if the FCC is successful in achieving its upper target of recouping 120MHz from the TV band, about 1,200 of the 1,600 Class A and full power UHF TV stations on air will have to repack –including those directly affected and those that will not be changing channel assignment but share RF infrastructure with stations that will move. If the FCC clears a more modest 84MHz of TV spectrum about 800 channels will be affected.
Perhaps the most important numbers to come out of Adrick’s presentation were $250 million to $1.25 billion, which is the estimated range of the shortfall in the $1.75 billion fund set up to offset the expenses of TV broadcasters that change channel assignments as part of the repack.
Later this spring or in early summer, the NAB is expected to make public a pair of reports detailing cost estimates of what truly will be needed to complete this gigantic spectrum two-step, he said.
ATSC 3.0, the next-gen television standard expected out by the end of the year, promises to offer a technological salve to ease the sting of the repack –although at this point it’s anybody’s guess whether broadcasters will be allowed to apply the ointment in time to reduce the pain.
However, it’s widely recognized that ATSC 3.0 could help. As NAB’s Smith put it in his opening remarks, “next gen allows us to do more with less.”
By relying on OFDM rather than a single-carrier system and MPEG-H HEVC/H.265, the next-gen standard could transmit 28Mb/s vs. 19.36Mb/s in a 6MHz channel –or even more.
ATSC 3.0 is being developed to be extensible, that is to have the ability to adapt to new compression and perhaps even modulation schemes as they come along, said Rich Chernock, chief science officer of Triveni Digital and the point person for the massive ongoing effort to create the ATSC 3.0 standard.
At the NAB Show, the wisdom of designing extensibility into ATSC 3.0 was on full display.
London-based V-Nova, a first-time NAB exhibitor that’s been toiling away on its own compression technology for five years, rolled out Perseus, its new codec that can work as a standalone or in combination with an existing codec to deliver significantly greater compression while maintaining image quality, the company said.
Here again, the numbers help to tell the story. Perseus achieves an improvement in compression of more than 50% compared to existing techniques, says V-Nova executive chairman Eric Achtmann.
That translates into 4K UltraHD at HD bitrates, high definition at SD bitrates and SD in fewer bits than needed to transport audio, he said.
While there was no indication during the NAB Show that Perseus will actually play a role in the next-gen TV standard, it is the sort of development the next-gen TV standard’s extensibility is being designed to accommodate.
Two leading contenders for ATSC 3.0 were on display in and around the Las Vegas Convention Center.
One-hundred-twenty was one of relevant numbers when it came to One Media and the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s contender for the next-gen TV standard. In Technicolor’s hospitality suite at the Renaissance Hotel next to the convention center, a video was shown of a recent test demonstrating successful reception of a One Media signal being transmitted from a single site in Baltimore to a receiver onboard an Amtrak train moving at 120 mph.
The video showed reception being maintained throughout the journey from Baltimore to its arrival 37 miles away at Washington, D.C., Union Station. Even after the video engineers testing reception exited the train and walked around the outside of the train station, reception was maintained.
Three was the other relevant number for One Media’s live demonstration of its next-gen solution in Las Vegas. That’s how many streams of content –one each of UHDTV and HDTV to a fixed receiver, plus a mobile stream delivered via a Wi-Fi connection from a set-top box receiving the off-air signal- were delivered.
FUTURECAST, which is being backed by GatesAir and LG Electronics, was demonstrated delivering 4K UltraHD and HD mobile content as well as Advanced Warning and Response Network emergency alerts, and triggering targeted advertising at the NAB Show.
Perhaps the most relevant number for FUTURECAST, however, was one –the number of tests on-air today showing how an experimental version of LTE wireless delivery and next-gen television delivery can be converged in a traditional broadcast infrastructure.
In the GatesAir booth, Rich Redmond, the company’s chief product officer, said French TV service provider TDF and a consortium of other players including GatesAir have launched a trial transmission of LTE-A+ from the Eiffel Tower.
For the test, two data streams –one for a DVB-T2 television signal and the other for the LTE mobile phone stream- share the same UHF channel using time-division techniques.
GatesAir has been advocating this sort of channel sharing since last year’s NAB Show as a way for U.S. broadcasters to help wireless companies offload video traffic from their congested networks.
Redmond added that GatesAir is preparing for the next on-air trial of the FUTURECAST terrestrial transmission system later this spring in Cleveland.
While other trends, including the transition from baseband video to IP, the virtualization of broadcast workflows in datacenters and the cloud, the emergence of 4K as a growing part of the production landscape, the role of drones as airborne video acquisition platforms and the rollout of mesh networks as a new IP newsgathering contribution technology, played significant roles at the NAB Show, none appeared to be more important to broadcasters this year than the auction, the repack and the opportunities a next-gen TV standard will afford to make the most of being squeezed into less spectrum.
NAB’s Smith summed it up well in his remarks opening the 2015 NAB Show. “By going to next gen, broadcasting would be playing both defense and offense,” he said.
“Defensively, we would protect our ability to easily integrate with existing partners.
“Offensively, it would give us the flexibility to choose and pursue the promise of UltraHD, targeted advertising, datacasting, mobility and enhanced multicasting on a shared channel.”