Vegas never seems to disappoint me when it comes to NAB. It may not be as flashy as some displays from South-by-Southwest but NAB is the pulse of where the AV, broadcast, and the film industry sits but also where it is going. I overheard a conversation behind me on the plane of a passenger asking their seatmate what NAB actually was
“Is it a technical conference or is it about the creative aspects of film and broadcasting?"
"Both, kind of."
What is NAB?
To a broadcast muggle that may not be hip to our industry, I would say NAB is very technical in nature but it is the creativity that we have with this gear that makes the masterpieces people binge-watch in their free time or watch casually over a cup of coffee. I was there representing clients who mostly use this technology in corporate and NGO settings but I was standing next to the NBC broadcast team for the Olympics at one booth and the NFL Films team at another.
Discussions on the main stage varied from the post-production team presentation of HBO's "The Last of Us” to an XR/VR panel on how the technology is used to enhance educational settings and experiences. Our goal as an industry always remains the same: how do we tell better stories? And that doesn't sound technical to us. Stories of course are as old as language itself. What we use to tell our stories? Very technical. Another feature of NAB is all the side stages and pavilions to offer further breakdowns in our industry's tech, business practices, and culture, including frank discussions on the progress of Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. A panel discussion hosted by Gals and Gear highlighted the triumphs of how far we've come but still how far we need to go to get away from industry practices known as cronyism or shadow hiring. The old “I know a guy” (And it's usually is a guy) mantra is still alive and it's up to all of us to continue to work towards these DEI goals.
Let's Talk Tech: Highlights from NAB
There's lots of tech to get through so we'll start here.
Last year the bells of the ball were the large remote production video wall sets powered by Unreal Engine or Unity servers. This technological advancement allowed immersive experiences for actors and allowed for any environment to be easily customizable to the whims of a creative team. No need to travel to 6 different locations for a shoot, you could load the digital volumes into the graphics engine, and manipulate lighting and backgrounds in ways that Location managers only could pray for good weather or for that tree in the shot to be merely 3 feet more to the left.
But that was last year. Those sets were still on display of course but no large changes to the tech were show-stopping for this broadcast tech junkie.
From a ten thousand-foot view, I can summarize this year's NAB display as a representation of two different bodies of vendors: those who transmit signal to a destination and those who have developed products that receive or build upon an IP/cloud workflow.
If you have been involved in the tech talk of the industry in the last 6 or so years you've heard of SMPTE2110, IP workflows, and the cloud. NAB 2023 has confirmed what has been on the horizon for years: the time of analog first gear is over. It's time to turn that serial port into an ethernet one.
It's Time to Unite your AV and IT Teams
If your AV or broadcast teams are separate from your IT teams it is time to start the conversation and get them talking. IP transport of audio and video signals over ethernet is a reality that all vendors are in on. If your IT teams are nervous, they do not need to turn far for assistance, the presence of IT gear manufacturers and cloud platforms have been a mainstay at the show: Cisco, Avixa, Netgear, AWS, Microsoft Azure, etc.
Why is this so important? SPMTE2110, that's why.
To most people, that just looks like a cat walked across my keyboard. In simplest terms, SMTE2110 allows teams to move video feeds from one place to another using only an ethernet (internet) or fiber cable. Why do I say this is important now? Blackmagic Design, an industry underdog or disruptor (Depending on who you are talking to) released its first converter for IP and 2110. The price point? Only $595.
SMPTE was only seen as affordable and thus doable, for larger organizations and industry juggernauts much like how remote production stages are seen as engines of large studios that produce major motion pictures (ie. Disney, HBO, etc.). This announcement spells a foreshadowing of what to be on the lookout for in the coming years. This technology is no longer inaccessible to your budget. Even network switch manufacturers like Netgear are due to release their next hardware models that will be compatible with SPMTE.
Now, fostering conversations between IT and AV is a whole other discussion article that can get complicated depending on your business, but having these teams start talking is essential. Most IT professionals have little knowledge of how audio and video packets transport around a network and most AV professionals have a limited knowledge of IT security and infrastructure. It's an uneven playing field for both parties but a team that can acknowledge their individual shortcomings and rise above them will be able to make some incredible productions.
I think I might know what you're thinking: I'm not doing a SMPTE system upgrade, but I still need a scalable solution that is a bit more affordable and does not include more hardware. Well, my friend, that is what the cloud is for.
Scalable Solutions in the Cloud
There were many vendors offering compatibility with their hardware to be run in the Cloud, typically skewed to AWS but many say they are cloud agnostic to a degree: Ross Video, Evertz, Vizrt, Panasonic to name a few. But also browser-native applications that are hosted in the cloud like Ross Video's cloud production suite or the Switch's Mimic product.
The cloud, whether you are using AWS, Azure, or GCP, has been around for a while but the "lift and shift” away from hardware purchases is what makes these workflows and products very attractive. Only use what you need when you need it.
Within this cloud production work graphics have been a pain point for many but this year's NAB demonstrated what is front of mind to solve this: HTML5 graphic integration into products.
Another cat on my keyboard? No. In a nutshell, HTML5 graphics enable the production of graphics from any browser with no coding or broadcast graphics knowledge. With HTML5 graphics, everything happens seamlessly in the cloud and can be controlled by one person. When you are working in the cloud, it is easier to create multiple versions of the same broadcast. For example, a broadcaster with a global base can send multiple broadcast signals, re-versioned for local consumption in other countries complete with graphics in the local language. What once would take multiple teams or workflows can now be streamlined cleanly.
What's next in AV Broadcast Technology?
Wow, with all this human efficiency what could possibly next? AI of course! Web3 was replaced as the reigning hot topic in most spheres now and that is certainly true here. At a stop at the ATSC 3.0 booth, they had an avatar of an ASL interpreter translating an emergency broadcast signal. A combination of the two spheres of the aforementioned tech. It was exciting to see how much AI has pushed accessibility more front of mind for people. This little ASL avatar is only the beginning of building upon closed caption technology before it. Captions are getting faster, smarter, and being translated into more languages for the global audiences remote and virtual audiences have drawn. For our Virtual Services team at TeamPeople this is exciting news as we can continue to integrate greater accessibility options into our livestreaming products
All of these innovations don't photograph as well as a fancy LED wall or camera but they are transforming the industry. With how much has advanced this year from last year I only have this to say: I can't wait to see what stories we can tell next.
If you need help starting the conversation between your AV, broadcast, and IT teams, we can help. Sarah Doyle and our team of technical experts are well-versed in providing custom solutions for complex workflows. We'd love to hear about the challenges your team is facing and the pain points we can solve with these technical advances in audiovisual technology. Get in touch with us!