Another year goes by and another NAB convention comes and goes.
Following months of preparation, everything comes together for a few
days in Las Vegas. Now that it's all over, exhibitors and attendees
have plenty to absorb and review.
During and after a convention, the most common question I hear is,
"what did you see?" Once again, the answer was, "plenty!" But with this
response comes clarification. While there were many new product
introductions this year, I felt that the new product introductions for
the most part could be described as evolution and not revolution. There
was new technology, but most of what was shown consisted of upgrades,
updates, new versions and enhanced features.
The convention-floor traffic showed lots of activity on the first
Evolution is a natural process, and given the current economic
state, companies are focusing on ways to improve their products to
preserve their own business structure. A completely new design from the
ground up can be an expensive proposal. Manufacturers are smart to work
within conservative margins for now, saving the revolutionary
developments for next time.
Better, stronger, faster
Creating a product with an enhanced feature set, smaller size and
sometimes a reduced price was a familiar theme at the convention. This
fits in perfectly with the evolution not revolution concept.
Few people at a station build anything themselves today. What was
once a project for some spare time is likely available from a
manufacturer. Circuitwerkes, Radio Design Labs, Henry Engineering and
Broadcast Tools are some examples of companies that have created unique
solutions to niche problems.
A dominant example of enhanced performance could be seen in the
on-air audio storage and playback systems. While we have called them
automation systems for years, they are moving beyond file-server
functions and becoming facility-wide event controllers as well. In a
short time, this technology has matured into a highly developed and
competitive arena. On-air storage and playback systems were omnipresent
with software revisions and new versions.
One of the more popular features that was shown in several systems
is the ability to store program-associated data in addition to the
audio file. This information can be accessed by the on-air talent to
provide instant relevant information, but in a broader capacity, this
data can be used to update a variety of systems, such as a station's
website, an RBDS display, and soon enough an IBOC radio display.
SAS demonstrates the Rubicon to several onlookers.
In a related way, Stratosaudio was showing its progress in providing
an interactive element for listeners to obtain more information about
on-air content as well as a method to facilitate music purchases.
More features and niches
While automation systems have advanced as a whole, individual
manufacturers continue to find ways to differentiate themselves. RCS is
looking ahead to IBOC by including PAC-ST encoding to its Master
Control file format list. PAC-ST is the studio version of the PAC
encoding algorithm used by Ibiquity Digital in its HD Radio system.
Scott Studios unveiled Stretch and Squeeze, a feature that can
dramatically change the length of a recorded element without
introducing unwanted audible artifacts.
Enco showed Enteractive, which is a method for listeners to provide
feedback or even playback control.
Dalet debuted the Media Asset Library, a method of organizing and
retrieving massive amounts of data.
Netia, which is now distributed in the U.S. through Turnkey Media
Systems of Olathe, KS, continues its evolution of Radio-Assist 7.
Prophet demonstrated the recently released Nexgen version 2.0, and
already has plans for version 3.0 in the works. BSI also released a new
version of Simian.
Broadcast Electronics has added the Main Program Service
specification to the Audiovault systems to handle radio-display data,
as well as complete MP3 support and a MIDI control feature to connect
to outside sources.
Cartworks and Pristine Systems have completed their merger and were
showing the CDS-32 system.
Not big for IBOC
Earlier this year, Ibiquity Digital began its heavy push that IBOC
was here and that consumer radios would be shipping this summer. It was
expected that IBOC, branded HD Radio by Ibiquity, would have a dominant
presence at the convention. It turned out that IBOC made a presence,
but not as dramatically as I expected it to be.
Logitek unveiled enhancements to its console/router system.
Several transmitter manufacturers displayed new IBOC offerings. With
more stations making the transition every day, there were bound to be
new transmitters on the floor. Broadcast Electronics, Harris, Nautel
and Armstrong showed solid-state designs. Broadcast Electronics also
unveiled the FM-25T single-tube transmitter.
One twist was from Continental Electronics. It is a common but
untrue belief that a tube transmitter cannot work with IBOC. A few
examples have been shown in the past, but one popular tube design
showed the technology again when Continental Electronics modified an
816R transmitter to transmit a hybrid IBOC signal. While more of a
concept — and operating at a reduced efficiency — the
intent was to show that it is possible.
The antenna manufacturers showed their current work in interleaved
separate antennas, separate-feed panels and alternate combiner methods,
such as the Shively system in use by Entercom Seattle.
IBOC is not the only game in town when it comes to transmission.
Solid-state transmitters continue to shrink in size and grow in power.
Armstrong Transmitter and Delta RF Technology both showed solid-state
designs that deliver several medium power levels in a small rack space.
This trend in physical size and power efficiency will continue for some
Processing for digital
The audio processing competition goes on as manufacturers continue
to develop their digitally based designs. Because these digital
approaches are designed on building blocks, manufacturers are finding
ways to offer new products that fill a variety of spaces. For example,
Orban unveiled the Optimod 8300, which offers an incremental step to
digital processing in the Orban line.
Attendance was down, which gave attendees more quality booth
Omnia, who already has several offerings in scale for digital
processors, unveiled the Omnia 6-HDFM, which provides a dual-output
system to feed separate analog and digital paths while using a single
Traditional audio processing for distribution over a data-reduced
channel presents a potential problem. Aggressive processing
significantly reduces the dynamic range, which makes it difficult for a
perceptual audio encoder to find the maskable elements that can be
discarded to reduce the payload. Harris demonstrated the Neustar, which
is based on neural network audio processing, as a way to pre-process
audio prior to encoding in an effort to enhance codec performance.
The year of the console/router
Without a doubt, this was the year for integrated console and router
designs to flourish. The technology, first introduced several years ago
by Logitek and Klotz and later Computer Concepts, integrates the roles
of audio routing, level control and machine function into a single
system. In some cases, the console is nothing more than a sophisticated
The existing systems have evolved from their large-system
applications to be a viable alternative even for small installations.
The radio industry has responded by installing more of these systems,
embracing the power and flexibility they provide.
Existing manufacturers that provided the console or the router
element have been looking at ways to cross the barrier to the
Ibiquity demonstrated a multi-channel broadcast system.
Wheatstone for a long time has held a distinguished spot in the
console realm. Two years ago, the company introduced the Bridge router,
which has grown in popularity. To solidify the relationship between the
console and router, Wheatstone debuted the Generation-4 and
Generation-9 control surfaces, which provide a fully integrated
Following its acquisition of Pacific Research and Engineering,
Harris moved to a prominent position in the console market. Harris has
added Vistamax, a routing and control engine that works with BMX
Digital and Vistamax-enabled consoles.
SAS, who has held a leading position in audio routers for many
years, has entered the console realm from a different angle. Starting
with the company's 32KD digital audio router, the Rubicon control
surface completes the console approach.
The AEQ BC-2000 provides a platform capable of routing up to 2,048
by 2,048 sources and destinations. The systems ties into the company's
E@sy control network.
One final and somewhat different approach was exhibited by Telos.
The Livewire system uses traditional Ethernet hardware to route and
manipulate IP-encoded audio. Audio sources are converted to IP through
dedicated hardware converters.
The final word
Overall, the convention was a good experience. The conference
sessions provided interesting presentations and the convention floor
offered introductions to new technology. The overall attendance was
down from previous years; a fact that could be attributed to the
general economy, the pending (at that time) conflict in the Middle
East, and international health issues. Most exhibitors had the same
story: they experienced an audience of quality and not quantity. This
has become a tired phrase, but it still seems to be accurate. However,
given the current trend, at some point we will see a diminished
quantity of that quality audience. In the meantime, the convention
attention turns to the NAB Radio Show.
The Radio magazine NAB2003 coverage also includes the Pick
Hits on page 34 and the NAB Jackpot on page 64. With so much new
product news from the convention, look to upcoming issues of
Radio magazine — and especially our annual Product Source
this summer — for more new product introductions.