in December 2004 IT/AV Report
HD: The Pieces Are
Coming Into Place
Consumers are driving the market, putting downward
pressure on costs.
Waveguide Consulting designed this dual screen, 150-seat
auditorium for Emory Crawford Long Hospital.
||From the central control suite, Emory
can route HD signals all over the world via satellite.
high-definition TV sets begin to make a dent in the consumer
market, there’s a growing downward pressure on costs,
making HD more and more affordable and opening up a range
of niche markets and applications in the corporate, commercial,
educational, medical, point-of-sale and digital-signage
markets. Whether it’s in public spaces, where the
pristine, wide-screen image of a high-definition display
can really have the most impact, or private spaces such
as corporate boardrooms where CEOs’ expectations are
rising, HD is definitely here to stay.
According to the most recent
statistics from the Washington-based lobby group, the Consumer
Electronics Association, more than 10 million digital television
sets have been sold in the US since 1998 and sales are rising
rapidly. Through May 2004, unit sales saw an 85% increase
compared to the same period last year. Meanwhile, the National
Association of Broadcasters reports that 1307 TV stations
currently broadcast a digital signal in some 208 markets.
for those stations has meant a lot of work over the past
three years for contractors and systems integrators, giving
them a chance to learn the technology inside and out in
one of the most demanding applications, before taking it
out into the commercial market.
But ironically, many feel
that this is a technology that it being driven from the
bottom up, rather than from the top down.
“I think what will happen
is that, as more CEOs and decision-makers have HD in their
homes, they’re not going to understand why they don’t
have it in the boardrooms, or their conference center, or
meeting facilities. It’s similar to what happened
in the early/mid-90s when CEOs started to put rear-projection
TVs in their homes along with laser disc players and surround
sound; they suddenly wanted to up the quality in their boardrooms,”
said Scott Walker, president of the International Communications
Industries Association (ICIA), and president of Atlanta
GA-based Waveguide Consulting. “So in some odd ways
the home market, because of its commoditization and ability
to drive down prices, can raise the expectation levels in
the professional AV market, when you’d think it might
be the other way around.”
One of the most complicated
HD projects that Walker’s Waveguide Consulting has
faced was a complete HD distance-learning system for Emory
Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta. The University wanted
to outfit its Caryle Fraser Heart Center with a state-of-the-art
training tool for remote and local audiences to study the
types of cutting-edge medical procedures developed at the
The system employs two 1080i
HD cameras capable of broadcasting from any one of 10 catheterization
labs and operating rooms on campus.
“All of these rooms
feed HD video from the two cameras as well as audio back
to a high-definition production environment, so they go
through a large router and then any signal can be run through
the HD production switcher and sent out to a number of different
audiences,” explained Walker. “When we’re
talking about shuttling between the ORs to the production
room, it’s all over single HD SDI cables. When we
are shuttling between buildings, it’s all over a dedicated
fiberoptic cable so we’re doing all sorts of conversions.”
From the production hub, the
school can feed several classrooms and auditoriums within
the facility, as well as remote locations via a local satellite
uplink in Atlanta.
“A large group of people
can interact with the physician and ask questions as they’re
going through the procedure, so there is a range of audio
and video return options. A doctor who’s watching
from a foreign country can be talking to the cardiologist
during the procedure, saying, ‘Why did you choose
this particular catheter?’,” Walker explained.
“What was very challenging about this was that we
had to mix into this HD landscape all the different types
of telemetry that these doctors are using to monitor vital
signs—things such as fluoroscopes and echocardiograms.
We had to turn those into signals that could be recognized
by the types of routing and switching gear that we have
in our industry.
“These are very highly
specialized devices with strange output resolutions and
strange cabling topographies. We had to spend a lot of time
trying to figure out how to turn those into 1080i signals,
and jump through a lot of conversions, so it can all come
up on the same Snell and Wilcox Switcher and look like it’s
just another camera.
“In addition, we had
to know all the normal AV things, because a typical case
might have a doctor in an auditorium who’s facilitating
the case study and he needs to go through a PowerPoint.
He may have a document camera; there may be other media
such as a DVD he wants to show. All of this has to be turned
into HD, so it can be sent out to remote audiences.”
The company is building a
similar system for the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta,
and works in a range of vertical markets including government,
education, corporate, health care, conference rooms and
Walker reported that, although
growth in HD has been slow, it is starting to catch on.
“There are certain leading-edge applications such
as themed entertainment, high-end experience market that
benefit greatly from that signal quality. And certainly,
I think the museum marketplace is another key market.”
HD Growth in Signage, Retail
Kevin Groves, COO of Minneapolis
MN-based Alpha Video, a leading digital video systems dealer,
integrator and provider of corporate digital video services,
reported that his company is seeing growth in HD for digital
signage and point-of-sale displays. “We have about
20 people dedicated to digital signage in a lot of different
spaces, including retail, education and corporate entry-way
technology, as well as corporate communications among employees,
call-center staff and things like that,” he said.
a lot of additions of LCD and plasma screens in point-of-sale
applications, corporate greeting areas and waiting areas.
We’re also seeing it in more public areas of larger
companies where they’ll want information displayed
about their organization,” added Groves. “On
the digital-signage front, we have many companies trying
to spread information among employees in multiple locations
and they’ll put in a little larger screen than the
standard TV set. But, of course, a lot of those solutions
are a little expensive still, so they’re catching
on slowly but surely.”
Groves reported, however,
that, for many of these applications, it’s not necessarily
HD that clients are looking for today, but rather 16:9.
“There are certain corporate image spaces where they
would really like to see HD content displayed, but even
in meeting rooms or in newer areas that are being developed
and installed, they’re looking for products that are
HD capable. It’s not that they’re necessarily
going to be using HD content today, but they want to be
prepared because they have planned for that type of content
in the future,” he explained. “What they are
looking at is 16:9 aspect ratio content, but that doesn’t
necessarily mean HD.”
But it is considered a major
stepping stone toward HD, and nowadays if you’re going
to spend the money on technology, you might as well go for
something that will last for awhile. Indeed, this need to
“future-proof” capital investments often becomes
a primary concern for any new installations or even retrofits.
And that is driving the overall architecture toward more
of an IT-based system than the traditional AV-centric network.
More IT-Based Systems
“We certainly continue
to do standard AV and RF video line integration, but we’re
seeing a lot more IT-based systems, and a lot more IT implementation
on the type of stuff we’re doing,” said Groves.
“We’ll see situations where there are servers
for each display, or a server that provides content for
multiple displays, or a centralized server for content that
then spreads that content out to individual playback devices
that are on the edges. There are some displays out now that
have built-in PCs, which help playback, but when you’re
looking at full video playback, some of those smaller PCs
that are on the edge built into those appliances may not
have the kind of storage you want, depending on the kind
of quality of the video you want to have.”
being held back by cost. It’s not at that mass-market
level where the cost benefit is reachable by enough clients,
but it’s becoming a no-brainer to put the HD infrastructure
in place: Build it in so they don’t have to rip out
cables or pull new cables in short order,” added Waveguide’s
But often the content just
isn’t there to support the technology and the images
presented are simply upconverted standard definition images.
“Many of the rental
companies are renting video scalers right and left for that
particular reason, and that has been a very cost-effective
solution for a lot of these guys right now. And you can’t
blame them,” said Chris Miller, executive director
of PSNI, a nationwide conglomeration of some 79 owner-operated
affiliated systems integrators, consultants and contractors.
According to Miller, the problem with HD is that people
still aren’t quite sold on the idea of paying a premium
“They’ll pay a
premium when their customers will pay a premium. In essence,
what moves production to the next level is client need,
and what clients will pay for and what clients demand. When
clients demand something better than SD, then they’ll
|HD gives doctors in remote locations
an unprecedentted view of cutting-edge procedures being
developed at Emory Crawford Long Hospital.
HD Production vs. Upconversion
For Miller, until the corporate
production market converts, the amount of HD content available
will be limited and upconversion will be the norm.
“It’s still a
little premature for video facilities to purchase a lot
of HD acquisition equipment yet, especially on the corporate
side, because a lot of the equipment that they currently
have is putting out excellent pictures and they just haven’t
had the need to upgrade to HD yet,” Miller explained.
“We’re very optimistic that that migration path
will take place, but for now it’s very slow to come
He stressed, however, that
even if clients aren’t prepared to pay extra for HD
displays and servers today, it’s important to keep
it in mind for the future when designing networks and leave
plenty of headroom.
“I think the IT folks
are being very astute in continuing to leave more bandwidth
out there, and at this point we’re not taking all
the bandwidth they’ve got,” said Miller. “They
know that the signal is just going to take more and more
bandwidth and they have to be prepared accordingly. And
you’re also finding much of the networks that are
in place, certainly in the corporate and education area,
are being managed by the IT groups rather the traditional
AV groups and they’re always looking to have more
bandwidth than they actually need, not just to allow for
increased video quality, but for any type of graphic needs.”
For Walker, HD opens up a
whole new set of dilemmas for clients, and creates a need
for ongoing customer support.
“How does an owner handle
all that flexibility? These are some of the challenges we’re
facing in terms of how we lay out the structured cabling
plant to prevent them from making mistakes or just being
confused,” said Walker. “There’s a growing
need for ongoing support and our company is providing that
support to several of our key accounts now. On large projects,
many times the owner needs more staff because quite often
[existing] staff doesn’t grow even though the amount
of technology it’s managing might be growing substantially,
such that there is a need by the AV professionals, we believe,
to continue to offer support in the long term—to help
them understand how their system can grow. We have the knowledge
of what we intended and designed at the time.
“When it comes to HD,
the needs are so much more delicate that we can’t
just assume that the HD signal is going to pass if we just
use a standard structured cabling patching in the data closet,”
he added. “HD is just a whole other level of concern.”
is a New York-based journalist and documentary film producer.