Heads Down for Snakes

(From member Mike Curran)

Alex Brawner and I bumped into this 4’5″ example up on our repeater site near Escondido on April 20. This one is a red diamond rattlesnake. They are not usually aggressive, and some may not rattle when encountered. However, the venom is potentially dangerous to humans, so it should be treated with caution and respect. They scared away easily with loud noises and showers of small stones or gravel.

The last resort would be to KILL them! They perform a free service by keeping those, insulation chewing, power supply nest building, and Hantavirus carrying vermin out of our facilities.

So heads down as you walk and don’t reach where you can’t see.

Click HERE to see full size photo. 

San Diegans Review NABShow 2009

This was a very different convention. I’ve attended almost every year since 1983 when RCA and Ampex ruled, but this year’s was one to remember. Some estimated attendance down 30%, others as low as 50%.

Since official attendance is based on registration and not “door count,” we may never know. But let me tell you, there was plenty of room in the aisles and in booths. I got to touch equipment and talk for up to an hour with attentive vendors. At Grass Valley. And Sony. I am not exaggerating. Lunch meant getting a table and relaxing for a while. Seriously. Rene Savalle of ComtechTV remarked that the air conditioning even seemed to keep up this year.

Leon Messenie of KPBS said, “I thought the show was just right as an end buyer. I wish they would have condensed the halls a bit. It seemed they still wanted to have the appearance that NAB needed all the halls. There were so many places to sit down and rest which was nice but it also kept the show spread out.

Sales representative Alicia Reed of JVC summed up the opinion of other vendors, “A seemingly large ratio of the attendees we talked to also seemed to have budgets and intentions to purchase this year, which was encouraging.” Stephen Milley of TV Magic added, “It resulted in a more educated and qualified attendee which led to more sophisticated conversations about projects, technology, and new products as less time was spent educating attendees on the basics of video.” We saw fewer students and non-technical managers, and the proportion of foreign visitors seemed higher because of the lower numbers of domestic visitors.

Another recurring theme this year was bragging rights for attending cheaply. Many of us spent at least some of our own money, either to extend the stay or to go at all. CBS Radio told its employees, “Your time, your dime.” People compared room rates. “$45 a night and not a bad room,” one workmate said. I reserved too early at $79 a night, seeing it go for $47 two months before the show. But this was for a room that went for $140 last year. Flights on Southwest Airlines went for $49 to $75 per seat each way.

Similarly, exhibitors most likely either canceled or toned down their parties and hospitality suites. The famous annual Grass Valley party didn’t happen. Avid had a band and served drinks, but no food. A few took place anyway.

What was hot? In TV, 3D exhibits with cardboard glasses were everywhere. They used interlaced polarity LCDs, so the technique finally dispensed with red/blue lenses or active glasses that alternately shutter between sides. The color appeared much more natural.

We also saw smaller, lighter HD cameras. Broadcasters are finally rejecting in large numbers the shoulder-mounted behemouths in favor of small, far less expensive handhelds with disc or flash memory media. JVC showed two models, Sony showed a studio control for its popular, small EX3 XDCAM.

Grass Valley showed its new Kayenne switcher that seemed to finally marry technologies from its European and U.S. engineering facilities.

Sometimes you just wonder if a problem will ever be solved, though. Scott Stinson of KPBS and I saw booths where lip sync errors on video were impressively detected and measured, but not corrected for fear of getting it wrong. We also both thought we would see numerous exhibits of thin, power saving LED HD monitors, and we didn’t. Plenty of monster size outdoor LED monitor/heaters, though.

With the revolutionary changes caused by DTV, HDRadio, and BAS ENG nearly over, some booths seemed like the calm after the storm. Dennis Pieri of Bext attracted some attention with his exhibit of video over their next generation FMeXtra digital subcarrier, but otherwise, traffic was slow. We saw the same thing at other transmitter and antenna vendors.

RadioWorld Magazine named several well integrated audio-over-CAT5 studio systems among their Cool Stuff awards for this year. Burk’s PPM assurance monitoring and Sage ENDEC’s next generation EAS equipment caught my attention.

Some vendors grumbled about the high cost of the show and whether it should stay open Thursday at all. Indeed, NAB organizers largely ignored economic conditions themselves, opting to occupy four days of floor activity and four huge halls, and charging fees unadjusted for the downturn. Quantel and Cisco were conspicuously absent this year, and Apple did not return after leaving last year.

A few changes took us by surprise. The home-grown Tiernan name disappeared with Radyne’s sale to Comtech last year. Jack Herbert left that company to sell processors for Fujitsu. Val Reynolds left Sony for Omneon.

May 2009 Meeting – Algolith

TV Magic will be hosting the May 20th SBE meeting at the San Diego office.  Ian Caldwell with Algolith will discuss technologies of noise reduction, including Mosquito Noise Reduction and Dynamic Noise Reduction. Lunch starts at noon, the meeting will run from 12:30PM to 1:30PM. TV Magic is located at 8112 Engineer Road, San Diego. If you have any questions, contact Eva at 858-650-3155.

Algolith solutions include a series of FPGA-based image processing and enhancement cards designed to meet the exacting needs of broadcast, cable, satellite, and IPTV providers. Ian will discuss, various approaches and technologies of noise reduction, including Mosquito Noise Reduction, Dynamic Noise Reduction, Block Artifact Reduction, Multiple Type Noise Reduction, Motion Adaptive De-Interlacer, Anti-Aliasing Processor and others. He will also give an overview of “Open Gear” technology for broadcasters.

March 2009 Meeting – Tektronix Discusses AFD

One of the most common complaints about modern television is that the video doesn’t always fill the screen. Viewers who buy expensive flat-screen monitors often feel it’s very important that all the real estate is filled with active video, even when that means distorting the image geometry.

There’s help for viewers who want to see more screen filling. The Active Format Descriptor (AFD) is a metadata technology slowly finding its way into the broadcast chain.

Steve Holmes, Senior Applications Engineer with Tektronix, will discuss AFD packet monitoring and advanced metadata analysis through the appropriate flag system and data packets at our March 19 meeting at TV Magic, 8112 Engineer Road, in Kearny Mesa.

Note that this is a Thursday meeting. We’ll start with a free lunch at noon, short chapter meeting at 12:30, then the presentation. You should be able to leave for work by 1:30 PM. Guests are always welcome.

Lessons Learned During the San Diego DTV Transition

San Diego was among the largest TV markets in the U.S. to have many of its major TV stations transition to digital only the evening of February 17. Major station groups backed out of their plans to transition early when it fell out of political favor. Locally, KFMB-DT needed to get off their low power provisional DTV channel. McGraw-Hill and Tribune surely wanted the electric meter to stop spinning so fast supporting two transmitters in an adverse economy at KGTV and KSWB, respectively.

The vast majority of the San Diego County estimated 78,000 households with over-the-air TVs made the transition without trouble. There were hundreds who needed help.

Speaking to dozens of viewers and other chief engineers in town, here’s what I learned:

Shutting Down the Analog Transmitters in Two Batches May Not Have Been Such a Bad Idea – Unprepared viewers woke up on February 18 with fewer TV stations, but they were able to receive some, and were motivated to then upgrade their systems to receive all the stations. No one was left without a source of TV news.

The “Night Light” Worked – KSWB reported fewer calls after keeping a repeating 30 minute instructional video about the DTV transition running on their analog channel 69 station for a week.

It’s About the Antenna – With at least four transmitter sites and rough terrain, it takes a skilled engineer to design and build a proper home antenna system in this market. The vast majority of callers were trying to receive all local English-speaking TV stations with a single indoor “rabbit ears and UHF loop” style antenna. With the few exceptions of people located in the center of the city in wood-framed homes using converters or receivers with the latest generation, highly equalization-adapting chipsets—receiving TV this way doesn’t work. A weak signal tolerated before became a blank screen at the bottom of the digital cliff.

A Few Brave Souls Want Information on Real Antenna Systems – A handful of callers wanted advanced information on fringe area reception. With only a couple of antennas capable of sufficient front-to-back ratios to eliminate co-channel interference from Los Angeles, this information means the difference between receiving all stations and receiving a few.

Not Ready for VHF – Many viewers had adapted to the UHF-only pre-transition market with their bow-tie array antennas, only to find that they now had to replace those antennas to receive new DTV stations on channels 8 and 10. Many viewers were told that the best system is a combination of high-band VHF antenna aimed permanently at Mt. Soledad and a UHF antenna aimed south toward Mt. San Miguel and Mt. San Antonio, but few wanted to actually go to the trouble of doing so.

Where Did the Converters Go? – Inventories of digital converters were spotty during the week leading up to the transition. Many stores appeared to have run out of converters for fear of having excess inventory. Anecdotal evidence told us that stores south of downtown fared worse, with large numbers of converters perhaps being sold to Mexican citizens for use in Tijuana, where many people are bilingual, they can receive large numbers of digital stations, and Asian imports carry a burdensome duty.

The Channel Master Converter Got Good Marks – The DigitalStream boxes got hot enough to make you not only wonder about their electrical consumption, but about their safety without a fire extinguisher nearby. The Zenith DTT900’s picked up an extra few stations from LA on my old log-periodic, but it didn’t have an S-video output. The Channel Master could be had at Fry’s sometimes for a 10-spot and a government card, but it had the S-video output. Andrew Lombard at KGTV said it was his favorite (although it doesn’t have analog passthrough).

Scan and Rescan, Then Scan Again – Viewers were told to rescan on February 18 for digital versions of channels 8 and 10. But that wasn’t enough. If a viewer had an antenna on a rotator, they had to perform a complete “first birthday” style scan to wipe channels 8 and 10 from their analog reception memory positions and record the Mt. Soledad stations. Then they had to scan in ADD mode for UHF stations on Mt. San Miguel. Then, depending on location, might have to scan a third time to receive English language XETV in Tijuana. Some TVs behave differently, so rescanning could delete previously found stations. Viewers with those TVs had to be instructed on how to restrict their scans to a set of physical channels while ADDing. Got that, Mom?

What Do You Mean Channel 6 is really 23? – Related to the previous item, viewers needed to know the physical channel numbers in order to properly scan channels and make sure they have the right antenna pointed in the right direction.

So Tell Me Once Again How to Wire My Old VCR to the Converter? – As consumers tried to adapt their older technology, they felt left behind when trying to integrate the new converters to their trusty recorders. Conducting automatic recordings with unmanned channel changes, we’ve learned, requires a Dish DTVPal or Zinwell ZAT-970A converter and careful reading of the manual.

I Give Up! – Cable, fiber, and satellite providers ran a heavy ad campaign to promote the simplicity and reliability of reception using their systems, capturing perhaps 6,000 exasperated OTA viewers. Many subscribed to the lowest tier of service, but providers were glad to have them.

Lifeline Rates are Not Published – Viewers calling TV stations were not aware that they could get all local TV stations, in HD, using the lowest tiered rates on cable.

Some Stations Really Put Out – KGTV collected excess government converter cards from their viewers and redistributed them to viewers who had requested too late. They also had instruction materials from each of the popular makes of converters and TVs in order to help people with rescanning. KFMB Stations Director of Engineering Rich Lochmann and yours truly at XETV went on the air to explain rescanning. KSWB produced the nightlight video.

Society of Broadcast Engineers, San Diego