Graphics Trends at NAB, Part One: Centralized Workflows Cut Costs, Time

By Debra Kaufman

In today’s tough economy, broadcasters and other TV producers feel the pressure for a return on investment for every dollar spent–even for graphics. At the upcoming NAB, the companies that make graphics software and systems will unveil their solution: centralized graphics that enable producers to maximize resources, streamline workflows and cut costs. <!–more–>

“We’re seeing a shift towards efficiency,” says Teicia Joffe Gaupp, enterprise marketing for on-air graphics for Avid Technology. “And the workflow as a whole is being reevaluated for today’s needs.”

Other trends at NAB will be the latest tools for real-time 3D and HD. They are money-savers, but their ways to keep the look fresh and compelling in competitive times.

Among graphics companies leading the way toward centralization is Chyron.

According to COO Kevin Prince, Chyron has embraced the approach by focusing on systems rather than standalone products.

Chyron’s acquisition of Axis Graphics took the company into the Web services arena. “Now, from a regular browser, you can create graphics online from the browser from anywhere in the world and have them delivered to your station,” says Prince.

At NAB, Chyron will show Axis with Order Management Solution (OMS), a method to customize, centralize and output content, as well as monitor the process. “In the past, you’d have to pick up your phone to order it and have no idea when the graphic would be ready,” says Prince.

When used by a station group, OMS allows graphics creation across time zones, which means that, after hours, an East Coast facility can get quick-turnaround graphics from West Coast sister operations.

“Now you can use your people more efficiently,” says Prince. Chyron has seen ROI measured as high as 10:1, he says. “It allows a higher degree of collaboration.”

Another entry in centralized graphics comes from Harris. Connectus is a tool for managing graphics across a local network or the Internet.

According to Curtis Mutter, product line manager for Inscriber production graphics, Connectus gives the user a centralized file server to store graphics, which can then be moved between the graphics systems and locations on the network.

Connectus, which also comes in an offline version, takes the guesswork out of moving a graphics package from the offline creative environment to online playback, says Mutter.

“With the manual process, you had to gather elements and moving them, which took a lot of work and care,” says Mutter. “You might have outdated content or be missing a series of logos. Connectus puts the assets you need together and publishes it as a package.”

Connectus also keeps a history of revisions, allowing the broadcaster to revert to an older version.

Miranda is also demonstrating work order management in a distributed environment for centralized graphics. “It’s a hub-and-spoke model,” says Miranda SVP, play-out and graphics, Dave Jones, who reports that station group Media General is on board with an 18-spoke version.

“The expertise is centralized at one location, so that saves operational costs,” he says. “Anything that allows people to save money is cutting edge.”

Among the graphics products Vizart will be offering are the Viz Graphics Hub, a central graphics database, and Viz Trio and Viz Content Pilot, which are control applications. These offer templates that let a station or group re-use a graphic template with a different “look” but the same content at different locations or times. For example, says François LaborieVizrt executive VP of marketing, the system allows sharing the same stories between two stations “but using ‘channel-branded’ graphics for each. Or re-using the same graphics for morning and evening shows, with graphics automatically changing to the right look.”

In addition, Vizrt’s Viz Link lets journalists and operators search and add videos to their graphic animations. The videos come from a centralized MAM solutions, such as Viz Ardome or Viz Video Hub. Video assets can be shared across organizations and networks the same way the graphics are.

And its Viz Curious Maps server is a centralized map database that allows journalists and operators to create branded maps on demand.

Realtime 3D Makes Gains

Centralized graphics aren’t the only NAB graphics trend. The ability to playback real-time 3D has also recently moved to the forefront. According to Jones, real-time 3D was once limited to European and Middle Eastern broadcasters. “In the States, it’s more used for sports than news because your graphics costs go up substantially with real-time 3D,” he says.

But that’s now changing. With GPU-rendering, which features dedicated graphics processing cards in the PC, companies can now more easily and cost-effectively create robust products that don’t break the bank.

New real-time 3D products to be demonstrated at NAB include Miranda’s XMedia Suite integrated with X3D and Pixel Power’s Clarity 3D.

Harris will also highlight the 3D capabilities of its Inscriber G7 system that was shown at last year’s NAB, but will have its product launch at NAB 09.

“In addition to creating basic primitives [such as cubes and spheres], which can then be textured and animated,” says Mutter. “The 3D system can also import scenes from third party systems like Autodesk’s 3ds max and Maya, or Maxon’s Cinema 4D.”

Avid’s Deko 3D has that same import capability, says Joffe Gaupp. She believes that, though the 3D trend is just getting started, it is likely to grow.

“More 3D-focused workflows at NAB will be in response to emerging niche applications such as 3D doppler radar to measure distance for sports applications,” she says. “The technology is advancing such that viewers at home may start to see actual 3D telecasts, using 3D film and even 3D advertising incorporated into the programming.”

HD or Not HD?

And then there is HD. As TV stations slowly and cautiously move into HD production, graphics are still largely, but not entirely, being done in SD.

At Quantel, Roger Thornton, head of marketing communications, notes that Paintbox-style graphics capabilities are built into its Newsbox HD server-based broadcast production systems.

Though other broadcast graphics purveyors offer HD solutions, many stations and networks aren’t ready to take the leap.

Pixel Power’s Pete Challinger explains that a few stations have “gone whole hog with HD,” including local news and sports origination and graphics, and a few others are only up-converting SD. But most stations are in the middle, having bought an HD camera but still stuck on upconverting the SD graphics, he says. That’s going to change.

“A good up-conversion of good SD graphics in 16:9 can look quite good…until your competing station does it properly,” he says. “Then it doesn’t look good enough.”

NAB will offer plenty of opportunities for stations to consider the options, for HD and 3D. How many stations jump on those products remain to be seen. With operating costs taking a central focus, the move to centralizing graphics is much closer to a sure bet.