Did you happen to notice that four of the six news stories in this edition of Broadcast Engineering’s "Transition to Digital" newsletter are about facilities and organizations transitioning to digital? We don’t see many fresh press releases this time of year, and of those that were relevant, two-thirds were about facilities migrating to file-based systems and workflows.
The transition to digital goes by several names, including digital migration and digital transition. Some people think the digital transition started when the first DTV transmitter was ordered and ended when the last analog TV transmitter signed off. Those of that mind are mistaken. Broadcast television has been transitioning and migrating to digital since CBS Labs introduced the CMX600 nonlinear video tape editing system in 1972. It controlled analog VTR insert and assemble edits based on a computerized (digital) proxie edit decision lists (EDLs). CMX was a joint venture of CBS Labs and Memorex.
From about that time on, Kodak’s NAB presence started shrinking. Revolutionary digital technologies like the Vidifont character generator and new digital TBCs that made the unstable output of relatively cheap ¾in VCRs legal for broadcast became the new stars of many a post-’60s NAB.
If I may add a personal note, I started working for Sony around the time the RCA TK-76 hit the streets in 1976 and rocked the world of TV newsgathering. I was frequently told that one of the company’s primary competitive objectives (in Japan and all 35 of us with the Video Products Division of Sony America) was to run RCA and Kodak out of business. At the time, I played along but couldn’t imagine how that could ever happen. Eventually, we all saw it happen and then some. Competitors that didn’t embrace advanced video technology and later digital technology didn’t survive.
Generally, major waves of transition in television broadcasting come along about every decade +/- a couple of years. Nearly all the ground-breaking innovations in broadcast television technology since the color quad machine and two-piece “peepy-creepy” portable color TV cameras of the ’60s are based on digital technology. The analog exception in the ’70s was RCA’s TK-76 one-piece ENG camera. It was one-piece if you didn’t count the 35lb VCR on your shoulder. It was also a very efficient film lab killer. Some might argue the U-Matic was another analog exception. But if it weren’t for the digital logic built in to second generation ¾in machines, the technology would have been relatively useless in a broadcast environment.
Other ’70s NAB stars were satellites, audio-follow and computer programmable MC switchers, CGs, TBCs and ENG. Front and center at 1980s NAB Shows were digital effects from the Vital Squeeze Zoom and ADO, EditDroid (later AVID), frame syncs, digital audio and CCD cameras. The ’90s brought HDTV, DTV, computers and the Internet. The Y2K decade’s stars were streaming, digital storage and the end of analog broadcast transmission. This is the decade of organizing exploding content in file-based systems, in hopes of better serving more content to more producers and viewers more efficiently on more platforms, on-demand or real time, increasingly without a transmitter or TV set. Digital television technology is a tool to widen the “broad” in broadcasting.