At the last few NAB shows, the most interesting RF products exhibited were all closely grouped around digital broadcasting. Well, they were this year too, but they were more than just small improvements to existing products.
Thales introduced new common-amplification analog VHF transmitters that use liquid cooling. Thales claims this will reduce long-term operational costs.
Thales also introduced its latest IOT DTV transmitters. They liquid-cool the amplifiers and exchange the heat to standard external cooling units. The advantage is that only a small amount of coolant, the oil, needs to be maintained as “pure.” Also, a solid-state switch on the AC mains replaces the old, high-maintenance crowbar circuits.
Harris showed a new STL system called Intraplex STL HD Plus. It transports HD audio, LAN/WAN data, telephone, intercom-voice and remote-control signals over a single T1 connection. For UHF, the company showed a new line of high-power ATSC transmitters designed for high efficiency. They replace many of the manual adjustments for IOT phase and gain corrections with advanced digital-adaptive circuitry.
Zenith showed its newest DTV receivers, which can deal with a 0dB echo without losing picture quality. Thus, the prediction that receivers would solve multipath problems appears to have come true.
RFS showed some changes in its antenna line, most notably a new superturnstile UHF antenna. This low-cost antenna for translators, LPTV or low-power DTV covers the entire UHF band without tuning and is available in either an omnidirectional or cardioid pattern. The lowest-power, single-station version of this antenna will cost under $10K. The full-bore, 16-bay version with enough power capability for several stations will cost $20- to $25K.
Broadcast Electronics had an interesting item, the Big Pipe STL. This point-to-point wireless link can be scaled up to bidirectional capabilities of 45Mb/s. That means that one system can carry it all, including digital audio, analog audio, AES/EBU uncompressed audio, RDS or HD radio data plus Ethernet and RS-232 communications.
One big push this year seemed to be for large, wide-area control systems to allow one point to monitor/control transmitters over the whole country. Obviously, this is aided by the use of our old friend, the Internet. RFS, Harris, Burke and others showed systems that perform this function.
DRS Technologies showed a beautiful 100kW shortwave transmitter.
Axcera introduced a new line of VHF transmitters. The Innovator HX is available for full-power analog operation with either internal or external diplexing. For stations planning to stay with their VHF channel, an internally diplexed transmitter needs only a DTV exciter and mask to make the conversion when ready. The transmitter is available with a switching or linear power supply.
Axcera also has a full line of IOT transmitters for UHF and a line of low-power, solid-state transmitters for both VHF and UHF. The company now proposes the use of frequency-agile DTV translator/booster systems with its low-power transmitter line. Papers given at the show and available at the Axcera Web site explain how this will all work. Essentially, it proposes that broadcasters can chain translators together in amazingly long strings without signal degradation. Each site can return the digital signal to baseband, apply error correction, modulate the signal and convert it to the desired channel. The upconverter, which is the agile component, actually picks up the channel.
Axcera is quick to point out that fewer frequencies are needed for cross-country translator systems. The idea is that the same two frequencies can be repeated over and over again. If the system detects any small remnant of the co-channel signal, it simply treats it the same as a multipath signal with no harm to the signal. As pointed out earlier, the newest receivers are solving this multipath problem. Visit the Axcera site to review the papers. The digital translators are poised to make some big changes in that industry.
The big shock in the industry was the news that Andrew was selling its broadcast operation to ERI. This has created some interesting changes. Andrew and ERI shared a booth on the TV side, and former Andrew staff showed up with ERI badges. This will undoubtedly lead to some interesting products. But, right now, the change is still occurring and it is too soon to look for new products. Nonetheless, the change has moved quite a bit of the antenna and hard-line manufacturing capability to the ERI site, and the rest will soon be there. ERI is making a large commitment here, and we all wish them the best of luck.
Finally, Dielectric Communications showed a new line of manifold combiners for analog and digital television systems. The units offer good characteristics; the big advantage is reduced space requirements.
In all, it was a great year for the RF side of the business. It was nice to see some action here that compared to the digital whiz-bangs offered by the studio crowd. Especially since your aging author doesn't understand what those studio folks are doing anymore.
Don Marley is president of D.L. Markley and Associates, Peoria, IL.
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