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Digital Video for AV Integrators

When you transform AV into digital bits and bytes, it opens up a world of possibilities?and a few challenges. Here is everything you need to know about moving digital video around an AV installation.

A little more than 20 years ago, the Federal Communications Commission set in motion a plan to overhaul the television broadcasting system in the United States. And much like a pebble dropped in a pond, that initial splash has turned into a set of ripples that has completely changed the acquisition, editing, production, and distribution of video.

In the early 1990s, a number of organizations jockeyed to have their standards adopted for the next generation of television. The Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) weighed proposals for a number of analog high-definition TV systems, one of which was the Japanese MUSE satellite broadcasting format. But several forward-thinking companies decided that the time was right to go digital. Led by General Instrument, a consortium known as the Grand Alliance combined the best features from the proposals that they had created individually and convinced the FCC to switch from analog to “ones and zeroes” for television in the 21st century. And the impact from that decision would be felt way beyond traditional TV.

Two decades later, digital video is firmly entrenched in every aspect of our daily lives. The terrestrial broadcasting system went digital last year. Direct broadcast satellite companies such as DirecTV and Dish Network have been all-digital for some time. Cable TV companies are shutting down analog channels and converting the rest of their operations to digital as fast as they can. And digital TV is the driver behind AT&T’s U-Verse and Verizon’s FiOS networks.

You may not realize just how pervasive digital communication has become. From DVDs and Blu-ray discs to iPods and iPads, from TiVo and Boxee to YouTube and Hulu, from Netflix streaming to Amazon Unbox, digital video is everywhere. Have you bought a camcorder recently? It’s digital. Listened to HD Radio? Digital.

If you’ve attended the National Association of Broadcasters’ trade show in the past decade, you’ve seen first-hand the migration away from analog to digital. Video streaming, for example, largely derided as a gimmick back in the late 1990s, is now an accepted distribution method. Now, digital video is not only knocking at the door of the pro AV industry; it has kicked the door down and is rushing in to replace our 20th-century distribution systems. Did you notice all of the companies exhibiting video encoders at InfoComm 2010? How about fiber optic and HD-SDI switching and distribution amplifiers?

The question is: When are you going to start using these tools? Digital video makes the impractical practical. Distributed video over digital signage, looped networks with independent nodes and controllers, single-cable installations, independently served displays with on-demand content are all possible.

We know full well that before you’re comfortable using digital video technology, you need to speak its special language, including how it’s encoded, compressed, stamped, multiplexed, distributed, recorded, and played back. So get your highlighters ready. Here’s digital video, soup to nuts.

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