Launchpad: Click on items.
"A simple, reasonably fool-proof hybrid
(combined linear and non-linear) video editing system for both analog and
DV source content will sell many more Entertainment PCs in 1998 than DBS,
CATV, and especially DTV tuners."
A Rock and a Hard Place.
So what's in store for DBS time-shift recording
from Sony? A $799 6.35-mm deck that's IEEE-1394 compliant, but won't handle
DV? A $999 VTR that will record and play back DSS content but only play
your DV tapes? Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of Sony's consumer
marketing folks? The Shadow may know, but I sure don't.
"Not content to settle for a Digital Video tape format war between consumer
DV, DVCPRO, and DVCAM, Panasonic and Sony have opted for a second front:
A battle to establish hegemony in the serial audio/video transport and
switching business. Like the recent coups d'etat in Africa, everyone is
a loser in the forthcoming Serial War. "
Read more in Serial
Out In Africa.
Jon in action & Africa.
For a real African experience, check out Jon Leland's article
Man in Africa," where Jon takes the Sharp VL-D5000U, the Panasonic
AG-EZ1 and the JVC GR-DV1 on a rough ride through Ghana and Senegal.
Required reading for all who seek hands-on reports of this new technology.
Ressuring aspect: Despite Jon's SDI aspirations,
voiced in Videography, the camcorders taken to the bush were all standard-issue
DV. Didn't even have 1394, because Sony's offerings weren't
taken for the ride.
Roger Jennings is a resident of Oakland, CA, where
he cranks out books like Special
Edition Using Windows NT Server 4, Special
Edition Using Access 97, Database
Developer's Guide with Visual Basic 4, and many
more. For years, he's been writing his seminal oeuvre Special Edition
Using Digital Video, which is tentatively scheduled to be published
by Que Books, an imprint of Macmillan Computer Publishing, in Spring 1998
- if the book is not (as is usually the case) overtaken by events. In Area
1394, Roger writes about all things Firewire. Opinions expressed herein
are those of the author, who also holds the copyright to what he writes
in Area 1394.
PC 98 and IEEE-1394:
Déjà Vu All Over Again.
Remember Microsoft's PC 97 specification? July 1,
1997 was the official deadline for Wintel PCs to meet the requirements
imposed by Microsoft's PC 97 Hardware Design Guide (ISBN 1-57231-381-1
for history buffs with a spare $45.) Amongst other consumer-oriented enhancements,
PC 97's Entertainment PC category required an IEEE-1394 connector. Well,
July 1, 1997 has come and gone, and there aren't any Entertainment PC 97s
at CircuitCity, CompUSA,
or anywhere else. Even Sony's
latest desktop PC offerings and the Gateway
Destination PCTV lack a FireWire connector. The problem? Microsoft
bit off more technology than it could chew. Much of the PC97 spec required
Driver Model (WDM) drivers for Windows 9x (Memphis)
and Windows NT 5.0. Not only is Memphis missing and WinNT 5.0 in the "Not
There" category, but even WDM remains a member of the Microsoft Most Wanted
list. PC 97 and the Simply Interactive PC (SIPC), the highlights of 1996's
Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), apparently fell victim
to Microsoft's allocation of most of its development resources to "embracing
and extending the Internet." It's more than ironic that WinHEC 96 opened
on April 1: "April Fool. We meant 1998, not 1997."
It's just as ironic that on July 1, 1997 a link to
a downloadable version 0.9 of the PC 98 spec appeared on Microsoft's Hardware
Development Web page. The PC 98 spec is a
joint effort of Microsoft and Intel that's presently scheduled to go into
effect on July 1, 1998. (Hopefully, Microsoft will finish Memphis and Windows
NT 5.0 before the new enforcement date.) PC 98 defines four configurations:
Consumer, Office, Workstation, and Entertainment. (The nascent NetPC
has it's own spec.) MPEG-2 replaces PC 97's MPEG-1 as the primary digital
video decoder, and DVD drives with downward compatibility replace last
year's CD-ROM drives. The Entertainment PC is the only PC 98 version to
require IEEE-1394 connectors, so it gets the full treatment in Area1394.
(The spec recommends IEEE-1394 for the Consumer and Office variants.)
The spec's Chapter 5, "Entertainment PC 98," outlines
the specific requirements for a PCTV combination, preferably with a 27-inch
or larger SVGA (800x600) monitor to replace a conventional TV set in
consumers' living rooms or dens. The alternative is baseband NTSC or PAL
composite and Y/C video outputs. The Entertainment PC also requires "analog
video capture" capability, implying the requirement for baseband NTSC or
PAL video inputs. Nowhere in the specification is there a minimum standard
for image size, frame rate, or audio synchronization. Even stranger, there's
no definitive statement in the spec that motion video capture be accommodated
or a Y/C input be included. The way version 0.9 is written, still-frame
capture appears to meet the requirements. Video capture via the required
IEEE-1394 port appears to be optional.
The Entertainment PC requires an analog TV tuner covering
VHF and UHF frequencies, with analog CATV channels optional, plus an "Advanced
Television Systems Committee (ATSC) tuner-demodulator." Elsewhere in the
spec, a DTV tuner is optional for Entertainment PCs or is an alternative
to a DBS satellite tuner.
Note: The Glossary defines analog video as "A video
signal that represents an infinite number of smooth gradations between
given video levels. Compare with digital video." This definition appears
to cement the requirement for baseband NTSC and/or PAL inputs for the Entertainment
Chapter 8, "IEEE-1394," defines the implementation
standards for any PC 98-compliant computer that acts as a IEEE-1394 host
(bus) controller. The most important change from the PC 97 spec is
the requirement for two standard 6-conductor IEEE-1394 ports, one on the
front panel for easy accessibility and another on the back panel. (PC 97
required only a single front-panel connector, which would make the host
controller a leaf node.) A third, internal 1394 port is recommended for
connecting other devices, such as internal fixed-disk drives or the 5-1/4-inch
Sony OEM DVTR that's presently being resold by FAST Multimedia. PC 98 requires
S400 (400 Mbps) host capability and strongly discourages S100 (100 Mpbs)
devices, such as the three million or so Sony DCR-VX1000s shipped to date.
(Devices connect to the PC's IEEE-1394 host controller ports.) 400-Mbps
PHY chips are just coming to the market; most of today's LINK chips can
handle the S400 speed.
The going gets tougher in Chapter 15, "Video and Broadcast
Components," which includes sections on "Video Input and Capture Requirements"
and "Digital Broadcast Television Requirements." The "Video Input and Capture"
section doesn't include requirements for the PC, only a recommendation
that timecode be accommodated and a requirement that digital video cameras
(not camcorders) use the USB or IEEE-1394 bus. The "Digital Broadcast"
section is subject to a well-deserved "early stage of development" caveat.
Chapter 15 appears to muddy the Microsoft Broadcast
Architecture waters by requiring erstwhile suppliers of DBS adapter
cards for DirecTV or EchoStar to add terrestrial DTV and even digital CATV
tuning capabilities. (Imagine three type-F connectors for DBS, DTV, and
CATV sprouting from a single adapter.) DTV reception implies a requirement
for a 16:9 monitor for HDTV, yet Chapter 5 recommends a large-screen 800x600
4:3 display. You can expect plenty of changes to Chapter 15 between versions
0.9 and 1.0, as well as conforming modifications to related chapters.
Chapter 18, "Storage and Related Peripherals," requires
that EIDE drives implement Ultra
DMA/33 (a.k.a. Ultra ATA) and recommends that "... IDE should be
supported on IEEE 1394. An interface device or dongle that allows all IDE
devices to be connected to IEEE 1394 and the operating system will support
booting from this device." IDE-over-1394 stems from the Device
Bay specification, which was still under NDA wraps on July 1, 1997.
Device Bay uses IEEE-1394 and USB to let users plug in storage and other
peripherals without opening an otherwise sealed-case PC. The "interface
device," called Tailgate, is a single chip with core logic and a self-contained
PHY to make the transition from a drive's IDE (ATA/ATAPI) connector to
an IEEE-1394 socket. Silicon Systems, Inc.
(SSI, a subsidiary of Texas Instruments) and Symbios
Logic make the $10 chips, which mount on small circuit board behind
the drive. Dataquest estimates that 64 million IEEE-1394 fixed-disk drives
will ship in 2000, versus 92 million conventional IDE drives. By 2000,
the Tailgate chip will become an integral component of the drive electronics.
Establishing a set of basic requirements for video-enabled
PCs is an admirable objective. Using an industry specification to force-feed
consumers with technology of dubious short-term benefit, such as DTV and
digital CATV reception, however, is far less admirable. The problem with
version 0.9 of the PC 98 spec is that the video capture requirements are
ambiguous, especially as to IEEE-1394 capture and playback. There will
be a mighty unhappy bunch of consumers with FireWire-enabled DV camcorders
who find their newly-purchased Entertainment PC 98 can't capture, play,
or edit their home movies. Adding a requirement that the Entertainment
PC demonstrate DV recording and playback capability with DirectShow 2.0
(ActiveMovie's new moniker) would solve this potential technical service
nightmare. It behooves the Microsoft and Intel spec writers and software
developers to concentrate on making sure consumers receive the full benefit
of today's IEEE-1394 technology and not on pie-in-the-sky gimmicks like
making a PC into a DTV/CATV set-top box.
According to an article
by Joel Brinkley in the July 7, 1997 issue of the New York Times,
IBM, Dell Computer, Packard Bell, Hewlett-Packard,
Gateway 2000 and Sony have no plans to build DTV receivers into their PCs.
The article quotes HP's Lawrence Sennett: "We collect enormous amounts
of consumer data, and in recent months we have asked people, flat out basically,
if watching TV on a PC was a big thing for them. And the answer we got
back was no." Although Microsoft and Intel continue to promote computer-friendly
progressive scan formats for DTV, it appears that the DTV broadcast tempest
brewed by the computer industry at NAB '97 has subsided. CBS has decided
on 1080I (interlaced) for HDTV, and the other three networks are likely
to do the same. Brinkley says, "The cable television industry, too, is
showing little interest in the computer companies' views. Wendell Bailey,
vice president for science and technology at the National Cable Television
Association, said: 'I think we are going to stick with interlace.'"
Note: For an overview of Microsoft's plans to bring
Windows CE to DTV/CATV set-top boxes, read "Bill
Gates, the Cable Guy" in the July 14, 1997 issue of Business Week.
The Entertainment PC 98 is sure to suffer the same
fate as the Entertainment PC 97 if its defining specification includes
costly features that folks don't want or can't use.
What camcorder-owning consumers want today is an easy way to edit and title
analog or DV home videos with a PC, but without having buy 15G of additional
fixed-disk storage for a 30-minute production. A simple, reasonably fool-proof
hybrid (combined linear and non-linear) video editing system for both analog
and DV source content will sell many more Entertainment PCs in 1998 than
DBS, CATV, and especially DTV tuners.
JVC's D-VHS Gets FireWired
It's been more than two years since JVC announced its
consumer-oriented D-VHS digital bitstream recording format in April,
1995, but no D-VHS gear has yet to hit the shelves of the consumer electronics
chains. That's about to change as major and minor players in the direct-broadcast
satellite (DBS) receiver business release new D-VHS time-shift recorders
in time for the 1997 Christmas selling season. All of the forthcoming digital
decks sport IEEE-1394 connectors, but only one of the new models, JVC's
HM-DSR100, claims to implement the full IEEE-1394 protocol. The RCA and
Hitachi receivers use an incompatible protocol (commonly known as "brain-dead
1394") to connect the DBS set-top box (called an IRD for integrated
receiver-decoder) to a separate consumer D-VHS deck.
D-VHS is a 1/2-inch consumer format that records digital
data at a variety of bitrates on standard S-VHS ferric-oxide cassettes.
D-VHS uses a conventional VHS transport mechanism and head design, so D-VHS
decks also can record and playback analog VHS content. (Some of JVC's high-end
Digital-S decks can play, but not record, S-VHS tapes.) Standard-format
D-VHS records at a fixed 14.1 Mbps data rate with a tape speed of 16.67
mm/sec and VHS's 1,800-RPM drum rotation speed. The overall recording rate
is 19.14 Mbps, which includes about 5 Mbps of auxiliary data and inner/outer
error correction code (ECC.) Standard length (DF-300) tapes deliver five-hour
hour recording time (31.7G); longer (DF-420) tapes hold seven hours (44.4G)
of data. Currently, the only application for D-VHS is time-shift recording
of DBS programming, although JVC envisions use of D-VHS decks as "data
refrigerators," capable of storing bits from a variety of unidentified
sources. DBS uses bitrates in the 6-Mbps range for SDTV and audio, so much
of the D-VHS tape is likely to be filled with empty bits. At a January
1997 press conference, JVC also discussed recording data rates of 7 and
28 Mbps; the latter is sufficient to handle DV-format data in real time.
Hitachi and Thomson Consumer Electronics, the U.S.
subsidiary of France's money-losing Thomson Multimedia that owns the
RCA and GE brands, were the first to detail their D-VHS time-shift offerings.
Hitachi showed a prototype $599 D-VHS deck with an IEEE-1394 connection
to its IRD at the Winter Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in January, 1997.
Thomson chose the Satellite Broadcasting & Communications
Association (SBCA) show in March to outline its plans for the DSS-3 product
line, which includes an as-yet-unpriced D-VHS deck. Much to the dismay
of FireWire purists, both decks use brain-dead 1394. TWICE
(This Week in Consumer Electronics) quoted Randy Staggs, Thomson
VCR product management manager as saying: "The simplified digital A/V bus
doesn't have the simultaneous two-way communication of the full IEEE-1394
spec, which allows us to use a less-expensive microprocessor." The same
article attributes to Hitachi TV product manager Jim Abrahamsen the somewhat
misleading observation that "the interface is 'a simplified digital A/V
bus,' meaning that while the IEEE-1394 connection is used, only four pins
out of the six specified in the standard are used to carry bitstream data."
It's true that four conductors carry the IEEE-1394 data; the two missing
conductors in the four-pin IEEE-1394.1 consumer connector carry power.
But the IEEE-1394.1 connectors used by today's DV and DVCAM camcorders
and decks implement the full IEEE-1394 protocol, not some proprietary "simplified
digital A/V bus."
The U.S. DBS market has three major programmers:
PrimeStar, and EchoStar.
DBS Digest figures for
May 20, 1997, show DirecTV/USSB leading the pack with 2,644,274 subscribers,
followed by PrimeStar at 1,899,724, and EchoStar with 549,691. A fourth
entrant, AlphaStar, gained only 54,913 subscribers before a bankruptcy
filing in early June. DirecTV/USSB and EchoStar transmit MPEG-2 encoded
video and audio from high-power satellites to 18-inch dishes purchased
by consumers; PrimeStar uses medium-power Ku-band transponders and leases
three-foot dishes to users. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which acquired
the DBS licenses that MCI gained in last year's FCC auctions, originally
planned to join forces with EchoStar in a $1 billion venture. News Corp.
abruptly cancelled the EchoStar marriage and made a deal to exchange its
DBS slots, plus two under-construction DBS satellites, for $1.1 billion
worth of non-voting PrimeStar stock. The high-power DBS satellites will
give PrimeStar added channel capacity and the ability to use the less-obtrusive
18-inch antenna. So far, there haven't been any reports of digital VTRs
for PrimeStar IRDs.
Network Systems, and Uniden produce
DirecTV/USSB IRDs, which carry the DSS (Direct Satellite System) trademark.
Thomson's RCA and Sony branded IRDs dominate the consumer electronics superstore
channel. Hughes Network Systems (HNS) is best known for its commercial
satellite systems (VSAT) and DirecPC
Internet service. Microsoft and DirectTV have a long-standing agreement
that forms the backbone of the forthcoming Broadcast
Architecture for Memphis
(AKA Windows 9x.) DirectTV has dedicated a 30-Mbps transponder to broadcasting
Web pages and other HTML-encoded content to PCs with an IRD adapter card.
(DirecTV recently complained that Microsoft wasn't progressing fast enough
with its support for satellite-delivered data, which originally was intended
as an add-on to Windows 95.) EchoStar, which markets IRDs under its DISH
(DIgital Sky Highway) network brand, has experienced difficulty getting
major chains to carry its products. EchoStar relies primarily on TVRO (C/Ku-band
"big ugly dish") dealers to distribute its systems. In April, 1997 EchoStar
and JVC entered into a agreement whereby JVC would market the DISH IRDs
under the JVC label, giving EchoStar the chance to gain shelf space in
the superstores. EchoStar says it plans to deliver Internet content to
PCs, but the details remain missing. Adaptec supplies PC OEMs with PCI-bus
IRD adapter cards for both DirectTV/USSB DSS
and DVB-based DISH
network systems, which let you view DBS programming and cache downloaded
data on your (very large) hard drive.
JVC announced on June 20, 1997 it's $999 combination IRD
and D-VHS deck for the DISH network, expected to ship in October. According
to a same-day report in TWICE, the JVC HM-DSR100Du (with a dual-output
dish) and HM-DSR100Ru ($949 without antenna), both of which also include
a conventional cable-ready VCR tuner, will record and play D-VHS and
conventional VHS tapes. You can record DBS content on D-VHS or VHS tapes,
but terrestrial NTSC TV and cable content currently is VHS-only. (Initial
specs for the Thomson and Hitachi decks only provide for VHS playback.)
TWICE quotes Hiroki Shimizu, a JVC (Japan) managing director and
general manager of the audio/video sector, as promising "full compatibility
with the MPEG-2 video and IEEE-1394 FireWire digital PC interface and standards."
What makes D-VHS's use of IEEE-1394 interesting is that it isn't used to
make the IRD-to-deck connection; it's designed for external connectivity
to MPEG-2 programming content and/or the D-VHS recorder. If JVC writes
the necessary Win32 Driver Model (WDM) IEEE-1394 miniport drivers, you'll
be able to watch DISH network programming on your 266-MHz or faster Pentium
II PC or back up your hard drive to D-VHS tape with a Spark card. (Software
MPEG-2 decoders need plenty of CPU horsepower to handle both video and
audio streams.) JVC also claims the HM-DSR100 boxes are "forward-compatible"
as set-top converter/recorders for forthcoming terrestrial DTV transmission.
Shimazu says the D-VHS IRD is ready to handle Dolby AC-3 when EchoStar
begins 5.1 audio transmission "sometime next year." EchoStar will distribute
the JVC units to their brave band of TVRO dealers.
Note: Current DSS receivers have low-speed and high-speed
data ports on the rear panel, but DirecTV, which licenses the design of
DSS IRDs, didn't enable them or even explain what use they might be to
consumers in the future. Thus Thomson and Sony spent untold millions of
dollars installing what amounted to dummy connectors on more than 2.5 million
IRDs. Installing dumbed-down IEEE-1394 connectors that can't interconnect
with industry-standard IEEE-1394 devices isn't much of an improvement.
The three D-VHS entrants in the DBS time-shift market
put Sony between a rock and a hard place. Industry reports say Thomson
has garnered the lion's share of the DSS IRD market with its second-generation
RCA units and the low-price, first-generation GE brand for the discount
clubs. Third-generation RCA and new Hitachi IRDs, about to appear on retailers'
shelves, promise upward compatibility with separate $599 D-VHS decks coming
by Christmas. Sony's higher prices and muted marketing for its DSS systems
have appealed primarily to Sony loyalists. With its commitment to the consumer
DV format and full IEEE-1394 connectivity, it doesn't behoove Sony Electronics
to install a brain-dead 1394 connector on its DSS IRD to connect competitors'
D-VHS decks. It's not very likely, either, that Sony will rebrand someone
else's D-VHS drive. But Sony must answer the digital recording challenge
at its high end of the DBS market without killing the DV golden goose that's
laying 24-carat ($3,500+ consumer camcorder and DV deck) eggs. So what's
in store for DBS time-shift recording from Sony? A $799 6.35-mm deck that's
IEEE-1394 compliant, but won't handle DV? A $999 VTR that will record and
play back DSS content but only play your DV tapes? Who knows what evil
lurks in the minds of Sony's consumer marketing folks? The Shadow may know,
but I sure don't. When I find out, DV-L readers will hear it first.
Note: Shimizu envisions D-VHS as a prerecorded video
format, apparently competing directly with DVD. TWICE says: "JVC
has already been in talks with major movie studios about their releasing
movies in D-VHS, and there have been expressions of interest," and that
"JVC was envisioning a 'DigiAna' cassette, that would carry a film in both
digital and conventional VHS formats, eliminating the need for studios
to issue, and dealers to carry, double inventory." Shimizu appears to be
optimistic that JVC can sell the millions of D-VHS decks necessary to encourage
the major studios to release movies recorded in yet another format (YAF.)
The DVC Consortium envisioned DV as a prerecorded video medium and Sony
blamed "copy-protection issues" for the long delay in releasing its DHR-1000
DVTR. I haven't heard even a rumor of entertainment content coming in the
DV Routs Beta SX for ENG
Hot on the heels of its $24 million deal to sell DVCPRO
gear to CBS's 13 owned and operated (O&O) stations, Panasonic
Broadcast and Digital Systems Company (PB&DSC) took a $26 million
NBC order out from under Sony's nose. According to an article in the June
16, 1997 edition of Broadcasting & Cable, NBC will transition
its 11 O&Os to DVCPRO gear for local ENG operations. With a $50 million
commitment by two of the three major networks, Panasonic's variation on
the DV theme appears to be on its way to becoming what Broadcasting
& Cable calls "the digital field format of choice."
claims 17,000 DVCPRO components have shipped worldwide as of June,
1997 and projects U.S. sales for 1997 of 10,000 units. These numbers pale
in comparison with the 3 million plus "consumer" DV camcorders shipped
by Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, and other members of the DV Consortium since
the format's commercial introduction in fall 1995. It's likely that a substantial
percentage of Sony DCR-VX1000s and Panasonic EZ-DV1s are in the hands of
professional news shooters and video paparazzi throughout the world. On
the other hand, 17,000 DVCPRO units represents 5 percent of today's installed
base of Betacam SP gear, gained in less than a year of DVCPRO availability.
The real significance of the CBS and NBC buy-in to the DV-based format,
however, is that DV's 5:1
compression of 4:1:1 sampled video satisfies the networks' quality
standards for locally-produced news programs and network feeds of local
The Broadcasting & Cable article's author
says: "The deal is a blow to Sony, which leads
the analog ENG market with its Betacam format and has been trying to compete
in the digital world with Betacam SX." Sony's marketing blunder was the
assumption that the dominance of Betacam SP would make the transition to
Betacam SX a shoo-in at the major networks. Caught without a "professional"
version of DV to compete with DVCPRO, Sony rushed DVCAM to the market by
adding 5 microns to consumer DV's track width and locking the audio track.
But Sony positioned DVCAM as an "industrial" product line for corporate
and institutional video, while continuing to push Betacam SX (which some
TV folks deride as a "Sonyism") for broadcast ENG. Like Apple and FireWire,
Sony converted the heathen with the VX1000, but PB&DSC's selling
the bibles. You can buy DVCPRO gear from PB&DSC, Philips, and Hitachi;
Sony remains the sole (and erstwhile) supplier of gear using the very proprietary
Betacam SX format.
DV, DVCAM, and DVCPRO tape formats are equally suitable
for ENG acquisition, despite Panasonic's claim
that metal particle tape is more robust than DV and DVCAM's evaporated
metal media. Whether the added track width of DVCAM and DVCPRO is a significant
factor in linear editing accuracy remains to be seen. What's important
is that PB&DSC's decks play all three formats, so O&Os can
handle footage from VX1000s, EZ-DV1s, PC-7s, or any other mini-DV
source without an format conversion step. (DVCPRO decks use an adapter,
much like a VHS-C adapter, to handle mini-DV cassettes; full-size DV or
DVCAM cassettes aren't supported.) DVCPRO gear still lacks the long-promised
IEEE-1394 adapter cards, but Panasonic's recent announcement of FireWire-enabled
consumer DV camcorders may accelerate IEEE-1394 development at the pro
level. Apparently, IEEE-1394 connectivity isn't yet a major issue in the
broadcast market, where analog component output to Betacam SP for on-air
operations and, to a lesser extent, SMPTE 259M SDI and AES/EBU audio are
the favored interchange methods.
A surprising factor in CBS's and NBC's decision to
go with DVCPRO was the availability of PB&DSC's pricey (about $35,000
list) laptop editor. Broadcasting & Cable quotes Larry Kaplan,
senior vide president of Sony's broadcast systems operation: "Sony's inability
to deliver some key pieces of its SX line, such as a laptop editor, have
hurt SX's chances." You'd need a big lap to hold a portable Betacam SX
editor with a couple of Betacam SP-size transports and the batteries to
overcome the inertia of 1/2-inch tape mechanisms. Sony's first pass at
countering PB&DSC's editor, shown at NAB '97, is a laptop PC and a
docking station connected to two rack-mount Betacam SX decks. Sony didn't
include a portable generator in the demo setup. Is there a compact Betacam
SX cassette in the works?
Momentum is the key to success
of a new video format in the broadcast market. Panasonic's M-II format
never made serious inroads in the U.S, but it looks like PB&DSC's fortunes
are on the mend with DVCPRO. Sony created its own demon by not promoting
DVCAM for ENG. A few more DVCPRO buys in the $10 million and up range will
permanently relegate Betacam SX to the niche status it so well deserves.
Ultra DMA/33 Promises Low-Cost E-IDE Drives for DV
The First Commandment of DV editing, "Thou shalt use A/V-rated
SCSI-3 drives with DV," is on its way to repeal as upgraded motherboards
and faster fixed-disk drives join the PC mainstream. Today, it's a given
that recording and playing back lengthy DV content at 3.5 MBps requires
a 1394-to-PCI card, an Ultra-Wide SCSI PCI adapter, several thousand dollars
worth of 7,200-rpm Seagate Barracuda or 10,000-rpm Cheetah drives, and
multiple blowers to prevent the drives from setting off your smoke alarm.
DPS as an example, certifies
only Cheetahs and the newest Barracudas for use with the Spark card,
and embargoes the older (and very widely-used) 4.3G Barracuda ST15150W.
Video professionals buy into this high-priced
scenario, but it's not likely to appeal to consumers who plan to edit DV
home movies via the built-in 1394 connector on the front panel of their
newly-purchased "Entertainment PC."
Ultra DMA/33, a new busmastering protocol to improve the performance
of E-IDE (Enhanced Integrated Device Electronics) drives. Called Ultra
ATA by Quantum, who developed and patented the technology, Ultra DMA/33
increases the standard Fast-ATA burst data rate of 16.7 MBps to 33 MBps
in PCs that use the recently-available Intel 430TX
PCIset. (You can identify motherboards that use the 430TX PCIset by
checking for a pair of Intel 82439TX and 82371AB chips.) Quantum's 2.1G,
4.2G, and 6.3G Fireball
ST drives, which are now appearing in the channels, are the first to
support Ultra DMA/33. I paid less than $400 each for my three 5,400-rpm
4.2G STs. By the end of the year, the Fireball
SE series will extend drive capacity to 8.4G at an reported street
price of $659. (8.4G corresponds to about 40 minutes of DV content.) Most
folks have an existing E-IDE system drive and an IDE CD-ROM drive connected
as primary master and slave, so two Ultra ATA drives on the secondary cable
max out the IDE bus.
Continuous sequential read and write speed, not
burst speed, is what's important to video capture and playback. The following
table shows the speeds reported for my 4.3G Fireball ST by Michael's Disk
Benchmark for Windows 95 (Mdb95.exe from Mdb95.zip),
a drive performance test that's widely used by the digital video community.
The sequential read and write performance figures for Windows 95 (OSR2)
FAT16 compare quite favorably with tests run on my 133-MHz Pentium DV test
platform, which uses Seagate ST15150Ws connected to an Adaptec AHA-8940UW.
(Despite failing DPS's apparently over-stringent qualification test, FAT16-formatted
ST15150Ws work fine for me with the Spark card under Windows NT 4.0 Server,
even without disabling the network.) The Fireball ST's very high areal
density (2.1G per platter), achieved through the use of magnetorestrictive
(MR) read-write heads, is a major contributor to its high read-write speed.
Increasing areal density has the same affect on a drive's potential throughput
as increasing the RPM. It only takes 33% greater areal density for a 5,400-rpm
drive to match the basic data rate of a 7,200-rpm device.
|4.3G Fireball ST
||ASUS Pentium 200
|512-k Random File
I was impressed by the benchmark figures, so
I installed and tested the Spark card in both the ASUS (32M S-DRAM) and
SuperMicro (32M EDO DRAM) machines. Both had no problem recording DV to
the dedicated Fireball ST drive under Windows NT 4.0 Workstation, but I
had to disable networking to achieve reliable results with files larger
than 500M using the ASUS motherboard. I found no difference between using
the system drive and a separate, dedicated drive when recording with either
system. Attempts to transmit the .AVI files back to my VX1000 from either
the system or the dedicated drive failed, although the ASUS machine occasionally
would transmit for a minute or so from the dedicated drive before breaking
up into superblocks and halting. I used Premiere 4.2 to make a 9-minute
movie on the second partition of the ASUS C: drive, then sent the resulting
.AVI file over the network to a Barracuda. Transmitting the movie file
from the ST15150W to the VX1000 worked fine.
E-IDE drives consume more processor cycles than SCSI-3 drives, just
as software codecs need more CPU horsepower than hardware versions. SCSI
adapters and SCSI-3 drives have on-board smarts to minimize CPU overhead.
2.0 benchmarking program shows that my SCSI drives consume only about
40% of available CPU cycles during the overall test, while the Ultra ATA
drive took around 56%. (I used ThreadMark's default weighting profile,
which isn't tuned for DV's sequential read-write operations, so the comparison
might not represent a real-life situation.) I attribute the transmit problem
with Ultra ATA drives to the AHA-8940 device driver's need for more CPU
cycles during transmission than while recording, along with the drive's
slightly slower write than read rate. DV codecs, whether of the hardware
or software variety, only come into play during the creation of titles,
transitions, animations, and special effects; the codec plays no part in
the record or transmit process. Having to write to the archaic Video for
Windows file format doesn't help matters, either. For now, it looks to
me as if Ultra ATA drives are limited to recording DV clips, and the current
version of the Spark card needs high-end Wide or Ultra-Wide SCSI drives
to handle data transmission to your camcorder or DVCR. Adaptec's new AHA-8945,
an amalgam of the AHA-8940 FireWire card and the AHA-2940UW Ultra-Wide
SCSI host adapter, will save PCI slots and dollars for those who haven't
already invested in Spark and SCSI cards.
I'm optimistic that developments during the latter
half of 1997 will lead to the ability of Ultra ATA drives to reliably handle
DV transmit operations. Intel's scheduled to release new PCIsets for Pentium
Pro and Pentium II systems that include Ultra DMA/33; Intel says all PCIsets,
commencing with the 430TX, will support Ultra DMA/33. (The current 440FX
"Natoma" chipset gives Pentium Pro and Pentium II systems bus-master IDE,
called BMIDE, but not Ultra DMA/33.) Microsoft claims Memphis boosts disk
drive performance, but an NDA prevents further discussion at this writing.
Microsoft's scheduled an open beta of Memphis (aka Windows 98) for mid-summer,
so stay tuned for the numbers. The Win32 Driver Model (WDM) streaming
architecture and ActiveMovie 2.0 are certain to improve both record
and transmit performance under Windows 98 and Windows NT 5.0. By the time
Quantum's Fireball SE drives hit the channels, Memphis is likely to be
in the final beta stage, and suppliers of DV-over-1394 systems should have
new WDM 1394 miniport drivers and ActiveMovie 2.0 DV filter graphs available
for testing. Hopefully, by then you'll also be able to buy Pentium Pro
or Pentium II motherboards with Ultra DMA/33. Swapping a motherboard to
reduce DV storage costs by a factor of two or three looks like a good investment
Intel Wakes Up: 1394 Shares New York Stage with USB
New York, June 2, 1997, 7:30 a.m. PDT - Intel Corp., the champion
of the Universal Serial Bus (USB), admitted today that IEEE-1394 is a contender
for high-speed peripheral connectivity. Speaking at Intel's "Visually
Connected PC" extravaganza in New York City, Intel's senior vice-president
of its Microprocessor Group, Dr. Albert Yu, said that USB and 1394 are
the high-bandwidth peripheral connectivity technologies needed for graphics-intensive
business applications. Dr. Yu emphasized that 1394 will come "later" than
USB, but it's interesting to find 1394 sharing the spotlight at Millenium
Broadway's Hudson Theater with Intel's home-grown and heavily-promoted USB.
Dr. Yu's timing is correct, at least on the PC side of the equation.
Virtually all PC motherboards produced in 1997 include at least one USB
port. A USB port is required to meet Microsoft's PC '97 specs and thus
gain the right to apply the "Designed for Windows Whatever" logo to a PC.
Windows 95 OEM Service Release (OSR) 2.1, which is available only for pre-installation
by computer assemblers, is required to recognize the USB port(s). If you
upgrade your mobo, the USB port is useless unless you have OSR 2.1 (it's
included on the MSDN CD-ROMs) and are willing to reinstall Win95 from scratch.
The next most vexing problem is the lack of USB peripherals in the
channels. Try to find a USB mouse, keyboard, or joystick at your local
computer superstore. A clerk at my local CompUSA in Emeryville, CA responded
to product inquiries with "What's a USB?" But the biggest hurdle facing
USB proponents is the "ho-hum" factor: USB peripherals simply replace existing
high-volume, low-cost components; keyboards, mice, and joysticks dominate
the list of forthcoming USB products. It's hard to imagine that USB versions
of these devices will have significantly better performance or lower prices
than the traditional items they replace. The only reason I was interested
in buying a USB component was to check whether the ports on my new SuperMicro
and ASUS motherboards were live. (The USB and IrDA ports on my ASUS mobo
are on a riser that prevents use of one PCI slot. The single USB port on
my ATX-style SuperMicro mobo has its own cutout on the back panel.)
Microsoft's promoting USB for connecting self-powered speakers;
Altec Lansing Multimedia and Philips currently offer beta versions of USB
speakers, but you need Memphis to listen to them. The USB-enabled Kodak
DVC 300 Digital Video Camera and a similar offering from Intel compete
with other low-cost videoconferencing cameras, but you need a sound card
for the audio channel. Telex just announced its NexVoice.USB
stand-mounted digital microphone at Spring Comdex. Telex plans shipments
to PC OEMs in 1997Q3, but last time I checked, Windows 9x isn't expected
to arrive until 1997Q4 or, more likely, 1998Q1. Prices for the NexVoice.USB
weren't available at press time, but I bet that the first USB mics will
cost more than today's low-end sound cards. Bear in mind that you also
need a USB hub (if you can find one) to connect multiple peripherals to
PCs with only a single USB port. And if you want to route USB audio through
your home theater system, where's the USB audio input port on your A/V
control center? And finally how about MIDI? I haven't seen any proposals
by Roland, Korg, E-mu and other musical heavy-hitters to replace MIDI IN,
MIDI OUT, and MIDI THRU ports on their tone generators, samplers, and keyboards
with a USB connector.
It might be the existence of three million camcorders with consumer
1394 connectors that's suddenly piqued Intel's interest in a USB competitor.
Both Intel and Microsoft position 1394 as a supplemental bus technology
to be added only when you need more bandwidth than USB can deliver. In
reality, USB is the supplemental bus, replacing conventional mini-DIN and
D-sub PC peripheral connectors but not enabling any interesting new technologies.
IEEE-1394, on the other hand, has its roots in the consumer electronics
industry, with Digital Video components here today and multi-channel audio
and MIDI systems based on Yamaha's mLAN (music local area network) protocol
planned for 1998. What's more, IEEE-1394 doesn't depend on a PC to handle
bus management; you simply plug one smart consumer electronics component
or musical instrument into another. If you have a PC to act as a 1394 bus
controller, so much the better.
I'm not in the market research business, but I bet by the end of 1997 that
there will be more camcorders connected to PCs via 1394 than the total number of
USB peripherals of every proposed species.
POF to Extend 1394's Maximum Hop Distance to 50 (or 70?)
Plastic optical fiber (POF) appears to be the most practical method,
at least in the near term, for extending the reach of IEEE-1394 beyond
today's 4.5-meter, living-room-size limit. One of the lesser-known applications
for 1394 is the Video Electronic
Systems Association (VESA) home network (HomeNet)
that's proposed to tie together PCs, TV sets, set-top boxes, audio gear,
thermostats, and other household appliances by a combination of room-to-room,
in-wall wiring and local conventional 1394 cabling. POF is a primary candidate
for the in-wall segments of HomeNet. 4.5-meter hops are likely to be sufficient
for most video editing applications, assuming you can find a 4.5-meter
1394 cable, but longer distance transmission is needed to fend off
the champions of status-quo SMPTE 259M video and AES/EBU audio, and proponents
of proprietary variations on the SDI theme.
Note: Andy Carter of Apple Computer wrote in August, 1994 a white
paper that proposed use of repeaters and thicker in-wall cables to
reach 35 meters with 100-Mbps FireWire systems. POF, which presumably supports
at least 200 Mbps, is likely to be substantially less expensive than a
POF got its start for remote sensing in the automotive industry
after duPont sold its technology to the Japanese in the 1960s. In 1992,
Boston Optical Fiber (the sole
U.S. producer of POF) proved that graded-index POF could transmit 3 Gbps
at distances up to 100 meters. Less-expensive data-grade POF, called step-index,
can handle 300 Mbps over the same distance. The
ATM Forum's specification for 155 Mbps over Plastic Optical Fiber was
scheduled for approval by the end of May, 1997, and a slower 50-Mbps version
is expected by August. Commercial tests of data-grade POF for 100-Mbps
Fast Ethernet are taking place with eight-port hubs having seven POF ports
and a single copper or glass-fiber interface. Boston Optical Fiber claims
that the cost of POF is substantially lower than glass fiber, at least
for distances to 100 meters, and rivals that of Cat-5 cabling in 100-Mbps
networks. The one-millimeter diameter of POF makes terminations much less
critical. The alignment tolerance is 100 microns, greater than the diameter
of conventional glass fiber, so you can easily make the connections yourself.
NEC announced in a September,
1996 press release a "multimedia information socket" that mated
the company's High Speed Plastic Optical Fiber Transceiver (HiSPOT) with
translation circuitry for the 1394 copper protocol. NEC's press release
claimed transmission distances of up to 70 meters with the HiSPOT system,
but didn't identify the maximum signalling speed. NEC's Patrick Yu mentioned
a shorter, 50-meter limit at WinHEC '97; the shorter distance may be the
result of moving from 100 Mbps to 200 Mbps, the current standard for 1394
PCI adapter cards. The 50-meter hop length is likely to be sufficient for
most home networks. Folks with mansions (like Bertel Schmitt's new Long
Island residence) can use repeaters to reach a theoretical 709 meters at
1394's maximum 16 cable hops.
One of the advantages of POF is total common-mode isolation between
in-room networks and the elimination of the power management issues that
potentially plague large-scale 1394 implementations. Presumably, the HiSPOT
and its associate circuitry can be powered at each end of the POF run by
a 6-pin in-room node, such as a 1394-to-PCI adapter card in a PC. Where
only self-powered 4-pin consumer devices connect to a POF link, a 4-pin
to 6-pin converter with a wall-wart power supply could provide current
to the HiSPOT.
So far, I haven't seen evidence of an off-the-shelf implementation of
1394-over-POF. After all, 1394-to-PCI adapters have only recently become
available. As soon as I get my hands on a POF interconnect, I'll give it
a try, assuming there aren't any NDA restrictions at the time. Stay tuned for
Not content to settle for a Digital Video tape format war between consumer
DV, DVCPRO, and DVCAM, Panasonic and Sony have opted for a second front:
A battle to establish hegemony in the serial audio/video transport and
switching business. Like the recent coups d'etat in Africa, everyone is
a loser in the forthcoming Serial War.
Jon Leland's sidebar, "Beyond FireWire," in the May 1997 issue of
Videography magazine, illustrates digital I/O FUD applied to DV formats.
Panasonic Broadcast & Digital Systems Company is armed with a proprietary
CSDI protocol for 4X transfer of DVCPRO footage. Sony Corp., not content
to strike with a single non-standard protocol, is attempting flanking attacks
with QSDI and SDDI for DVCAM and Betacam-SX. Leland says, "Hopefully, the
industry will find a way to create a universal standard soon." That's like
saying, "Hopefully, Microsoft and Netscape will resolve their differences
and co-develop a common Microscape browser."
Without question, SMPTE 259M (SDI) and AES/EBU are the current "industry
standards" for digital video and audio transport, respectively, at TV networks,
O&Os, large-market affiliates, and post houses. The problem is that
SDI's 270-Mbps data rate translates to 27 MBps with 8-bit video data. You
need a full-blown RAID 0 system to handle 27 MBps, which consumes 1G of
disk space for every 37 seconds of video.
While this isn't a problem for folks editing 15- or 30-second commercials,
it does create a serious economic issue when using NLE for one-hour documentaries.Leland
contends, "[I]f you want your nonlinear system to accept digital input
from digital tape formats other than DV, you definitely want a serial digital
port, not a FireWire port on your nonlinear system." Leland didn't say
which serial digital port, but presumably intended SDI, not CSDI, QSDI,
or SDDI, the latter three of which are specific to a single manufacturer.
One such SDI offering is Truevision's $11,995 TARGA 2000 SDX adapter card
that compresses the SDI data with an M-JPEG codec. For an additional $6,995,
you (someday) can buy the company's MADRAS box to convert DV-over-1394
to uncompressed SDI, then recompress it with M-JPEG. (Affluent folks can
buy a combination of the TARGA 2000 SDX and MADRAS for a bargain-basement
$15,995.) I'm unconvinced that transcoding DV, Digital-S, or DVCPRO-50
content from its compressed state to SDI, recompressing with M-JPEG, then
decompressing M-JPEG to SDI, and finally recompressing to the original
back to DV, Digital-S, or DVCPRO-50 format is the way to go for high-end
Note: Digital Processing Systems' three-board Hollywood Video Recorder
captures and plays back uncompressed 8-bit or 10-bit SDI, but doesn't have
audio I/O. In 10-bit mode, four 4.3G drives store three minutes of video
Another enlightening quotation appears in the sidebar from Mark
Lemmons, identified as a training consultant for Scitex and VP of DigiTrek:
"I don't see any reason why I would run out and embrace FireWire. It's
not an industry standard." This statement poses the question of what constitutes
an "industry standard." IEEE-1394, like Ethernet, certainly is an electronics
industry standard, and it's one of Microsoft's two recommended I/O subsystems
for PCs running Windows 9x and NT 5.0. 1394's problem seems to be that
it's tarred by the consumer brush--FireWire is used in consumer products,
so it can't possibly be a "professional" standard. 1394 is convenient and
economical; it lets you multiplex video, audio, SMPTE drop-frame timecode,
and device control over a single, low-cost cable. There's no technical
reason that 50-Mbps Digital-S or DVCPRO-50, or even 4X DV, can't travel
over a 200-Mbps FireWire cable. All you need is a RAID 0 array that can
swallow the bits. SDI requires coax, AES/EBU needs an XLR-terminated cable,
and device control adds an RS-422 connection. If DV's quality works for
you, why complicate your life and max out your credit cards? If you must
mix analog footage with DV, buy a $3,500 Sony DSR-30 or DHR-1000 DVTR.
I'll bet most professional videomakers won't be able to tell the difference
between S-video and YCrCb as the analog source for the DV format. (For
comparison shoppers, Sony's SDI interface for Betacam SP decks has an MSRP
Note: If you aren't satisfied with 1394's 4.5-meter maximum hop length,
NEC's forthcoming plastic optical fibre (POF) link gives you a maximum
of 70 meters without having to worry about equalization.
The sidebar also contains an observation that you need a need a DV codec
to gain access to DV content with QuickTime or AVI-based programs, and
that Apple's QuickTime 3.0 will include a software DV codec "sometime this
Apparently, Leland missed the Adaptec/DPS, FAST Multimedia, miro,
and Radius announcements of DV adapter cards for PCs and PowerMacs.
Waiting for QuickTime 3.0, let alone a DV codec, from Apple infers an outcome
similar to waiting for Copeland. Remember Apple's promise of "FireWire
on the motherboard" by the end of 1996? Apple converted the heathen, but
Adaptec/DPS are selling the bibles to the three million or so folks who've
bought camcorders with FireWire connectors as of Spring 1997. It's a pretty
safe bet that there will be 10 million or more 1394-compliant DV camcorders
and DVTRs in use by 2000. It's an equally safe bet that 10% or more of
these units will be connected to a PC via 1394.
The initial acceptance of consumer-based DV products in the corporate
and broadcast video markets blind-sided the "professional" video marketing
types used to the bigtime gross margins of high-end video gear. What worries
the marketers is not that "[s]mall-volume producers may be served by the
early entry of ... FireWire," but that the mainstream corporate and broadcast
markets for $20,000-and-up VTRs and $5,000-plus circuit cards will dry
up. Prospective purchasers, anticipating the cost of upgrading facilities
for DTV, want to minimize investment in new NTSC gear. If today's 25-Mbps
4:1:1 DV format satisfies CBS News, it's likely that FireWire will satisfy
them, too, once Panasonic gets around to delivering their promised 1394
adapter cards for DVCPRO gear.Leland concludes his sidebar with statement
with which it's hard to argue: "In the long run, however, the flexibility
that's provided by one of the various forms of SDI may give you more flexibility."
John Maynard Keynes put it another way: "In the long run, we are all dead."
The victims of the Serial War will be those who bet against IEEE-1394 as
a full-fledged "industry standard" and buy into proprietary serial video