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Innovative video tools are changing broadcast world

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At this week’s NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) show in Las Vegas, which concludes today, there was plenty of new technology for television professionals on display. Some of the largest crowds could be seen at two booths in particular where everyone was looking up, not down. This year’s show has been taken over by aerial drones.

As cameras have gotten smaller, lighter and more powerful, they can now also be carried for lengthy periods by remote controlled drones. And the images captured 20 feet or 200 feet off the ground are going to have a profound impact on how news is gathered and visually reported around the globe.

At an NAB session on Tuesday, attendees were shown sample footage of what drones can capture visually. Examples included a runner striding at a brisk pace on a narrow mountain road, so close you could practically see the sweat on his forehead. Or spectacular footage of structure fires, shot directly from above where manned helicopters are forbidden to go for safety reasons. In television, it’s all about the visual image and drone technology can now take cameras where they have never been before.

Two companies at NAB this week demonstrated their latest products in this expanding field. DJI introduced its Phantom 2 Vision Plus drone which features better stabilization, a key ingredient when cameras are whizzing around the skies.

Perhaps even more significant is the price. An entire package, including drone, controller and camera lists for $1,300, which is a lot less than renting a helicopter for the day.

Streambox showcased its own miniature video device at the conference that can be drone-mounted for streaming live motion video over 3G/4G/LTE cell networks or Wi-Fi. Their technology was used to document the flight of Solar Impulse in 2013, the first completely solar powered manned aircraft.

Aside from the drones themselves, live streaming was a centerpiece of new technology products at this year’s NAB Show. Livestream introduced the first live broadcasting app for Google Glass. Wearable tech is a growing business and live casting from devices like Google’s head-mounted device offers a hint of what’s to come.

TabletTV announced live streaming of any over-the-air signal to mobile devices at a press conference earlier this week. The company will beta test its technology in San Francisco this summer with an expected full rollout in the fall.

The company’s decision to enter this market comes at a time when similar technology used by Aereo is the subject of a court case that will be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court later this month. Executives for TabletTV said they were not concerned about the possibility of a ruling against Aereo (and for the broadcast networks who object to the “theft” of their signal). But if Aereo is shut down, it seems hard to believe that TabletTV won’t be affected as well.

There was also continued rollout of new products for Internet-based applications on the home TV. One of the more intriguing ones was WebTuner, which is basically a set-top box the size of a plug. The company just came out of stealth mode and offers users the ability to search content for streaming, live TV, and on-demand using one (full keyboard) remote.

Finding a TV show seems to be increasingly complicated these days, at times as complex as doing your taxes. So WebTuner has the right idea. As the TV world continues to embrace new technologies, simpler is always better.

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