- 16 Sep 08, 08:01 GMT
I'd come to the IBC conference in Amsterdam to film a story about the future of television. If what's on display at the broadcasting industry's annual shindig provides a true picture, we'll all eventually be watching in Super Hi-Vision (yes, there's something else after HD), and in 3-D, and we will be getting more and more of our TV via the internet and on our mobile phones.
But our incredibly compact BBC team ended up talking more about the past than the future.
That team consisted of me and a cameraman, Dave Skerry, and between us we had over 60 years in the industry. Dave started in television in 1968, at a time when it was all still in black and white, and his training was heavy on the engineering: "I almost got chucked out because I couldn't get the hang of valves," he remembered.
Those were the days of film, when videotape - even as a recording medium - was still in its infancy. Even by 1981, the regional newsroom where I began my TV career was still shooting news stories on film. You had to wait for 45 minutes while it went through "the bath", and then it was rapidly chopped up and assembled by an editor.
When I came to London a couple of years later, the TV newsroom was getting to grips with ENG - Electronic News Gathering. A news crew consisted of a cameraman, wielding a very heavy video camera delivering poor quality pictures, linked by an umbilical cord to a sound recordist. They carried an even heavier unit which recorded sound and pictures onto a chunky 3/4 inch U-Matic tape cassette.
Then there was the lighting man who turned up with a heavy bag full of "redheads" and "blondes". The whole kit cost about £30,000. Back at the office, former film editors were now involved in the expensive process of video tape editing, and complaining, with some justification, that it was a step backward, as they laboriously copied shots from the rushes tape to the final version.
Over the next couple of decades, the cameras got lighter and cheaper, with the recorder soon incorporated into the main unit, the tapes got smaller and smaller, and the cameramen - and women - eventually found they were on their own, doing pictures, sound and lights. And then they had to learn to edit too, now assembling stories with a digital editing package, much closer to the original non-linear film method.
Oh, and instead of using a satellite truck to send the pictures back, the modern camera operator has to send it over the internet, perhaps from a hotel's dodgy wi-fi network, as we did in Amsterdam at 0230 the other morning.
As the process of gathering television pictures has got cheaper, it has been democratised. The kind of camera Dave Skerry was using in Amsterdam costs about £3,000 - chuck in a laptop with an editing package, and for under £5,000 you have the kind of production set-up that would have cost close to £100,000 20 years ago.
What's more, the modern kit delivers a better product - HD if you want it. The result - as we see every time we look at YouTube - is that just about anyone who wants to have a go can make television.
Which makes it somewhat surprising to wander around the vast halls at IBC, finding an apparently thriving professional broadcast industry examining the latest kit, pushed at visitors by the likes of Sony, Panasonic and Philips. The industry seems to have decided that in the future there will be two kinds of television - the cheap and democratic stuff, and the ultra high-quality version which only the professionals can afford to make.
Hence Super Hi-Vision. This is a futuristic project, collaboration between Japan's NHK, Italy's RAI and the BBC, which promises 16 times the resolution of HDTV and 80 times what standard definition offers. We sat in an auditorium watching a live feed in Super Hi-Vision from the roof of London's City Hall, with the sound of the city swirling around us.
As well as extraordinary pictures, the new standard offers "22.2 channel immersive audio", though as one sceptical journalist pointed out, who's going to install 22 speakers in the front room - and then find room for another .2? All of this is a long way from reaching our homes. There's talk of huge open-air screens using the technology at the London 2012 Olympics, but I got the impression that even that was optimistic. Right now, there are only a couple of giant Super Hi-Vision cameras in existence.
So my career in television - which began with film - may well be over before Super Hi-Vision becomes a reality. And do you know what, I'm not really sorry. I've always considered myself an enthusiastic early adopter, but I think I may have had just about as much change as I can handle.
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