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TV Technology - An Interview with David Wood, President and Chief Design Engineer

From TV Technology Magazine 03.12.2010
An Interview with David Wood, President and Chief Design Engineer, Ensemble Designs

Link to TV Technology article

Q. What kind of products or services does your company offer for broadcasters?
Ensemble Designs provides broadcasters, editors, studios, and production facilities with products that synchronize, process, genlock, convert, embed, legalize, switch, and distribute audio and video signals. These products are used worldwide. We get to work with great people in places and organizations such as Olympic Broadcast Systems, ESPN, Moving Picture Company, CBS News, WISC-TV, and Geneva Aviation. We work closely with these and all of our customers. It’s a key part of what’s kept us viable for all these years. Most of the truly standout features in our products originated in a question from one of our users, “What if it could …”

Q. What’s new that you will exhibit at the NAB Show and that TV broadcasters should look for there?
Our new BrightEye Mitto Scan Converter will make its NAB Show premiere this year. There is a wealth of online material that is relevant and timely to broadcasters. They want to use it on-air and they need a really good way to deliver it into HD. Mitto packs a powerful punch into a very compact package. It accepts DVI and VGA input resolutions up to 1920 × 1200 and generates SD, HD, or 3G SDI output. I’ve visited a lot of stations and production facilities recently. We would hook up a Mitto and they could take the output directly into their router and use it on-air. The quality of the output image has been a consistent theme in their comments.

With the increasing attention being paid to audio levels in broadcast, we are introducing the 9600 audio processor and multiplexer. It supports 16 channels of audio, with AES and embedded SDI I/O for SD, HD and 3G SDI. Options for Dolby encoding and decoding, and our proven LevelTrack Audio AGC are available on the 9600. One station we work with, KEYE in Austin, Texas, started using LevelTrack and soon realized that viewer phone calls and complaints about audio levels had basically stopped.

Over the past several months we have been working with customers in television stations, post houses, production studios, and network centers; so many of them are looking for better ways to monitor signals. Those customers have been helping us to expand the feature set of our BrightEye 72 3G/HD/SD-SDI to HDMI converter. BE72 lets them turn a consumer HDMI display into a professional monitor with audio level meters, closed-caption decoding, timecode display, and safe title/action graticule markers. The response to this product has been amazing.

Q. How is your new product offering different from what’s available on the market?
Our Mitto scan converter incorporates proprietary scaling and content filtering technology. It adjusts automatically and dynamically to produce faithful results across widely varying requirements. A scan converter must sometimes act as an upconverter while the next moment it needs to be a downconverter. It all depends upon the relative size of the region selected in the input space with respect to the size of the output raster.

Mitto makes it exceptionally easy to select any portion of the computer display for output to video. This size and position of this selection frame can be adjusted with a mouse click-n-drag. The operator has immediate visibility (and confidence) of exactly what is being output to video.

And for popular Web sites, such as YouTube, that figure more and more as content in broadcast, we offer a plug-in that will automatically locate the video window on the Web page and make the conversion selection on Mitto.

The BE72 SDI to HDMI converter includes a full-featured RGB color corrector and built-in test patterns. When an LCD or Plasma display is used on set it needs to be color corrected so that when viewed on camera its luminance and color rendition is faithful to the original material. Using the built-in test patterns it’s a straightforward process to adjust BE72 color corrector to match the colorimetry of the monitor to the on-set lighting and camera white balance.

For film grading in post, or a QC video position, that same color corrector function can be used with a color probe to precisely adjust the BE72.

Q. How has your company been affected by the current economic situation and what are you doing to get through it?
We have certainly seen the impact of global economics on both our customers and the other companies we partner with across the globe. Some projects have been cancelled and some have been postponed, while others have been down-sized. But there have been great opportunities as well. We are fortunate to have a wide product line with a lot of granularity. It easily scales from small projects to total system overhauls. Our sales volumes have held up because, while there has been a shift to smaller projects, we have seen more of those projects.

We are not ignoring all of these forces on our business and our industry. But fundamentally, I don’t think we should be doing anything differently today than we did yesterday. It was important to stay close to our customers and listen to what they needed before this recession. It’s just as important, if not more so, today. As a privately held company, Ensemble has been able to retain that essential focus — even in the most challenging business atmosphere that any of us have ever experienced.

And I believe that we can be of even greater service to our customers by providing them with exactly the products that they need. This recession has removed any financial ‘safety margin’ that may have existed in the past. There is no discretionary spending today. Our customers may have smaller budgets, but their needs are most likely even greater than they were in the past. It has never been more important to pay attention to the value proposition that our products articulate.

Q. Where are you based, and how many employees do you have? Anything else we should know about your company?
Ensemble is proud to be one of the ‘Video Valley’ companies in Grass Valley / Nevada City, Calif. I originally came here to work for Grass Valley Group. When I decided to start Ensemble Designs 21 years ago I could not imagine a better place to do it. European and Chinese immigrants originally came here in 1849 to seek their fortune during the Gold Rush. But today you’re more likely to overhear a discussion of MPEG encoding technology when you’re standing in line at the grocery store.

Other things you should know about Ensemble Designs? We really like to make things. We build our products ourselves — with state-of-the-art electronic surface mount assembly equipment. And we like to cook, so a few years ago we built a full kitchen and dining room. We welcome visitors — come by for a tour and lunch!