Quantel is a company based in the United Kingdom and founded in 1973 that designs and manufactures digital production equipment for the broadcast television, video production and motion picture industries. They are headquartered in Newbury, Berkshire.
The name Quantel comes from Quantised Television which is making reference to the process of converting a television picture into a digital signal.
Quantel founder, Peter Michael, had previously founded Micro Consultants Group (MCG). MCG had pioneered a range of fast data conversion products that could be used for converting video signals from analog to digital and back to analog. These devices found use in many early Quantel products.
In the 1980s, Peter Michael merged Quantel (along with his other interests) into the UEI Group of companies. Peter became Chairman with Quantel remaining a privately owned company of the publicly quoted UEI.
Quantel has made several pioneering firsts in video:
- In 1975, they released the first all-digital framestore, the Quantel DFS 3000. It was first introduced in TV coverage of the 1976 Montreal Olympics to generate a picture-in-picture inset of the Olympics' flaming torch while the rest of the picture featured the runner entering the stadium. Framestore technology provided the cornerstone for the future development of digital television products.
- In 1981, they released the Paintbox, an extremely advanced television graphics system for its time. Paintboxes are still in use today due to their image quality, and versatility. The Weather Channel was the first customer in the United States to purchase a Paintbox in 1982 (they had serial number '1' in the USA), which was used to generate their on-air weather maps during their first years of operation. MTV was another early customer of the Paintbox. When the BBC weather department decided to move from magnetic weather symbols on a board in 1992 to a complete digital solution they used modified Paintboxes which were controlled via Apple Macintosh computers. The weather presenter then stood in front of a blue screen holding a button that was connected to the Macintosh; which then in turn communicated with the Paintbox to bring up the next slide.
- In 1985, Quantel released the "Harry" effects compositing system/non-linear editor. The Harry was designed to render special effects in non-real time to the video recorded on its built-in hard disk array (much like most computer based non-linear editing systems today). The hard disk array used drives made by Fujitsu, and were connected to the Harry using a proprietary parallel interface, much like a modern-day RAID array. Technically, it was the first all-digital non-linear editing system, since it could also do editing of the video that was recorded on the Harry. Due to technical constraints of the time, the Harry could only record 80 seconds of video, albeit encoded in full broadcast-quality, uncompressed D1-style 8-bit CCIR 601 format. This aside, the Harry was quite an advanced machine, and the only system like it for its time.
In 1989 Quantel was acquired from UEI by Carlton Communications who had also acquired high end sound console manufacturer Solid State Logic as part of the same deal. This relationship ended in 2000 when Quantel management bought the company back for $76.6m.
Since 2000, Quantel has specialized in:
- sQ - Video server based system for the broadcast industry which is designed for all forms of fast turnaround production, such as sports and news
- Newsbox - Complete news production system in a box
- iQ - Used for digital intermediate film work
- eQ - Used for post production and tv commercial work
- Pablo - Color grading system
- Mission - A Media and Asset management system for handling media in large systems
December 2005 saw the departure from the board of long-standing Chairman and Chief Executive Richard Taylor to be replaced by Ray Cross as CEO. Prior to this Ray worked with Richard to create the business plan to present to Lloyds Bank venture capital arm LDC for the 2000 management buyout from Carlton Communications.
In 2006 Research & Development Director Paul Kellar was replaced on the board by another long-standing Quantel employee Neil Hinson. Neil had joined Quantel in 1980 and played a key part in the design of many classic Quantel products including Harry, Henry, Mirage and Clipbox as well as the later generationQ family of products before resigning in January 2008.
- 1973 TBC 2000 / TBC 2200 - Time base corrector
- 1975 DFS 3000 - Digital framestore synchroniser.
- 1977 DSC 4002 - Digital video standards converter
- 1978 DPE 5000 - Digital processing effects. One of the first digital video effects systems.
- 1981 Paintbox
- 1982 Mirage - 3D real-time video effects processor.
- 1986 Harry - Non-Linear Editor.
- 1989 Paintbox V - Second generation paintbox, faster and smaller.
- 1990 Picturebox - Digital still store. Capacity is 520mb or 500 images. Increased to 1000 images with Picturebox twin.
- 1990 Harriet - Manipulating live graphics over video. Capacity is 323 PAL frames (around 12 seconds).
- 1992 Henry - Effects Editor which became the mainstay of the post industry across the world in the mid nineties.
- 1992 HAL - Video design suite.
- 1993 Dylan - RAID disk storage for video and audio.
- 1993 Editbox - Online NLE.
- 1993 Domino - A film in, film out editing system.
- 1994 Clipbox - Multiuser video server.
- 1995 Open Picturenet - Networking for Quantel products.
- 2002 generationQ - Harnesses uncompressed storage through using Dylans, and runs on an 'open platform' allowing easier networking between machines, and file sharing. The new generation of products which includes the iQ, for digital intermediate. The eQ is for post and editing, and the gQ was aimed towards the graphics market.
- 2005 Paintbox - New Paintbox launched which is a powerful design and compositing tool. Dealing with the moving image, and still images, this new Paintbox is named in honour of the original Paintbox created in 1981.
- 2005 Newsbox - A complete television newsroom production system to record, edit and playout news material.
- 2005 Pablo - Color grading system.
- 2005 Picturebox sQ - Graphics server for stills and moving sequences
- 2005 Pablo HD - High definition color grading system.
- 2006 Newsbox HD - High definition capable version of Newsbox.
- 2006 Marco - Software only DV field editor.
- 2007 Mission - Media and asset management system
- 2007 Stereoscopic 3D - 3D post production system
Headquarters and manufacturing
Quantel has been based at 31 Turnpike Road, Newbury, Berkshire, England since 1982. The building was built on the site in 1940 for Vickers Armstrong
and manufactured Spitfire
fighter aircraft during World War II
. Air raid shelters are still present in the grounds of the site. Other users of the building included the Post Office and the Ministry of Transport.
A large part of the current site is dedicated to manufacturing. It is now very rare that companies manufacturer their own products due to the complex nature of multiple layer circuit boards containing high density surface mounted components. It is more common now to design complex circuits on a computer and await delivery of a ready built board.
New circuit boards in turn contain large Field Programmable Gate Array chips which can be programmed when a device starts up. This can create a single circuit board which previously would have been made up of a larger amount of chips across more boards all requiring manufacturing and testing with increased cost.
Effect Systems Limited
As part of ongoing restructuring during the 1990s, Quantel decided to outsource support of legacy products to a separate company Effect Systems. Also based in Newbury and staffed by many ex Quantel staff, Effect Systems took over support for products. These include Editbox, Henry, Hal, Paintbox, Picturebox, Domino as well as older products dating back to the 1980s including Mirage, Harry and Encore.
Product technology and usage
Traditionally, Quantel systems were based around proprietary hardware & software. With the introduction of the generationQ range a number of Quantel products are now based on Microsoft Windows and standard PC hardware. Custom hardware is still used on the sQ servers and high end clients like the sQ Edit Plus and iQ systems.
Quantel has always been very protective of their product designs and patents especially relating to Paintbox type functionality. This triggered a number of legal battles over the years, most notably against Spaceward Graphics and their Matisse system (won in 1990) and Adobe and their Photoshop application (lost in 1997).
The majority of Quantel products use code names for some parts of their systems. One source of code names was the television series The Magic Roundabout. The Dylan disk system and the Zebedee processor take their names from characters in this series.
Many of the major movies released since 1999 have been created or manipulated using Quantel technology, including Star Wars episode 2 and 3, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Day After Tomorrow, and Sin City. Paintbox made today is a complete new design to the earlier "Paintbox Classic" and is part of the integrated sQ offering. Picturebox sQ - a device that can play graphics sequences (clips) as well as the more traditional stillimages generated by the new Paintbox, joined the line-up in 2005.
Quantel hardware can be found in some form in most broadcasters around the world. Users of sQ server based systems include ESPN in the USA, and BBC and Sky News in the United Kingdom.
Quantel copied an idea from mobile phone companies and introduced 'Pay as you Go HD'. This allowed customers to purchase high definition capable equipment but use it for standard definition and only pay for high definition when required.
Quantel designed technologies
- Dynamic Rounding is a technique devised by Quantel for truncating the word length of pixels – a process you can't avoid when you are processing images. Rather than simply losing the lower bits, Dynamic Rounding uses their information to control, via a randomiser, the dither of the LSB of the truncated result. This effectively removes any artefacts that would otherwise be visible. Dynamic rounding is non-cumulative on any number of passes and produces statistically correct results. Dynamic rounding eliminates any truncation artefacts.
FrameMagic - A system used on video servers where video clips are treated as individual frames rather than a single clip. This allows very efficient use of storage as only frames used in subsequent edits need to be kept from an original recording. This allows the rest of the unused frames to be discarded.
TimeMagic - A background rendering system which renders editing effects as the operator continues working.
Resolution Co-existence - Allows a video edit to be made up of different formats of source material without any extra work required by the operator. One example is an edit that will play out standard definition but some parts of the edit may be part of a high definition source clip.
Genetic Engineering - An open technology that allows multiple users to work on the same media independently without having to have multiple copies of it.