Trends to watch at NAB 2012

I’m posting this on my way out the door to Las Vegas for NAB 2012. The manufacturers have been holding their NAB info close to the vest during the run-up to the show. There are a few details I do know, but can’t spill the beans due to various NDAs. A lot of online speculation has only been fueled by rumors and some wishful thinking, but not even media types have been given advance peeks. This year many manufacturers have already shown new versions of products for the past six months. It seems like 2012 will be more of a stable year when many products shown will actually be proven in the field and ready to ship.

Acquisition

This is likely to be a great year for RED Digital Cinema. The upstart camera maker is getting its sea legs along with the street credibility that comes from being used on numerous high-visibility feature film productions. I suspect RED will show their next move into player and projection products in addition to the cameras, which are already known in the market. As a broad stroke, expect to see RED have a lot of soul-mates in the 4K (and above) arena.

At the high end, NAB will be a three-way tug among RED, ARRI and Sony. The RED EPIC – arguably the most innovative camera on the market – will be RED’s standard-bearer for 4K (and beyond) acquisition. Sony will be in full force to challenge RED’s niche with the F65. It was introduced last year in prototype form as Sony’s 4K answer, but this year it will return as an actual production model. Meanwhile ARRI will present several versions of the ALEXA camera. Although primarily an HD camera that’s also capable of 3K camera raw recordings, the ARRI ALEXA has garnered a sizeable share of the episodic TV market this year, as well as tent pole features, like Hugo.

The middle tier pits the Sony F3, the new RED SCARLET and the Canon C300 against each other. This will be the first showing at NAB for these RED and Canon offerings, which continue to feed the appetite for Super 35mm-sized sensors at all price ranges. Although the stereo 3D frenzy will likely be subdued, Sony, Panasonic and JVC each offer twin-lens, one-piece camcorders for easy stereo production. Sony’s HXR-NX3D1U is a lightweight 2D/3D camera that’s part of their NXCAM family. Panasonic has built on its development of the AG-3DA1 to offer two additional twin-lens cameras, including the AG-3DP1 and HDC-Z10000. JVC has joined the excitement with the small GY-HMZ1U. It uses the same chip technology at the GY-HMQ10 camcorder, which is capable of capturing and recording 3840 x 2160 (“quad HD”) images at 24p, 50p and 60p. This JVC model promises to be the lowest cost camera to record 4K frame sizes.

Undoubtedly 4K will be a theme for many camera manufacturers. Just at the beginning of April, Sony announced its NEX-FS700U, an HD super slomo camcorder that’s a step up within the NXCAM product family from the FS100. Like the FS100, it features a Super35mm-sized sensor and interchangeable E-mount lens mount, but also up to 120fps and 240fps burst recordings at 1080p resolution. According to their press release, “Sony is planning a future firmware upgrade that will enable the NEX-FS700U to output 4K bitstream data over 3G HD-SDI when used with an optional Sony 4K recorder.”

To counter this, Canon announced its Cinema EOS C500, which will output a raw 4K picture (4096×2160) to an external recorder via dual 3G-SDI output. Shipping date has not been announced. The video-enabled DSLRs continue to be popular, with particular interest in the Canon EOS-1D X and EOS-5D Mark III, which promise improved HD video capture. Naturally there’s now a 4K version in the form of the EOS-1D C.

Currently, the only truly production-friendly camera of this style and in this price range remains Panasonic’s AG-AF100, which is based on the Micro Four Thirds format. Of course, these cameras don’t fit the needs of many run-and-gun videographers, which means Sony, Panasonic and JVC will continue to promote their popular XDCAM, P2 VariCam and ProHD products, as well.

Naturally, acquisition includes a growing selection of solid state recorders from AJA, Convergent Design, Cinedeck, Sound Devices, Atomos, Blackmagic Design and others. An interesting trend in all of these is the move to add additional codec options. Many started as Apple ProRes-based QuickTime media recorders, but Apple’s introduction of Final Cut Pro X has spooked the industry enough to hedge its bets. Many of these vendors are also offering the ability to record using an Avid DNxHD codec in addition to ProRes. With the popularity of the ALEXA camera, expect to see a few lower-cost options for recording ARRIRAW using the T-link protocol. The most likely candidate may be Convergent Design’s Gemini 4:4:4. Finally, a new, albeit expensive, addition to this group is the Sony SR-R4 portable memory recorder designed as a companion to the F65.

Post

Apple hasn’t been an official exhibitor for years, but the company nevertheless continues to impact NAB. In fact, they just released updates to Final Cut, Motion and Compressor on Tuesday. Final Cut Pro X has splintered the industry in a way that has sparked new interest in Avid, Adobe and Grass Valley desktop edit systems. In November, Avid released its highly-anticipated 64-bit update for the Media Composer/NewsCutter/Symphony product family (version 6.0). It also released ProTools 10, but this will be the first NAB showing for each. Left out of these announcements has been any word of their flagship Avid DS editor, so maybe that will leave some room for an NAB surprise.  In the pre-NAB sneaks, Avid did roll out a super cross-grade promotion for FCP (excluding X), Media Composer and Xpress Pro owners. Until June 15th they can get Symphony 6 for only $999.

The betting money is on Adobe for the show with its big Creative Suite news. The video products in the Creative Suite only saw a small upgrade last year to version CS 5.5. Since then, Adobe has made tremendous gains from the Apple fallout, not to mention picking up IRIDAS (makers of the SpeedGrade color correction software) and Automatic Duck’s development team. They’ve become popular with the RED camera users and have played instrumental roles in the post pipelines for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo and Act of Valor. Recently Adobe previewed Prelude, a media browsing and pre-editing application. They’ve also posted little online “peeks” at some of the new content-aware and video editing features for Photoshop. Clearly the drumbeat was mounting. So, just ahead of the show’s start, Adobe rolled out Creative Suite 6. The Production Premium CS6 bundle will include Story, Prelude, Premiere Pro, SpeedGrade, After Effects, Adobe Media Encoder, Encore, Audition, Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash Professional. Click here for a “first look”.

As users reconsider the Mac platform entirely, Windows-only solutions like Grass Valley EDIUS are gaining interest. At NAB, EDIUS 6.5 will demonstrate a comprehensive stereo 3D editing workflow and native support for raw footage from RED cameras. A special systemized EDIUS version will be able to work with the Grass Valley K2 Summit 3G server. The full family of 3D-compatible Grass Valley editing peripherals, such as the STORM 3G 3D and STORM 3G Elite 3D accelerator cards, are now all supported from the EDIUS timeline. EDIUS 6.5 also incorporates a new Flash exporter, native image stabilization, built-in Loudness Meter and closed caption/audio bit stream (Dolby-E, AC-3) pass-through support.

EditShare has continued advanced development of Lightworks, adding greater codec and third-party support, project sharing and stereoscopic workflows. On the NAB stand, EditShare will host a “Lightworks Edit Bar,” where attendees can test-drive the latest Lightworks release. EditShare is a leading supplier of shared storage solutions and systems for collaborative workflows. New capabilities that will be shown at NAB include Adobe Premiere Pro project sharing, support for Final Cut Pro X and enhanced networking configurations.

Autodesk Media & Entertainment will mark the 20th anniversary of Flame at NAB with top-notch client demos. Evan Schechtman, Chief Technology Officer of @radical.media who will be presenting Smoke for Mac and Vico Sharabani, VFX Supervisor/Co-Founder of COPA who will be presenting Flame Premium 2013. If you are an animator or game developer, then check out the Entertainment Creation Suites. New is the 2013 “Ultimate” bundle, which includes all of the animation tools – Maya, Max, Softimage, Mudbox and Motion Builder.

Thunderbolt

Last year Thunderbolt was the newest fledgling technology, but this year I predict it will be in abundance. Thunderbolt-equipped Macs have been selling for months and the first PCs with Thunderbolt are hitting the market this year. For editors, this means Thunderbolt capture/output/broadcast monitoring cards and storage. There are various solutions from all the vendors with differing features depending on your need. AJA IoXT builds on AJA’s track record with the robust Io product family. The IoXT supports analog output, digital i/o, VTR control, Thunderbolt loop-through and 4:2:2 or 4:4:4 SDI plus HDMI connections. Blackmagic Design will offer three Thunderbolt products: Intensity Shuttle Thunderbolt, Intensity Extreme and UltraStudio 3D. These target a variety of needs and prices designed for anything from simple HDMI monitoring to full 2K and 3D capabilities.

MOTU – another popular interface vendor – has added Thunderbolt technology to its HDX-SDI video device. It’s a one-rack-unit-high, rugged HD/SD external device with extensive audio features in addition the video capability. Matrox, on the other hand, has decided to offer a PCIe-to-Thunderbolt adapter instead of a dedicated Thunderbolt-specific product. The adapter, showcased last year, can be used with any of the MXO2 products, which means that these can continue to be used with non-Thunderbolt workstations and laptops. For the first time in the history of the industry, all of these i/o products are now supported by the most popular NLE software. Some of the drivers are still in beta and current performance is still being optimized for NLE’s like Final Cut Pro X, but all of these devices are expected to work with FCP X, FCP 7, Premiere Pro and Media Composer.

Storage is the other part of this story, since the design of Thunderbolt technology permits the i/o device, the computer display and an external drive array to be connected to one port as part of a single daisy chain. Promise Technology introduced its Pegasus RAID last year and to date has been the main Thunderbolt-compatible system. Likewise, LaCie has also been shipping units and Sonnet Technology offers both drive arrays and an ExpressCard/34-to-Thunderbolt adapter. Expect to see a lot more options at NAB, including products from G-Technology, Western Digital and possibly CalDigit.

One interesting development is the announcement by Tektronix to develop Thunderbolt test gear. These aren’t video waveform monitors, but rather test equipment to validate Thunderbolt implementation by developers and manufacturers. Purely speculation on my part, but maybe we’ll see something from Tektronix at NAB that also combines video measurement and Thunderbolt.

Of further interest…

Questions over the future of the Mac Pro tower have some users moving to PCs, especially those made by HP. Ironically, HP announced its own all-in-one computer, along the lines of the iMac. In past years, Apple has had an invisible presence, simply based on the number of machines (usually Mac Pro towers) used by the demo artists in many vendor booths. It will be interesting to see how many of those same demos are running under Windows this year instead.

On the other hand, a good yardstick for the progress of FCP X into the “pro” market will be how many workflows are demonstrated that incorporate FCP X in some manner. Along those lines, Hamburg Pro Media, makers of the popular MXF4mac tools, have announced VirtualMXF, which enables direct access to MXF media inside Final Cut Pro X. This means drag and drop import of XDCAM, AVC-Intra and Avid DNxHD media files to name a few. No rewrapping or transcoding required. I’d be willing to bet that you’ll see quite a few workflow demos on the floor that integrate FCP X in some fashion. The likely candidates would be AJA, Blackmagic Design, Autodesk, Square Box (CatDV), Building4Media and maybe Active Storage.

Blackmagic Design has been on the corporate acquisition trail for several years, assimilating DaVinci and Echolab products into its family. The newest member is Teranex, maker of the “gold standard” in format converters. Predictably the initial result has been a simplified product line and a lower price for its flagship VC100 processor. Expect to find them in the ever-growing Blackmagic Design booth.

A couple of interesting plug-in developments have the post world buzzing. One is the release of the Baselight plug-in by FilmLight for FCP 7 and Nuke. Releasing it for FCP 7 seems a bit too late, but now they are alluding to releasing it for other hosts, including Avid Media Composer. Along the same lines, EyeOn will show its Connection plug-in for Media Composer. This adds a powerful node-based editor as a bridged plug-in operating in its own interface.

Cloud editing has kept a low profile since a number of prominent demos by Avid and others a few years ago. Yet, both Avid and Quantel are actually offering the only cloud-based editing solutions to date. In the case of Avid this falls under the Integrated Media Enterprise banner and specific products as part of Interplay and iNEWS. For Quantel, it’s QTube, a complete set of scalable mobile, browsing and editing applications that work over IP. On a smaller scale, Adobe has been promoting its cloud-based Story application as part of an end-to-end use of metadata.

Adobe has pegged this year to push more cloud services and applications via their Creative Cloud. Likewise Autodesk will be promoting its Autodesk 360 brand of cloud solutions. Not all of the Adobe or Autodesk products and services are relevant to film and video professionals, since each company develops solutions for a broad spectrum of industries. Nevertheless, they clearly are among the many companies who see our future in the cloud. For example, Singular Software just announced CloudEyes, a set of audio-video synchronization services over the web.  Expect to see more from these and others at the show.

Updated – Originally written for DV magazine / Creative Planet Networks

©2012 Oliver Peters

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