If you’ve casually been following the NAB news, you most likely think that the biggest press is the lack of participation by Avid and Apple. It’s true that neither had a booth, but both were there at customer and reseller events, including Avid’s roll-out the new DX product line. If this is your take away, then you might surmise that NAB was a rather lackluster event for post. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find that NLEs have reached a certain level of maturity and it’s hard to keep rolling in new features. In fact, camera manufacturers have been driving the show with the latest and greatest file-based formats. The editing system manufacturers have had their hands full simply adding support for each new camera record option. Whether or not your favorite NLE supports P2, XDCAM-HD, REDcode and so on will impact far more users than whether Avid improves color correction or Apple improves media management.
If you’re looking for true edit system innovation, then that news came out of Quantel. Not only are they adding significant features, but they’ve wholly embraced the tools to edit and color grade the left and right eye views of stereoscopic imagery. We’ll see if that proves to be a good business model, but right now in the wake of quite a few 3D movies in the theaters, Quantel is betting that the market is there for more than a select few. Autodesk likewise had its own news with the continued unification of the user interfaces between Smoke and Flame. The products each still have a distinct and unique role to play, but Autodesk is integrating across both product groups such common modules as the timeline and batch (Flame’s process tree for effects).
As far as Avid’s DX line is concerned, so far the main news is new hardware connected via the PCIe bus and new pricing. This ties in with improved GPU and CPU power as well as Leopard and Vista support and even optimization. In total this will result in more streams of true real time horsepower. Unfortunately, this also means that Avid has to update the system, while staying with the familiar GUI that its user base likes. It might be different under the hood, but on the surface looks and feels the same. Many will applaud this, but it won’t sway the critics and certainly won’t bring back those who’ve left for other NLEs, like Final Cut Pro.
If you’re looking for trends, however, it’s become pretty obvious – if you didn’t know already – that the industry is moving away from videotape and towards a myriad of file-based solutions. When Panasonic jumped in originally with P2, Sony made no bones about detracting from their competitor. The funny thing about this is that Sony has now wholeheartedly embraced the concept with its EX1 and now EX3 cameras, sporting their own style of solid state storage, the SxS cards. Users are riding the learning curve, as many still don’t understand the differences when it comes to containers (P2 cards, XDCAM-HD discs, SxS cards), file wrappers (MXF, OMF, QuickTime, AVI, MPEG4) and codecs (DVCPROHD, AVC-Intra, MPEG2). Of course, eventually it will all get sorted out, but what’s worth noting, is that the only new videotape-based VTR introduced at NAB 2008 was an HDCAM-SR player by Sony. Meanwhile Sony and Panasonic both released quite a few VTR “replacement” products that use each manufacturer’s card scheme. Panasonic is growing a product ecosystem around P2 and likewise Sony growing one around the SxS cards.
Many experienced video pros look at this in horror, fearing that a few years down the road, it will be hard to mount the hard drives to which this media has been copied after the shoot. I appreciate this sentiment, as you can still readily find decks to play Betacam-SP and even Umatic tapes that are now over two decades old. That isn’t universally true however. In my market, you’d be hard pressed to find decks to play such once-popular formats as D1, D2, D3 or D5. The are only a handful of one-inch Type C VTRs in the market and their reliability is questionable. So the truth of the matter is that you probably aren’t any safer with content on tape as on hard drive, assuming you establish a viable approach to archiving the media. Generally this takes the form of redundant copies on multiple hard drives or at best, data tapes, such as the LTO3 format.
With this as a trend, quite a few NAB vendors were showing solutions for lower cost and simpler shared storage as well as asset management software. Some products to look into include Apple’s Final Cut Server, Laird Telemedia’s LairdShareHD, Focus Enhancements’ ProxSys, Gridiron Software’s Flow and Tiger Technologies’ MetaSAN and MetaLAN. In addition, the average cost of local storage is getting cheaper than ever; so, those editors working with P2 or similar technologies will have no problem just dumping all the media at full resolution to their local drives straight from the shoot and cutting happily away.
It’s hard to talk about NAB and not mention RED Digital Camera. Yes, they announced two new cameras (Scarlet and Epic), but more importantly is the fact that the post support structure is growing around them. Even if RED is ultimately not super-successful (unlikely), they will have changed the way many work with images. I believe the camera raw workflow is bound to be adopted by others in the future. Today, Apple and Assimilate are the only official RED partners. They are the only companies with access to the .R3D files. Avid is also able to provide some editorial support through XML list conversions. In the RED booth, a beta version of FCP’s Log and Transfer module was shown that imports and transcodes .R3D files. FCP editors can natively import raw files, transcoding them to another codec, like Apple ProRes 422 on the way in. There was also a technology preview of .R3D files being graded directly in Apple Color, through the addition of a RED-oriented RED Room tab within Color’s interface.
Assimilate introduced its RED-specific SCRATCH CINE, the only full-featured finishing product geared strictly for a RED workflow. But the story doesn’t stop there. Quite a few companies are chomping at the bit to release their own products for RED. At the moment, they are held back by RED Digital Camera’s agreements with its original partners. These are expected to expire soon, with RED releasing an SDK for its REDcode codec. Once that’s done, expect to see companies like Cineform and IRIDAS quickly jump into the game. In fact, these companies already have raw workflow products that are ready for RED, which were developed using existing (but not final) versions of the codec. So just as in the digital still photo world, camera raw will be a concept to which videographers will need to become accustomed.
Look for more of my NAB 2008 post production analysis in the June print edition of Videography magazine and also online at DV magazine.
© 2008 Oliver Peters