This has been a great year for technology innovation in the film and video industries and 2011 will continue that trend. Here are a few of the items and products to keep an eye on in the coming year.
Post is driven by changes in production and cameras are a big factor in this equation. RED, ARRI and the continued push by HDSLRs of all types will mark 2011.
RED has lost some of its luster due to delays, but 2011 will see the first production models of the new Epic camera. This promises to be the highest-resolution, most advanced digital camera in active production. ARRI is currently picking up steam with its Alexa camcorder. Together, these two cameras will become the products to beat for mid-to-high budget film and television projects, meaning an even greater workflow impact on post. RED is still tied to its proprietary camera raw workflow, while ARRI offers both raw and direct-to-edit solutions, using on-board Apple ProRes recording.
HDSLR offerings from Canon and Nikon will see serious challenges from Sony and Panasonic. Both of these manufacturers are offering large sensor, interchangeable lens camcorders designed specifically for the video professional. So far, the first contender with real buzz is Panasonic’s AG-AF100, which has been built around the micro four thirds sensor format. Early showings of the camera have received positive reaction, although some editors aren’t thrilled about Panasonic’s choice to use the AVCHD codec. Nevertheless, I see plenty of interest among traditional videographers who have been less than thrilled with accessorizing a Canon 5D or 7D into a professional production rig.
One market segment that is often described as “mature” has seen plenty of advances in 2010, with more to come in 2011. There’s a general push to lower the cost of high-end systems, address 64-bit processing and in some cases, change the business model entirely.
This started at the end of 2009 with Autodesk’s surprise introduction of Smoke for Mac OS X. That’s the first time a completely new editor has moved to the Mac platform in many years. 2010 picked up with the releases of Avid Media Composer 5 and Adobe Creative Suite 5. Both offered significant new features, but Adobe has pushed the performance envelope with 64-bit operation and an embrace of NVIDIA’s CUDA GPU processing technology. Other manufacturers, like Grass Valley and Sony, have also rolled out new versions of their popular EDIUS and Vegas Pro NLEs. Closing out the year’s tech shows at IBC, Avid announced a software-only version of its advanced Avid DS solution.
I’m sure 2011 will offer more advances in these mainstay products, but the two wild cards to watch out for are EditShare and The Foundry. EditShare acquired the venerable Lightworks editor and has decided to make it available to the open source development community. By making it an open source product, they are banking on out-of-the-box thinking to spawn innovation in this product. The Foundry has taken a different tack by developing a completely new editing application. STORM is a Mac-based finishing tool designed for RED media. It is scheduled to come out of beta in early 2011 and future versions will accommodate other camera formats.
All of this news from competitors leaves Apple Final Cut Pro users a bit antsy. I had originally felt that Apple would hold off until 2012, building a new Final Cut Studio around OS 10.7 (“Lion”), which was just previewed. If that comes out by the middle of 2011, then giving the Pro Apps team adequate QC time to develop a 10.7-optimized version of Final Cut Studio would put it into 2012. However, a number of posts that present some reasoned arguments for 2011 – coupled with the numerous Jobs’ e-mails proclaiming the awesomeness of the next version – have me believing in a 2011 release after all. Unfortunately, I don’t think that version will have the goodies everyone is hoping for.
I feel a 2011 release of Final Cut Studio will be a lot like the “new” Final Cut Studio release of 2009. Many consider that lackluster, but it in fact brought us a number of improvements that I personally have found quite useful on each and every FCP session I work. Since so many editors and small facilities have built their entire business model around FCP/FCS, I personally feel that Apple is gambling that some of the major new features in Avid MC 5 and Adobe CS5 will only appeal to a vocal minority who will make a switch. On the other hand, the majority of FCP users will welcome an evolutionary, rather than a revolutionary release. This is the approach they took with Aperture. We could very well see a two-step update, with a modest revision for 2011 and a 64-bit overhaul in 2012. As always, the Apple crystal ball is pretty blurry!
Apple has been working with many developers to adopt the ProRes codec family as a de facto standard. Free QuickTime components that decode QuickTime files using a ProRes codec have been available for the Windows and Mac platforms from Apple for some time now. That’s different for manufacturers, though, who must enter into a licensing agreement with Apple in order to write a ProRes codec file with a hardware product. It’s here that Apple has had some key successes, notably AJA (Ki Pro and Ki Pro Mini) and now the ARRI Alexa camera. I would expect to see more such agreements, as many manufacturers develop products that fit into the greater Apple ecosystem.
2010 was a year for stereo 3D at NAB. Avatar did well at the box office and many broadcasters are dipping their toe in the water. I still see stereo 3D as a niche product – albeit a very large niche. If you edit, then stereo 3D may become a huge budget variable when producers apply a “fix it in post” mentality. Well done stereo 3D must be properly planned from the beginning.
The good news is that many post tools are becoming available for stereo 3D projects. In fact, this past year Quantel announced that its 3D-capable systems are outselling the 2D-only units. Avid Media Composer has had built-in stereo 3D features for a couple of versions. Cineform’s Neo3D, The Foundry’s Ocula and Dashwood Cinema Solutions’ Stereo3D Toolbox (part of Noise Industries’ FxFactory) are just some of the rich tools available to handle stereo 3D in a variety of editing and compositing products.
Finally, some hardware I/O manufacturers have introduced stereo 3D offerings. Any card that can handle dual-link data paths is capable of stereo 3D processing. AJA and Blackmagic Design have updated the firmware of some of their Kona and Decklink cards to make them stereo 3D-compatible.
As storage costs drop, facilities are for the first time entertaining the purchase of shared storage systems. Once thought to be out of reach, the ever lower cost of hard drives has made these solutions affordable. This is driven by the use of two technologies – Apple File-sharing Protocol over Ethernet and fibre channel configurations with integrated servers. The latter, so-called “SAN-in-a-can” systems, let small shops integrate shared storage solutions using a largely plug-and-play approach. No separate server installation is required to handle the system control. Volume-level permissions are easily handled through user-friendly software tools, like Command Soft’s FibreJet.
The Ethernet approach permits users to install shared systems using a basic Mac Pro as the “server” to which storage is locally attached. Then the “client” stations connect to that storage through the Mac Pro using Apple’s standard networking protocol and Gig-E wiring. Although technically not as robust as a fibre channel solution, these systems are ideal for small shops with two to six edit bays working in compressed HD media, like Apple ProRes or DVCPROHD. There are plenty of resellers specializing in such systems, but common vendors include EditShare, Facilis Technology, Maxx Entertainment Digital, ProMax, Small Tree, 1 Beyond, iStoragePro and CalDigit.
Disruptive but innovative
Blackmagic Design has made a business out of pushing new technology boundaries and driving down cost. They were the first I/O card manufacturer to offer 3Gb/s as well as Fiber Optic SDI connections. This year they introduced several products using USB 3.0 connections, such as the UltraStudio Pro. Unfortunately Apple, HP, Dell and others tend to lag behind, but look for more compatibility with USB 3.0 in the coming year.
The real Blackmagic Design shocker came from their acquisition of DaVinci. They have since released DaVinci Resolve for the Mac, bringing this industry-standard color grading tool to a whole new group of customers. Alternately received as either a monumental feat or the end of civilization as we know it, DaVinci Resolve (starting at $995) promises to democratize the world of color correction. It will do for colorists much the same as what FCP has done for editors. Although I don’t see a ton of FCP users suddenly dropping Color in favor of Resolve, I do see it as a way for small shops to offer new color grading services and promote themselves in ways not possible before. DaVinci Resolve is equally functional in a tape-based or a file-based world. Many of these shops will be Avid, EDIUS, Premiere Pro or Vegas Pro facilities that are interested in installing an affordable color grading room to augment their editing services. Equipped with a lower investment cost and the “name brand” product, they are bound to give the established color correction specialty facilities a run for their money, as long as they have the talent to back it up.
Written for Videography magazine (NewBay Media LLC).
©2010 Oliver Peters