2023 marks the 100th year of the NAB Convention, which started out as a radio gathering in New York City. This year you could add ribbons to your badges indicating the number of years that you’d attended – 5, 10, etc. My first NAB was 1979 in Dallas, so I proudly displayed the 25+ ribbon. Although I haven’t attended each one in those intervening years, I have attended many and well over 25.
Some have been ready to sound the death knell for large, in-person conventions, thanks to the pandemic and proliferation of online teleconferencing services like Zoom. 2019 was the last pre-covid year with an attendance of 91,500 – down from previous highs of over 100,000. 2022 was the first post-covid NAB and attendance was around 52,400. That was respectable given the climate a year ago. This year’s attendance was over 65,000, so certainly an upward trend. If anything, this represents a pent-up desire to kick the tires in person and hook back up with industry friends from all over the world. My gut feeling is that international attendance is still down, so I would expect future years’ attendance to grow higher.
Breaking down the halls
Like last year, the convention spread over the Central, North, and new West halls. The South hall with its two floors of exhibition space has been closed for renovation. The West hall is a three-story complex with a single, large exhibition floor. It’s an entire convention center in its own right. West hall is connected to the North hall by the sidewalk, an enclosed upstairs walkway, as well as the LVCC Loop (the connecting tunnel that ferries people between buildings in Teslas). From what I hear, next year will be back to the North, Central, and South halls.
As with most NAB conventions, these halls were loosely organized by themes. Location and studio production gear could mostly be found in Central. Post was mainly in the North hall, but next year I would expect it to be back in the South hall. The West hall included a mixture of vendors that fit under connectivity topics, such as streaming, captioning, etc. It also included some of the radio services.
Although the booths covered nearly all of the floor space, it felt to me like many of the big companies were holding back. By that I mean, products with large infrastructure needs (big shared storage systems, large video switchers, huge mixing desks, etc) were absent. Mounting a large booth at the Las Vegas Convention Center – whether that’s for CES or NAB – is quite costly, with many unexpected charges.
Nevertheless, there were still plenty of elaborate camera sets and huge booths, like that of Blackmagic Design. If this was your first year at NAB, the sum of the whole was likely to be overwhelming. However, I’m sure many vendors were still taking a cautious approach. For example, there was no off-site Avid Connect event. There were no large-scale press conferences the day before opening.
The industry consolidates
There has been a lot of industry consolidation over the past decade or two. This has been accelerated thanks to the pandemic. Many venerable names are now part of larger holding companies. For example, Audiotonix owns many large audio brands, including Solid State Logic, DiGiCo, Sound Devices, among others. And they added Harrison to their portfolio, just in time for NAB. The Sennheiser Group owns both Sennheiser and Neumann. Grass Valley, Snell, and Quantel products have all been consolidated by Black Dragon Capital under the Grass Valley brand. Such consolidation was evident through shared booth space. In many cases, the brands retained their individual identities. Unfortunately for Snell and Quantel, those brands have now been completely subsumed by Grass Valley.
A lot of this is a function of the industry tightening up. While there’s a lot more media production these days, there are also many inexpensive solutions to create that media. Therefore, many companies are venturing outside of their traditional lanes. For example. Sennheiser still manufactures great microphone products, but they’ve also developed the AMBEO immersive audio product line. At NAB they demonstrated the AMBEO 2-Channel Spatial Audio renderer. This lets a mixer take surround mixes and/or stems and turn them into 2-channel spatial mixes that are stereo-compatible. The control software allows you to determine the stereo width and amount of surround and LFE signal put into the binaural mix. In the same booth, Neumann was demoing their new KH 120-II near-field studio monitors.
Overall, I didn’t see any single trend that would point to an overarching theme for the show. AI/ML/Neural Networks were part of many companies’ marketing strategy. Yet, I found nothing that jumped out like the current public fascination with ChatGPT. You have to wonder how much of this is more evolutionary than revolutionary and that the terms themselves are little more than hype.
Stereoscopic production is still around, although I only found one company with product (Stereotec). Virtual sets were aplenty, including a large display by Vu Studios and even a mobile expando trailer by Magicbox for virtual set production on-location. Insta360 was there, but tucked away in the back of Central hall.
Of course, everyone has a big push for “the cloud” in some way, shape, or form. However, if there is any single new trend that seems to be getting manufacturers’ attention, it’s passing video over IP. The usual companies who have dealt in SDI-based video hardware, like AJA, Blackmagic Design, and Matrox, were all showing IP equivalents. Essentially, where you used to send SDI video signals using the uncompressed SDI protocol, you will now use the SMPTE ST 2110 IP protocol to send it through 1GigE networks.
The world of post production
Let me shift to post – specifically Adobe, Avid, and Blackmagic Design. Unlike Blackmagic, neither Avid nor Adobe featured their usual main stage presentations. I didn’t see Apple’s Final Cut Pro anywhere on the floor and only one sighting in the press room. Avid’s booth was a shadow of itself, with only a few smaller demo pods. Their main focus was showing the tighter integration between Media Composer and Pro Tools (finally!). There were no Pro Tools control surfaces to play with. However, in their defense, NAMM 2023 (the large audio and music products exhibition) was held just the week before. Most likely this was a big problem for any audio vendor that exhibits at both shows. NAMM shifts back to January in 2024, which is its historical slot on the calendar.
Uploading media to the cloud for editing has been the mantra at Frame io, which is now under the Adobe wing. They’ve enhanced those features with direct support by Fujifilm (video) and Capture One (photography). In addition, Frame has improved features specific to the still photography market. New to the camera-to-cloud game is also Atomos, which demoed its own cloud-based editor developed by asset management developer Axle ai.
Adobe demoed the new, text-based editing features for Premiere Pro. It’s currently in beta, but will soon be in full release. In my estimation, this is the best text-based method of any of the NLEs. Avid’s script-based editing is optimized for scripted content, but doesn’t automatically generate text. Its strength is in scripted films and TV shows, where the page layout mimics a script supervisor’s lined script.
Adobe’s approach seems better for documentary projects. Text is generated through speech-to-text software within Premiere Pro. That is now processed on your computer instead of in the cloud. When you highlight text in the transcription panel, it automatically marks the in and out points on that source clip. Then, using insert and overwrite commands while the transcription panel is still selected, automatically edit that portion of the source clip to the timeline. Once you shift your focus to the timeline, the transcription panel displays the edited text that corresponds to the clips on the timeline. Rearrange the text and Premiere Pro automatically rearranges the clips on the timeline. Or rearrange the clips and the text follows.
Meanwhile over at Blackmagic Design’s massive booth, the new DaVinci Resolve 18.5 features were on full display. 18.5 is also in beta. While there are a ton of new features, it also includes automatic speech-to-text generation. This felt to me like a work-in-progress. So far, only English is supported. It creates text for the source and you can edit from the text panel to the timeline. However, unlike Premiere Pro, there is no interaction between the text and clips in the timeline.
I was surprised to see that Blackmagic Design was not promoting Resolve on the iPad. There was only one demo station and no dedicated demo artist. I played with it a bit and it felt to me like it’s not truly optimized for iPadOS yet. It does work well with the Speed Editor keyboard. That’s useful for any user, since the Cut page is probably where anyone would do the bulk of the work in this version of Resolve. When I used the Apple Pencil, the interface lacked any feedback as icons were clicked. So I was never quite sure if an action had happened or not when I used the Pencil. I’m not sure many will do a complete edit with Resolve on the iPad; however, it could evolve into a productive tool for preliminary editing in the field.
Here’s an interesting side note. Nearly all of the Blackmagic Design demo pods for DaVinci Resolve were running on Apple’s 24″ candy-colored iMacs. Occasionally performance was a bit sluggish from what I could tell. Especially when the operator demoed the new Relight feature to me. Nevertheless, they seemed to work well throughout the show.
In other Blackmagic news, all of the Cloud Store products are now shipping. The Cintel film scanner gets an 8mm gate. There are now IP versions of the video cards and converters. There’s an OLPF version of the URSA Mini Pro 12K and you can shoot vertical video with the Pocket Cinema Camera that’s properly tagged as vertical.
Of course, not everyone wants their raw media in the cloud and Blackmagic Design wasn’t showing the only storage products. Most of the usual storage vendors were present, including Facilis, OpenDrives, Synology, OWC, and QNAP. The technology trends include a shift away from spinning drives towards solid state storage, as well as faster networking protocols. Quite a few vendors(like Sonnet) were showing 25GbE (and faster) connections. This offers a speed improvement over the 1GbE and 10GbE ports and switches that are currently used.
Finally, one of the joys of NAB is to check out the smaller booths, where you’ll often find truly innovative new products. These small start-ups often grow into important companies in our industry. Hedge is just such a company. Tucked into a corner of the North hall, Hedge was demonstrating its growing portfolio of essential workflow products. Another start-up, Colourlab AI shared some booth space there, as well, to show off Freelab, their new integration with Premiere Pro and DaVinci Resolve.
That’s a quick rundown of my thoughts about this year’s NAB Show. For other thoughts and specific product reviews, be sure to also check out NAB coverage at Pro Video Coalition, RedShark News, and postPerspective. There’s also plenty of YouTube coverage.
Click on any image below to view an NAB slideshow.
©2023 Oliver Peters
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