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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Random Impressions – NAB 2010

I always enjoy the show – partly for the new toys – but also to hook up once again, face-to-face, with many friends in the business. I’m back home now and have had a day to decompress and make a few observations about NAB Convention.

First off, this was an extremely strong show for post. Tons of new versions of many of your favorite NLEs, color grading tools and other items. Second, the attendance was good. A bit more than last year – so still a “down” year compared with peaks of a few years ago. Yet, I felt the floor density was higher than the 2009 vs. 2010 numbers indicated. Thursday was still well-attended and not the ghost town I would have expected. So, on the purely subjective metric of how crowded the floor felt, I would have to say that daily averages were much better than 2009.

If you want more specific product knowledge about what was on the floor, check out the various NAB reports at Videography, DV, TV Technology, Studio Daily, Post and Pro Video Coalition. I would encourage you to check out DV’s “(Almost) Live From the NAB Show Blog” – Part 1 and Part 2. The following thoughts fall under opinion and observation, so I’m bound to skip a lot of the details that you might really want to know.

Apple

It never ceases to amaze me when I see blog posts and forum comments that seem to expect Apple to pop up out of nowhere at the show with some amazing new version of Final Cut Studio. Have these folks been under a rock? Apple swore off trade shows several years ago and there’s no indication this policy has changed. They were never on the 2009 or 2010 exhibitor’s list and you can’t plan a 1500-3000 seat “user event” at an area ballroom without word getting out. So, I have no idea why people persist in this fantasy game.

The short term scenario is that it is unlikely that there’ll be a feature-laden new version of FCP/FCS any time soon. Maybe an incremental update like the “new” Final Cut Studio from last year, but I wouldn’t expect that until a few months down the road at the earliest. Or maybe not until 2011. Even if that doesn’t happen or even if the release strikes many as lackluster instead of awesome, it won’t change the breakdown of NLEs to any great degree. If you work with FCP today, you are getting the job done and probably relatively happy with the product. I don’t foresee any change in the product that would greatly alter that situation.

The more important news – as it pertains to NAB – is that Apple is doing a good job of attracting a number of new partners to its core technologies. Autodesk’s Smoke for Mac OS X is a good example, but they are just one of the over 300-strong developer community that constitues the Final Cut ecosystem. A number of folks, such as ARRI, have licensed the ProRes codec, which is a pretty good endorsement of image quality, as well as workflow.

Avid

Certain versions tend to become milestones for a company’s software. I believe Media Composer 5 will be one of those. Avid renumbered versions with the release of Adrenaline several years ago, so this version 5 is really more like version 17. Numbers notwithstanding, other milestones for Media Composer had been the old version 5.x and version 7.x and I believe this newest release (targeted for June) will have just as much impact for Avid editors.

Media Composer 5 goes a long way towards keeping Avid editors in the fold and may even get some Avid-to-FCP “switchers” to come back. It adds limited 3rd party i/o hardware support, wider codec support (including RED and QuickTime through AMA) Pro Tools-style audio features and more FCP-like timeline editing functions. I highly doubt that it will really get any FCP diehards to convert, but it might pique the interest of those selecting their first high-end NLE. Down the road, I’ll have proper review when it’s ready for actual use.

In addition to Media Composer 5, Avid also previewed its “editing in the cloud” concept. This is largely based on work already done by Maximum Throughput, which had been acquired by Avid. The demo looked pretty fluid, but I think it’s probably a number of years off. That’s OK as this was merely a technology preview; however, it does have relevance to large enterprises. The same concepts developed for editing over the internet clearly apply to editing on an internal companywide LAN or WAN system.

The direction that Avid seems to be taking here – along with its expansion of Interplay into a family of asset management products – sets them up to make the Professional Services department into an IBM-style corporate consultation service and profit center. In other words, if you are a large company or TV network and want to implement the “cloud” editing concept along with the necessary asset management tools, it’s going to take a knowledgeable organization to do that for you. Avid naturally has such expertise and is poised to leverage its internal assets into billable services. The small editing boutique may not have any interest in that concept, but if it makes Avid a stronger company overall, then I’m all for it.

Adobe Creative Suite 5

CS5 is just about here. It’s 64-bit and uses the Mercury Playback Engine. But will Premiere Pro really pick up steam as an NLE of choice? Like Media Composer, expect a real review in the coming months. I’ve used Premiere Pro in the past on paying gigs and didn’t have the sort of issues I see people complain about. These were smaller projects, so I didn’t hit some of the problems that have plagued Premiere Pro, which mainly relate to scalability. Although it’s not touted in the CS5 press info, it does appear to me that Adobe has done a lot of tweaking under the hood. This is related to the changes for 64-bit, so I really expect Premiere Pro CS5 to be a far better product than previous versions.

Whether that’s true or not is going to depend on your particular system. For example, much has been written about the Mercury Playback Engine. This is an optimization for the CUDA technology of specific high-end NVIDIA graphics cards. If you don’t have one of these cards installed, Premiere Pro shifts into software emulation. In some cases, it will be a big difference and in other cases it won’t. There’s lots of native codec and format support, but not all camera codecs are equal. Some are CPU-intensive, some GPU-intensive and others require fast disk arrays. If your system is optimized for DVCPRO HD, for example (older CPU, but fast arrays), you won’t see outstanding results with AVC-Intra, which is processor-intensive, requiring the newest, fastest CPUs.

There’s plenty in the other apps to sell editors on the CS5 Production Premium bundle, even if they never touch Premiere Pro. On the other hand, Premiere Pro CS5 is still pretty powerful, so editors without a vested interest in Avid, Apple or something else, will probably be quite happy with it.

One format to rule them all

With apologies to J. R. R. Tolkien, the hopes of a single media format seem to have been totally shattered at this NAB. When MXF and AAF were originally bounced around, the hope was for a common media and metadata format that could be used from camera to NLE to server without the need for translation, transcoding or any other sort of conversion.

I think that idea is toast, thanks to the camera manufacturers, who – along with impatient users – have pushed NLE developers to natively support just about every new camera format and codec imaginable. Since the software can handle it, we see NLEs evolving into a more browser-style format. This is the basis for how Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro are structured. It is now becoming a model that others are embracing. Avid has AMA (a plug-in API for camera manufacturers), but you also see “soft import” in the Autodesk systems and “soft mount” in Quantel. All variations of the same theme. In fact, Apple is the “odd man out” in this scenario, forcing everything into QuickTime before FCP can work with it.

The three advanced formats that seem to have the broadest support today are Avid DNxHD, Apple ProRes and Panasonic AVC-Intra. To a lesser extent you can add AVCHD, Sony XDCAM (various flavors) and DV/DVCPRO/DV50/DVCPRO HD.

Stereo 3D

Just when we thought we had this HD thing figured out, the electronics manufacturers are pushing us into stereo 3D. There was plenty of 3D on the floor, but bear in mind that there are very few in the production community pushing to do this. It’s driven almost entirely by display manufacturers and studios looking to cash in on 3D theater distribution. I think we are headed for a 3D bubble that will eventually drop back into a niche, albeit a large niche for some.

Whether 3D is big or not doesn’t matter. It’s here now and something many of us will have to deal with, so you might as well start figuring things out. The industry is at the starting point and a lot is in flux. First off – the terminology. Walking around the floor there were references to Stereo 3D, S3D, Stereoscopic and so on. Or what about marketing slogans like Panasonic’s “from camera to couch”? Or Sony’s “make.believe”? Hmm… Did the marketing people really think that one through? New crew positions will evolve. Are you a “stereographer”? Or should you be called a “stereoscopist”?

I watched a lot of stereo 3D demos and I generally didn’t like most of them. Too much of 3D looks like a visual effect and not the way my eyes see reality. It also affects the creative direction. For instance, the clip of a Kenny Chesney 3D concert film, which was edited in a typical, fast-paced, rock-n-roll-style of cutting, was harder to adjust to than the nice slow camera moves from the Masters golf coverage.

I also observed that most 3D shots have an extremely deep depth-of-field. More so even in 3D, than if you just looked at the shot in 2D. Shallow depth-of-field, like the gorgeous shots from the HDSLRs that everyone loves, don’t seem to work in 3D. I tended to pay attention to objects in the background, instead of the foreground, which I would presume is the opposite of what a director would have wanted. Many of the 3D shots felt like multi-planed pieces of animation. I have heard this referred to as “density zones” and seems to be an anomaly with 3D shots. A lot of these shots simply had the effect of a moving version of the vintage View-Masters of the past.

Obviously a lot of companies will try to produce 3D content from archival 2D masters. To answer that need JVC showed a real-time 2D-to-3D convertor, which was able to take standard programs and adjust shots on-the-fly using a set of sophisticated algorithms.  This creates some interesting artifacts. First off, you have to interpolate the information so that alternating fields become left and right eye views. Viewing the result shows visible scanlines on an HD display. That seems to be a common problem with current 3D displays.

Second, there are errors in the 3D. Some of the computation is based on colors, which means that occasionally some objects are incorrectly placed due to their color. That part of an object (like a shirt or certain colors in a flag) will appear at a different point in Z-space compared to the rest of the object to which it is attached. My guess is that casual viewers will almost never see these things and therefore such products will be quite successful.

My whole take on this is that we simply don’t see real life the way that stereo 3D films force us to see. Many folks will disagree with me on this, including a number of scientists, but I feel that people largely view life in 2D. Your eyes converge on an object and focus (both physically and mentally) on that object. Other things are on the periphery, so you are aware of them, but not focused on them. When you want to look at something else, you change your attention and change your focus, much like a pan or tilt with a rack focus. By the same token, we don’t see the sort of extreme shallow depth-of-field caused by some lenses, but that somehow feels more natural. These issues may evolve as stereo 3D evolves, but for me, the most natural images were those that were closest to 2D. If that’s the case, then you have to conclude, “What’s the point?”

Disruptive technology

Blackmagic Design definitely generated the buzz this year. They bought the ailing DaVinci Systems company last year and promptly told everyone in the media that they had no intension of selling cheaper versions of these flagship systems. We now know that wasn’t true. It turns out that Blackmagic has once again been true to form – as everyone had initially thought – and brought a brand new Mac version of DaVinci Resolve to NAB at a very low price.

Upon acquiring DaVinci, Blackmagic decided to “end-of-life” all hardware products (like the DaVinci 2K), end all support contracts and focus on rebuilding the company around its flagship software products – Resolve (grading) and Revival (film restoration). They redesigned the signature DaVinci control surfaces to better fit into Blackmagic Design’s manufacturing pipeline. You can now purchase Resolve in three configurations: software-only Mac ($1K), software (Mac) with panels ($30K) or a Linux version with panels ($50K). Add to this the computer, high-end graphics cards and drives.

The software-only version will work with a panel like the Tangent Wave, so it will allow a user to create a color grading room with the “name brand” product at a ridiculously low price. This has plenty of folks on various forums pretty steamed. I suspect there will be three types of DaVinci products.

Customer A is the existing facility that upgrades from an older DaVinci to Resolve 7.0 These people will build a high-end room using a cluster of Linux towers. That’s not cheap, but will still cost far less than in the past.

Customer B will be the facility that wants to set up a less powerful “assist” station. It may also be the entrepreneurial colorist who decides to set up his own home system – either to branch out on his own – or to be able to work from home to avoid the commute.

Customer C – the one that scares most folks – is the shop that sets up a bare bones grading room around Resolve, just so they can say that they have a DaVinci room. There are obvious performance differences between Resolve on a Mac and a full-featured, real-time 2K-capable-and-more DaVinci suite, so the fear is that some folks will represent one as being the other.

No matter what, that’s the same argument made when FCP came out and also when Color arrived. Grant Petty (Blackmagic Design’s founder) has always been about empowering people by lowering the cost of entry. This is just another step in that journey. I think the real question will be whether owners who have set up Apple Color rooms will convert these to DaVinci. Color is good, but DaVinci has the brand recognition and there are plenty of experienced DaVinci colorists around. At an extra $1K for software, this might be an easy transition. Likewise for Avid shops. Media Composer’s and Symphony’s color correction tools are pretty long-in-the-tooth and those owners are looking for options. DaVinci makes a lot more sense for these shops than investing in the Final Cut Studio approach. Hard to tell at this point.

Digital cameras

RED had its RED Day event. I was registered, but blew it off. Too much other stuff to see and quite frankly, I have little or no interest in being teased by cameras that are yet to come (late or if ever). In my world, HDSLRs have far greater impact than RED One or Epic. Judging by the number of Canons and Nikons I saw being used on the floor for video coverage and podcasts, I’d have to say the rest of the world shares that experience.

The real news is that RED is no longer the only game if you want a digital cinematography camera. Sure there’s Sony and Panasonic, but more importantly there’s ARRI with the Alexa and Aaton with the Penelope-∆ (Delta). Both companies have a strong film pedigree and these new cameras coming this year and in 2011 will offer some options that will interest DPs. The Penelope is oddest in that it’s a hybrid film/digital camera using two interchangeable magazines – one for film and another that’s a digital back. It uses an optical viewfinder, so the sensor if attached to the digital magazine in precisely the same location as the film loop in the film magazine. This leaves it exposed when you swap magazines, but the folks at Aaton don’t see this as an issue, aside from occasional, simple cleaning. In reality, you probably won’t be swapping back and forth between film and digital on the same production.

In my opinion, where RED has gone wrong has been in placing resolution over workflow. No matter how smooth, native or fast current RED post workflow is, they will have a hard time shaking the common “slam” that their workflow is slow, hard or expensive. ARRI and Aaton offer somewhat lower resolution than RED, but they record both camera RAW and direct-to-edit formats. The Alexa records in ARRI RAW as well as ProRes, while Aaton uses DNxHD (for now) as its compressed file format. This means that the camera generates a file that is ready to edit in Avid or FCP straight from the shoot. If you are working in TV, that may be all you need. If you are doing a feature film, it becomes an offline editing format. The camera RAW file is preserved as a “digital negative”, which would be used for color grading and finishing. ARRI RAW is already supported by a number of systems, including Avid (with Metafuze) and Assimilate Scratch.

Pure magic

Last year I was “wowed” by Singular Software’s PluralEyes. This year it was GET from AV3 Software. GET is a phonetic search tool based on the same Nexidia  technology that is licensed to Avid for Media Composer’s ScriptSync feature. Think of GET as Spotlight for speech. GET operates as a standalone application that can be used in conjunction with Final Cut Pro. It shouldn’t be thought of as just a plug-in.

The process is simple. First, index the media files that are to be reviewed. This only needs to happen once and the company claims that files can be indexed 200 times faster than real time. (ScriptSync’s indexing is extremely fast.) Once files are indexed, enter the search term into the GET search field and all the possible choices are located. Adjusting the accuracy up or down will increase or decrease the number of matching clips.

You can also do searches using multiple parameters, such as a search term plus a date or a reel number. Since the algorithms are phonetic, correct spelling is less important, as long are it sounds the same. GET includes its own player and clips imported into FCP will have markers at the matching points within the master clip. The shipping version of the product (in a few months) will also subclip the matching segments.

Other snapshots

There are a few other interesting things to mention.

CatDV from Square Box Systems has come along nicely. Many of my FCP friends have looked at this and characterize it as “what Final Cut Server should have been.” Check it out.

I ran into Boris Yamnitsky (Boris FX founder) at the show and he was more than happy to show me some of their upcoming release. Boris FX wasn’t officially exhibiting this year, but they are starting to roll out BCC 7, starting with the After Effects version (ready for CS5). It will include a number of key new features, like particles. What really caught my eye, though, was a color correction filter that combined functionality from both Colorista and Color. It’s a single layer color correction filter with 3 color wheels, but the twist is that you can apply masks with both inside and outside grades – all within the same instance of the filter.

Lastly, Lightworks is back. Well, it never actually left – just changed hands a few times. This placed it with EditShare after they acquired Geevs Broadcast last year. Rather than bang it out with the “A” NLE vendors, EditShare has opted to release it as open source and see what the development community can do for the product. It already has a small, loyal following among film editors and has a few, unmatched touches for collaborative editing. For instance, two editors can work on exactly the same sequence (not copies). One editor at a time has “record” control. As one makes changes, the other can see these updated on his own timeline!

See, I told you it was a fun year.

©2010 Oliver Peters

NAB 2009 – 10 goodies you might have missed

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By now you’ve probably caught up on all big announcements from NAB 2009. If not, then hop over to Videography or DV for the NAB coverage supplied by my colleagues and me during our blogs and wrap-up stories for the magazine. In this post I’d like to focus on 10 relatively inexpensive items that will improve your productivity.

 

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AJA Video – The AJA Ki Pro was the hit of the show for many, but don’t forget the Io Express. The new little brother of the IoHD follows on the heels of the older IoLA and IoLD, except that it now handles HD. Io Express connects via PCIe instead of FireWire and is ideal for laptop monitoring and mastering.

 

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Automatic Duck – The Duck is known for timeline translation, but has brought back a popular application from the past. Media Copy 2.0 reads an Avid AAF or OMF 2.0 file or a Final Cut Pro XML file, figures out which media files are used by that sequence then copies the media to a location you specify. This is a great way to consolidate media and helps out where FCP’s own Media Manager is deficient.

 

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Blackmagic Design – Lots of buzz about their UltraScope waveform monitor, but check out their DVI Extender. I’m not a big fan of the Gefen extenders so I’m glad to see BMD’s product, which uses standard BNC connectors and SDI cables to extend computer monitor signals. The DVI Extenders can also be used for DVI-to-SDI video conversion at HD and SD resolutions.

 

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Boris FXBoris Continuum Complete 6 – Always a winner, BCC continues improving and covers nearly every host system on the market. BCC6 for After Effects is out and BCC6 for FxPlug (FCP & Motion) is in beta and will hit the market soon. New effects include extruded 3D text using the Boris Blue engine and reflections. The FxPlug version will have a few extra twists, such as an interactive preset preview browser.

 

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Chemical Wedding – Location crews will welcome the Helios Sun Calculator, which is available through the iTunes Store as an iPhone application. This convenient tool provides accurate information about the path of the sun and how that may influence the planning of a shoot.

 

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CoreMelt – This has been a popular set of effects filters and transitions available in Noise Industries’ FxFactory toolset. New this year are the V2 filter sets that run independent of the FxFactory filter management tool. CoreMelt V2 packs can be purchased either as a complete collection for FCP or After Effects, or as individual modules. For example, if you only want color correction filters or only glow filters, then those can be purchased without buying the whole collection. I especially like their color correction filters, which use intuitive sliders and feature a heads-up-display for grading curves.

 

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Euphonix – I love control surfaces and if you hate to mix in FCP, Pro Tools or Logic with the mouse, then the Euphonix Artist Series is for you. These modular panels include MC Mix, MC Control and the new MC Transport. You can mix-and-match modules depending on whether you just want fader control or more panels with programmable hot keys.

 

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Matrox – They are one of three strong hardware suppliers for FCP and Premiere Pro editors. MXO2 has become quite popular, so take a look at the new MXO2 Mini, if you’d like something even more portable. It can ingest and output HD via HDMI or analog connections plus analog-only for NTSC and PAL. It is a cost-effective monitoring and conversion unit for the laptop user. Even better, Minis will include the MAX encoding option. For an additional cost, MXO2 Minis can be purchased with onboard, hardware-accelerated H.264 encoding, adding more functionality to the unit. This means all three MXO2 products with MAX can be used to accelerate any H.264 files using Compressor. The NAB demos provided considerably faster-than-real-time performance.

 

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Noise Industries – You’ve got to love FxFactory. The 2.0.7 update is available as a free download and every release adds a few more free effects plug-ins. FxFactory filters are supplied by Noise Industries as well as other development partners like iDustrial Revolution. iDustrial just released its own update to their really cool Volumetrix filter set. If you do a lot with type also check out Motype. A new partnership has been announced with Boinx for a series of tile and shatter filters.

 

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Singular SoftwarePluralEyes was the simplest, yet most amazing FCP companion at the show. It’s essential if you do a lot of multicam editing in FCP. PluralEyes automatically synchronizes multiple sources without the use of timecode. If you shoot a concert with pro-consumer camcorders, there is no longer any need to hand-sync each clip. Instead, PluralEyes will analyze the audio tracks and line up the various sources in sync with each other based solely on the alignment of the audio.

 

Check out DV and Videography writers’ commentary during the show at DV’s (Almost) Live from NAB blog: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

 

© 2009 Oliver Peters