My Last Posting of NAB 2008 Dan Ochiva April 18th, 2008 Back from the show. I like taking a day or so after my last postings to look through everything I’ve collected, selecting some last items to include in a final wrapup. While that’s not a lot of time for deep reflection, I am at least far enough away from the hype of the moment to enable a bit of perspective. At the NAB press office earlier this week I overheard an NAB official talk to the editor of one of the leading trade mags. He was asked about what he thought would be among the most exciting developments of the show. Instead, he begged off answering, stating that as far as he was concerned it was all just a rehash. He could find nothing new or interesting worth commenting on. I really can’t understand that attitude. This was my 21st NAB. I’ve seen remarkable, exciting technology at every show I’ve been to. Sure, some of it was small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, some companies you didn’t hear about after a flashy debut, but at every show I could find engineers, designers, entrepreneurs, et. al. looking exhausted but excited that they were finally presenting their finished ideas for the world to judge. Avid Techology, for example, turned up at NAB 1989, presenting their first NLE, a Media Composer running on an Avid/1 (a Macintosh II fitted with an innovative video capture card). I remember huddling around a small CRT monitor in the booth with company founder William J. Warner, peering intently at a small image–one not much bigger than the proverbial postage stamp–that, he assured me, was playing directly off of the Mac’s drive. He was proud of the fact that even though the demo had been running for the past hour or so, the system only seemed to drop a few frames now and then. Those early systems weren’t cheap, pricing between $50,000 and $80,000. But they offered a new approach to editing, and heralded radical changes that were soon to come to hundreds of then thriving midrange broadcast and postproduction facilities. The Media Composer would depose that whole world by integrating a room full of hardware–all of the monitors, tape decks, and switching gear that were previously needed to get from one place to the next in the video editing process. By 1996 Walter Murch accepted the first Editing Oscar awarded to a digitally-edited film (”The English Patient”), which he cut on an Avid. By NAB 2008, of course, Avid no longer bothered to attend the show, even while it fends off challengers to its once dominant position as its own business model takes a hit from dramatically decreasing technology costs. A software-only version of the latest Media Composer prices under $5,000. And nothing changes?
More on that in the wrapup in our print edition. Now, let me offer a condensed version– in no particular order–of some of the other innovative products that attracted my attention at NAB 2008. Click on the links to learn more about technology that goes beyond interesting to solving real world production problems: Telestream’s Episode 5.0 encoding software shows the company continues to move production workflow beyond its broadcast roots to high-end field production. The new software allows just about any file format to work with Apple’s ProRes 422 and Final Cut Server, with support for high-end RED, Cineon, and DPX formats and the capability to preserve 10-bit 4:4:4 throughout. But the app also handles broadcast-oriented Sony XDCAM, Grass Valley Infinity, and Ikegami Editcam disk-based cameras. www.telestream.net; Red Digital Cinema still draws crowds. This time those crowding the booth got mockups of coming (NAB 2009 promised) cameras and more: the 5K Epic (employing a new Super 35 Mysterium X Sensor), and Scarlet, aimed at the lower range of production (with a projected $3,000 price point), but promising a still substantial 3K resolution–it uses a smaller 2/3- inch chip that can run from 1-120 FPS. The Red Ray disc player, also promised to deliver early next year, plays back 4K, 2K, HD (1080p and 720p), and SD res video recorded on the RED. The concern here is that this innovative company might spread itself too thin, as glitches and production problems hounded its first year of operation. Avid got to be the top dog because the company made sure its products were as bullet-proof as possible before release…
This looks very useful, and while it can’t do www.red.com; everything that AJA’s I/O box can, it’s a lot cheaper: Matrox’s MXO 2 allows you to turn good quality consumer computer monitors into color accurate broadcast grading monitors, while providing frame accurate, genlockable HD/SD scan conversion for flicker-free video output of your computer desktop. Inputs include HD SDI, component, composite, S-video, HDMI, AES/EBU audio, and two channels of XLR. Outputs include that but bump the audio to four channels of XLR and six RCA. www.matrox.com; the tiny G-Tech G-RAID mini 2 drive is the company’s usual solid piece of storage in a sleek, portable metal cage, this time offering both RAID 0 and fail-safe RAID 1, up to 1TB storage, and a claimed 100+ MBps transfer rate when used with its eSATA connection in RAID 0 www.g-technology.com; Focus Enhancements new top-of-the-line FS-5 Direct To Edit recorder for field recording just gets better with additional file format support, a good drop in weight and size, UDF disk formatting, and the ability to log custom metadata wirelessly via a laptop or smart phone while recording media. I saw a demo of material that had been recorded to FS-5 and P2 in the field being ingested by the company’s new PX Media Transfer Utility into the PX-100 metadata-based server. Makes getting into digital asset management as easy as drag-and-drop www.focusinfo.com; You know when you have DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg waxing on at the show (albeit via satellite) about a product introduction you must have something big going down. You’ll get that with HP’s DreamColor Technology computer display, a joint venture of HP and DreamWorks to develop displays with true 30-bit color and a “simple color management process” that will lead to an LED-backlit LCD that is claimed will equal studio-quality LCD displays at a fraction of the cost. http://tinyurl.com/69oxn2; Imagica’s new line of O-gi image quality enhancement plug-ins works with Autodesk
systems. The set of filters include noise reduction and cleanup. Quality stuff from the demos I saw, subtle effects, with lots of tweakability, just like the company’s highly regarded Primatte keying technology. http://tinyurl.com/6y3jy2; Lots of high-end developments at Thomson: while the company competes with UK-based FilmLight, which has also developed a high-end scanner to challenge the Thomson Grass Valley Spirit, the two companies are collaborating to enable FilmLight’s BaseLight color grading system to control a Spirit. Turns out the wellthought-out control interface panel of the BaseLight unit is a hit, converting high-end colorists around the world to using BaseLight, but who want to use it to control the Spirit. Now they can. Also saw a demo of Bones Dailies, part of Thomson’s DI toolset. Bones speeds workflow by making it easier to automate the production of daily review copies of a previous day’s shoot. Expect to see the company push the new CDL metadata standard as the basis for everything from Bones dailies through to final finish. www.thomsongrassvalley.com;
Quantel had lots of announcements at the show. It’s interesting that one of their new products was also a well-thought-out control surface for colorists. Neo color correction control panel for the Pablo color corrector is a clean simple panel to sit in front of; even the choice of the colors and the product “feel” on the buttons and knobs seem pleasant and carefully chosen so as to sooth eyes and fingers over long days. Ergonomics and interactivity seem well matched here, with dedicated one touch controls for all major functions, an integrated keyboard, and glide pads for maximum comfort in long grading sessions. For those that hate going through levels of drop-down menus, Neo gives one-button access to all menus, e.g. HSL, RGB high/low, DVE, and shapes. http://tinyurl.com/6coeua; Doremi Labs has been known for making capable video servers and video disk recorders, but maybe not having much on hand for high-end post. At the show, however, they came up with an interesting piece of gear that fits that market: the GHX-10 provides advanced HD video cross conversion, with HDMI, DVI, and SDI connectors to enable just about any input to be converted to any output format or scan rate. The unit includes dual-link SDI and 3Gbps SDI connectors to enable work at 4:4:4 2K film resolution. The GHX-10 also handles up to 8 channels of AES, HDMI and SDI audio. www.doremilabs.com
Fast, Cheap and High-Quality Real Time H.264 Encoding Jan Ozer April 18th, 2008
Media Excel was the last company that I saw at NAB, but last was certainly not least in this instance. The company’s real time encoders for mobile, web and IP TV, recently anointed by MTV and MobiTV, looked very, very impressive.
The company targets broadcasters and other very high volume streaming producers and builds their Hera real time encoding boxes using Texas Instruments DaVinci DSP (digital signal processor). The chip is programmable, so it will support later codec updates, and reportedly scary fast.
At the booth, the company showed their Hera 3200f producing nine consecutive streams ranging from MPEG-4 @ 30 fps @ 384 kbps to H.263 @ 10 fps @ 96 kbps. Video quality looked very good, but I didn’t have to trust my eyeballs, since MTV reportedly performed extensive quality comparisons before choosing Media Excel. What I found particularly interesting was how the TI chip changed the economics of producing high quantities of streaming files compared to server farms of Intel-based computers. For example, Media Excel’s marketing documents included a total cost of ownership analysis for the ability to convert 20 stream to ten bitrates apiece in real time (200 output files). Considering acquisition cost, licensing, rack space, power consumption and maintenance, the total cost of ownership for the Hera-based system was about 14% of the cost of an Intel-based system (and 20% of an AMD-based system). I didn’t have my slide rule so couldn’t double check the figures, but if they’re anywhere close to being accurate, they present a compelling case for a TI-based solution like the Hera 3200f. Check to make sure that Media Excel can produce your required output formats, however, since while MPEG-2/H.263/H.24 are currently supported, the spec sheets indicate that Windows Media, VP6 and RealVideo are forthcoming.
On the Artbeats booth Cynthia Wisehart April 17th, 2008
Artbeats didn’t just bring three new collections to NAB–a gorgeous ultra slomo reel, new air-to-air (shot with Phantom) and energy aerials, and an Environmental Impact series.
The company also reinforced their intention to be a creative and technical resource for those using stock footage with an on-booth demo theater running continuous series of tutorials on topics including Steve Holmes on compositing fire effects in AE, DVD menus, lower third design, and using ProRes 422. For those who aren’t at the show check out Artbeats free downloadable tutorials at artbeats.com.
Identifying Blu-ray Early Adopters. Jan Ozer April 17th, 2008
In my quest to identify buying momentum for Blu-ray recorders, I spoke with Alison Traxler from Primera Technology. Primera offers a range of CD/DVD/Blu-ray recorders, from the inexpensive Bravo SE (20 disc capacity, $900 street with DVD-R/$2900 street with a $500 rebate till the end of May for Blu-ray) to rack mounted, multi-burner units that are much more costly. Primera offers Mac and Windows clients with all units and has network software for $500 that allows unlimited number of Mac and Windows clients to send record/print jobs to any of their burners. After three days at the show, Alison reported that “people are super excited that our Blu-ray solutions work with Macs; we’re the only company shipping a Mac solution in that price range.” She also commented “we’re also seeing a lot of interest from event and wedding videographers who are producing small numbers of discs for clients willing to pay for HD quality.” I asked her when she thought Blu-ray equipped burners would start to out-sell traditional burners. She responded “I think around the holidays. Player prices will be dropping, and there will be more movies and just greater overall demand for Blu-ray. The faster Blu-ray players get in consumer’s homes, the faster demand will pick up for Blu-ray recorders.” Pretty aggressive, but not unreasonable given that recorder prices will drop between now and then, reducing the price differential between Blu-ray and traditional DVD recorders. Blu-ray recorders can obviously burn all types of DVD-R/+R discs, and by the end of the year, if a Bluray recorder is only several hundred dollars more, it will make sense for most buyers to future
proof their purchase. For example, even pro videographers that still shoot in SD are mostly buying HD camcorders because they donâ€™t want to spend several thousand dollars for a device that will be out of date in a couple of years. Applying the same logic to the recorder/printer market may accelerate Blu-ray buying faster than I thought