ARCHIVE: My Last Posting of NAB 2008

NAB Show 2008Back 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 costs $2,495, an incredibly low price point for software that has been improved every year since its introduction 19 years ago.

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.

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…

Matrox MXO2This looks very useful, and while it can’t do everything that AJA’s I/O box can, it’s a lot cheaper: Matrox‘s MXO2 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 well-thought-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.

qQuantel 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.

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.

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The editors of Digital Content Producer and millimeter post live from the NAB Show as the news happens. Check back several times a day for the latest industry news, reports from press conferences, and product introductions.

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