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2013 NAB Show: What's the Next New Thing?: Identifying and Analyzing Technology Trends

3/20/2013 12:59 PM Eastern

As the wheels touch down at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas for this year’s National Association of Broadcasters’ NAB Show, attention is bound to turn to the buzz topic of 2013: 4K acquisition, post and distribution. Like stereoscopic 3D before it, will 4K go from niche to mainstream product—only to return to niche status next year? That’s an unknown, but the consumer electronics industry has already signaled that 4K is the next big thing for them. Despite that endorsement, broadcasters are also trying to deal with the other end of the spectrum, the so-called “second screen” phenomenon. This is the challenge of how to offer unique, complementary content for tablets and mobile devices.

Hitachi will be introducing the SK-HD2200 studio/OB camera and Z-HD6000 CMOS studio camera at the show. Other products on display will include the SK-HD1500 slow-motion HDTV camera and HV-HD33 POV HD camera.

The NAB Show remains the largest international exhibition for all aspects of professional production, post and distribution technology. It comes together in one place, providing attendees an opportunity to kick the tires on new and updated technologies. Veterans of the show—especially those who make buying decisions—view this weeklong affair with a mix of excitement and dread.

According to facility owner Terence Curren of ALPHADOGS in Burbank, “NAB tends to come in two-year cycles. One year they show the next ‘new’ thing, then the next year companies show their workflow solutions for that ‘new’ thing. This year will be all about 4K as the manufacturers shove it down our throats, as they did with 3D a few years back. Then next year will be the way to work with four times the data, with new codecs that squeeze that down to the exact same bandwidth we are at now.”

The 4K Contenders

Sony PMW-F55

Leading the 4K parade will be the camera manufacturers, particularly RED, Sony and Canon. RED pioneered viable 4K production with the RED ONE digital cinema camera and followed that up with the modular EPIC and SCARLET cameras. EPIC is scheduled to get an optional sensor upgrade with the 6K Dragon sensor. For its part, SONY’s high-end F65 was followed by the recent release of the F55 and F5 cameras. Unfortunately RED and Sony arrive at the NAB Show in the midst of a pending lawsuit. RED holds patents based on recording large Bayer-pattern images in motion using data compression schemes. The company has filed a lawsuit against Sony based on the belief that the F65, F55 and F5 infringe on those patents. I doubt this issue will prevent Sony from showing and marketing the cameras. Such litigation tends to drag out and might ultimately be settled out of court. In any case, it will make for some interesting discussions over drinks during the show.

Canon EOS-1D C

CANON, which uses different technology in its EOS C500 and EOS-1D C 4K cameras, is not involved in this lawsuit. Company reps will have a good story to tell with the Cinema EOS line of cameras. The C300 has become quite popular, as has the newer, cheaper C100. The C100, C300 and C500 cameras sport a similar body style, while the 1D C maintains a DSLR form factor. The C500 and 1D C are 4K cameras and rather expensive, so it’s too early to tell whether they will enjoy the same sales success as the other Canon models. The C500 needs an external recorder, such as AJA’s Ki Pro Quad, for its 4K camera raw images, so an investment in the C500 requires adding an extra device. The Canon EOS-1D C records 4K files to onboard media using a Motion JPEG codec. Since the signal isn’t camera raw and Motion JPEG is an easily decoded format for most NLEs, the 1D C may ultimately provide the easiest 4K workflow when you factor in post.

You can’t go anywhere meaningful with 4K content if you don’t have 4K presentation devices. RED aims to fill that void with professional and consumer versions of the REDRAY 4K Cinema Player, which uses a 2.5 MB/s version of the compressed REDCODE codec to deliver true 4K playback. Prototypes were demoed last year, so this year we should see some actual products in the booth. RED has further set up a partnership arrangement with Odemax for 4K content distribution channels.

More Camera Buzz
Not all digital cinema cameras have to be 4K to be successful. ARRI has done quite well with its Alexa camera, which tops out at 2,880 pixels wide when recording uncompressed ARRIRAW. Studio films on which Alexa was the main camera are routinely projected at 4K and even IMAX sizes in movie theaters without complaints. Alexa’s latest firmware update allows recording up to 2K in the Apple ProRes format to onboard SxS media.

Blackmagic Cinema Camera

With all of the 4K buzz, the industry is waiting to see whether ARRI will show a 4K camera of its own. ARRI has certainly come up the winner as the camera of choice for many tent-pole projects, but will that last if they don’t have a 4K model?

Last year’s biggest camera surprise was the 2.5K Blackmagic Cinema Camera from BLACKMAGIC DESIGN. Although the company has had some bumps getting this camera to market in sufficient numbers, I’m sure you’ll see Blackmagic build on the BMCC at this show. Other camera manufacturers that expand the digital cinema camera universe (that may or may not be attending the NAB Show) include Ikonoskop, Digital Bolex, GoPro, Silicon Imaging, Aaton, Nikon, Vision Research and Panasonic.

You can’t mention Blackmagic Design without wondering whose toes they will step on this year by disrupting another segment of the market. Blackmagic’s introduction as a camera manufacturer last year was completely unexpected. Past corporate acquisitions have included Echolab, DaVinci Systems and Teranex. In all cases, Blackmagic has breathed new life into the acquired products, along with significant price reductions. Naturally there’s speculation about who will be in the Blackmagic Design fold in 2013. Forgetting such speculation and focusing on actual products again, Blackmagic’s most touted new product is a DeckLink 4K Extreme I/O card. It supports 4K over Dual Link 3G-SDI.

The Postproduction Free-for-All
Ever since the release of Apple Final Cut Pro X, the post segment has been in flux. Walter Biscardi Jr. of Atlanta-based BISCARDI CREATIVE MEDIA summarizes it this way: “I firmly believe the days of the ‘One NLE to Rule Them All’ are over since the fall of Final Cut Pro 7. Editors who left the Apple platform have discovered a whole new world out there—and in many cases a better world. Apple has certainly made strides with the new X, and the early adopters are reaping the benefits, but for those who have left FCP, there seems to be universal agreement that there isn’t much there to lure them back to Apple. For 2012, Adobe definitely has had momentum on their side, so it will be interesting to see where they go with Premiere Pro in 2013. CS6 is by no means perfect, but with Adobe’s attention to the postproduction market, they are definitely getting the lion’s share of the FCP 7 void.”

Autodesk’s NAB Show demonstrations include a focus on how editors have been using Smoke. There will be four hours of presentations daily from Smoke users, including Jeremy Hunt, the filmmaker behind “Fix It in Post,” which received 20,000 views in its first 48 hours online.

This brings us to the four “A” companies of post: Adobe, Apple, Autodesk and Avid. APPLE hasn’t been an official exhibitor for years but will likely be at the show in “stealth” mode, holding private meetings with journalists, bloggers and key customers. The company did this last year to quietly pre-announce new FCP X features that ended up in the October 10.0.6 update.

ADOBE is bound to have a strong show. Company reps have publicly acknowledged that Adobe products are on an annual development cycle, so expect to see the next version of the Creative Suite. Undoubtedly they will showcase Adobe Anywhere as a shipping product. This is Adobe’s collaborative editing platform based on Premiere Pro. It was previewed at NAB last year and officially announced later in the year. At the 2013 NAB Show we will most likely learn the product specifics, like price, availability and system requirements. In addition, many editors are eager to see better suite integration of the SpeedGrade color correction software. When CS6 was released, Adobe and SpeedGrade engineers had had only a few months to integrate the application after the acquisition by Adobe of the IRIDAS technology. They’ve now had a year to work on it, so expect improvements.

AUTODESK made a splash last year with a redesign of Smoke for the Mac to make the application more “Mac-like.” Smoke 2013 ultimately had a slower rollout than expected but benefitted from a long public beta period. According to Biscardi, “Autodesk showed very strong last year with Smoke 2013 but lost some of their momentum with a delayed release of the final product. I’ll be the first to admit, once we started down the Adobe road, I put Smoke on the back burner because we had to invest so much time transitioning our entire workflow from Apple to Adobe. But I’ll be really curious to see how Autodesk comes out in 2013 to regain that enthusiasm and excitement they started in 2012.”

At the show, Autodesk plans to focus on how editors have been using Smoke. There will be four hours of presentations daily from Smoke users, including Jeremy Hunt (the filmmaker behind “Fix It in Post,” which received 20,000 views in its first 48 hours online). Hunt co-directed the first viral video ever (“405”). Autodesk will also showcase its other creative tools, including Flame Premium, with customers who are already using the Flame 20th Anniversary edition in production. Finally, check out the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites (animation software, including Maya and 3ds Max).

At NAB, EditShare is upgrading its line of tapeless workflow products, including EditShare 7, EditShare Field 2, Flow 3 with Air Flow and Flow Automation, Geevs Sports and Geevs Post. Also debuting at NAB will be a Mac OS X version of Lightworks, EditShare’s free, professional nonlinear editor that also runs on Linux and Windows platforms.

AVID enters the NAB Show once again with a new CEO at the helm, as board member Louis Hernandez Jr. takes over for the departing Gary Greenfield. It’s unclear how this transition will affect Avid’s diverse portfolio of audio, video, news and graphics products. In the past year Avid shed the Pinnacle consumer products division, so it won’t be unexpected if Avid enters the NAB Show with a more streamlined product family. Or will the changes be purely cosmetic? The last management change brought revamped branding that featured a weird mechanical head, and then a full-on logo change a year later.

One highlight of the Avid booth each year is the series of presentations by prominent industry pros, including Oscar and Emmy-winning editors and such crowd-pleasers as director Kevin Smith. Specifics weren’t announced in time for this article, but these presentations are always a great way to see how the highest-level users tackle the same problems you do.

Grass Valley will show how “nonlinear production”—the idea of a single collaborative platform providing a true “create once, publish everywhere” environment—is supported by its new and updated Live Production products, including GV STRATUS, EDIUS XS, EDIUS Elite and LDX Series camera systems.

Editing isn’t only about the “A” companies, of course. GRASS VALLEY has enjoyed success with its EDIUS 6.5 editor, thanks to an industry in transition and the application’s dexterity with a wide range of native formats and codecs. The STRATUS workgroup platform and EDIUS editor appeal to broadcasters and provide turnkey solutions.

Another company with strong ties to broadcast as well as film post is QUANTEL. The company will present Pablo Rio v2, its software solution. Rio—an acronym for “real time, interactive and open”—has been ported to a 64-bit version that runs on turnkey, off-the-shelf PC units with multiple NVIDIA GPU cards. A new 4K output option is capable of supporting Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) and 4K (4096 x 2160) at 24 and 25 fps over quad 3G-SDI. New v2 features include support for the Sony F65, F55 and F5 and Canon C500 cameras.

Look for the Smaller Productivity Items
Beyond the big name vendors, it pays to look a little harder to find the lesser known items at the show. The best at that is BOB ZELIN, an independent engineering consultant. According to Zelin, “Axle Video is the number one buzz asset management solution for NAB 2013. It’s the top hit of NAB 2013 for me, even before the show starts. Because I see the demise of VTRs approaching, I will pay much more attention to LTO archive, particularly larger archive solutions, like the Power Cache from Cache-A, the new Argis from TOLIS Group and whatever Storage DNA has to offer. I’m not only paying attention to the AJA Ki Pro series and Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Studio Pro, but also to higher-end products like the Cinedeck. These will not only replace Sony and Panasonic VTRs, but probably the EVS recorders in trucks.” Other asset management, scheduling and facility management software vendors include Square Box Systems (CatDV), Farmers Wife, ScheduALL and Xytech Systems.

Sound Devices will showcase an update to its PIX 240 and PIX 240i production video recorders, enabling them to record 12-bit, 4:4:4 content from video sources over 3G-SDI in Apple ProRes 4444. Additionally, the rack-mounted PIX 260i file-based audio/video recorder offers 32 tracks of audio record/playback as well as control functionality from browser-capable computers and tablets.

Audio tends to be short-changed in video articles, but the NAB Show is a great place to shop for audio products too. At NAMM (the primary music industry trade show), AVID launched the Pro Series line of AAX Native and AAX DSP plug-ins, which support the new Pro Tools plug-in architecture. These will likely be demoed in the Pro Tools section of the Avid booth. If you haven’t been paying attention (and most video editors haven’t), there are new laws and guidelines in the United States and EU countries related to loudness specifications. For U.S. broadcasters, that’s the CALM Act. NAB is the place to find tools that make compliance easier. One such vendor is NUGEN AUDIO, which makes real-time plug-ins for audio limiting and monitoring. NuGen has already forged a relationship with Quantel. NuGen’s VisLM loudness metering software is available as part of the v5.2 software for Quantel editing products.

The NAB Show will give attendees a peek at the advance of new technologies. For instance, where are vendors like AJA, Blackmagic Design, Matrox and others headed in their support of USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt? Are these technologies reaching ubiquity on both Mac and Windows platforms? Will we see more professional use of the all-in-one computers, like the Apple iMac and HP Z1? What applications are there for tablets?

Matrox MXO2 Dock

Not all of these questions will be answered, of course, but certainly manufacturers like MATROX have embraced Thunderbolt with products like the MXO2 Dock. From a single Thunderbolt cable, users can connect an MXO2 I/O device, plus add multiple peripherals. A gigabit Ethernet port, one USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports are also provided.

There are currently three NLE applications available for the iPad (that I know of), but the one getting the most buzz among pro editors is TOUCHEDIT. It’s unlikely that TouchEdit will have its own booth, but products like this often share space with some of the smaller manufacturers or in partner pavilions. Keep your eyes peeled.

The NAB Show is an opportunity to investigate the newest in graphics tools and effects plug-ins. Don’t miss BORIS FX, which recently released the Final Cut Pro X/Motion 5 version of the Boris Continuum Complete 8 effects package. Its more than 200 filters include extruded text, particles and cinematic effects. New Final Cut Pro X templates give editors easy-to-use glows, lights, particles and tilt-shift effects. Editors are also able to create their own FCP X templates in Motion 5.

The I-MOVIX X10 system is able to deliver a continuous real-time output of up to 250 fps at native HD resolution and image quality. For sports productions requiring higher frame rates, the X10+ system can operate in an extreme slow motion mode at frame rates up to 2,600 fps in 1080i/50 or up to 5,600 fps in 720p/60 with instant replay.

Many of the smaller plug-in developers can be found in an area known as the Plug-in Pavilion. One new exhibitor this year is RAMPANT DESIGN TOOLS, a developer of royalty-free stock elements such as graphic effects and element movie files, sound effects and After Effects templates.

Lastly, don’t forget that the NAB Show is a place to learn and to have some of the best in-person interaction with pros from all over the world. For official NAB members, there are numerous educational and business sessions. FUTURE MEDIA CONCEPTS partners with the NAB Show to put on Post|Production World, a series of concurrent software training classes. NAB, FMC and some manufacturers sponsor various keynote addresses by industry luminaries, many of which are open to all attendees. Past speakers include Steve Wozniak, Rob Legato, James Cameron and Kevin Smith. Popular social events include the Media Motion Ball and the Las Vegas SuperMeet, not to mention a slew of customer parties hosted by manufacturers at clubs, restaurants and hotel ballrooms all over town.

Whether you go to find the latest and greatest in technology, or just to hook up with friends from around the world you see in person only that one time a year, the NAB Show is the place to be in April.

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