NAB Show 2009 Through My Ears, Eyes, and Sore Feet, Part 1
I spent four days at NAB last month, and this month I''ll describe what I learned in the key areas that I follow. In the first installment, I''ll describe camcorders and the editing market; in the second batch encoding, disc reproduction, and that all-important “other” category. Note that I didn''t meet with every company in every space, so my goal isn''t to be comprehensive. Rather, I''ll pass along what I learned and saw, and when appropriate, direct you to other resources to complete the picture. (Check out my blog posts from the show.)
Let''s work in alphabetical order here, starting with Adobe, which previewed a collaborative scriptwriting program called Adobe Story that will debut in “CSNext,” no date announced or implied during my interview.
Why a screenwriting program? Because most serious productions have a screenplay that contains the dialog and descriptive information about scene location and the associated action. Scripts in Adobe Story get converted to metadata that Adobe can use all the way through to the Flash Player to help content owners make their videos more accessible to viewers and to help monetize the content.
Once it's in the Adobe Story, Adobe can also export a shot list into Adobe OnLocation, which you can then use to capture your clips. No word on whether the CSNext version of OnLocation will let you print a shot list, but the feature definitely has my vote. For more on Adobe Story, check out Craig Erpelding''s interview with Adobe''s Marc Randall.
Also at the show, Adobe announced version 4.1 of Adobe Premiere Pro, a free update available this month. The update improves compatibility with Red Digital Cinema cameras, including control over RAW settings when used with an updated Red plug-in, which also should be available this month from red.com. Also new is the ability to import Avid Media Composer projects without recapturing media files, and improved compatibility with AJA, Blackmagic, and Matrox video cards.
As you probably know, Apple didn''t exhibit at the show, but the big buzz about Apple was the timing of the next release of Final Cut Studio. The news I heard, through about 10 degrees of separation, is that the manuals have at least been started, indicating that a) Apple will ship an update to Final Cut Studio, b) major new features have been identified, and c) that the interface is reasonably stable and locked down. Reading these tea leaves seems to point toward a late summer, early fall announcement, but who knows? I did get a nice laugh (complete with European accent) from my press contact when I asked her about the release, so no help there, but none was really expected. On a positive note, I did score a new Nehalem-based Mac Pro from Apple, which I''ll report about in next month''s affordable HD.
Avid was back at NAB, but I didn''t get a chance to meet with them. (See Avid''s cool new logo and read the impressions of Mix''s Kevin Becka.) As the NLE used for the fantastic Slumdog Millionaire, Avid did have a nice story to tell at NAB, which you can read about here.
Media 100 released Media 100 Suite, which includes long-awaited multicam editing, support for the Matrox MXO2 and several AJA video I/O cards, and a new voiceover tool. On the Boris FX front (Boris FX and Media 100 have common ownership), Boris Continuum Complete ($995) is now available within the native interface for Adobe After Effects, Apple Final Cut Pro/Motion, Avid, and Autodesk Sparks. In my annual meeting with Boris Yamnitsky (yes, that Boris), I saw a demo of the After Effects version.
As Yamnitsky explained, while After Effects has a wonderful development environment for 3D, it presents most objects in 2D, flat on the screen, where in real life, all objects have thickness. The Continuum plug-in presents the objects in 3D, where they can be manipulated via After Effects native controls such as motion, camera view, and lighting. This is the best of both worlds for After Effects users, since they get new 3D objects and effects with minimal interface-related learning curve.
My favorite NLE-related announcement at the show, however, came from (are you sitting down?) Sony Creative Software, in the form of the Vegas Pro Production Assistant software plug-in, this year''s top candidate for the “functionality most likely to be copied by other NLE companies and then touted as a completely new and original idea” award. At a high level, the Production Assistant is a batch-production tool with a diverse range of highly useful automatable functions.
For example, suppose you had to add a logo to 10 captured video files, then output in three streaming formats. In Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro, you''d have to load each video file by hand, add the logo, export the file into Compressor or Adobe Media Encoder and then drag in the presets, 10 separate times. In Production Assistant, you define the tasks once, load all 10 files, then press the magic go button, and let it do its thing.
Production Assistant can also automate normalizing audio tracks, color correction and other filters, audio-ducking functions (where the Assistant automatically lowers the volume of your main audio track any time there''s audio on the narration track), photomontage creation, lower-thirds generation, and more. Overall, it''s a totally must-have tool for current Vegas users, and if your current job description includes lots of repetitive work, it could be enough to think about picking up Vegas, even if just to automate these recurring tasks. Vegas Pro Production Assistant also works with Vegas Pro 8, and it will cost $169.
Sony also debuted some nice additions to Vegas Pro, including enhanced format support (native XDCAM and AVCHD editing, as well as support for the Red R3D format), support for 4K workflows and gigapixel image sizes, six new video effects, additional customizable layouts, and new keyboard shortcuts. Vegas Pro is still the only major NLE that comes in a 64-bit version, which has to make a difference when producing multilayer projects with extreme HD formats.
Not much to offer here, since it wasn''t a prime year for camera announcements, and I arrived after the main flurry of camera related press events. I did meet with Panasonic, and saw its new AG-HMC40, a compact AVCHD recorder that should ship in August 2009 for less than $3,000 street. You can read more about that camcorder here, including the 10.6-megapixel still images the camcorder can capture.
The camera I really want to play with, though, is the AG-HPX300 ($10,700), which shipped in March and debuts two technologies to watch for in future Panasonic camcorders.
The first is the 1/3in. CMOS imagers that capture frames at full resolution. I loved the AG-HPX170, but the camera''s CCDs captured at 960x540 and then scaled to full-res HD using pixel shifting. As a result, the image was never as crisp as those captured by the Canon XH A1, which captures at full 1920x1080 res.
Second is the AVC-Intra technology, which I''ve never tested before, but should produce better quality than the DV-like compression technology used in DVCPRO HDthough at 100Mbps, it''s close to 5X the data rate of AVCHD. As a consequence, you need P2 technology, which is prohibitively pricey for many producers though Maxell''s entry into the P2 market has to be a positive thing there. Still, AVC-Intra should be the absolute highest-quality digital format that I''ve ever tested, which definitely makes the HPX300 worth a look.
I didn''t meet with JVC, but its GY-HM700U and GY-HM100U camcorders and especially the new 4K concept camera and monitor look exciting. You can watch a FreshDV video of these devices here. I didn''t meet with Sony, but you can read about the company's announcements here. I actually had a meeting scheduled with Canon, but the rep at the booth said there was nothing new in the company's camcorder line, so they sent me on my way.
That''s it for now; check back in a couple of weeks for the exciting news from the codec and enterprise encoding market.