NAB 2006 Pick Hit Awards
Coming into NAB 2006, nobody was expecting much in the way of blockbuster products. After all, most — if not all — NLEs out there already handle HDV and HD editing, and the big camcorder manufacturers had put out their groundbreaking HD and HDV cameras in 2005. Apple wasn't even hosting a press event on the Sunday before the show opened.
So it was heartening to see so much great technology debut even after the tidal wave of innovation over the past couple of years. Rather than rest on their laurels, manufacturers found the more subtle niches within the market that had yet to be served by a product. That added up to a lot of new infrastructure gear and camera support products, along with significant new cameras and surprising software releases. Our judges had no problems finding a full slate of worthy products — the real challenge was paring the list down to a manageable number.
Our judges look for products that show significant technological innovation, while promising to have a positive, practical impact on the day-to-day professional lives of digital content producers, and the following list certainly reflects that. (Check out digitalcontentproducer.com for complete judging criteria.) Thank you to each of our judges, and congratulations to the winners of Digital Content Producer's NAB 2006 Pick Hit awards.
By now you've heard a lot about “workflow,” in these pages and elsewhere. That's because NLEs and graphics software can now boast universally formidable feature sets and capabilities. The remaining question is, “How can a program make your job easier?” Adobe makes a strong effort in that direction with its Production Studio suite, which includes the latest versions of After Effects, Premiere Pro, Audition, Encore DVD, Photoshop, and Illustrator. Of note is Bridge, commonly called a “file browser on steroids,” which launches from within any program or independently, and Dynamic Link, which allows users to move AE comps directly into Premiere Pro and Encore DVD without having to render them first. Powerful stuff. “Production Studio has the best inter-application integration of all suites,” says Pick Hits judge Jan Ozer. ▸ Currently available. Price: $1,699 for Premium and $1,199 for Standard | www.adobe.com
If you've got an Intel-based Mac running OS X Tiger (10.4.6) and an installation disc for Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2, you can use Boot Camp to run Windows XP and all Windows-only apps on your shiny silver machine. This certainly opens up a lot of video production opportunities. For instance, an editor can take an Adobe Premiere project home from the office and open it up on his MacBook Pro. At NAB, Kodak debuted its latest previz software, Kodak Look Manager System 2.0, on a 15in. MacBook Pro running Windows. “Boot Camp relieves small software companies of the need to create and market dual versions of popular specialized apps, and, conversely, opens wide the full field of available software to the end user,” says judge D.W. Leitner. You'll never again have to ask, “Have you got that in a Mac?” ▸ Currently available. Free (Windows XP not included) | www.apple.com
At an NAB when the company announced a wide-ranging asset management system (Interplay), Avid turned at least as many heads with this announcement: Media Composer on a laptop. That's what editors get with version 2.5, a software-only version of the full MC program, for both Mac and PC. “By uncoupling Media Composer from its hardware,” says judge Jeff Sauer, “Avid is allowing what is arguably the industry's standard interface to be used by more editors, both in the studio and out.” Media Composer software leverages the multi-core and GPU power available to today's computer platforms, and supports full-screen DVI output of both SD and HD material, which benefits software-only clients especially. ▸ Available this month. Price: $4,995 for software-only configuration
For those working with the new Macs and PCs with PCIe buses, “this card does it all,” says judge Steve Mullen. It's a laundry-list I/O device that rounds up all the capabilities of Blackmagic's DeckLink line in one card — at a very affordable price. Just a partial sampling of that laundry list: 4:2:2 HD/SD-SDI input; 2X HD/SD-SDI outputs; 12-bit analog component input (this switches to composite or S-Video); 14-bit analog component output (again, switches to composite or S-Video); two channels each of balanced XLR audio input and output; two channels each of AES/EBU audio input and output; and genlock reference input. The DeckLink HD Extreme features 12 independently regulated power supplies to eliminate inteference from the computer's power, and it features wide-band filtering to help eliminate noise and SDI jitter. ▸ Currently available. Price: $995 | www.blackmagic-design.com
For leading-edge producers looking for a solution to editing 24p HDV, they've learned not to look within their favorite NLE (at least not at press time). For that reason, the Pick Hits judges decided to award Cineform for being well ahead of the curve — its Aspect HD addresses that very pressing issue as a Premiere Pro plug-in. Besides supporting JVC's true 24p HDV, Aspect HD (now in version 4.0.3) also supports the Canon XL H1's “24F” progressive mode and the Sony HVR-Z1U CineFrame modes. “Aspect HD makes HDV editing feel responsive, even on moderately powered computers,” says judge Jan Ozer. ▸ Currently available. Price: $499 | www.cineform.com
In an IT world, systems are not one-size-fits-all; they're scaled and tailored to suit each company's needs. With its new Infinity system, Grass Valley is pushing cameras in that direction. The Infinity Digital Media Camcorder supports recording to Iomega REV and REV PRO removable hard disks, as well as to professional-grade CompactFlash media. In terms of formats, it offers 1080i50/60, 720p60/50, 625i50, and 525i60. Infinity acquires video in several flavors: DV25, MPEG-2 for SD and HD, and supports the versatile JPEG 2000 intraframe compression scheme. “Infinity's open-source approach obviates the need for proprietary media and storage solutions,” says Pick Hits judge Barry Braverman. ▸ Currently available. Price: $20,000
The PTM stands for “personal test and measurement,” and you couldn't imagine a more fitting form factor to achieve that than the PDA-size PTM-305. Certainly a lot smaller than a rack of gear, it's got a 320×240 LCD touchscreen display with an interface that's easy to navigate. But the device is not just small; it's also quite powerful. The Harris Videotek PTM-305 features a video test signal generator, a color monitor, a waveform/vectorscope, and an audio analyzer/monitor. There are two video inputs that can be active simultaneously. One's for monitoring composite analog NTSC and PAL signals, and the other is for monitoring SD-SDI signals formatted in SMPTE 259M with embedded audio. ▸ Currently available. Price: $1,995 | www.broadcast.harris.com/videotek
Litepanels has put together a considerable streak of groundbreaking lighting products based on LED technology, and with its new Ringlite Mini, that streak continues. All the benefits of LED technology — low power consumption, negligible heat generation, and even dimming with no shift in color temperature — are there in the lens-mounted Ringlite Mini. It's a small system at 3.5lbs., 2in. thick, and 10.5in. in diameter. That adds up to a low-profile lighting solution, available in 5600K and 3200K models that can sit very close to a subject. Lighting is divided into three vertical channels of output, each controlled by an independent circuit and easily dimmable via an integrated control knob. “The system mounts conveniently to the camera lens, so this is one unit we're actually likely to use,” says judge Barry Braverman. ▸ Currently available. Price: $2,995 | www.litepanels.com
This aluminum adapter box eliminates one of the main bottlenecks associated with editing HDV: rendering for output. The Matrox MXO inputs the DVI signal ordinarily sent to an Apple Cinema Display and instantly converts it to HD-SDI with embedded audio, or HD/SD analog component with unbalanced audio. This can then be recorded in realtime. The MXO also downconverts an HD signal to SD for SD-SDI, Y/C, and composite output. The DVI input signal is also looped through the MXO for the usual viewing on your Apple Cinema Display. “If this doesn't cause you to leap to your feet and shout, ‘Hallelujah,’ then you haven't spent two days rendering for output a 90-minute HDV edit in Final Cut,” says judge D.W. Leitner. “It's a godsend to editors.” ▸ Available this month. Price: $995
Calling it the “first compact snorkel lens system,” P+S Technik introduced the Skater Scope at NAB 2006. Mountable on the company's Skater dolly, the Skater Scope is a precision-built compact periscope lens system that works with any 2/3in. camera. A tilt element can be adjusted from -105 degrees to +105 degrees, and the lens block pivots a full 360. There's also unlimited optical image rotation. The Skater Scope promises to expand DPs' creative freedom. “The big advantage to shooters is the ability to obtain hitherto unobtainable camera angles without the need for a bulky, light-robbing prism,” says judge Barry Braverman. ▸ Available this month. Price: About $30,000 | www.pstechnik.de
Last year's HVX200 introduction was a true stunner, but the newly introduced AJ-HDX900 is where all of Panasonic's latest imaging and camera technology comes to fruition. For that reason, the HD version of the versatile workhorse SDX900 is exciting, especially at a sub-$30K price point. The 2/3in. 16:9 chips offer formidable low-light sensitivity. The HDX900 captures images to DVCPRO HD tape with 720 lines at 60, 50, 30, 25, and 24 progressive frames per second. 1080 recording is supported at 60i, 50i, 30p, 25p, 24p, and 24pA. FireWire is built-in, as is a standard HD-SDI output for monitoring. A built-in downconverter produces an SD output. ▸ Available in July. Price: $26,500 (plus viewfinder) | www.panasonic.com/broadcast
Reference monitors aren't the “sexiest” products — except when they are. The Panasonic BT-LH2600W is a 26in. wide-screen monitor. Though it's not 1080 native (it's 1366×768), it can zoom in to show “Pixel to Pixel” mode on 1080-line material. It's got a built-in waveform monitor, split-screen and freeze-frame modes for critical analysis, and SD/HD-SDI auto-sensing inputs. (It also inputs YPbPr component, PC RGB, Y/C and composite video.) Audio levels can be superimposed, and “safe area” frame markers are available for 16:9 and 4:3 modes. “The monitor shows that the image quality gap between LCD and CRT is closing,” says judge Jeff Sauer, “including for the most discerning eyes in the business.” ▸ Available this month. Price: $4,950 | www.panasonic.com/broadcast
Five years ago, our judges awarded the Pioneer DVR-A03 DVD burner a Pick Hit for its revolutionary $995 price point. That price tag shows up on the company's new BDR-101A, but this time around, we're rewarding the disc-recording drive for its technology. The BDR-101A is the industry's first Blu-ray computer drive to ship, and it brings high-def DVD production to the level of the independent producer. It's also great for archiving — the burner creates 25GB discs with its short-wavelength blue lasers. The Pioneer drive reads BD-ROM/R/RE discs as well as DVD-ROM/R/RW and DVD+R/RW discs. It writes BD-R/RE at 2X and DVDs at 4X (rewritable) and 8X. It is rare that avant-garde technology is so affordable. ▸ Currently available. Price: $995 | www.pioneerelectronics.com
As IT creeps into the broadcast realm, many facilities and manufacturers see this as an opportunity, and certainly not a reason to panic. SDLT 600A is the first IT data tape drive enhanced specifically for professional video use, according to Quantum. DLTxchange technology makes the drive MXF-aware — this puts important metadata at users' fingertips (over Ethernet), such as timecode access to shots. That way, there's no need to view a whole archived video clip to get at the desired portion. The digital linear tape drive offers recording and retrieval at rates up to 288Mbps. In an archive HD eats up about five times more data than SD does, so big repositories are key. Super DLTtape II media cartridges hold 300GB, which is good for more than six hours of 100Mbps HD content. ▸ Currently available. Price: $7,950 for tabletop version and $8,550 for rackmount (both include one media cartridge)
Australia-based Ricsonix makes a splash with a wireless audio receiver/transmitter pair. Appropriately dubbed “Blue,” the wireless system relies on a Bluetooth-style technology to send CD-quality audio (16-bit, 48kHz; analog or AES digital) from a tiny transmitter, which accepts any lavalier mic, to a nub-like receiver that plugs into an XLR input. Range is claimed to be 10m or more, and the Blue system uses “Adaptive Frequency Hopping” technology to help eliminate interference. ▸ Available later this year. Price: About $1,300
Sony takes its nonlinear acquisition technology into the HD realm with the two debut XDCAM HD models, the F330 and F350. Both cameras have 1/2in., 1440×1180 CCDs. Disc-based acquisition of 1080i HD video is possible at variable bit rates (18Mbps and 35Mbps) to allow more content to be recorded to the 23GB blue-laser discs. Constant-bit-rate HD recording is also possible at 25Mbps. The F350 shoots in one-frame increments from 4fps to 60fps, which means 2.5X slow-motion effects if you're shooting 60fps capture for 23.98fps recording. (Both models allow 24p recording.) “For many stations and news outlets, XDCAM HD will surely be the name of the game for HD news acquisition,” says judge Barry Braverman. ▸ Currently available. Price: $25,800 for F350; $16,800 for F330 | www.sony.com/professional
The LCD Hood solves an extremely nagging problem for shooters: How are you supposed to view the LCD screen of a handheld camcorder in bright-sunlight shooting conditions? Consider that on many shoots these days, guerrilla and otherwise, that flip-out screen is a shooter's only reference to what's being captured. Century's new LCD Hood fits most camcorders that have a 3.5in. LCD screen. It's better than the soft hoods of yesterday, because the rugged, all-metal LCD Hood doesn't flop around. ▸ Currently available. Price: $60 | www.centuryoptics.com