The Force of 4K, Cult of the Cloud: 2012 NAB Show in Review
The theme for this year’s NAB Show was best defined by Sony’s banner: “Believe Beyond HD.” 4K-resolution products generated the buzz that bumped stereo 3D from the limelight. Many of the products had been announced, released or hinted at prior to the NAB Show, but Las Vegas provided an opportunity to see, touch and comprehend.
The 4K push, started by RED Digital Cinema, was joined by Sony, JVC and Canon. Even PANASONIC announced a future 4K version of its AVC-Ultra codec, but no production-ready product was shown. JVC presented the GY-HMQ10 handheld camcorder, which is capable of recording 3840 x 2160 images at 24p, 50p and 60p using four 32 GB SDHC cards. For its part, SONY doubled down on its development in cine-style cameras—highlighted by the F65 and F3—by introducing the NEX-FS700U. It features a 4K sensor and super-slo-mo speeds, but actual external 4K recording will be enabled at a future date.
CANON came to the show with a much clearer focus on the indie filmmaker. The portion of its camera line intended for the more demanding video professional has been split off into the Cinema EOS series, which includes the EOS C300, EOS C500 and EOS-1D C cameras and Cinema EOS lenses. The EOS C300 was announced a few months ago and has only recently been reaching users, but both the EOS C500 and EOS-1D C were unveiled at the start of the show. The C300 (HD recording) and C500 (external 4K recording) share a similar form factor, while the EOS-1D C (onboard 4K recording) looks more like Canon’s other EOS digital still cameras. The C300/C500 may be purchased with either an EF or PL mount, while the EOS-1D C is designed for EF lenses. The C500 can deliver raw signals to an external recorder while simultaneously writing lower-resolution files to onboard CF cards. The EOS-1D C records a 4K 4:2:2 Motion JPEG signal directly to the onboard CF cards. Canon also showed a large prototype 4K display.
Naturally the folks who started the 4K revolution—RED DIGITAL CINEMA—weren’t resting on their laurels. RED came to the show with EPIC and SCARLET cameras and announced a sensor upgrade program for EPIC owners, scheduled for later this year. The new Dragon sensor for the EPIC camera delivers 6K resolution for a $6K upgrade price.
RED is heavily invested in the stereo 3D world, with Peter Jackson’s RED-shot The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey slated for release this December. (The Hobbit films—The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: There and Back Again—are being filmed back to back in a huge stereo 3D production in New Zealand employing a lot of EPIC cameras shooting at 48 fps.)
Blackmagic Design’s Blackmagic Cinema Camera with handles
In the booth, RED highlighted its technology innovations by screening “Loom,” a stereoscopic short film starring Giovanni Ribisi, directed by Luke Scott (Ridley’s son) and lensed by Dariusz Wolski (Prometheus, The Rum Diary, Pirates of the Caribbean). The production employed EPIC cameras mounted on 3ality Technica Atom stereoscopic camera rigs. The sci-fi short was played from a preproduction version of the REDray player and a prototype version of RED’s forthcoming laser-based digital theater projector capable of delivering 4K resolution per eye. (Only 2K per eye was enabled at the show.)
Despite all of these fine offerings from established camera manufacturers, BLACKMAGIC DESIGN created the surprise camera news of the show with its Blackmagic Cinema Camera. It’s a $3K camera with 2.5K resolution and 13 stops of dynamic range. By using a sensor with 2.5K resolution, Blackmagic Design reaps the benefit of oversampling to generate a clean, anti-aliased HD image. The form factor is somewhat boxy—almost like a Polaroid Land camera. In essence the engineers combined a sensor with an EF-compatible lens mount, the guts of a HyperDeck Shuttle recorder and a touchscreen for menu and viewfinder. Thankfully this camera was developed with post in mind—that is, it requires no new, proprietary codec. It captures ProRes, DNxHD or uncompressed 12-bit CinemaDNG (an open raw format) signals to an onboard SSD (solid-state drive). The camera includes a copy of Resolve and UltraScope with purchase. You can connect the camera to any computer using Thunderbolt (such as a 17” MacBook Pro) to display the video and waveforms via UltraScope on the laptop monitor.
Processing and Recording
Along with its camera news was Blackmagic’s re-introduction of the Teranex 2D and 3D processors. Prior to that company’s acquisition by Blackmagic Design last year, the top-of-the-line Teranex image processor loaded with options was around $90K. Now that Grant Petty’s wizards have had a go at it, the newest versions in a nicely redesigned form factor are $2K for 2D and $4K for 3D and 4:4:4 processing. Both connect via SDI, HDMI and/or Thunderbolt and include UltraScope for measuring levels on a Thunderbolt-connected computer.
AJA Ki Pro Quad
And if you think free (or close to it) stifles R&D, take a look at the streamlined DaVinci Resolve interface that debuted in version 9.0. Blackmagic’s designers cleaned up much of the original interface and made it less “Unix-like.” All of the control pages have been redesigned, including more logical layouts for media I/O.
There was a lot of buzz about 4K cameras, but you need to record that image to something. Enter AJA—not with a camera but with the Ki Pro Quad. That’s right—a 4K version of the Mini already designed with Canon’s C500 4K camera in mind. It records 4K ProRes 4444 files along with raw support and onboard debayering. AJA is also building up its Thunderbolt portfolio with the Io XT and T-Tap, a monitoring-only Thunderbolt-to-SDI/HDMI output adapter for less than $250.
AJA has had great success with the Ki Pro recorder line. To keep up with the industry’s move away from VTRs, AJA introduced Ki Pro Rack, a 1 RU rack-mount version that’s suited for broadcasters. It includes two hard drives, RS-422 machine control and records to the Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHD codecs. As it is a hybrid device, users can access video through standard component, SDI or HDMI connectors or as files using Ethernet file transfer.
The NLE news was dominated by ADOBE’s reveal of Creative Suite 6 (with Premiere Pro CS6) and Autodesk’s redesigned Smoke 2013. Adobe has been phasing in its CS6 news, offering online sneak peeks prior to the NAB Show and then revealing the software at the show, yet holding off on release dates and price info until later. (Adobe Creative Suite 6 software and the associated Adobe Creative Cloud subscription service became available on May 7 and May 11, respectively.) Adobe’s video products are available as single applications or as part of the Master Collection and/or Production Premium bundles. The software may be purchased as a perpetual license or via the Creative Cloud subscription service.
Adobe Prelude CS6 logging interface
Adobe’s Production Premium CS6 bundle is the most attractive for video professionals. It includes Prelude, Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop Extended, SpeedGrade, Audition, Encore, Adobe Media Encoder, Illustrator, Bridge and Flash Professional. With CS6, Adobe has reconfigured Premiere Pro to be a better fit for editors with a Final Cut or Media Composer background. The interface is cleaner and more streamlined. Features including rolling shutter correction and the Warp Stabilizer have been added to Premiere from After Effects. SpeedGrade adds a high-end color correction package complete with a “Send To” link from inside Premiere Pro. SpeedGrade can also be used to generate look files readable in Photoshop and After Effects. Overall, there’s greater use of GPU acceleration throughout, and Adobe has added a Mercury Transmit feature for better integration of third-party capture cards across all of its applications.
AVID’s news was related mainly to broadcast and storage, since Media Composer version 6 was launched months before the show and was already old news to the post crowd by April. To guarantee some buzz, Avid announced a short-term Symphony cross-grade deal that lasts until June 15. FCP (excluding X), Media Composer and Xpress Pro owners can move into Symphony for $999. This is the most-bang-for-the-buck NLE available if you take advantage of the cross-grade. Symphony offers more advanced color correction compared to Media Composer, and this package includes a full set of third-party software, including the Boris Continuum Complete 8 filters, Avid FX (Boris RED), Sorenson Squeeze and Avid DVD.
An interesting sidebar is that both FILMLIGHT and EYEON SOFTWARE are developing plug-in products for Avid software. FilmLight’s Baselight color correction system, which was recently released in plug-in form for FCP 7, is being expanded to hosts including The Foundry’s Nuke and Avid Media Composer under the product name of Baselight Editions.
Eyeon’s Fusion software is the best and fastest feature film-grade compositor available on Windows. Eyeon is using Connection (a software bridge) to send Media Composer, Symphony or DS timeline clips to Fusion, which permits both applications to stay open. If you bought Symphony and added Baselight and Fusion, the combination becomes one of the most powerful NLEs on the market.
Autodesk Smoke 2013
AUTODESK Smoke 2013 sports a complete Mac-centric overhaul to turn it into an all-in-one “super editor” that still feels comfortable for those used to FCP or Media Composer. After a couple of years of feedback from trial and paying customers of its $15K Mac product, Autodesk refreshed the application to make it look and behave more like other Mac editing software. Media ingest is easier thanks to a drag-and-drop-compatible MediaHub page, and in-timeline editing and effects are now as easy as in other desktop NLEs. The workflow is well organized, yet you still have the full power of Smoke’s node-based effects compositor in ConnectFX. The price has been dropped to $3,495 and the hardware requirement lightened, which Autodesk accomplished by adding a rendering option that lets the editor process intermediate files to compressed formats like ProRes instead of uncompressed RGB DPX files. After playing with Smoke 2013 at the booth, I’d say that the learning curve has been significantly reduced. Autodesk will roll out pre-release trial versions this summer, with final release slated for fall.
4K production brings 4K editing to mind, but there was very little of that being demonstrated on the show floor. To stay 4K throughout, your edit options include Apple Final Cut Pro X, Avid DS, Grass Valley EDIUS, Autodesk Smoke, Adobe Premiere Pro, Quantel Pablo and SGO Mistika. QUANTEL, which often gets left out of these desktop NLE discussions, showed a software-only version of Pablo running on a tweaked PC. It uses four high-end NVIDIA cards for interactive performance, and there’s also a new, smaller Neo Nano control surface. Although pricing is lower, at $50K for the software alone, it’s still the premium brand. Even so, Quantel is also responding to the need to leverage lower-cost general computing technology. At the NAB Show Quantel announced a new broadcast architecture that uses COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) storage for fast-turnaround workflows.
APPLE doesn’t officially exhibit at trade shows anymore, but company reps were still at the show, flying under the radar. In a series of small, private meetings with professional customers and media, Apple was making its case for Final Cut Pro X. Walking around the NAB Show floor, I saw at least a dozen booths that displayed FCP X in some fashion, using it to demonstrate interoperability between their product and X. These included Autodesk, Quantel, AJA, Blackmagic Design, Matrox, MOTU, Tools on Air, Dashwood and Sony—not to mention resellers and storage vendors.
SONY has announced the new XDCAM plug-in for X and compatibility of its XDCAM Browser software. DASHWOOD CINEMA SOLUTIONS was showing the only stereo 3D package that’s ready for Final Cut Pro X. Of course, we can’t live without EDLs, so developer XMIL WORKFLOW TOOLS (which wasn’t exhibiting at the NAB Show) announced EDL-X, an FCP XML-to-EDL translator that’s expected in Apple’s App Store by May. The biggest FCP X news was another peek behind the curtain at some of the features to be included in the next FCP X update, coming later this year. These include multichannel audio editing tools, dual viewers, MXF plug-in support and RED camera support.
Quantel QTube cloud-based media workflow
There’s plenty of talk about “editing in the cloud,” and the common catchphrase I’ve heard is, “You could replace your microwave truck with a Starbucks.” In other words, cloud-enabled devices will let you edit anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection. There were three companies at the show with viable cloud solutions for post and news: Avid, Quantel and Aframe.
In 2010 AVID presented a main stage technology preview, which has come to fruition this year as Interplay Sphere. The user in the field is connected to his or her home base storage and servers over various public networks. The edit software in Interplay Sphere is a version of the NewsCutter/Media Composer interface that can mix local, full-res media with proxy media, which in turn is linked to the corresponding full-res media at the home base. When the edit is done, the sequence list is “published” to the server and local, full-res media is uploaded back to the home base (trimmed clips only). The piece is conformed and rendered by the server at home for playout to air.
QUANTEL has a solid year of real experience “in the cloud” at the enterprise level with its QTube global technology. It’s a similar concept to Avid’s but has the advantage of tying in multiple locations remotely. Media at the home base can also be searched and retrieved in formats that work for other NLEs, including Media Composer and Final Cut.
Quantel typically sells this capability as part of a larger news installation involving the Enterprise sQ production system. One example is the sale announced at the NAB Show to Slovenia state broadcaster RTV. The RTV system will be built around four Quantel sQ servers, providing a total of more than 3,000 hours of media storage, and it’s designed to support more than 120 journalists and producers. The system incorporates Quantel’s QTube, enabling field production teams to edit together stories combining locally-captured and centrally-held media over standard internet connections.
Screen shot from Aframe’s online storage and collaboration solution
An exciting newcomer is AFRAME, a British company founded by the former owner of Unit, one of Europe’s largest professional post facilities built around FCP and Xsan. Aframe is geared toward the needs of shows and production companies more than broadcast infrastructures. The concept uses a “private cloud” (i.e., not Amazon servers) with an interface and user controls that feel a lot like a mash-up between Vimeo and Xprove. Full-res media can be uploaded in several ways, including via regional service centers located around the United States. There’s full metadata support and the option to use Aframe’s contracted logging vendor if you don’t want to create metadata yourself. Editors cut with proxy media, then the full-res files are conformed via EDLs and downloaded when ready. Pricing plans are an attractive per-seat monthly structure, starting with a free single-seat account.
Thunderbolt Technology and Stereo 3D Displays
The big hardware news across the show was the increased availability of Thunderbolt. This is of particular interest to Mac users, but the Thunderbolt protocol is being integrated into PCs as well this year. Thunderbolt delivers video, data and bus power over a single wire and can be used to daisy-chain monitors, storage and I/O devices. The first Thunderbolt-enabled devices debuted at last year’s NAB Show, and there were many new options this year.
Nearly all of the desktop storage vendors have Thunderbolt products, including PROMISE TECHNOLOGY, LACIE and G-TECHNOLOGY. AJA, BLACKMAGIC DESIGN, MOTU and MATROX showed I/O devices compatible with all of the popular NLEs. This year an increasing number of vendors were showing Thunderbolt ports on their products for use in file transfer and control. This movement is being spearheaded by AJA and Blackmagic Design, as usual, but expect to see Thunderbolt become a popular data connection in the coming years.
Despite not having the same buzz this year that it had in the last year or two, stereo 3D technology is progressing. For example, AVID Media Composer version 6 software integrates a complete, new stereo 3D toolset under the hood. Many of the color correction and DI tools, like DAVINCI Resolve and QUANTEL Pablo, have already delivered countless stereo 3D feature films. This year both DOLBY and SONY showed excellent examples of glasses-free stereoscopic displays. Dolby is developing its display in conjunction with PHILIPS, and it is designed for the mass market. The stereoscopic effect was pretty good, though not without some anomalies. Nevertheless, it’s a vast improvement over a few years ago and is perfectly acceptable today for sports bars, kiosks and digital signage applications.