NAB 2004

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NAB 2004 delivered the welcome news that the media industry is ready to do business again. But this isn't a return to the industry of just a few years ago; we're entering an era of drastic changes in how we consume — and therefore make — our media.

Is this the Bolex for the HD age? Filmmaker/inventor Jeff Kreines introduced his Kinetta HD camcorder at NAB's Digital Cinema Summit, one more example of how rapid advances in computer technology allow for more competition in the DCC industry. (Photo by Mark Forman.)

NAB 2004 was the first to headline a top computer company's CEO; HP's Carly Fiorina got top placement as the opening session's keynote address. As Fiorina noted, the digital era we're entering is one in which the public has the power because “consumers watch or listen to what they want to watch, when they want, on any device. This is a generation that will not wait for content to be delivered to them at a prescribed time.”

Her speech sounded a challenge. The cable industry has laid siege to broadcasters for years, but now commoditized tools as well as a gradually commoditizing distribution infrastructure will usher in even greater changes over the coming decade.

Meanwhile, the show had tools. As D.W. Leitner notes, HD seemed to be everywhere. Proliferating codecs seemed almost as prevalent, with new and newly applied HD/HDV algorithms coming from Apple/Panasonic, Avid, Cineform, Microsoft, QuVIS, and Ulead Systems.

Cameras: Synergy No Longer a Buzzword

Of course, more gear and software made news beyond the slew of HD introductions. Digital cinema camera systems from Arri and Dalsa grew closer to their final forms. Storage from 1 Beyond, Huge Systems, and others brought multi-stream HD editing to lower price points. So read on for our view of one of the broadest, busiest, and most interesting NABs in years.

Emblematic of the unholy alliance between consumer digital and broadcast technology at NAB was Apple's announcement at the convention's outset that Panasonic's DVCPRO HD codec, embedded in Final Cut Pro, would be available as a free download after the press conference.

A huge banner above Apple's NAB booth proclaimed “HD for everyone, everywhere.” JVC chose “Affordable HD for everyone.” Pinnacle trademarked “PracticalHD.” Sticking to script as it were, a major broadcast equipment company rep told me that its goal was “HD for the price of SD.”

Panasonic even merged consumer flash memory with ENG, delivering a working camcorder that captures 25Mbps or 50Mbps DV to its solid-state P2 cards. Replacing cheap DV cassettes with costly flash memory may seem questionable. But the vast size and price sensitivity of the consumer market — coupled with whichever Moore's Law pertains to flash memory — will remove this hindrance in time.

As the PC industry knows, one answer to commodity pricing is volume. The other answer: cost-cutting, in this case converting hardware to software, squeezing bit rates with compression, re-purposing existing chip sets, etc. JVC's introduction at NAB 2003 of a cheap camcorder recording what is now called HDV — same cassette, tape speed, track pitch as MiniDV but lower bit rates — was just such a shot over the bow.

HDV is transmission-grade MPEG-2 re-purposed. Originally said to be uneditable, MPEG-2's “inter-frame” compression (across a group of pictures, or GOP) features P-frames (forward predicted) and B-frames (bi-directionally predicted) that don't actually exist and therefore require only a half to a quarter of the data of discrete I-frames.

DV, HDCAM, and IMX, on the other hand, rely on I-frames (“intra-frame” compression), which are self-contained like JPEG stills. HDV with its 6-frame GOP (one I-frame every six frames) is therefore considerably more efficient. So what would happen, say, if the 19Mbps of JVC's 720p HDV were scaled to 50Mbps or 100Mbps, as happened to DV in Panasonic's hands?

I'll let you in on a secret: the current 4:2:0, 8-bit HDV spec already provides for higher level protocols — 4:2:2 and up to 100Mbps — and NAB scuttlebutt has it that 50Mbps HDV will give 185Mbps HDCAM a run for its money.

No wonder Pinnacle, Boxx, Ulead Systems, and, by my count, nine other NLE outfits arrived at NAB with HDV editing solutions. Such low HD bit rates give rise to striking possibilities. Focus Enhancements announced that its piggyback FireStore hard disk recorder would enable camcorder capture of 4.5 hours of HDV. JVC's Dave Walton showed me a demo of wireless, crystal-clear HDV sent live over WiFi from a JVC JY-HD10U HDV camcorder to a tiny Japanese laptop. Damned if it didn't work.

Walton then turned excitedly to JVC's new MPEG-2 encoder for HD, the 1 RU-high DM-JV600, which compresses HD-SDI with a sub-second delay, yet permits live HD field transmission over existing standard definition microwave links. HD pioneer WRAL has been testing it in Raleigh, N.C.

So hold on to your baseball caps. Impressive HD playback at even lower DVD bit rates was demonstrated at NAB using Windows Media 9 and MPEG-4's H.264. Apple will champion the latter as one of the DVD Industry Forum's mandatory codecs for the HD-DVD spec. All signs point to further radical shifts in costs, technologies, and consumer expectations.

Perhaps the only question is, with cheap HD poised to invade the retail space, what will be the iTunes of digital motion image entertainment? Will we see it coming?

With this delirium in mind, here are selected highlights of production and postproduction technologies at NAB '04.

In cameras and camcorders, 2004 was the year of what will be. Never have so many brazen prototypes — let's call them “balsacams” — been showcased. But never have so many fundamental new technologies converged at the same time.

JVC ignited the HDV phenomenon at last year's NAB with its introduction of the $4,000 JY-HD10U (now available online for less than $3K). Celebrating the JY-HD10U's arrival last year, I wrote, “How will the competition respond?”

A year later it's an odd fact that no one, including JVC, arrived at NAB with a new working HDV camcorder. Yet JVC showed a concept ENG-style camcorder, temporarily named GY-HD0000U and promised for next year. It's impressive: 3-chip, 2/3in. CMOS, native 720p and 1080i plus 24p, switchable SD/HD, and HDV-style MPEG-2 compression. How's it do all that? The state-of-the-art CMOS sensor from AltaSens can reconfigure its target area, a key advantage over CCDs.

For data capture, the prototype GY-HD0000U contained a hard disk module — that's why it can't be called an HDV camcorder, since HDV is a DV-based, MPEG-2 tape format.

But JVC made a point of noting that the HDV recording format could capture 276 minutes of HD on full-sized DV cassettes and 60 minutes on MiniDV, so what might actually debut at NAB 2005 is anyone's guess. The most impressive thing about the GY-HD0000U? A target price of $20,000.

The HDV format, announced in July 2003 by JVC, Sony, and Canon, was finalized only last September. Perhaps that's why Sony set aside an entire booth to tout its prototype HDV handycam, which it had unveiled a month earlier at the German IT trade show CeBIT.

The unnamed camcorder resembles a fat PD-150 or 170, with a 16:9-shaped eyecup and lens shade, innovative flip-out LCD screen built into the handle, and my favorite revision, audio XLR inputs moved from the handle to the camcorder's base where they always should have been. (HDV audio, incidentally, is 16-bit, 48kHz, MPEG-1 Layer2.)

Whether priced less than $5K (as rumored at CeBIT) or nearly twice as much (rumored at NAB), this camcorder is sizing up to be the VX-1000, the category killer, of HDV. (For the latest HDV developments, check the official HDV website, www.hdv-info.org.)

Last year's Panasonicbalsacam, the AJ-SPX800, arrived this year as a very real product, every bit as groundbreaking as Panasonic claimed it would be: 2/3in. 3-CCD, ENG-style, standard-def camcorder, switchable between 16:9 and 4:3 with 24p, 30p, and conventional 60-field interlace, 25Mbps or 50Mbps using DV compression to P2 (Professional Plug-in) cards.

Panasonic's tapeless, P2-based AJ-SPX800 camcorder.

It's that last detail that startles. Capturing video to consumer SD memory cards encased in PC cards eliminates all moving parts. Instead of a tape drive, the AJ-SPX800 uses five PC card slots. While five 4GB P2 cards will capture 80 minutes of 25Mbps DV, at present P2 cards reach only 2GB. The current cost of flash memory? A 1GB SD card retails around $500; it takes four to create a 4GB P2 card. Perhaps that's why the AJ-SPX800's suggested list is a modest $19,500.

Nevertheless, what price can be put on a totally silent, maintenance-free camcorder (imagine sandstorm conditions in the Iraqi desert) with instant start, USB 2.0, FireWire, and did I mention the superb 3.5in. flip-out LCD viewing screen which doubles as a GUI?

Panasonic's booth, in fact, featured a wall o' P2 mock-ups, everything from handycam-sized camcorders, including an under-$3,000 HD version, to a P2 Varicam and P2 D-5 HD camcorder using 128GB P2 cards. All of this is well into the near future, and it'll be interesting to watch how Panasonic, a non-member of the HDV consortium, integrates low bit-rate MPEG-2 (MPEG-4?) into its P2 product line. Panasonic, after all, is the old-line broadcast equipment company that broke ranks to give away its HD codec to Apple and add FireWire to HD decks, like the new $21,000 AJ-HD1200A.

There's more: its new AG-DVC30 3-CCD prosumer MiniDV camcorder, introduced at NAB, boasts infrared “Super Night Shooting” in total darkness by means of built-in illumination. Add an optional $380 infrared lamp if you want to light larger areas. All signs are that Panasonic is on a brilliant creative binge, with much more to come.

On the blue-laser XDCAM front, Sony showcased its breakthrough XDCAM camcorders, the PDW-510 DVCAM and PDW-530 MPEG IMX/DVCAM (switchable). Maxell and TDK announced manufacture of blue laser discs for the XDCAM format. Avid, meanwhile, announced support of XDCAM and future support of XDCAM's low-bandwidth MPEG-4 proxy images across its entire NLE line.

Sony's mock-up of its planned HDV camcorder.

Sony did introduce an economical $48,000 HDCAM, the HDW-730S, with basic 60i/50i and NTSC/PAL output via SDI. Sony also provided a $15,000 entry point to HD with the HDC-X300, a 3-chip HD POV camera with new 1.5 megapixel, 1/2in. CCDs. This “go anywhere” box camera weighs less than 3lbs. and features frame rates of 60i, 50i, 30p, 25p, 24p (with 3:2 pulldown) and full HD SDI, analog HD, and RGB output.

Come to think of it, just add lens, LCD viewing screen, power (less than 20W), shoulder mount, and a data-capture device, and you've got yourself a small, sophisticated HD camera system from Sony, minus the compression drawbacks of HDCAM.

A truly tiny HD box camera, using even smaller 1/3in. CCDs, was shown by Santa Barbara-based Luma Video. The 3-chip, 720-line KV3000 camera head is a 2in. cube with a C-mount (shown at NAB as a 1-chip prototype). Also promised is a teeny-tiny single-chip “lipstick camera” version. Both cameras connect by cable to the KV3000 Remote Head Camera System CCU that outputs 720p, 1080i, 1080/24p, and 1080/60p. Total system cost, less than $10,000.

Ikegami, long respected for its engineering prowess, introduced an unexpected novelty: the HDK-79 NAR is a full-sized, shoulder-mount HD camera whose body contains not the usual signal-processing electronics but a behind-the-lens rotating optical block that can spin the image, adjust horizon level without a tripod, and even perform gyroscopic image stabilization. A single cable up to 30m connects this “optical main body” to a second camera body, an HDK-79EX NA, which handles the signal processing.

It's back… Ikegami and longtime partner Avid announced the development of a tapeless HD camcorder using hard disk FieldPak technology, originally developed for Avid/Ikegami's Editcam. Ikegami's camcorder will capture HD via Avid's new 4:2:2, 8- or 10-bit DNxHD mastering compression format. The Avid format, while similar in bit rate to 3:1:1 HDCAM, preserves the full HD raster. That's 1920 horizontal luminance samples instead of HDCAM's subsample of 1440.

Another first: Ikegami's HDL-40HS high-speed HD camera, a 3lb. shoulder-style CMOS camera that outputs 720p at 120fps via a dual HD-SDI link. In a similar vein, Thomson Grass Valley adapted its popular LDK-6000 mkII WorldCam to create the new LDK 6200 HD Super SloMo digital camera system. Designed to capture to EVS's HD-XT server, the Super SloMo records 720p or 1080i at 100fps or 120fps, and 1080p at 50fps or 60fps. It will be switchable between 2X Super SloMo and standard LDK 6000 mk II operation — a first.

For much higher frame rates, Band Pro debuted the Cine SpeedCam, a 5lb. box camera with attached viewfinder that captures TIFF or AVI files at a default rate of 1000fps in a 1536×1024 pixel format, and can capture as high as 4000fps in a reduced 768×512 format.

As for digital cinema cameras, my list of the defining characteristics: single chip (no prism optics) to enable use of PL-mount (film) lenses, output of RGB RAW image files (no video compression) of at least 2K in size to hard drives, and in prototype-only form (no real-world production yet).

Both the Dalsa Origin and Arri D-20 (built from an Arri 435 35mm film camera body) feature a single sensor. Ontario-based Dalsa makes its own 8-megapixel photogate CCD. Arri's 6-megapixel CMOS is designed by FillFactory in Belgium and fabbed by Tower Semiconductor in Israel; it matches a 35mm motion picture film frame in area. Meanwhile, new kid on the block Kinetta uses a 2/3in., 2-megapixel CMOS chip created by AltaSens; it's close in size to 16mm.

Notably, Kinetta is “sensor-agnostic” and designed to accept new sensors up to 16 megapixels and 35mm in size, as available. Kinetta also breaks from the pack by including onboard battery power and data storage. Kinetta says 110 minutes of 1920×1080 images written as uncompressed 10-bit log RAW data are captured by 480GB worth of RAID 3 storage on 1.8in. hard drives housed in Kinetta's clip-on “magazine.”

For viewing, Kinetta uses an electronic color viewfinder based on emerging OLED (organic LED) technology, which is flickerless, light-emitting, and low power. Harking back to 35mm film cameras, both Origin and D-20 use rotating mirror shutters and viewfinder optics.

Dalsa is readying six prototype “beta-cameras” for field-testing, with plans to sell the first 12 Origins to the public in November. Arri has eight “functional demonstrators,” six of which are involved in pilot projects. Kinetta, with a significant feature film lined up already, is adding finishing touches and will ship in the fall after IBC.

On the lens front, Arri extended its superb LDS system (Lens Data System) for display and management of film lens data — focus, iris, zoom, depth of field, hyperfocal distance, close focus — with the LDS Datamount. This is a PL-mount embedded with microcircuitry and contacts that transforms any lens from any manufacturer into an intelligent lens when coupled with Arri lens motors. Arri's new LDS Archive system also extends LDS capabilities to any camera, not just Arri cameras.

Cooke Optics debuted its S4/i “motion picture lens intelligence system,” which — through a welcome cooperative agreement — is compatible with Arri's LDS. Cooke S4/i lenses will display current settings through LDS contacts on an Arri camera or by an external connector on the lens to an S4/i data display made by Cinematography Electronics.

Cooke also introduced a longer S4 HD series, an 8mm to 46mm T1.7 zoom. The minimum object distance (MOD from the front of the lens is only 13in.

In film-style HD zooms, Zeiss and Band Pro introduced the 6mm to 24mm T1.9 DigiZoom, a compact variable prime instantly recognizable as a new member of the outstanding DigiPrime family. (Variable primes intentionally limit their zoom range to maximize image quality at each focal length.) MOD from the front of the DigiZoom is 11in. Both Zeiss and Cooke designs are exemplary, in a class by themselves.

Fujinon introduced two versions of its new 18×7.6 HD zoom (7.6mm to 137mm) — with and without 2X extender, which extends wide angle and tele extremes in a handheld HD zoom.

Thales Angénieux likewise debuted dual versions of its 26X HD zoom, the Digital 26X ENG/EFP Lens, with a focal range of 7.8mm to 203mm and an aperture of f/2.2 (1.8 for ENG version).

Bigger-is-better boasting rights, however, go to Panavision, which exhibited a new 300x HD zoom lens, 7mm to 2100mm, the size of a small howitzer (perhaps a clue as to who requested it). Uniquely, an internal microprocessor continuously adjusts focusing and breathing control through the zoom range.

Canon adds a 55mm to its HD-EC FJ prime lens line.

Canon reworked the mechanics and housing of its FJ Series T 1.6 HD prime lenses, increasing focus rotation angle to 280 degrees and adding a needed 55mm to its lineup of 5mm, 9mm, 14mm, 24mm, and 35mm.

Also introduced in the HD EC line was the HJ8×5.5B (5.5mm to 44mm) T 2.1 cine-style zoom with a wide angle similar to the DigiZoom but twice the zoom range.

There were also two Canon surprises. The Digisuper 22x (7.3mm to 161mm) f/1.8 is a unique mini box lens intended to address the growing phenomenon of ENG-style SD and HD cameras found on studio pedestals. It comes with a B-4 mount instead of a Sony hanger mount, and at a compact 13.4 lbs., it defines a new category of studio lenses. The ACV-235 Anamorphic Converter for 2/3in. CCD lenses is an 8in., 3lb. tube (akin to Zeiss/Angénieux adapter for cine primes) with anamorphosing relay optics that squeeze a 2.35 aspect ratio “Cinemascope” image into a standard 16:9 frame (image is upside-down on CCDs, like Zeiss/Angénieux). For filmmakers who want wide 2.35 images from HD cameras without cropping. Smart idea.

If you nosed around the smaller booths on the upper floor of the Convention Center's South Hall, you might have had the good fortune to stumble across Wasol's booth, where its versatile 3D lens system was demonstrated on both a PD-150 and HDCAM F900. The small Korean company has created an opto-mechanical lens attachment that sorts left and right fields-of-view into consecutive top and bottom fields of interlaced video using a single camera and lens. Synchronized viewing glasses are required to view resulting 3D images on a video display. This has been done before (years ago by Lenny Lipton, of all people), but Wasol's 3D58 LenSys is compact, well designed, and smart.
D. W. Leitner

Editing: A great NAB

This year's NAB saw debates on HD compression, HDV editing solutions without the expected HDV camcorder offerings, an exciting new AAF Edit Protocol that finally offers capabilities previously wished for, extensive MXF-compatible products, and a major focus on postproduction workflows. In short, it was one of the best NAB conventions in my 37 years in this business.

Adobe's Premiere Pro 1.5 now handles realtime HD editing.

Windows-based Adobe Premiere Pro Version 1.5 may have entered the same professional market that Adobe After Effects has dwelled in for years. The company believes that the new realtime HD-capable Premiere Pro can compete effectively against Apple's Final Cut Pro application in the professional postproduction arena. Version 1.5 is a significant upgrade from the August product introduction, featuring realtime HD capabilities, better media asset management, support for Panasonic 24p/24pA cam-corders, Bezier keyframe controls, major color correction improvements, AAF I/O support, and the ability to cut and paste to After Effects, plus many other integration features with other applications in the Digital Video Collection.

Another development may have had the most impact upon bringing Premiere Pro into this new market segment. That is third-party partners such as Boxx Technologies offering its Premiere Pro-based HD Pro RT realtime nonlinear HD editing system incorporating CineForm's new Prospect HD technology. Also important is 1 Beyond's announcement of its new HD/Digital Cinema division. This new division has Premiere Pro as the sole editing solution; it creates an amazing uncompressed HD workgroup environment, along with the other Digital Video Collection apps.

Apple announced Final Cut Pro HD, featuring realtime native DVCPRO HD editing in addition to realtime support for DV and SD. Coupled with the hot new Panasonic AJ-HD1200A DVCPRO HD VCR with its optional FireWire interface, this combination allows a new entry point for high-definition postproduction. It integrates with Motion, DVD Studio Pro 3, Shake 3.5 compositing and visual effects software, and the Logic Pro 6 music production application.

Boxx Technologies' multi-stream capable HD Pro RT.

Thomson announced that it is integrating Apple Final Cut Pro into the Grass Valley Digital News Production product line to provide for postproduction-oriented feature stories while accessing GVG digital servers. BBC Technology, meanwhile, announced it would integrate Final Cut Pro HD into its Colledia production workflow solution.

Last but not least, Apple introduced Xsan, a 64-bit cluster SAN file system (MSRP of $999 per system, available in fall) — the perfect complement to Apple's Xserve and Xserve RAID hardware.

Avid Technology had another big show, with so many announcements that it is hard to cover briefly. HD was big, with HD capabilities announced for the end of the year on all Avid DNA products.

The company announced DNxHD, a new 10-bit and 8-bit HD mastering and encoding technology. Avid is making the source code licensable and free of charge through an Avid website download. Avid emphasized that this is a full-raster HD format, sampling every available pixel within the image. (Jokes about CEO Dave Krall being a “raster-farian” became common.) Avid was displaying uncompressed HD combined with DNxHD compressed video via a wipe and challenged people to identify, which was which. Many guessed wrong — Avid DNxHD is a very high-quality compression.

The advantages of this new compression technology include a significantly improved HD workflow (many more workstations can share HD on a Avid Unity), savings from needing less storage while working with SD storage, and the ability to edit HD on the low-cost Xpress Pro on a laptop (although Avid expects HDV to be a more common HD codec on Xpress Pro). Players for all operating systems will be available for free by compiling the source code, which means you will always be able to play back archived video. The prototype Ikegami camcorder using this solution is the first 10-bit HD camcorder without a tether.

Avid also announced that it will offer additional HD format support, including optional uncompressed HD capabilities for Media Composer Adrenaline and NewsCutter Adrenaline FX systems, and native HDV and native Panasonic DVCPRO HD for Avid Xpress Pro, NewsCutter XP, Media Composer Adrenaline, and NewsCutter Adrenaline FX systems.

The Avid DS Nitris version 7.5 will offer two levels of realtime and handle 2K/4K: realtime single playback of 2K from the actual RGB files and realtime multi-stream playback of HD proxies for both 2K and 4K with timecode tracking. The new version of DS Nitris also offers major improvements in color grading, matte creation, and enhancements to its Effects Tree compositing controls.

1 Beyond's HD Pro - Editor workstation.

Media Composer Adrenaline 1.5 demonstrated major performance enhancements, support for both MXF and Windows Media 9 output, improved audio (including bi-directional MIDI control for Digidesign's new Command|8 control surface), FluidFilm, bundled Boris Continuum Complete AVX 3 plug-ins, and optional Avid Studio Tools (available Q3).

Avid Studio Tools includes three powerful content-creation applications: Avid 3D, a 3D animation and effects application; Avid FX, a compositing, effects, and titling software based on Boris Red; and Avid DVD by Sonic Solutions, a DVD-authoring application. Version 1.5 should be available by the time you read this.

Avid Xpress Studio is a content-creation suite that includes Xpress Pro NLE software, Avid Pro Tools LE audio production software, and the rest of the Studio Tools suite mentioned. Avid Xpress Studio comes in two packages: Avid Xpress Studio Essentials and Avid Xpress Studio Complete. Avid Xpress Studio Essentials combines the five software applications with the Digidesign Mbox audio hardware. Avid Xpress Studio Complete comes with the five software applications, Avid Mojo, and replaces the Digidesign Mbox hardware with Digi 002, which offers eight touch-sensitive “flying faders,” touch-sensitive knobs, and transport controls that interface with both the Xpress Pro and Pro Tools applications. The Digi 002 hardware may be the most exciting component of this new suite. An additional upgrade for HD capabilities will be available before the end of the year.

Discreet's big product announcement was its Lustre digital color-grading system, but there were several smaller announcements to be aware of. The Montreal-based company demonstrated its new low-cost Smoke 6 on an Intel-based IBM workstation running Linux (starting at $68,000 MSRP) and launched a Linux-based Flint 8.5 — also on the IBM IntelliStation Z Pro workstation (MSRP of $119,975 for turnkey system with special introductory offers of $99,975 and $109,975 for a Flint/Smoke combination). Although this version of Smoke is said to be SD-only, I believe the big limitation is the hardware, and that may be remedied in the foreseeable future.

Discreet also presented the tremendous power increase with the Irix-based Smoke 6 HD, due to both a hot new SGI Tezro four-processor visual workstation and new streamlined code. (See my “Some Smokin' New Versions” in the February 2004 issue of Video Systems or at videosystems.com.)

Discreet Combustion 3 was also promoted, featuring new editing capabilities, new custom brushes, and Macromedia Flash output. The product now includes RE:Flex, the free-form warper and morphing solution from RE:Vision Effects. Discreet announced support for Wes Plate's Automatic Duck software, allowing Combustion artists to load edited timelines from Avid or Final Cut Pro directly into the Combustion workspace.

Additionally, Leitch introduced its VelocityHD system at NAB. It is available as a turnkey product or as a software, boardset, manuals, and cable kit (MSRP for the kit starts at less than $10,000 without options). The operations methodology and graphic user interface are based upon the Velocity/VelocityQ software application, a non-“industry standard” interface. This may be a major concern for some, but it presents a powerful and professional operational workflow nevertheless.

VelocityHD features include the new Altitude hardware board, EyeCon View timeline interface tool, multi-camera editing, optional A3DX 3D DVE module (one channel of realtime HD 3D DVE or four channels of realtime SD 3D effects), and realtime primary color correction and realtime secondary color correction (with the A3DX option).

One of the big secrets at NAB may be Open Source Cinelerra software — free if you're a Linux fanatic or purchased from systems integrator Linux Media Arts, which supports the kits or integrated systems it sells. Too many walked by this booth without understanding how powerful this system really is. Cinelerra features MXF-wrapped media, true 24p editing (as well as all other ATSC formats), six-channel HDTV audio, unlimited audio and video tracks, extensive realtime audio and video effects and transitions, realtime titling, built-in test monitoring, and background render with an HD render farm support. The software is developed for the 64-bit AMD Opteron platform. Southern California-based Key Information Systems may soon offer a turnkey solution of Cinelerra on an Ensantra HD Media Network.

Nucoda introduced Film Master version 2, which it claims is the “world's first complete resolution-independent end-to-end film finishing solution.” This becomes the newest edition to its family of Postcode solutions for film and video. Its Data Conform 4K and 2K conforming solution and its Data Play HD media player were also displayed.

Film Master includes editing with realtime 2K playback, RGBA compositing, effects (including 3D color-cube technology, pan and scan, and a powerful tracking module), unlimited layer-based color correction (with secondary color correction utilizing a user-defined keyer), paint and touch-up (dust-busting/dirt removal), and mastering toolsets, enabling last-minute tweaking in a fully interactive environment. It includes the entire Data Conform toolset. Conforming can be done via both EDLs and Keycode cutlists. Then editors can process and export final sequences to film recorders at any resolution up to 6K and deliver multiple formats to any device via LAN, SAN, or single- and dual-link HD-SDI.

Nucoda's Data Conform enables users to conform image data files at any resolution and from any location. Once conformed, a Virtual Film Out can be created to pre-visualize the sequence, providing tremendous cost savings over traditional film-out costs.

Pinnacle Systems introduced Pinnacle Liquid HD to its Liquid family, offering an affordable entry to realtime multi-stream HD editing and effects. Pinnacle Liquid Edition with native HDV format support will be only $699 MSRP. The Pinnacle Liquid HD software upgrade will be only $199 MSRP for all standalone and workgroup Pinnacle Liquid Edition 5.5 customers — only those new and existing Pinnacle Liquid family customers looking for HD-SDI I/O, support for Pinnacle's HD Elite editing or HD workgroup will need additional hardware.

Pinnacle intends to offer users of Pinnacle Liquid systems the “best of all HD worlds” through options to work with the bandwidth-efficient HDV format, premium-quality/low-bandwidth Pinnacle HD Elite, or the full quality of uncompressed HD SDI — all on standard PC workstations. Pinnacle Systems has been a leader in long-GOP MPEG development, and HD Elite is a long-GOP MPEG HD compression solution with a flexible scaleable bit rate. Pinnacle expects that 50Mbps will offer a sweet spot, balancing quality and storage/bandwidth requirements.

Pinnacle's Liquid Editing for Workgroups is a complete, low-cost networked editing solution for SD (and soon HD) video utilizing Pinnacle's Palladium Store 100 RAID-Protected Solution. Starting at just $49,995 MSRP for standard definition, the system includes 2TB of usable storage (enough for 140 hours at DV/HDV-quality video or 70 hours of Pinnacle HD Elite video), ultra-secure RAID 10 mirroring, the Pinnacle Liquid Project Server collaboration application, Gigabit Ethernet switches, and Pinnacle's exclusive Media Access Server.

Pinnacle also introduced CinéWave 4.6, delivering full support for multi-stream realtime effects with simultaneous HD and SD video out for Panasonic's DVCPRO HD (DV100) format. CinéWave 4.6 can transcode popular formats and frame rates in realtime (e.g. 1080/24psF to 720/24p) and supports all frame rates with Panasonic's Varicam progressive-scan variable frame rate HD camcorder.

While it felt like much of the news in the Quantel booth was focused on broadcast solutions with sQserver, the new QEdit news/sports NLE, and compatibility with both Panasonic's P2 and Sony's XDCAM acquisition formats, there was quite a bit happening with its postproduction solutions as well.

Quantel's eQ editing/effects/grading/mastering system now has a new HD-RGB option coinciding with a move toward Sony HDCAM-SR's mildly compressed 4:4:4 HD-RGB signal data.GenerationQ 2.0 software now offers significantly improved compositing with a multi-view compositor. With version 2, there are now more than 600 plug-ins embedded in the architecture and available in the compositor. Highly requested custom transitions are now available. The ability to import and export native Windows Media 9 series files (including HD) is now supported. Finally, version 2 gets dramatically more horsepower out of the existing Quantel hardware.

The Quantel iQ digital intermediate system will soon have the Kodak Display Manager software available. This application takes advantage of Quantel's resident 3D color cube in iQ to enable realtime monitor output to faithfully reproduce the projected film print look for a variety of different Kodak film stocks. It was also announced that iQ will support Arri's 3D LUT (look-up table) technology as an optional integrated component. The Arri LUTs offer directors and DPs confidence that what they see in front of them on the monitor will be what is projected when the material is transferred to film stock.

While Sony's XDCAM may have caused the most buzz, Sony's booth theme was “Riding the HD Wave,” and for postproduction solutions this included the introduction of Sony Vegas with proposed 1080i HDV support and XPRI.

Vegas+DVD Production Suite included Vegas 5, DVD Architect 2, and Dolby Digital AC-3 Encoder software. Sony Vegas 5 software now offers realtime scaleable production for SD, HD, HDV and other formats across unlimited tracks, plus an extensive upgrade to the audio subsystem.

Sony's XPRI 7.0 featured tremendous performance improvements, a powerful new interface, realtime high-definition and standard-definition primary and secondary color correction (with color matching, limiters, HSL control, and RGB curves), nine source-window multi-camera editing, up to 100 SD and HD realtime effects, CineAlta, HDCAM, and XDCAM support, XPRI Net shared storage, and the “Virtual TD,” an interface with compatible Sony production switchers that allows live switches to be exported and saved as a live cut on an XPRI timeline.
Bob Turner

DI — Film's Best Friend?

During a presentation at the Digital Cinema Summit 2004 at NAB on the application of the digital intermediate process to the recent Universal feature Van Helsing, colorist Steve Scott of EFilm, Hollywood, referred to the DI process as “film's best friend.” By that, Scott suggested that the evolution of all-digital post workflows, techniques, and tools — many of which were on display during NAB 2004 — will serve not to help digital replace film. Instead, these developments will increase filmmakers' options in processing their imagery, no matter how it was captured, thus helping to preserve and improve film's usefulness as a capture medium.

This theme, revolving around the blending of old and new media and techniques and the attendant improvements, along with serious, thus-far unsolved challenges resulting from this evolution, was omnipresent during both the Digital Cinema Summit and NAB in general. During his keynote address for the afternoon session of the Digital Cinema Summit, for instance, Phil Feiner, president of Pacific Title, Hollywood (a company that invested heavily in the DI process during NAB with a Discreet Lustre color correction system purchase), emphasized that a host of issues still need to be resolved in the “non-sequential world of a digital workflow” if the DI process is to truly become a standardized process for feature films.

“There are no standards yet for workflow when it comes to the editorial conform process,” he explained. “No standards to describe color correction, no metadata standards, a need for better support for higher bit depths and higher resolutions, a variety of lingering hardware incompatibilities,” and so on. All this is leading our industry, Feiner argued, into a world of “massive data wrangling,” and therefore, he suggested, manufacturers focused on solutions to data management issues will find themselves popular with all people seeking ways into the DI space.

Many manufacturers, of course, are already addressing these issues, with SGI and Apple (among others at NAB) focused on data-workflow networking solutions that do not require specialized hardware. In particular, SGI has aggressively pursued this strategy with its InfiniteStorage SAN solution, while Apple is now addressing the issue with its Xsan approach.

SGI markets InfiniteStorage as a data-management solution for both broadcast and feature film postproduction applications, but in particular, the company was promoting the data-sharing technology at NAB as a useful DI backbone. The key feature is the notion of transparent data-sharing at high resolution (2K) in realtime across networks, interfacing with all components of the DI pipeline — scanning, color correction, film recording, video mastering, and output.

To emphasize the point, on the day following NAB, SGI co-hosted a tour of EFilm in Hollywood to show a small group of journalists how the technology has been implemented at that facility for use on major projects. EFilm builds its infrastructure around three 16-processer Onyx 3000 visualization systems, 30TB of SGI Total Performance 9400 storage, and four SGI Origin 300 servers, all incorporating SGI's CXFS shared-file system technology.

FilmLight, meanwhile, demonstrated realtime, interactive, color grading at 4K resolutions with its new Baselight Speed FX technology at NAB. The company is pushing the Speed FX approach as a way to do affordable, realtime, color correction on standard PC hardware, using open architecture. FilmLight expects Speed FX to be available with its Baselight finishing system later this year.

FilmLight also debuted version 2 of Baselight, which includes new features such as an advanced tracker, a new gestural interface capability, improved pan-and-scan, integrated HD support, and other new options.

Da Vinci debuted new versions of several tools at NAB, including the fourth version of its Revival restoration product and its new Resolve resolution-independent, software-based color-enhancement system. The company demonstrated Resolve as configurable three different ways, depending on its application — as a visual effects tool (Resolve FX), a realtime 2K processing tool (Resolve RT), or as a DI color-correction tool (Resolve DI). Resolve DI includes the da Vinci Powerhouse render farm connected via Ethernet for realtime processing of video-resolution images. For mastering work at 2K and higher resolution, Resolve RT integrates da Vinci wide-bandwidth technology to achieve realtime 2K data at 24fps in and out.

The company also demonstrated updates to its Nucleas DI production suite, first introduced at IBC 2003 and recently shipping, and it also offered improvements to its da Vinci 2K Plus HD suite. 2K Plus now includes components of the Nucleas system to permit realtime data for video color grading and conform using conventional HD picture and waveform monitoring of material previously scanned at 2K.
Michael Goldman

Compositing, Animation, & HD Boards

Last year saw the launch of two new compositing applications, Curious gfx from Curious Software and Mirage from Bauhaus Software. Both are mature applications largely because they are derived from older products. NAB also saw the addition of Nuke to the field, a Linux-based compositing system from Digital Domain, with software based on the visual effects giant's battle-tested internal pipeline.

Artists now have a choice of seven competing compositing products, and each one of them is very good — a rarity in any category of software. That's why it was no mean feat to garner as much attention as Apple's new motion graphics tool, Motion. Certainly not a visual effects compositing environment like Shake, Motion is a gestural design tool — if you buy into Apple's vision. The product is a great demo tool, leveraging OpenGL to provide a realtime motion graphics canvas.

It's a seductive if a bit naïve of a concept — drag text and vector effects around the screen in SD or HD on an Apple 23in. monitor at full resolution and frame rate. Use canned effects and particle-driven motion with the ease of Tom Cruise manipulating data on a virtual display in Minority Report.

Under the surface there are keyframes and a timeline, but Apple is selling fun, not precision. This is a product aimed at less-experienced motion-graphics artists, but if Motion's toolset and range of realtime prowess grows, we may be seeing the beginning of an approach to design worthy of the MIT Media Lab. This product may be the perfect companion to Wacom's Cintiq 18SX or 15SX, the interactive pen displays that were shown at NAB sporting significant price reductions.

Mirage and After Effects both had significant show announcements beginning with the launch of an OS X version for Mirage.

Adobe After Effects 6.5 was introduced to the public at the show, and a release is due before summer. As mentioned above, integration with Photoshop and Premiere Pro has improved in the new version, although full live interaction with Premiere is still a ways off. The new feature list includes an improved Tracker, an advanced Clone tool, disk caching to speed up interactive work, and 60 — count them — new plug-ins, including Particle World, Light Burst, Light Sweep, and Toner.

One of the most asked-for new features is the addition of a 16-bit color corrector. Experienced users will recognize that Color Finesse from Synthetic Aperture has been integrated into AE 6.5 as a plug-in. This is an excellent CC solution that helps keep AE at the forefront of the compositing pack.

But the biggest news for AE 6.5 is GridIron, a grid computing application that ships with After Effects. This is nothing short of a paradigm-smasher because GridIron lifts AE into the realtime realm of Flame and Inferno. Install GridIron on additional processors connected by Gigabyte Ethernet, and the acceleration is nearly linear. What makes GridIron unique is that the acceleration works for RAM previews. In other words, you don't have to render a movie to see the results, although you can save RAM previews as movies. AE can now be used with clients in a suite full of 10 dual-processor Apple, Intel, or AMD workstations, reducing that 100-second-per-frame render to less than 10 seconds per frame.

Our March NAB preview got it wrong on two counts: we predicted no new versions of Maya, Softimage XSI, or 3ds Max. Alias launched version 6.0 of Maya, its animation and visual FX software, while Softimage brought out version 4.0 of its nonlinear animation system. The overall contours of development, however, followed our March lead; animation software is in a period of refinement rather than accelerated innovation, with feature catch-up a component of any new release. The object of most new features is character animation, currently the magnetic north of development. More than straight visual effects, storytelling of the Pixar kind defines Hollywood's interest in digital production.

Alias preceded Maya 6 announcements with the news that it is no longer part of SGI. That was a story in process this winter, but now there's a name to replace the speculation. For $57.5 million U.S., Accel-KKR will acquire Toronto-based Alias.

Maya 6 has a long list of features and improvements, but those that really stand out are motion retargeting, enhanced Maya Hair, and greater integration with Mental Ray. Motion retargeting allows mo-cap or keyframe animation from one character to be applied to another character with very different proportions. Existing animation — say a mo-cap animation of walking — is made more flexible with the new ability to change the direction of the motion path while preserving the animation.

Maya Hair is far more advanced with a new dynamic curve-simulation engine. The demo used at the show had a complex braided hairstyle colliding and interacting with both external objects as well as with itself. The hair toolset also allows for the simulation of braided rope, chains, and wires. Along the same lines, Maya Fur can now be rendered in Mental Ray 3.3 to produce renderings using reflections, refractions, global illumination, and caustics — NAB was a big show for makeovers.

Softimage also stepped up the pace of development with the release of version 4.0 of XSI. The list of new features includes a new Character Development Kit that concentrates on rigs for bipeds and quadrupeds, including a Dog Leg rig and spring-based tail-maker. Rigid body dynamics are also enhanced, demonstrated in a complex realtime simulation based on the collapsing house used in Michel Gondry's The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Support for Mental Ray 3.3 seems to be growing in the industry. XSI supports the latest improvements and new features, such as high-speed motion blur, enhanced memory management, bias, bsp and other options for detail shadow maps, a new toon shader, and a fisheye lens shader.

Audio seems to lag behind other visual features in most animation apps, but XSI 4.0 has improved the precision and flexibility of its nonlinear synchronization tools in the timeline. Realtime speed controls and markers for phonemes and emotions combine with a waveform display to make lip synch chores far simpler and more accurate.

If you wandered to the perimeter of the show floor you might have found the booth for Hash's Animation Master, the character animation tool for Windows and OS X. After nearly a decade of development, this best-kept-secret software continues to launch the careers of animators at Pixar, PDI, and Disney and enjoys a following of loyal users. Remarkably, this software provides high-level character tools that are easy to use and competitive with XSI, Maya, and Houdini at $299.

That's because the team of developers has concentrated on character animation. Although the system has dynamics, a particle system, mo-cap support, and other tools useful for visual effects, these features take a back seat to a world-class patch modeler and IK implementations that demystify character rigs and keyframe animation for character work. Version 11 was shown at NAB with a dynamic-based hair and fur system that is stunning. An innovative product from this group of free-thinkers — located in a converted church in Portland, Ore. — Animation Master turns conventional software wisdom on its head and comes up with a wonderfully targeted artist's environment. If you don't get into Sheridan College's animation program, give this software a try.

In the early 1990s, Millimeter hosted an infamous shootout between the first batch of I/O hardware boards, which mainly came down to Radius Edit and SuperMac's VideoSpigot. Back then the hardware companies tried to convince us that compressed, line-doubled 320×240 was broadcast quality, but what the heck, we had to start somewhere.

NAB 2004 may go down in history as the show that finally answered the majority of hardware I/O requirements at absurdly competitive prices. The AJA Kona 2 card, BlackMagic DeckLinkHD Pro, Aurora PipeHD, and Digital Voodoo HD Fury product lines offer a wide range of solutions that provide facility level video in flexible configurations for a desktop computer. Thank the computer manufacturers for technologies like HyperTransport and PCI-X to host the latest boards, which make uncompressed HD in 10-bit, 4:4:4 a reality.

NAB saw the release of the AJA Systems Kona 2 card, a dual-rate, HD/SD capture card for PCI-X slots that supports uncompressed 10-bit SDI, HD-SDI, and dual-link 4:4:4 HD at both 10 and 12 bits. The card supports eight channels of AES audio, HD/SD component analog video output, and broadcast-quality up- and downconversion. Additional compressed formats for Final Cut Pro are supported as well as RS-422 machine control and automatic genlock for HD and SD. The card is priced at $2,490.

Not to be outdone, BlackMagic Designs continues to push the price/performance standard of the industry with new features and lower prices. New for NAB was DeckLinkHD Pro, a dual-link HD-SDI 4:4:4 I/O card with two channels of HD-SDI inputs and outputs. The single-slot PCI-X card has built-in monitoring, with 14-bit digital/analog conversion in RGB or YUV. DeckLink HD Pro also provides Blackmagic Deck Control, an application that lets editors mark in and out points on source tapes and then automatically capture from a VTR using the serial control port. DeckLinkHD Pro is available now at an MSRP of $2,495.

BlackMagic also introduced HDLink, a $1,295 converter that allows an SDI video signal to drive any supported DVI-D-based LCD computer monitor for HDTV resolution monitoring. That means your 23in. Apple Cinema Display can double as a video monitor for an HDCAM deck or any other SDI source. HDLink supports dual-link 4:4:4 HD-SDI and conventional SD and HD at 4:4:2 and makes the frame-rate conversion with adaptive pulldown processing adjusted automatically when the product senses new LCD hardware.

This product eliminates the next to last link in an HD pipeline because desktop NLE artists moving to HD often choke when they see the sticker price of a traditional CRT-based HD monitor. The last link in the chain of course is the VTR, but don't expect Sony to get into the spirit of price-cutting typical of computer hardware companies.

Still, NAB 2004 has opened the door to affordable HD on the desktop with the predictable consequences for traditional post houses. Since the development of digital video tools has outpaced even the recent brisk adoption of HD in broadcast and cable, it's likely that long before HD programming is the norm, DCC tools will be dirt-cheap.

The claim of a few years ago by traditional video manufacturers that HD's technological challenges would offer a new opportunity to stem the tide of desktop cost-cutting have turned out to be unfounded. Relentless innovation and the murderous reality of silicon economics is good news for artists and tough times for any company looking for high margins. Time to buy gear, make movies.
S.D. Katz

DVS Clipster

In addition to its previous duties as a realtime HD NLE, DVS Clipster is becoming a DI finishing system with capturing and realtime dual-stream editing of 2K 24p 4:4:4 10-bit files.

At NAB, DVS introduced realtime primary color-correction for files up to 2K. (For more complex color-grading, DVS is partnering with Pandora and da Vinci.) Clipster also features realtime zooming/panning, a full kit of finishing tools, and supports third-party applications such as Adobe After Effects, Discreet Combustion, and Eyeon Digital Fusion, and it supports high-speed LAN connectivity with realtime single and dual-link HD-SDI and HSDL I/Os to a SAN. Turnkey systems including storage begin at less than $100,000 MSRP.

Grass Valley 4K

The introduction of the 4K Spirit DataCine highlights Thomson Grass Valley's place as a top player in the still nascent digital cinema/DI market. Built upon the Spirit 4K scanner — which came out at last year's NAB — the new DataCine offers scan rates of 2K in realtime (4K at 7.5fps). The 4K Spirit DataCine switches between 4:4:4 RGB and YUV formats and now enables SD, HD, and 2K output. Speed is a big factor in buying one of these pricey DataCines (systems start at some $1,887,000). Faster throughput means a facility can handle more work. One crucial factor is Grass Valley's alliance with SGI, which provides the Gigabyte System Network (GSN) to move that immense amount of data onto networked Origin 2000 servers. With years of both defense and supercomputer use, GSN remains the single network fast enough to keep pace with the DataCine. As part of the Grass Valley FilmStream workflow family, the new DataCine, along with the Spirit 4K, joins the Viper FilmStream camera system, Specter FS (FilmStream) Virtual DataCine, Specter DataCine, Shadow telecine, Voodoo Media Recorder, and Shout image-restoration tools.

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