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NAB Show 2010 Preview: What to Look for On (and Off) the Show Floor

It’s time to rock the broadcasters’ favorite city once again. The 2010 NAB Show is upon us! If you thought a weak economy would mean nothing new to show, you are quite mistaken. Many manufacturers have introduced some of their products prior to April, but NAB will be the official unveiling for many innovations. Apple is sticking to its “no trade shows” policy and RED will host an off-site event, so, like last year, the show floor should actually be quite productive for those who attend.

Hot on the heels of Avatar’s box office bonanza, stereoscopic 3D will once again be a hot topic. This year it’s not only the in movies but also on television, as ESPN and Discovery are scheduled to launch their own 3D channels later in the year. The NLE manufacturers see this as a great opportunity—especially Quantel and Avid, who have integrated 3D workflows into their systems.

Avid Technology introduced Media Composer version 4 last year, which features Stereo 3D, Mix and Match (the ability to mix frame rates) and AMA (Avid Media Access). I expect to see more development centered around AMA, an architecture designed to work with native camera codecs and metadata. Avid editors hope this will include QuickTime files (like ProRes) in order to level the playing field with the competition. That’s uncertain, but I’m sure you’ll see AMA support for additional formats beyond XDCAM, P2 and GFCam. At the very least, AMA is likely to include Canon’s new MPEG-2 codec and Sony’s NXCAM.

Quantel is back at the show after sitting out 2009. The company has been pushing hard into both the DI and news space with a number of success stories, like winning the BBC contract for news editing systems. At the show, expect to see Quantel tout its DI and 3D strengths, including its involvement with Avatar. For broadcasters, Quantel will focus on Stereo 3D tools for television operations, Final Cut Pro integration and advanced server solutions. Pablo continues to be the flagship post system, with a focus on 3D and RED workflow integration.

I presume that the biggest “must see” item for many editors will be Autodesk’sSmoke for the Mac. In recent years, Autodesk Media & Entertainment‘s marquee systems have been built on Linux workstations. Smoke for the Mac is a major departure that was made possible by the introduction of Apple’s 64-bit OS, Snow Leopard. Smoke for the Mac was introduced at the end of 2009 at a much lower price than is customary for Autodesk and is being positioned as the ideal finishing solution for Mac-centric post houses. There will, of course, be across-the-board feature updates to all Autodesk products this year (software version 2011), including Lustre, Flame, Smoke and Flare.

Adobe rounds out our list of “A” companies. Expect to get a healthy peek at Creative Suite 5, which will be released officially in a few months. Although exact details are under NDA, a lot has been posted by Adobe on various Web sites. The biggest news will be 64-bit processing for all the applications and new editing horsepower for Premiere Pro courtesy of NVIDIA. Adobe is branding this the Mercury Playback Engine, but it’s essentially software optimization designed to work with certain NVIDIA graphics cards (GeForce GTX 285, Quadro FX 4800, Quadro FX 5800, Quadro CX). This yields more real-time performance than ever before.

Adobe has also been tweaking its native RED workflow and has shown demos of up to four layers of native RED 4K playback, thanks to RED optimization and the Mercury Playback Engine. Other aspects of CS5 are under wraps, but you can be sure Adobe will continue to build on the rich metadata integration that started with CS4. In particular, check out Adobe Story, which has been in public beta at the Adobe Labs Web site.

A big focus of all NLE makers has been to support native camera formats and codecs. Grass Valley‘s EDIUS and Sony Creative Software‘s Vegas Pro have often been there first with the most wide-ranging support. Grass Valley will show off the newest version of EDIUS, which includes full-resolution, real-time AVCHD editing and Windows 7 compatibility. Vegas Pro, on the other hand, has been a 64-bit editing application for nearly a year and is one of the first to support Sony’s NXCAM. In addition, Vegas Pro 9 offers support for 4K workflows, including RED ONE files.

Boris FX‘s Media 100 remains popular with loyal users. Media 100 Suite v1.5 includes broader codec support, including AVCHD, ProRes and P2 “PN” frames. The multi-cam workflow has been refined and I/O support extended to a wide range of both AJA and Blackmagic Design cards. The Media 100 Suite is now one of the few NLEs that still supports PowerPC in addition to Mac Intel workstations.

AJA Video Systems made a huge splash at the show last year with Ki Pro. New software is out that adds Apple ProRes 422 (LT) and ProRes 422 (Proxy), along with variable frame rate support. Version 7.5 software has been released for the entire KONA family of products, adding Apple ProRes 4444 RGB support and the ability to transfer at double-speed from supported VTRs, like the Sony SRW-5800. This software version allows users for the first time to use multiple KONA cards on the same system. The AJA KONA 3 is currently the only capture card qualified for Autodesk’s Smoke for the Mac.

Matrox has been coming on strong with its I/O solutions, including Axio cards for Adobe Premiere Pro on the PC and the MXO2 family for Apple Final Cut Pro on the Mac. Building on last year’s addition of MAX-accelerated H.264 encoding within the MXO2 units, Matrox will demonstrate quick news delivery workflows using H.264 files. This centers on the new Vetura Playback application, which provides H.264 SD and HD output through any MXO2 device that includes the MAX technology. Another interesting new product is Matrox Convert DVI, touted as the world’s first HD-SDI scan converter with genlock for under $1000. According to Matrox, it’s intended for creating broadcast video from Skype, YouTube, Google Earth, video games, Web browsers and mobile phone videos.

Storage costs have been steadily decreasing, with more GB and TB for the buck than ever before. Shared storage has been on many a wish list and that’s more attractive than ever. Facilis Technology, which has offered high-performance alternatives to Avid and Apple solutions for several years, will be showing the newly developed Shared File System for OS X over Fibre Channel and Ethernet. It’s a cross-platform SAN that permits FC clients to write to both volume-level and file-level storage volumes at the same time. Together with Square Box Systems (makers of CatDV) Facilis will show a fully integrated asset management solution that turns Facilis’ TerraBlock server into a centralized post production hub. TerraBlock will also be featured sharing data between Autodesk Smoke systems, utilizing both Linux and Mac versions. Other demo workstations will be set up for Avid Media Composer, Apple Final Cut Pro and Assimilate Scratch.

EditShare, another powerhouse in shared storage, has been steadily growing into a full-service provider of postproduction solutions. In 2009, EditShare added Geevs broadcast playout systems and the Lightworks editor to its product portfolio. In Las Vegas, EditShare will demonstrate its Complete Collaboration solutions, which include Flow (ingest and asset management), XStream (high-performance storage) and Ark (asset management and archive). Unique EditShare features include support for the industry’s only Universal Media File Technology, which lets Avid and Final Cut Pro editors share and edit the exact same media files and exchange sequences between the two applications without duplication or transcoding. Nothing definite, but keep your eyes open for solutions that leverage the acquisition of Lightworks in this mix.

Innovation comes from many of the smaller exhibitors, such as 1 Beyond. Check out their booth for the 1 Beyond Wrangler DDR Stereo Direct-to-Disk Recording System for single and dual HD-SDI cameras. Other Wrangler models include an S3DR Review Station, powered by the IRIDAS FrameCycler, and a version for the SI-3D cameras. It’s capable of recording either stereo 2K 10-bit uncompressed RAW or CineForm RAW signals.

Speaking of CineForm, take a look at Cinedeck, which will be featured in their booth. Cinedeck is a camera-mountable recording system with a wide array of codec support, including CineForm in AVI, MOV and Avid MXF wrappers.

Another smaller vendor not to miss is Maxx Digital. Many folks in the industry have dealt with them for local drives and storage arrays, but they also offer the Final Share storage system. It’s an Ethernet-based shared storage solution for Final Cut Pro that was developed in conjunction with Small Tree. Final Share offers small boutique edit houses one of the lowest costs-of-entry for media sharing.

The production news will be dominated by Panasonic, Sony, RED and Canon. Panasonic pushes into stereoscopic production with the first “full HD” 3D camcorder. The AG-3DA1 features dual lenses, two 1920×1080 3-MOS imagers and integrated SDHC/SD memory card recording. Other 3D products include a new 25.5-inch 3D production monitor. Panasonic will also introduce more models in its line of small A/V mixers and additional P2 storage products. In other news, customers buying AVCCAM camcorders will get free copies of Grass Valley EDIUS Neo 2 software until September.

Like Panasonic and Grass Valley, Sony remains one of the main companies still building “heavy iron” for production. It appears to be the only company that’s still introducing new tape-based products, in spite of the ongoing transition to file-based workflows. Last year, Sony introduced several new products as part of its HDCAM SR 2.0 initiative. Although Sony is heavily invested in tapeless products, like XDCAM HD, it still believes that the most practical technology for superior recording requires tape. NAB will be a chance for most of us to see these products for the first time. One example of this is the recently announced SRW-9000 HDCAM SR camcorder. It’s a 24p-capable, one-piece unit that can record in full-bandwidth 1080 RGB 4:4:4, along with variable rate capturing and S-Log gamma settings. At the other end of the spectrum is the HVR-Z7U, a hybrid file and tape camcorder targeted at more cost-conscious market segments, like event videography. It features the ability to simultaneously record to CompactFlash cards and HDV tape for the best of both words.

This past year and a half, Canon has led the way in the unexpected HDSLR revolution by introducing a series of HD-capable digital still cameras. This started with the EOS 5D Mark II and continued with the 7D and 1D, as well as some cameras in the company’s Rebel line. I’m sure you’ll see these in full force on the floor, along with a burgeoning market for accessories from vendors like Redrock Micro and Zacuto. In addition to add-on hardware, you will also see various NLE companies support the native H.264 files from these cameras.

Unfortunately, what you won’t see is the holy grail enthusiastically embraced by the fans—that is, a unique camera blend combining the best of Canon’s DSLR and video products. In February, Canon announced a new MPEG-2 4:2:2 50Mb/s camera codec to be used in an upcoming video camera. This codec will most likely be shown at NAB and be supported by Avid, Grass Valley and Adobe. A new Canon video camera has already been shown in mock-up form, so it is quite possible that a prototype of the actual camera will make its debut in Las Vegas. That mock-up looks like a logical evolution of the XL-style cameras, only with solid-state recording instead of HDV tape. Obviously, it will disappoint those who hoped for something closer to the 5D, but odds are that it will be a welcome HD choice for videographers who have been happy with the existing line of Canon video cameras.

The “elephant in the room”—but not on the show floor—is RED Digital Cinema. RED will make its appearance at the “RED Day” event, which will take place off-site at the Tropicana Hotel during the week on Wednesday. Like last year, RED Day is a series RED-related presentations and a showcase of products that are part of the RED ecosystem. Both the unforeseen enthusiasm for HDSLRs and the downturn in the economy have tossed RED a curve ball, so products like Scarlet, Epic and RED Ray that were slated for introduction in 2009 have yet to hit the market.

The next-generation RED camera, Epic, is in early beta, and it’s hard to tell what the market is for the smaller, cheaper Scarlet in light of Canon’s options. Nevertheless, RED continues to gain market share and respect, so RED Day is a worthwhile diversion from the convention center if you have an interest in seeing what they are doing.

Most of the major NLEs offer some level of RED support today, but two key products to check out are RED’s own RED Rocket card and the REDCINE-X application. RED Rocket is an accelerator card designed to play RED’s 4K camera files in real time and to accelerate transcoding at near-real-time speeds. The card is supported in a number of custom, portable workstations, as well as in conjunction with Avid, Quantel and Assimilate units to name a few. REDCINE-X is RED’s free color grading/transcoding software application used to export dailies footage for editing. It is in beta and eventually will supplant the older RED applications, such as RED Alert, RED Rushes and REDCINE.

As stated before, Apple isn’t exhibiting, but I’m sure the Final Cut presence will be felt at the 9th Annual Las Vegas SuperMeet. This gathering of FCP users and user groups will be at the Rio Hotel on Tuesday evening. Aside from the usual networking and festivities, the SuperMeet is also a good place to meet some of the smaller plug-in developers who design products specifically for the Final Cut Studio market. One example is Noise Industries, whose FxFactory partner companies produce After Effects, Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Express and Motion filters. New filters in the collection include the PHYX keyer, Aquafadas PulpFx Abstract slideshows, 3D stereo tools from Dashwood Cinema Solutions and more.

As the SuperMeet would indicate, NAB isn’t just an equipment exhibition, but also a place to network and learn from the best in the business. Concurrent with the NAB Convention is Future Media Concepts’ Post|Production World Conference. This is a series of separate training sessions and featured keynote speakers, covering a broad range of industry topics. The conference encompasses five days of in-depth training and will have over 250 sessions. This year will feature workshops for producers and directors, documentary editing, trends in social media and courses in emerging technology such as HDSLRs and tapeless acquisition.