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2016 NAB Show Roundup: Which Innovations Will Change the Video Industry?

Oliver Peters identifies the technology advances at the NAB Show.

The NAB Show—the world’s largest film, television and broadcast exhibition—is now behind us. With more than 103,000 registered attendees from 187 countries and more than 1,000,000 square feet of exhibits from 1,874 companies, the 2016 NAB Show delivered very similar numbers to 2015. In addition to visiting exhibits in all of the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center, attendees were able to learn more about their craft at various on- and off-site companion events, including the Post Production World sessions, the Avid Customer Association’s Avid Connect gathering at the Wynn, and FCP Exchange at the neighboring Renaissance.

Many NAB Show attendees try to assess what that “next big thing” is going to be. This year seemed more of a “selling” show, with vendors focusing on products that are ready to ship now or very soon. In other words, there was a lot less “vaporware.” Actual, shipping 4K products are pretty much in every manufacturer’s lineup now, and 8K is sufficiently far down the road that few are inclined to make 8K purchases immediately. That’s not to say 8K technology was not present; it was represented by a number of companies on the show floor.

There were several themes this year that were hard to miss: HDR (high dynamic range), 360-degree video, VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) and, finally, UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones).

Canon lenses at NAB Show 2016. Photo by John Staley.

High Dynamic Range

DOLBY started the push for high dynamic range imagery with its Dolby Vision technology. Video display brightness is measured in nits, where 1 nit equals 1 candela per square meter (1 cd/m2). A candela is roughly the brightness of a single lit candle. Current TV and Blu-ray standards limit the brightness range from a minimum of .117 nits to a maximum brightness of 100 nits. Dolby defines a theoretical ideal range for most viewers as 0 to 10,000 nits. Some modern commercial TV sets have 300 to 500 nits of maximum brightness. Dolby is pushing for a mastering display standard of 4,000 nits as part of its Dolby Vision method. Dolby Vision-enabled consumer sets made in the near-term would reproduce somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 nits. If a master grade were created based on a Dolby reference monitor, then encoded metadata would adjust the image for other standards, like standard dynamic range (SDR, or Rec. 709) and other specifications in between. This model has been defined in part by SMPTE ST-2084 (“High Dynamic Range Electro-Optical Transfer Function of Mastering Reference Displays”).

Planar Leyard 8K video wall

All over the NAB Show floor, vendors displayed HDR images at various levels of brightness, from 400 nits up to 2,000 nits—and higher for Dolby, of course. What makes this confusing is that HDR is largely a display standard. Current cameras are all claimed to be capable of capturing images that are proper for HDR. Cameras from Sony, Canon, ARRI and others already capture a wider dynamic range (aka linear light) in their sensors, which in turn is compressed using a log encoding scheme, like ARRI’s Log-C, to record that wider range. Through grading, this log scale can be expanded back out to be displayed as HDR.

There were examples of HDR in action in a number of booths. SONY ELECTRONICS had a small display where a single image from a live camera was displayed in four quadrants of its high-end PVM-X550 monitor. These corners were S-Log3 from the camera, SDR (Rec. 709), consumer TV HDR brightness (about 400 nits) and SMPTE ST-2084 (about 1,000 nits).

Harmonic HDR demonstration

ATOMOS highlighted its support of HDR technology. Atomos’ Shogun Flame, introduced a few weeks before the show, is capable of altering the brightness of the camera’s incoming image to the onboard display up to 1,500 nits. At NAB Show, Atomos introduced Inferno, the flagship model in the eight-strong Atomos HDR monitor/recorder lineup.

Finally, CANON U.S.A.’s prototype 8K camera, which is based on the design of the EOS C300 Mark II, was shown displaying an HDR image to a prototype 4K, 2,000-nit reference monitor.

While all of these options may seem confusing, the good news is that it appears that most of the tools in the production and post pipeline are already capable of dealing with HDR. Cameras capture linear light but record it in log space to protect for HDR. NLEs and grading tools use 10-bit or 12-bit (and/or floating point) processing, which is sufficient for HDR. For most, it’s simply a matter of integrating HDR into the controls, and then the rest is up to your reference display.

360-Degree Video, VR and AR

Atomos Shogun Flame

By now most of us are familiar with virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, HTC Vive and others, as well as the various VR solutions that use a smartphone as video processor and display, including Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, Zeiss VR One and FreeflyVR. There were plenty of VR and AR technologies for attendees to try at this year’s NAB Show.

In addition to delivering an immersive, wraparound video experience, these viewing devices allow the viewer to interact with the content. Naturally, directors, producers and others in the content chain are in the process of figuring out how to create compelling VR content, which amounts to devising a whole new way to tell stories—and not only how to tell the story, but also how to shoot, post and deliver it to viewers.

While gaming is an obvious application of VR, there are plenty of other opportunities, such as “you are there” experiences for news and museums, as well as themed attractions. These are typically 360-degree views—sometimes 2D and sometimes stereoscopic.

Following a few general rules seems to provide the best experience for users. For example, the less camera movement there is, the less the tendency for motion sickness. Some of the lively discussions I had with other editors at the show were about how to design the best cinematic experience for this medium. The general consensus was that a dramatic production would have to be designed like a stage play, with audio cues to indicate to viewers where to look next. In addition, clever pre-vis and editing along the lines of the Alejandro González Iñárritu film Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) would be needed to make any edits as seamless as possible.

Blackmagic camera on DJI UAV. Photo by Al Powers.

Part of the discussion that’s often overlooked is the use of 360-degree recordings within an otherwise 2D sequence—for example, a pan of 180 degrees or greater created in post. Tools like Tim Dashwood’s 360VR Toolbox and the new VR video mode in Adobe Premiere Pro CC empower the editor with just such control.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

If nothing else, this was the year unmanned aerial vehicles became mainstream. Aerial photography systems from DJI have long been a favorite, but this year DJI had plenty of competition. While there were many models designed to carry cameras in the featherweight GoPro weight class, there were also many options with a heftier lift capacity.

For larger craft, although not a greater lifting capacity, AUTEL ROBOTICS had to be the clear winner. Autel’s Kestrel drone is a four-rotor aircraft design that’s really an electrically powered fixed-wing craft capable of vertical take-offs and landings. With a range of up to 62 miles, design payload of 4.4 lb. and maximum speed of 40 mph, certainly aerial photography is only part of its capabilities.

On the large but more conventional side was the multi-rotor Alta 8, on display in the FREEFLY SYSTEMS booth (the MoVI people). This is an eight-rotor unit capable of lifting up to 20 lb. It was displayed with a Freefly camera mount and an ARRI Alexa Mini. Both top and bottom mounts are possible.

Autel Kestrel

New Products

Following are some highlights from the show.

ADOBE came to the NAB Show as a clear favorite among editors. Everywhere you looked, from exhibits on the show floor to video journalists editing in the press room, Premiere Pro had a presence. Its demos were consistently crowded as various presenters unveiled new tools and ways to use Adobe’s video products most effectively. This summer Adobe will roll out its newest Creative Cloud updates, which will make Premiere Pro CC even more of the hub within Adobe’s editing workflows. Premiere Pro CC gains three large features. SpeedGrade’s HSL secondary color correction has been integrated into the Lumetri Color panel. There is now an easy proxy workflow, so editors can generate internal proxies and switch between those and heavy native files, like 6K RED, during post. Finally, Premiere Pro will be capable of editing 360VR content. The VR video mode enables you to work with imported stitched video so you know what your viewer is seeing when looking in a given direction.


VR Workflows in Adobe Premiere Pro:

Both After Effects and Audition gained new features as well, including a new After Effects audio/video playback engine with improved frame caching for a smoother playback experience. Adobe has added an Essential Sound panel to Audition. In concept, it’s like the Lumetri Color panel in Premiere Pro, only for sound. This panel provides simple controls to unify volume levels, repair sound and improve clarity. Users can assign a “mix type” to selected clips to see specific effects and parameters suitable for that content. For example, clips assigned as dialogue clips will get options to enhance speech and clean up background noise, as well as EQ presets for voice. A clip assigned as a music clip will offer one-click access to Audition Remix.

Autel X-Star Premium. Photo by John Staley.

AJA VIDEO SYSTEMS is committed to the next generation of professional products, such as its new KONA IP—the first desktop PCIe I/O card for IP workflows. This is an 8-lane PCIe 2.0 card that supports SMPTE 2022-6 for uncompressed audio and video over IP. There will be future support for other IP standards. AJA also announced U-TAP USB 3.0 capture/playback devices, with both an HDMI and SDI version. These are bus-powered, compatible with OS X, Windows and Linux, and don’t require the installation of drivers. For the high-end 4K market, there’s the FS4 Frame Synchronizer/Converter, an up/down/cross-converter for 4K/UHD, 2K, HD and SD in a 1RU frame. It operates in two modes: four independent channels of SD/HD/2K or a single channel of 4K/UHD frame sync and conversion.

My favorite  of AJA’s new devices is HELO, a 1080p60 streaming and recording appliance that works with H.264 at up to 20 Mb/s. It allows users to stream video signals directly to content delivery networks (CDNs) while simultaneously recording to an SD card, USB drive or network-based storage.

Freefly Alta 8

Let’s not forget existing products. AJA’s 4K CION cinema camera gets a firmware update (v1.3) that improves highlight handling and black detail in every gamma mode. New gamma naming conventions make the modes more closely aligned with industry conventions. A firmware update for the Ki Pro Ultra adds exFAT media formatting, 16-channel audio and closed caption support. In addition, there’s a new Pak-Adapt-eSATA module. It includes an eSATA connector and plugs into the Pak media card slot on the Ki Pro. The device enables users to record directly to attached eSATA drives and RAIDs from Ki Pro Ultra and Ki Pro Quad units.

AUTODESK news included software updates and new partnerships. The company has acquired Solid Angle, developer of the high-quality Arnold renderer; however, Autodesk still supports other rendering APIs in Maya and 3ds Max.

DJI Matrice 600. Photo by Al Powers.

Autodesk and Google are partnering for the Autodesk Maya Cloud rendering service, which uses the Google cloud platform ZYNC for rendering. ZYNC started in-house (I discussed ZYNC in my story on the film Looper, which was published in the October 2012 issue of Digital Video) and was then bought by Google. It allows users to access up to 30,000 cores.

Autodesk Flame, Maya and 3ds Max all gained updates. Flame Family 2017 is available as a subscription for Mac OS X and Linux. It adds new camera effects (powered by Stingray), as well as a connected color workflow, which is a live link for grades between Flame and Lustre. Maya 2016 extension 2 adds a new motion graphics toolset, improved character tools and an updated render manager. 3ds Max 2017 adds 4K monitor support and the new Autodesk Ray-Trace Renderer (ART).

AVID kicked off its activities with Avid Connect on the weekend leading into the NAB Show. The weekend of presentations, workshops and parties included several product announcements—most notably Avid NEXIS. It’s the next generation of Avid shared storage and the company’s first opportunity to drop the ISIS name on future products. The modularity of Avid NEXIS enables teams in broadcast and editing environments to mix and match storage engines and scale capacity from as little as 20 TB to more than 1.4 PB in a single system. It’s available in both small- and large-footprint versions.

HDR support in Adobe Premiere Pro

This is the first year that Orad has been integrated into Avid as a line of graphics tools for news and sports production. Offerings include 4Designer, a 2D and 3D motion graphics author for broadcast productions, and Avid Spark, a live telestration tool.

Avid promoted Pro Tools cloud collaboration heavily. This ties into the Avid Marketplace as a way to hang your shingle, as well as to find and work with other contributors long distance. Marketplace is also a way to buy tools, such as plug-ins. One of these is Eleven, a guitar amp simulator. It’s been quite popular as a hardware unit, but now Eleven Mark II and a set of guitar stomp boxes are also available as software plug-ins for Pro Tools.

Unfortunately Media Composer didn’t get much love in the Avid Connect keynote, despite the fact that the recent release of Media Composer 8.5 and subsequent point updates have been some of the best in Media Composer’s long history. With v8.5, Avid engineers added support for HDR color spaces, improved clip visibility during timeline editing, simplified menus, improved the layout of the effects palette, and finessed many other small and large refinements. Best of all, they increased the audio track count to 64. Although Media Composer was slighted, Avid did introduce the Media Central UX control panel for Premiere Pro CC, which was co-developed with Adobe. This cloud-based web front end to the Avid MediaCentral platform allows Premiere Pro systems that are connected to Avid Interplay/ISIS systems to search, find and properly import Avid media into a Premiere Pro project.

AJA CION. Photo by Al Powers.

BLACKMAGIC DESIGN is the first booth you see in the lower level of the South Hall. It’s usually quite packed—and impressively so first thing Monday morning when the NAB Show floor opened—but a spacious layout made this year’s booth more comfortable than in past years. The company had plenty of enhancements to existing products and quite a few new wrinkles as well. One that most didn’t expect was the Blackmagic Duplicator 4K, which allows delivery of Ultra HD content to consumers by recording files onto inexpensive SD cards that can be distributed to customers the moment a live event is finished. It features 12G-SDI connections, a real-time H.265 encoder and 25 built-in SD card recorders. It can record UHD 4K video at up to 60 fps. For larger events, multiple duplicators can be stacked using the SDI loop-through and RS-422 deck control. The recordings and the SD cards are plug-and-play compatible with the built-in SD card readers on many consumer 4K TV sets—or via a USB adapter. One hour of a UHD program encoded to H.265 will fit onto an 8 GB SD card.

Blackmagic URSA Mini. Photo by Al Powers.

On the camera side, Blackmagic’s URSA Mini gets an operating system update, which is said to be a total OS rewrite with improved menu design and performance. Customers can now quickly change settings including ISO, white balance, shutter angle, iris, frame rate, frame guides and more without having to navigate a single menu. There are now custom white balance settings and white balance presets, along with tint control settings. Camera Update 3.2, which is a free software update for URSA Mini, turns it into a true studio camera. The update enables features such as talkback, tally, camera control, color balancing, lens control and more from ATEM switchers. It also lets customers set the camera ID, reference timing and SDI output options that make URSA Mini compatible with any live production switcher.

Blackmagic URSA Mini’s new UI

As part of turning URSA into more of a studio camera system, Blackmagic announced the URSA Studio Viewfinder and Video Assist 4K. Studio Viewfinder is a 7-inch high-resolution screen designed for production in a studio-style configuration at live events. It features variable tension mounting points and an articulated arm so the viewfinder can be raised, lowered, and moved forward and backward. Operators can use the large viewfinder handles to move the camera completely independently of the viewfinder itself, which gives them the ability to look directly into the viewfinder while the camera moves to follow the action. Video Assist 4K is a 7-inch recording monitor that takes HDMI and SDI inputs, along with two mini XLR connectors and 48V phantom power. It features two built-in high-speed UHS-II recorders that work with high-performance SD cards to record video up to 2160p30. Files are saved in either ProRes or DNxHD formats.

Canon’s prototype 8K camera. Photo by Oliver Peters.

Blackmagic has been active in post as well, releasing a public beta of DaVinci Resolve 12.5 on the opening day of the show. The company claims 1,000 enhancements and 250 new features added to the editing and color correction toolsets. DaVinci Resolve 12.5 also introduces ResolveFX for native GPU- and CPU-accelerated effects. This release includes plug-ins such as lens blur, light rays, emboss, dent, vortex, mirrors, Gaussian and other blurs, glows, ripples and more. Advanced ResolveFX tools like film grain, lens blurs and flares are available with DaVinci Resolve 12.5 Studio. The new Fusion Connect feature lets customers send clips to Fusion for additional visual effects. Fusion is Blackmagic Design’s advanced node-based 3D compositing, visual effects and motion graphics software.

CANON U.S.A. manufactures one of the more popular camera designs in its C series EOS cameras, including the C100 (and Mark II), C300 (and Mark II) and C500. The C300 Mark II and C500 cameras can record 4K content including raw output. At the NAB Show, Canon demonstrated a prototype 8K model based on the C300 Mark II design. Company reps were showing two units in the booth: one with a 4K zoom lens and the other with a prototype 8K lens. Both made outstanding images, as demonstrated in the screening of a short film. This current Canon 8K prototype is a bit of a Rube Goldberg device, recording four segments of a single 8K image onto four synchronized Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q recording monitors as 4K/59.94 fps images.

Facilis TerraBlock product line

While many are skeptics about 8K, it certainly makes a stunning presentation on large displays, such as would be used in a theater, museum or luxury hotel lobby. The clarity offers a “windowpane” moment. Go right up to the display and you still can’t see the pixels. Canon was showing a few of these, but the most stunning example was the PLANAR Leyard TW Series LED video wall.

FACILIS TECHNOLOGY has been the go-to shared storage provider for facilities looking for robust team editing solutions. Managing and retaining larger quantities of media with bigger frame sizes has become a greater challenge for storage vendors. Facilis is meeting the challenge by offering both solid-state and hybrid shared storage products. The TerraBlock SSD8 is a turnkey eight-drive all-SSD system (8 and 16 TB configurations) with all the features of the larger systems. This 2U rack-mountable server includes a choice of 8 or 16 Gb Fibre or 1, 10 or 40 Gb Ethernet connectivity. The TerraBlock Hybrid24 combines both solid-state and spinning disk drives to give the customer better performance when caching to fast SSDs makes the most sense. Copying media between the SSD and spinning disk modules is fast and internal to the system.

GoPro Mini

GOPRO single-handedly invented the immersive camera experience. If it weren’t for GoPros, aerial shooting platforms wouldn’t have had such an impact on the production landscape. Likewise, GoPro is at the forefront of 360VR content. As well as GoPro VR, a platform for viewing and sharing immersive content, GoPro has Omni, an all-inclusive rig that houses six GoPro HERO4 Black cameras in a synchronized, spherical array. Each camera captures a 2.7K 4:3 image to its internal SD card. Since the six cameras are synced, the combination provides an 8K capture (7940 x 3970). These images are then stitched together using the GoPro Kolor software.

GoPro showed a second rig at the NAB Show called Odyssey. Sixteen genlock-synced cameras are placed into a ring mount that’s on a level plane. This configuration is designed to capture a stereoscopic, panoramic 360-degree image (no top or bottom) via Google’s Jump assembler, which uses advanced computer vision and the computing power of the Google cloud to render the footage. Think Disney’s Circle-Vision 360° in stereoscopic 3D, except shot with GoPro HERO4 cameras. Odyssey is available only to professional filmmakers and costs about $15,000.

Shortly after the show, in its first quarter earnings call in early May, GoPro CEO Nicolas Woodman announced that the company had decided to delay the launch of its drone, Karma, until the holidays.

LaCie 12big

LACIE has been a popular drive brand for editors and facilities of all sizes. At NAB Show, the company previewed the 12big Thunderbolt 3 RAID array. It’s a tower holding 12 Seagate drives for up to 96 GB capacity in a RAID 5 or 6 configuration. With Thunderbolt 3, LaCie claims speeds up to 2,600 MB/s, but right now that means PCs only. Connectivity is via Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C. According to LaCie, Macs would have to be connected using USB until such time as Apple supports the Thunderbolt 3 protocol.

LUMAFORGE has been getting the attention of the Final Cut Pro X editor market. The company was off in a suite at the Encore hotel, demoing its ShareStation storage solutions: Studio, Indie and Jellyfish. These models are expandable to 3.5 PB and 425 TB for the first two systems, respectively. Jellyfish is not expandable and is available in 24, 32 and 48 TB models. Studio and Indie connect up to 24 direct-attached users via 1, 10 or 40 Gb Ethernet. Jellyfish connects up to 14 direct-attached users, with up to four on 10 GigE and up to 10 on regular GigE. The units are designed for different target users, ranging from small shops to larger facilities, but they all feature simple setup and administration. The ShareClient App, included with the purchase of any ShareStation, allows users to quickly and easily connect to the network and begin working immediately.

PANASONIC had an impressive low-light display of its VariCam 35 4K cinema camera at NAB Show last year. New for this year is the VariCam LT 4K cinema camera, which began shipping in March. It inherits the Super 35mm sensor and imaging capabilities of the VariCam 35, but with significant reductions in size and weight. (VariCam LT weighs 6 pounds, or just a hair over half of the VariCam 35.) While its big brother comes as a two-piece camera head plus recorder configuration, the LT is a single unit with Codex recorder built in. Panasonic says VariCam LT delivers over 14 stops of dynamic range with V-Log, and the cinematic VariCam image quality and color science, as well as the VariCam 35’s dual-native ISOs of 800/5000.

Photo by Al Powers.

Panasonic also announced a major expansion of its 4K camera offerings with the introduction of the UX series of 4K handheld camcorders, scheduled to ship in the fall. The premium model AG-UX180 features a 1-inch MOS sensor, 20x optical zoom, 60p UHD recording, dual-codec recording, IR recording in low light, and 3G-SDI/HDMI 2.0 output. Variable frame rate recording in 1080p is also planned. The AG-UX90 is the standard model and features a 1-inch MOS sensor, optical 15x zoom and UHD 30p recording.

RED DIGITAL CINEMA has been defining higher resolution since its founding. Naturally they’d be ready with 8K this year. RED displayed several camera models at the show, including Weapon 8K, Weapon 6K, Scarlet-W 5K and RED Raven 4.5K. This range of models covers many needs, customers and price points. All of them are built around RED’s current modular camera design, which lets users configure the camera according to their needs, whether that’s still photography, high-end films or run-and-gun field use. RED dubs this concept DSMC2 (digital stills and motion camera). New at the show as part of this approach was a DSMC2 side handle, SDI expander, 7-inch LCD with touch control, and battery module. The latest version of DSMC2 firmware allows for simultaneous recording of files in RECODE RAW and Avid DNxHR/HD.