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Stronger, Stabilized, Strategic: 2017 NAB Show Featured Development, Not Disruption

Although no new technology trends emerged, this year's NAB Show was certainly a solid performer.

Although no new technology trends emerged, this year’s NAB Show was certainly a solid performer. The National Association of Broadcasters estimates that more than 103,000 industry professionals from all over the world visited the annual conference in 2017, putting this year’s attendance statistic slightly ahead of last year’s (102,513).

There was plenty to see and do, both on and off the show floor, with seminars and off-site events that included NAB’s own member sessions, Avid Connect, Post Production World and the SuperMeet, as well as smaller presentations by FCPWORKS, LumaForge and others. Several exhibitors were missing from this year’s show floor, including RED, which has opted for smaller camera-oriented venues, and Autodesk Media & Entertainment, which decided on a more subdued presence in the adjacent Renaissance Hotel.

For me, the week started on the weekend leading into the convention at the Avid Connect event at the Wynn. In its fourth year, Avid Connect attracted 1,300 attendees. Connect is structured as a customer event with sessions and partner pavilions, but it’s also where Avid announces new products to the press and the world. Since Media Composer and Pro Tools updates were announced and began rolling out before the show, the keynote presentations focused more on company vision. Of key interest to broadcasters is the continued integration of Orad tools into the Avid family of products under the Avid Graphics banner. (Avid acquired Orad Hi-Tec Systems in 2015.)

Avid finally announced the release date of its free Avid Media Composer | First software; it’s scheduled to be available in June. Like Pro Tools | First, Media Composer | First is a streamlined, feature-restricted, free application designed to get new users comfortable with the Avid interface. It will be a fully functioning standalone application permitting ingest, editing and export of a finished product.

With the goal of pushing more forcefully into cloud services, Avid announced a strategic partnership with Microsoft to use Azure as the preferred Avid cloud provider. As part of this initiative, Avid will be offering both cloud and VM (virtual machine) versions of Media Composer in the future.

Specific new Avid products include the Avid Artist | DNxIQ I/O device. The successor to the DNxIO (which has now been discontinued), DNxIQ features universal mastering functions (24p edits out to 60i masters). Both products were co-developed with Blackmagic Design. DNxIQ is essentially Blackmagic’s UltraStudio 4K Extreme 3 with additional Avid features. It includes Thunderbolt 3 and faster PCIe connectivity.

Speaking of Blackmagic Design, if you are looking for a single product that was the talk of the show, it had to be Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 14. If his intentions weren’t clear before, this product update signaled Grant Petty’s steadfast desire for Blackmagic to be a significant player in the NLE space. At IBC in September 2016, Blackmagic Design announced the acquisition of Fairlight, whose Fairlight DAW is the second most popular after Avid’s Pro Tools. When updating Resolve, Blackmagic engineers essentially ripped out the audio section and replaced it with Fairlight’s audio engine. There’s now a Fairlight tab in the Resolve interface, which opens the audio section, complete with channel strips, effects and faders. The Fairlight software within Resolve is compatible with Fairlight hardware, including its consoles and audio accelerator card. Without the card, Fairlight supports up to 60 real-time audio tracks, but installing the card gives customers up to 1,000 zero latency tracks and real-time effects processing for EQ, dynamics, and up to six VST plug-ins per channel. In addition, Blackmagic dropped the price of the paid version (Resolve Studio) from $995 to $299.

This level of integration in such a short period of time is astounding; an early beta of Resolve 14 was released publicly in time for NAB Show. While not everyone can be a whiz at all aspects of Resolve, it does permit a multi-room post facility to build “hero” rooms around edit, mix and grading—all based on a single application and therefore with no need for project translation when moving among the rooms. In addition, Resolve 14 boasts a 10x performance boost, as well as new features such as collaboration, timeline version comparison, and facial tracking for enhanced effects.

For producers involved in streaming video, Blackmagic’s new ATEM Television Studio Pro HD all-in-one live production switcher will be a hit. There’s an integrated hardware control panel for eight inputs, analog audio inputs, and even DVE control. Ultimatte, another recent Blackmagic Design acquisition, came to the show with refreshed hardware and a 60 percent price reduction, thanks to Blackmagic’s supply chain. At $9,995, the Ultimate 11 remains the real-time blue/greenscreen keying standard for virtual set production.

AJA Video Systems demonstrated its first foray into high dynamic range with a technology preview of the FS-HDR converter. HDR imaging was generally the biggest thread throughout the show, and there appear to be three to four emerging standards. SDR (standard dynamic range) devices can display 8 to 10 stops, whereas HDR devices can show up to 15 stops of range. While SDR tops out at around 100 nits of brightness (roughly the light from 100 candles), anything over 1,000 nits is considered HDR, with the Dolby Vision standard proposing as high as 10,000 nits. The point of the FS-HDR, which is a variation of AJA’s FS-1 frame synchronizer/converter, is to provide input and output cross-conversion between SDR and any of the HDR standards. It is being designed in conjunction with Colorfront, which is developing the color science behind these conversions.

Other AJA products include various “widget” converters that now feature 12G connectivity. 12G means that a 4K signal can be moved across a single coax wire with a single input or output connector, thus reducing wiring infrastructure by a factor of four. AJA also showed an end-to-end IP video workflow for facilities moving toward IP-based infrastructures.

A key new product is AJA’s Ki Pro Ultra Plus. It can record a single 4K stream at up to 60 fps or up to four HD signals at once. There are 64 channels of embedded audio, and a web UI is available with live video feedback during recording. Both Apple ProRes and Avid DNx codec families are supported. It’s available for $3,995.

Adobe had already rolled out its latest Creative Cloud update by the time the conference began; its booth was an opportunity for most of the world to catch up. Some of the latest features include a new text panel for Premiere Pro and After Effects, a new Essential Sound panel for Premiere Pro (brought over from Audition), motion graphics templates for Premiere Pro, and collaboration for Team users. If you use a Microsoft Surface Studio workstation, you’ll be interested in the new support within Adobe applications for the Surface Dial controller. As in past years, Adobe’s booth featured a running series of product demos and guest speakers to showcase Adobe products. One of these was editor Vashi Nedomansky, who walked the audience through the native 6K edit workflow he used for the film 6 Below. The film was designed for the Barco multiscreen, ultra-wide display format.

This year’s NAB Show was not terribly camera-heavy. Most announcements related to newer versions of cameras that have been in production for some time. The exception was Canon, which used the show to demonstrate its flagship EOS C700 cinema camera. It’s a Super 35mm, shoulder-mounted modular camera along the lines of a Sony F55 or ARRI Alexa. It features internal 4K ProRes and XF-AVC recording, along with an optional 4K Codex CDX-31500 recorder for uncompressed raw. The C700 comes in three models: EF, PL, and PL with a global shutter.

After the Resolve 14 announcement, the next biggest hit of the show for me was the unveiling of the HP DreamColor Z31x Studio monitor. The Z31x is positioned as a studio display that can be used for both workstation interface and final video output. It is intended for the growing number of editors and colorists who are doing their work in suites without the benefit of dedicated external video monitors. The Z31x is a 31-inch 4K panel (built by Panasonic for HP) that can accurately reproduce 99 percent of the P3 color space. It has a 1500:1 contrast ratio and an integrated KVM switch. The really cool part is its built-in XYZ colorimeter with software that allows for automatic, scheduled wake-up, warm-up and calibration intervals. It will be available later this year for $4,000. Another exciting HP display is the Z34c, a wide-aspect, curved 4K display. It’s designed as an interface display only and isn’t color-accurate for grading, but it would still make a striking addition to any edit suite for about $1,000.

Many editors are still trying to get some life out of older workstation towers. New for them is the AMD Radeon Pro Duo, the first dual-GPU card for professionals. The card is armed with 32 GB of ultra-fast GDDR5 memory to handle larger data sets, and AMD claims up to two times faster performance than the closest competing card. The Radeon Pro Duo features OpenCL optimization for use with Avid Media Composer rendering.

If you were shopping for storage, there were plenty of options at the show, including Avid, LumaForge, 1 Beyond, Symply, OpenDrives, Facilis, QNAPand more. One standout continues to be EditShare, which has evolved from a small New England-based startup into a leading enterprise storage provider. The basic building block of their success is the EFS file system. In short, the technology ensures that when users add a new storage chassis, the system automatically rebalances the load throughout the total system. This permits seamless integration when it comes time to expand capacity. EditShare’s newest system integrates SSD drives for the most demanding installations where bandwidth-hungry formats are the mainstay.

Another interesting shared storage approach comes from StrongBox Data Solutions, which offers an LTFS NAS product. Its StrongBox solution essentially combines traditional shared storage (disks) for near-line storage with automatic movement to/from a tape archive using LTO drives. Cloud and other off-site deep archive backups are also possible.

Of course, there were plenty of other toys, both large and small, distributed throughout the NAB Show halls. This was a year for buying, with many products on display now having already established a solid track record. There were many fewer theoretical products and technologies at this show. Stereo 3D and 360°/VR tools made appearances in 2017, but not with the hype of the past. This year was one of serving current needs. I presume next year we’ll be back to the usual guessing game of what the future may hold.   

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