I looked over my 2017 predictions written a year ago and my accuracy seems to be about 50 percent. (See for yourself at creativeplanetnetwork.com/2017Predictions.) Politics and trade policies take time to change, so no related shifts there. Avid had a stronger year than I’d predicted; the company is still intact, and bringing interesting new products to market. Apple tracked in large part according to my predictions, however. There are new iMacs, Mac Minis and Mac Pros on the horizon, even while the company is pushing products like the iPad Pro as all the computer most consumers really need.
Looking to 2018, we have another interesting year ahead. Developers continue to push 360° video/virtual reality (360°/VR) and augmented reality (AR). Those terms get used somewhat interchangeably, even though purists see them as distinctly different processes with different end results.
How will our use of the cloud and other emerging technologies evolve in the coming years?
Photo courtesy Apple
The newest 360° video tools will come by way of the integrated toolkit in the v10.4 update of Apple’s Final Cut Pro X. FCP X has been able to handle 360° imagery thanks to Tim Dashwood’s plug-ins. His joining Apple last April forged the way to integrate the plug-ins deeper into FCP X itself. It remains to be seen whether or not that’s a smart move. For me, 360° video, like stereo 3D, is a technology in search of a purpose. Yes there is a small, specialty market for it, but generally it’s a novelty. Perhaps this is the conclusion Nokia executives reached when they killed off the OZO camera system and redirected that technology division to focus on digital health systems.
The safer bet this year is increasing prominence of 8K video and HDR (high dynamic range) imagery. Nearly every camera and postproduction technology is capable of handling HDR workflows, even though most consumer and professional monitors can’t display it yet. This leaves many high-end films and TV shows adopting a two-delivery approach: master for HDR and then generate HDR and standard dynamic range delivery masters. It’s still only the producers at the very high end who have to worry about this issue this year, however. Same for 8K cameras, where manufacturers are pushing the envelope again. Most of us don’t have to concern ourselves with the high data rates of 8K for a while yet.
With Apple’s hire of Tim Dashwood last year, 360°/VR functionality is being integrated more completely into Final Cut Pro X.
UHD/4K has largely become mainstream, so why not evolve to 8K as the next iteration? This transition to ever-higher resolutions is driven more by display manufacturers’ bottom lines than true creative or technical reasons, but if you need to feed the pixel pipeline, the best places to look are Panavision, RED, Sony and ARRI. The first two are pushing up to 8K video frames, while the last two have settled on 6K for now. One can argue about the validity of pixel counts with any Bayer pattern sensor used by such cameras. All of these offerings provide a larger image than needed for current 4K screens at home and in theaters. Shooting 6K/8K gives you better images when downsampled to 4K, and you have “bleed” room for cropping, punch-ins, image stabilization, etc. To facilitate cost-effective post, Blackmagic Design recently announced an 8K-capable DeckLink I/O card.
The challenge to traditional video camera manufacturers is coming from the low end—not necessarily cheaper production cameras or even DSLRs, the challenge is really coming from smartphones. Apple began shipping its rather expensive iPhone X in November, with prices starting at $999. Whether it’s worth the money is a subjective assessment; arguably its best selling point is the camera. Search the web and you’ll find many beautiful short films produced for online consumption with an iPhone X—and with other smartphone brands too. Granted, these videographers used a lot of lighting and rigging to achieve their superior results, but it’s undeniable that they were able to successfully shoot projects with $1,000 smartphone cameras. So, as is often the case, both ends of the spectrum will thrive, but the middle will be challenged. I expect we’ll see more productions over the coming year relying on these technologies for stunning creative results.
Ronald Aiello shot video at the Dead Sea with an iPhone X in 4K 24 fps mode. The camera was mounted on a DJI Inspire 2. Watch video.
Apple, Tablets and the Cloud
There continues to be a positive future for Apple in our industry. Many editors and post managers grouse about being tied to Apple, and some have even moved over to Microsoft Windows hardware for their needs. HP, Dell and Asus are the big winners for editors. Even Microsoft’s Surface has been widely adopted for general use. Yet the majority of creatives “just want stuff to work,” which is something Apple succeeds at more frequently than others.
I predict Apple’s iMac Pro will be a real winner for editors, designers and other creatives. Even the base Pro model (estimated to start at $5K) will already be more powerful than any other Mac produced. Until we see what the new Mac Pro teased by Apple can do, the iMac Pro will be the “go to” computer for post. That’s not to say you can’t get by with less. A recent MacBook Pro is more than powerful enough to work with HD (and even higher resolution) media. If you are mainly concerned with proxy-based offline editing, then even a MacBook might do the trick.
Matteo Bertoli Visuals shot video on Kauai with an iPhone X in 4K at 24 fps and graded it in DaVinci Resolve 14 (free version). Watch video.
For many, however, the question won’t be which computer to purchase but rather whether to purchase a computer at all. Tablet devices like the Surface and iPad/iPad Pro are becoming capable of handling general purpose computing and many creative tasks. Users are increasingly comfortable with saving personal files, like documents and photos, to the cloud.
I don’t think it’s that far off that many will encounter so-called “actual computers” only at a job site. In a discussion at the D8 conference in 2010, Apple’s Steve Jobs compared the status of PCs in the post-PC era to that of trucks in the post-agrarian era. They’re not going away, but they will take on a more specialized role in our digital future. Most work will be handled by very lightweight systems. (Watch Jobs’ comment from the D8 conference: youtu.be/YfJ3QxJYsw8.)
Blackmagic’s DeckLink 8K Pro is an eight-lane PCI Express capture and playback card. Featuring four 12G-SDI connections, DeckLink 8K Pro supports all SD, HD, Ultra HD, 4K, 8K and 8K DCI frame sizes. It offers support for 8- and 10-bit YUV 4:2:2, as well as 10- and 12-bit RGB 4:4:4 with full Rec. 2020 color.
Despite changing computing trends, I don’t see cloud-based editing as being any closer to widespread adoption this year. Sure, the cloud will continue to be the place for file interchange and review-and-approval tasks, but it won’t be where you store full-resolution source media for editing. The upload/download bandwidth commonly available simply won’t support it on a broad scale. However, I do think that we’ll see more cloud-based editing of proxy files if the security concerns can be successfully addressed.
Artificial intelligence and forms of automated editing are likely to have a big impact on editors in the coming years. Several of the speech-to-text transcription services use AI systems to accelerate their work, for example, and the Google Pixel 2 smartphone camera uses AI to enhance its image stabilization by predicting movement patterns. That sort of prediction is what AI is all about, so I can easily see it applied to some editing tasks. Adobe has already deployed AI technology for audio ducking in Audition.
I predict Apple’s iMac Pro will be a real winner for editors, designers and other creatives. Even the base Pro model (estimated to start at $5K) will already be more powerful than any other Mac produced.
Years ago, Philip Hodgetts and Dr. Gregory Clarke at Intelligent Assistance experimented with an application called First Cuts for Final Cut Pro 7. This software, introduced in 2008, generated a viewable first-pass rough cut of footage based on extensive metadata tagging entered by the editor. In any application like Final Cut Pro X where metadata entry is a core function, one can quickly see how an AI-based update of an application like First Cuts could be deployed. AI in post may also find a place in tasks like color correction. For example, set a grade for the first clip and then use AI to find and correct all similar clips in the timeline automatically.
The Challenge of Cost
As any facility owner can attest, post facilities are always competing on price, with newer owners entering the game able to benefit from cheaper, better technology. For instance, I work a lot in a multi-suite shop that uses QNAP shared storage and iMac workstations for editing, graphics and color correction. My background includes years in several “heavy iron” shops, so it’s amazing to see how little investment is actually required today in order to turn out high-quality productions—even in 4K. Among other market pressures, we can thank Asian manufacturing for these generally lower overhead costs. For better or worse, suppliers in Asia have been able to develop advanced systems at scale for a fraction of the cost of stateside developers. Granted, the user is often balancing the “good enough” equation that might not be viable in a high-pressure, deadline-driven facility, but most of us work in environments where a few hiccups are an acceptable tradeoff for significant cost savings.
A QNAP NAS can deliver robust video production workflows.
In 2018 we’ll face the same technology challenges that we have in past years: doing more for less, working with more pixels, and trying to deal with computers to handle it all. 360°/VR will be with us in some form, although not everyone will see the need. But if that job comes your way, you’ll have the tools to tackle it. If you work in a multi-room production company or facility, this may be your year to add shared storage. The options are cheaper than ever and the workflow benefits are huge. Computers will be more powerful, smaller and, one hopes, easier to deal with. This is all great news if you are in an upgrade cycle financially. On the other hand, you probably don’t want to hear it if you bought new gear within the last few years. Fortunately, if that gear is relatively recent, it can still tackle what the industry throws your way in 2018.