CCW 2011: Lights, Cameras, Quality

Posted By Fred Ruckel on October 17, 2011 10:46 am | Permalink

By Fred Ruckel

NEW YORK -The Javits Convention Center played host to CCW this year. Upon descending to the lower level you can see the distant booths and the feeling of where do I start sets in. I had made my list of things I wanted to see and planned to explore some of the unknown ones out there. 

With everyone getting immersed in stereoscopic these days, there was no shortage of 3D hardware and software to be seen. Panasonic had a very nice new camera, the AG-3DP1, P2 camera. Having two lenses and sets of electronics made for a great 3D picture. The only downside I could tell was the camera must be very front heavy and therefore would be difficult to balance in a non-studio environment. I played with the controls and it seemed to have a great range of adjustments, putting it on par with some of the other very expensive cameras. 

Shooting 3D has become commonplace these days, however viewing it on set is often cumbersome. Marshall Electronics has a great on-set monitor, the Orchid OR-70-3D. This little 7-inch screen allows for stereoscopic viewing without the use of glasses. This technology will be showing up all over as the market develops. Nothing could be better than being able to see a full stereo 3D shot live to make important decisions. The monitor also allows a viewer to see the waveform and vector information for each eye. This is crucial as it ensure the colors are balanced between both eyes, something that if done wrong, can take a lot of time in post to correct.

Autodesk was showing the newest Smoke on a Mac (smac as we call it). This program has come a long way. Originally on Unix, ported to Linux, now ported to Mac as a scaled back version of Smoke, it still boasts a deep toolset. A first-time user wouldn't know what was missing and therefore it would be a fully-featured system for them. As a long time Flame artist, all my favorite tools are the ones that are left out in the scale back. I am sure that I could make it work and learn new ways to skin the cat. Keep an eye out for this to get bigger and maybe one day become Flame on Mac - now that would be awesome.

Avid had the usual showings of the gear. One thing of note is that apparently in three weeks time a new release is coming out that is going to be a game changer. Avid had been the long time standing NLE champ, but Apple came on hard for the last 10 years with Final Cut. Adobe has come back for another round with Premiere, which has been re-written for a third time. Keep an eye on this segment of the market as things are about to change. Time will tell, Avid says 3 weeks. We shall see.

The studio lights market has been a major growth area as well. Back at NAB I had noted this segment was going to see a big leap due to lighting technology changes. This show was not short of everyone showing off studio lights using LED technology. Every light manufacturer had an LED offering. While all new to this area, they are making huge progress. Being that LEDs are programmable there is a wide range of effects that can be programmed and reproduced exactly. Its almost like lights have hit the digital age.

Thunderbolt technology is finally making its way into the production pipeline. At the Autodesk booth I saw a Thunderbolt Raid connected to a laptop making for a truly portable high-end workstation. There are a few vendors with production ready Raids available, Promise Technology was at the show with an array or arrays. For those who aren't familiar with Thunderbolt, using display port technology one can connect up to six devices in a chain and attain speeds up to 10Gbps bi-directionally. That speed is enough to sustain full resolution HD video. Until recently this kind of speed was only achievable with Fibre channel, which is very expensive. While only a few computer manufacturers have started implementing it on systems, you can bet in the next year it will all go that way. Unlike USB, a Thunderbolt cable has the same connector on both ends making plug and play a lot easier than USB as it has a different connector at both ends. If you are looking for a storage upgrade, keep a watchful eye on Thunderbolt.

The conference was also filled with lots of speaker events that really were targeted to today's pressing issues. Most often attendees skip the conference part and just look at exhibits. This was not the case at this CCW as speaker panels drew people in to learn what was going on and what was next. The past few years in the production and post production business has really evolved. So much so that many people are confused on which path to follow and what is the best choice for their business that will be future worthy. 

I sat in on one conference about the multiple acquisition formats in the workflow. The room was full and panelist each addressed different concerns with the all-data world we live in now. From Red to Alexa to ProRes, there was something for everyone to learn. The biggest thing I took away from it was that the days of the signal purist are numbered. I sat with a grin as I listened during Q&A and most people all talked about ProRes being their finishing format. One person even dared to say that ProRes and uncompressed raw are virtually identical. ProRes 444 @23.98 can only sustain a bit-rate of 264mbps, whereas HDCAM SR can sustain 880mbps. One thing is certain, what is high-end now is almost unattainable and what is midrange now is soon to be the high-end. 

It would seem that these days less people care about the quality of the signal than the speed at which you can work with mixed media. The next few years will be very interesting to watch as the format wars heat up and what will be considered the new "high end." I just pray it isn't ProRes.