NAB 2013: Wrap Up & Top Picks

Posted By Heath Firestone on April 25, 2013 12:17 pm | Permalink
I decided to do things a little different this year. The last two NAB's I've done a video blog, focusing on just a few noteworthy NAB releases. But this year, I decided to go back to a written blog, and just do one longer NAB wrap-up, focusing on a longer list of products.  

This year, the theme of NAB seemed to be 4K, but a lot of NAB seems to be focused on releasing similar, but improved versions of existing products. We also got to see working versions of products, which were announced last NAB. It also seemed to be more focused on eliminating rolling shutter issues in camera. With Sony's release of the F55 with global shutter a couple of months ago, others are following suit, with Blackmagic Design announcing their global shutter 4K Production Camera, and Red adapting an LCD shutter add on, called the Red Motion Mount.  

Here are the highlights from a few of the booths I visited.


Atomos released a new version of the Samurai Camera Mounted Recorder, called the Samurai Blade, which improves over the Samurai by offering S-Log and C-Log Recording, full size BNC connectors and a higher resolution 1280 x720 touchscreen monitor with waveform monitor, vectorscope, zoom, and adjustments.  One of the cool things about the Atamos recorders, is they aren't limited to SSD media, but also support recording to 2.5" HDD drives, which are fast enough for ProRes and DNxHD recording.  This is significant since you can use inexpensive 2.5-inch hard drives, and treat them more like tape, putting them on a shelf when you are done, for short term archive, instead of having to transfer the files off like with expensive SSD media.  They were also showing the new AC version of the Connect HDSDI to HDMI and HDMI to HDSDI converters.  


Convergent Design was showing off their very cool Odyssey 7 monitor/recorder.  I was very impressed by this little monitor. One great feature is a different kind of focus assist in addition to the usual.  This focus assist uses edge detection, and looks a lot like a difference matte. It shows much more detail at the center of the focus range, really standing out as you roll focus through the depth of a person's hair, for example. It's hard to describe, but really cool to see.   

The Odyssey 7 has a great looking 7.7-inch Touch Screen, with lots of menu controls. It also has two HDSDI inputs, and one HDMI, and the same outputs, but what is really cool, is that they have conversion capabilities, so if you feed into the SDI, you can spit out HDMI, or if you are feeding HDMI from something like a DSLR, you can spit out HDSDI.  They also have timecode I/O, which is really useful with the recording functionality of the monitor. If you have an external timecode generator, this gives you a professional feature addition to cameras which you might be shooting with that don't have that feature.  It also has dual SSD slots, which can be configured to run in RAID 0 or RAID 1 configurations, so mirrored, or spanned. It also has Android and iPhone remote control, and will support Avid DNxHD, ARRIRAW, and Canon 4K Cinema Raw, with the additional purchase or rental of those codecs.  

Without codecs, it is priced at $1,295, and I believe they said it will be available in July. The Odyssey 7Q, is the quad version of this with four HDSDI connections, configurable as input or output, and it has quad view.  It will also do simultaneous proxy recording and up to 120fps recording of RAW DNxHD compressed. 


Decimator Design was showcasing their new MD-CROSS, which is a little different than the MD-DUCC, in that it supports HDSDI to HDMI, and vice versa, has an LCD menu, and an extensive Test Pattern Generator, all in one. What makes this stand out from other HDSDI to HDMI converters, is that it handles framerate conversion as well, meaning that it can convert whatever framerate you are dealing with to something your monitor can handle, which is very useful. It also does up and down conversion, and a bunch of other stuff, all for under $700. It is definitely one of those things that can save you in a pinch.


Blackmagic Design was showing their new phone sized camera, called the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, which is very similar to the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, but has HDMI output instead of HDSDI, and only shoots up to 1920 X 1080, to either ProRes or Cinema DNG RAW compressed, all for $1,000, and available in July.  They also showed their 4K camera which is $4,000, due around the same time, sporting a Super 35mm sensor that has a global shutter, making it an exciting future option.


Matrox was showing a couple of cool new products. The first is the Monarch, which is a stand-alone box, which is really pretty small, which has the capability to input from HDMI and stream to H.264 while simultaneously capturing to H.264 on an SD card, or to the two USB ports, or even to network attached storage. It supports up to 30Mbps for capture, and up to 20Mbps for streaming. Control is through a Web interface over the LAN. It can also be used for video monitoring over the local network with under a second delay, which can be very useful since HDMI is difficult to run long distance. It comes in at under $1,000, and should be available in July. They were also showing their 4K playback card, called the Mojito 4K. It allows full 4K playback, but requires a beefy machine to handle it.


Autodesk has continued to refine Smoke's interface, listening to editors, and making sure that they are whitling away at the learning curve, and making the interface more and more intuitive. They had a huge response to their open beta, and refined the experience to mesh with what editors from other platforms expect, so there is an easy transition.  For people like me, who come from an effect heavy background and always hated having to switch back and forth between their compositing application and their editor, having more power than Combustion, and an awesome editor, combined into one, is a dream.

Make it easy to learn or transition to, and affordable, and I can't ask for much more, except to make it work seamlessly with my 3D graphics app (which happens to be Maya). It seems like Autodesk is listening to guys like me. No revolutionary announcements, but sometimes making things easier and more practical is the best improvement you can make. I'm sold. They also announced support for Blackmagic products, so you now have options on the hardware side as well.  


Adobe is currently offering their Cloud subscription service for $30/month for the first year, something that was reserved for owners of older suites. The cloud service seems to be highly confusing, but once you understand it, it will be hard for you to want to go back, I'll explain. When you are subscribed to the service, you automatically get access to the entire Master Suite, as downloads. You also are kept up to date with the latest releases. When you do the math, it doesn't make sense to purchase the software anymore. It is one situation where leasing makes way more sense than buying.  

They also made some drastic changes to the Windows timeline, which while it takes a little getting used to, saves lots of clicks, making editing quite a bit faster, so lots of productivity enhancements. SpeedGrade has some new functions for matching color from one shot to another, which is really slick, impressive, and promises to be one of my most used functions, especially for multicam shoots using different make and model cameras. I wish I'd had this capability on a lot of my past projects.


AJA announced that they will no longer do pre-release announcements, meaning, when you hear about something new, it will be shipping. It's a cool idea, and after the disasters like Blackmagic had with delays to shipping the Cinema Camera, and Red has had with most of their announcements, this might be a welcome policy. 

They are shipping the KiPro Quad, which really is a cool device, and has some really nice features like built in down conversion, and is just really built solidly. It looks like something that will withstand the rigors of years of production abuse. They also have a cool new Region of Interest or ROI device, which takes DVI or HDMI input, and spits out HDSDI. It is only intended to work with computers, not cameras, and is designed to allow you to spit out a high quality up-converted, genlockable Region of Interest output, so broadcasters can easily incorporate windows, or stuff like windowed YouTube streams into their pipeline.  They also have a new Hi5 Quad converter, which takes in four HDSDI inputs (4K), and spits out 4K HDMI, or it can just act as a HDSDI to HDMI converter (though an expensive one).


The Foundry made a couple of interesting announcements. For NukeX users with up-to-date maintenance, they now get two Nuke Assist licenses, allowing two stripped down versions of Nuke to be used per NukeX license, similar to an on-line/off-line edit setup. You can have two people doing the grunt work, who don't need all of the full capabilities of NukeX, and have one finisher, who polishes it, and brings it up to the level it needs to be, utilizing the more advanced features of the program. Cool idea, but pricing for NukeX and annual maintenance isn't for the faint of heart, and seems to be one of the frustrations of many of its users. No doubt, it is a great program, and extremely powerful, though, and for a lot of applications, has become the industry standard.  


Wacom was showing their new 13-inch Cintiq, which has several improvements over its predecessor. It has a full 1920 X 1080 resolution HD display, is thinner and lighter than the previous model, and doesn't get hot or have a massive power supply either.  It is a sleek tablet, whose kickstand acts as a cover, and seems to be a very useful size. It also comes in at under $1,000.


The only real news with GoPro, is that they are working on a 3D kit for the GoPro Hero3, which should be coming out soon.


One of the products I was most excited about was the new IS-Mini, which is an on-set grading tool... or so I thought. I was a little confused because I was being shown how it works in conjunction with the IS-100 CCBOXX. In conjunction with the CCBOXX, this little $1,300 converter brings in HDSDI, and spits out HDSDI and HDMI.  

It does two functions, which is that it applies a color calibration, so that all monitors match, and grading done to that monitor will be to an accurate monitor, and it can apply a LUT or Look to the corrected image. This made me really interested, especially since some cameras like the Blackmagic Cinema Camera only output the crushed image to HDSDI when recording in RAW mode, so this would allow you to see a rough on-set grade, so you can get a feel for what it will look like when graded. I also saw Fujifilm's I-Pad app, which allows you to adjust your grade. This was all very exciting for a great price... but unfortunately I got it wrong.  It is true that it applies a LUT or Look, and calibration color correction, however it doesn't come with the ability to create that LUT or Look.

The IPad app I saw was for the CCBOXX. This is a very powerful combo, but the CCBOXX, which does some other cool stuff, costs closer to $30,000 configured, making it more of a rental option. Also, I wasn't sure how it did the color correction for the monitor. I was hoping it would have a series of test patterns and visual printouts to match to, as a poor man's calibration tool, but instead it works with a colorimeter. This is great for accuracy, but also pretty expensive. So, this is part of a high-end device, and not as useful on its own. It is too bad Fujifilm doesn't develop a less function version of the color correction app, and offer a poor man's calibration option, or this thing would probably fly off the shelf. It may still have some use for the grading purpose, though with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera.  I believe you can dial in a Look in camera, which is carried in the video stream sent to the HDSDI.  f this is correct, it is possible that this little box could convert the crushed image into a viewable output with rough onset grading. 

There is no doubt this box has potential, the real question is whether Fujifilm will recognize the potential market, or if they will be concerned about competing with the CCBOXX if they add this functionality.   


Sennheiser was showing off their relatively new MKE 600 microphone (it's been shipping since September, but it was new to me), which is designed for DSLR use. It is shorter than the highly regarded ME 66, but similar in design, but really made to work better with DSLR's.  In particular, I like the shock mount, which is much more compact and easy to work with than most, and can fit in a hot shoe mount or has threading on the bottom if you want to mount it to a magic arm. It also has a short, coiled mini to XLR adapter option, internal battery to power it if you don't have phantom power, and low cut filter.  So, it is basically an ME 66 redesigned to work with DSLR's, for about $400. Very cool!  


I wasn't sure what to expect from Think Logical, especially when Bob Ventresca told me they are a KVM over fiber, up to 40 Kilometers, in length. I wasn't sure why I would need a KVM over fiber, but as I got talking to him, I came to understand, that this isn't just a KVM, but rather long distance transmission of modular components, which carry Keyboard, Video, and Mouse, and just about everything else you can think of, from RS232, to quad HDSDI for 4K, all over fiber, through some of the fastest routers in the world. So, if you have a building with massively powerful machines, they can be controlled as though they were under your desk, even though they may exist in a temperature controlled environment in a building across campus, which could definitely be useful.


Microsoft announced that will be using Azure, Microsoft's cloud service for streaming and on-demand for their NBC Sports, NBC Olympics, and GolfChannel. Azure is an impressive cloud storage service, and had been specially adapted for the purpose of rendering massive projects, which it has done for Pixar in the past.  Also, on display was the SurfacePro tablet, which I get a little excited about because it is one of the few Windows based tablets which utilizes the Wacom technology, allowing for 256 levels of touch sensitivity. Also, being Windows-based, means it can be used as tablet within professional drawing and compositing applications.  Plus it costs about the same as a 13-inch Wacom tablet, and while it isn't as large, and doesn't have some of the professional features, it is an awesome tablet that you can sketch on.


It was definitely a great NAB, with too much to see, and too little time. I saw a lot of stuff I am really excited about, and can't wait to get my hands on. 

Here is a list of my Top 7:
1 - Matrox Monarch stand alone MPEG2 streaming and capture device  
2 - Convergent Design Odyssey 7 monitor/recorder 
3 - Blackmagic Production 4K Camera, which now has a proper Super 35 sized sensor, with the reasonable $4K price tag.  
4 - Decimator Design MD-CROSS Up/Down/Cross/Frame-rate Converter.  Now has an LCD screen, HDMI input, and their extensive test pattern generator built in, and still under $700.
5 - Adobe Cloud Version "Next."  I love the cloud-leased software idea, and a lot of the new features of the upcoming Creative Suite.
6 - Autodesk Smoke, all the power of Smoke as an editor and compositor package, now easy to use and learn.  That's pretty awesome.
7 - Atamos Samurai Blade monitor and recorder.  S-Log, Waveform Monitor & Vecrtoscope, can record to ProRes or DNxHD, onto SSD, or more significantly, standard 2.5" HDD, so much cheaper to capture to, and can be used more like tapes, rather than having to clear them off like an SSD.

Honorable Mention - Fujifilm IS-Mini, not for what it does, which is awesome when paired with the IS-100 CCBOXX, but for the potential it has as a standalone device if they decide to develop it in that direction.

Heath Firestone is a Writer/Producer/Director/Editor with Firestone Studios LLC. He has a strong background in 3D compositing and digital effects and owns one of the most advanced virtual production studios in the industry. Heath is constantly creating new ways of making really dynamic and engaging shots, utilizing visual effects... to enhance the story, not distract from it. He can be reached at: