Wrapping Up the 2013 NAB Show

Posted By Larry Jordan on April 15, 2013 10:18 am | Permalink
By Larry Jordan

Any NAB Show is too massive to be summarized in a single blog post. This show represents the current state of a multi-billion dollar industry composed of thousands of wildly different companies. I enjoy walking the halls just to learn about gear that I never use - like helicopters, transmission towers, and radio playout servers. NAB is a very cool place.

Still, in our part of the industry, there is lots of stuff going on. Here are my thoughts, in no particular order.

We now have the technological ability to do just about anything we can imagine; in fact, we can even do things that most of us can't even imagine. Technology is no longer the gating factor of creativity. Yes, we can make tech go faster. Yes, we can make it easier to use. Yes, we can create still more eye-popping effects. But, we have NEVER had the range of story-telling tools and technology for every possible budget as we do today.

The industry is still feeling the crunch of hard economic times. Major manufacturers are lowering prices on key software. The time between upgrades is stretching out. Technology is no longer a gating factor, but budgets and deadlines are crunched like never before. Teams are disappearing in favor of the one-man-band; this has good and bad ramifications throughout the industry.

Partnerships are increasing. I was struck by the number of partnerships announced between companies. Pooling resources seems more attractive than competing in today's market.

AJA made the obvious point that sometimes the emperor has no clothes. AJA announced that they would only talk about products that were shipping. In contrast, Panasonic was talking about a 4K monitor that won't ship until October. Why not announce this at IBC in September, I asked? Because, they said, not everyone travels to Europe. Sigh...

The word "3D" has disappeared. Last year it was everywhere. This year it is gone.

The NEW word is "4K," as in 4K images. (Though this term is somewhat vague and encompasses two different resolutions: 4,096 x 2,160 pixels or 3,840 x 2,160 pixels.) Personally, I think 4K is similar to 96k sample rates in audio. Useful for creating massive marketing excitement, but practically useful to less than 10% of the total market.

Red stepped up their resolution to 6K, with a camera surgical theater in their booth to replace old sensors with new ones.

Hitachi was showing an 8K camera, with Japan's NHK announced broadcast support for 8K images coming later in this decade. 8K? Sheesh!! Uncompressed 8K video requires somewhere around 2.1 GB per second - which is TWICE as fast as the current Thunderbolt, and faster than Thunderbolt 2.0, which was announced at NAB by Intel.

NOTE: Though Intel needs to simplify its certification process if it EVER expects Thunderbolt to be successful. Far too many devices are lingering in certification limbo. At some point, if Intel doesn't speed up, key vendors will stop playing Intel's game. And that would be bad for all of us.

Blackmagic Design announced two more Cinema cameras: Production 4K and Pocket Cinema. As usual, their low prices leave you gasping for breath. The key is whether they can ship them within our lifetimes. BMD is saying July.

Let's put all this advanced resolution in perspective. According to studies done by Panavision, in order to see the increased resolution afforded by 4K images projected in a theater, you would need to sit in the first six rows of that theater, in other words, closer to the screen than one-half the screen height. I suspect that means we need to pull the couch EXTRA close to that 4K monitor in the living room... (Like the ones announced by Sony, Sharp, and Panasonic at prices that rival high-end BMWs.)

Higher resolution images allow creating "ROI," or "Regions of Interest." For example, an 8K camera with the appropriate lens, sitting on the 50-yard line can see the entire field from goal line to goal line. The resolution of this camera is so great, that we can create windows, or ROIs, into that massive 8K image. Then, we can follow the action, not by panning the camera, but by panning the ROI as the runner moves down the field.

What seems to be coming is a time when cameras don't move. Instead, we create "Ken Burns effects" within an extremely high-resolution image to create the framing and movement that we need.

HD cameras are now microscopic in size with great image quality. Not just the GoPro Hero 3, but cameras built into cell phones and sunglasses. We are starting to live in a world where cameras are both invisible and everywhere.

Granted, this allows us to create very cool images that were impossible only two years ago. But it also raises massive privacy concerns. How do you negotiate a deal, resolve a conflict, or have a private conversation when cameras are ubiquitous? Reality TV not withstanding, some things are meant to be private.

Turning more specifically to the world of post-production:
The release of Avid Media Composer 7 and its related price drops not withstanding, Avid seems to be struggling to define what it is in the market. I don't have as good contacts at Avid as I do at Adobe and Apple, but the feeling I'm getting is that the word "beleaguered" can be applied.

Adobe is everywhere. Adobe has seized on the current confusion in the market place with both hands and is aggressively leveraging their Creative Suite products to fill the void. The announcement of Adobe Anywhere allowing collaboration between editing team members without regard to geographic location has the potential to transform the entire collaborative process of editing.

Apple's Final Cut Pro X software was visible at the show, with new software, hardware, and alliances announced from a variety of companies. In fact, the week before NAB, Apple announced that it has sold more seats of FCP X than of FCP 7. But, FCP X seems to be playing in a different market than the NAB crowd. Not better, not worse. Just different.

NOTE: Apple is still offering encouraging words that a new MacPro is still coming later this year. "When," not "if," is the key word. Specs and timing are totally unknown. My feeling is that Apple is constrained by an availability of the right chips; but that doesn't lessen the pain.

* Autodesk is revitalized. They may still be at the high-end of the price spectrum, but they are doing everything they can to become relevant to the broad market. The release of Smoke 2013 began a trend they continued into NAB with the announcement of the new 2014 Creation Suite shows that they are not willing cede their market to others.

* The big booths get all the attention, but the cool stuff lurks in the corners. A very cool plug-in for FCP X is SliceX, a collaboration between Core Melt and Imagineer Systems. This automated rotoscoping tool allows you to select a region of any shape within an image, then motion track it for the duration of the clip. Very, very cool.

* Another cool discovery was Quiver, a flat-fee-based aggregator that is designed to process and deliver your films for sales on iTunes, Google, and other media platforms. I was impressed with what these folks are doing.

Larry Jordan is a producer, director, editor, author, and Apple Certified Trainer with more than 35 year's experience. Based in Los Angeles, he's a member of the Directors Guild of America and the Producers Guild of America. Visit his website at http://www.larryjordan.biz.