NAB is always an exciting show – filled with new things to discover, explore or learn. While NAB can mark the start of a new industry revolution, this year’s show felt more evolutionary than revolutionary. Still, there was lots to see and much to think about.
NOTE: During the show, I was covering NAB for the Digital Production Buzz. Over three-and-half-days, we produced thirteen shows and interviewed almost 50 industry leaders about their newest products and updates. You can hear everything we did here at NABShowBuzz.com.
Unlike past years, there was no single announcement that sucked all the air from the room – think Blackmagic’s camera three years ago. However, Adobe announced significant updates to all their audio and video applications, while AJA and Blackmagic Design both had major enhancements on tap.
Even Apple, though not updating Final Cut just before NAB as they have the last two years, was showing a major new feature under NDA in private meetings. (When Apple lets me talk about this, I’ll share it with you.)
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HP / Avid / Blackmagic Design / AJA
Storage technology moved in three different directions this year:
1Beyond and others were showing RAIDs with capacities greater than 1 PETAbyte! (Yup. New word. KILObytes, MEGAbytes, GIGAbytes, TERAbytes and now, PETAbytes. A Petabyte is 1,000,000 Gigabytes; more or less.)
Just before NAB, Drobo updated their business class systems to support faster data transfer speeds and secure remote access.
Thunderbolt 3 support was in a number of booths – Promise, G-Technology, CalDigit, Accusys, Symply – promising speeds up to 2.6 GB/second. Now this increased speed comes with a variety of caveats: a four-drive RAID probably won’t hit this speed, SSDs will be faster than spinning media, and Thunderbolt 3 is designed more for monitors than storage.
Thinking about Thunderbolt, Accusys and Symply were both showing shareable Thunderbolt 3 storage. Accusys shares volumes (think folders on your hard disk), while Symply bundles in Quantum Stor-Next to to provide an entirely different level of hard disk sharing and access.
NOTE: Symply is a new company built by an experienced storage design team who’s products will be shipping this summer. Also, Symply will soon assume sales and field engineering responsibility for Promise’s current rich media product lines in the Americas, U.K., France and Germany
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1Beyond / Accusys / Tiger Technology
The more I learn about HDR, the more confusing it gets. Moving to higher resolutions is easy compared to displaying HDR. Virtually every camera manufacturer, except drone and micro-cameras, was showing at least one camera that could capture images at 10-bit or higher bit depth; which is a pre-requisite for HDR media.
Editing HDR material can be done natively in Premiere or using proxies in Final Cut Pro X. (I’m working on an article on how to edit HDR material in FCP X.)
The two big issues are:
There are at least five different HDR display codecs – each of which changes the look of our video enough that what looks good in one does not look good in another.
Worse, HDR monitors are seriously not cheap. (Think about when HD first came out and HD monitors averaged around $20,000.) When you combine very expensive monitors with an evolving technical spec, you have a recipe for the small guy to lose his shirt buying the wrong gear at the right time.
Also, there’s a lot of talk about “better pixels.” (This is part of the current video mantra: “More pixels – better pixels – brighter pixels” – which translates into English as “Higher resolution – greater chroma saturation – higher dynamic range”.) What “better pixels” means is saturation and color values that exceed current HD specs. This is part of what the new Rec. 2020 spec is about.
What’s interesting, though, is that as you increase the brightness of a pixel, you need to decrease saturation to avoid an excessive “Technicolor” look. This means that for non-HDR material, greater saturation is a good thing. However, for HDR material, less saturation is a good thing.
Like I said, this is complex.
I had a chance to talk with the CEO of the UHD Alliance, a group of manufacturers and software providers that are trying to standardize consumer TVs to support 4K media with HDR images, under the “UHD Premium” banner. This is a good thing if we ever want to buy TV sets that support 4K and HDR. However, the UHD Alliance is not taking the lead in determining which HDR spec should be supported. As their CEO said: “We will support whichever codec the industry agrees upon.”
And HDR support for TV sets is NOT the same thing as supporting HDR in a color grading suite, where both the monitors and color spaces must meet much more exacting specifications.
At NAB this year, I was finally able to see actually “mostly” shipping products that support HDR in some form. But which form is still open to wide debate. Even brightness levels are fluid. Flanders/Scientific was showing a “near HDR” monitor that displayed its brightest pixels at 300 nits. (Standard HD displays whites at 100 nits; higher nit levels are brighter.) The UHD Alliance specifies that home TV sets must display images at 1,000 nits; though in a dark room that will be pretty bright. Other experts I talked to feel that 1,000 nits is insufficient; rather, we should be displaying images at 4 – 5,000 nits. (Though at that luminance level, you should probably wear sunglasses to watch TV.)
This situation is NOT hopeless – every manufacturer and software developer wants the whole HDR situation to settle down so they can start making products. However, today, buying HDR gear is only for those with deep pockets who are looking to experiment with this new technology.
I am changing my opinions about The Cloud. First, you need to assume that everything you put into The Cloud is insecure. Second, The Cloud is not ready for editing high-quality media files; Forscene and Adobe not-withstanding.
That being said, The Cloud is great for collaboration, planning and distribution. And, at NAB, The Cloud was everywhere. I talked with Barbara DeHart, VP of Desktop and Cloud at Telestream, about how The Cloud is now a necessary part of virtually every developers plans for media.
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Telestream / Sennheiser / Integrated Microwave Tech / Manios Digital and Film
4K and BEYOND
4K was another major buzzword at the show.
I’m now totally convinced that high-resolution makes sense for acquisition. RED was showing 4, 5, 6, and 8K cameras in their booth. (Though, frankly, unless you are projecting to a screen the size of the moon, you’ll never see a difference between 4K and 8K.) Canon, Panasonic, JVC/Kenwood and Sony were locked in a battle over which had the “best” 4K camera.
Editing 4K is easy in virtually every NLE. And, it is especially helpful when you shoot 4K in order to edit it into an HD project, because you can reposition and reframe shots without losing quality.
However, any number of streaming companies were touting the benefits of watching 4K in the home. This, I think, is marketing hype. Given either H.264 or H.265 video compression, you won’t see the difference between an HD image and a 4K image on any TV set which is smaller than 72 inches. And, even on TV sets that large, color grading and visual effects such as motion blur, skin retouching, or even edge softening, will remove any advantages that originally existed with 4K.
Still, manufacturers need to sell new gear and TV sets need to find a market, so expect to hear a lot of noisy hype about how 4K is the “next great thing.” It is, but you won’t notice it; especially once we figure out how to get HDR into the home.
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Maxon / AMD / Switronix / ColorFront
Even though audio creates about 80% of the picture we see, audio was relegated to second-class citizen at the show. Normally, all the audio companies congregate in the North Hall. Granted, virtually no one visits, but at least you have all your industry friends to visit with between the occasional customer.
This year, NAB decided to breathe some life into the North Hall – they added Virtual Reality to it.
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Sound Devices / G-Technology / DPA Microphones / Wisycom
VIRTUAL REALITY and AUGMENTED REALITY
VR wasn’t everywhere, but it WAS all over the North Hall. When it comes to new technology, nothing beat the buzz this year for VR. Randi Altman, who writes for Post-Perspective.com, couldn’t wait to get to NAB to see what the new news was.
I only had a very brief time to sample what was there, so I’m not yet qualified to judge. But, based on what I’ve seen and the people I’ve talked to, VR will be huge in games and in recreating environments. However, its biggest limitation is that it requires a headset to view.
Augmented Reality, which supplements reality with an overlay of graphical or visual information, I think, is poised to take over everywhere. Why? Because we can run it on our cell phones. Point your phone at something and, poof, new information is displayed.
This technology is easy to access, easy to view and enormously deep. I’m curious to see how both VR and AR evolve in the next year.
Thinking of evolution, drones took over Central Hall and morphed into myriad shapes; from tiny gyrocopters into giant five-camera rigs.
What impressed me, though, was not drone technology itself, but the huge display of gimbals – tiny stabilization devices that make the video shot by all those flying cameras actually watchable.
For me, visiting NAB is a learning experience. I discover new products and understand existing products better. While some of the new gear announced at NAB is currently shipping, much won’t show up until May or June.
In any case, we’ll have lots to learn and discuss in coming months. Did you go to NAB? If so, share your thoughts in the comments below.
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