These thoughts are based on my commentary first presented on the Digital Production Buzz as part of our 2014 NAB Show coverage. You can hear all our interviews here: www.nabshowbuzz.com.
I’m fascinated how, in just a year, 4K video went from being a sideshow to the main event. 4K seems to be everywhere; and here for the long-term; unlike the last fad of stereoscopic 3D.
4K actually appears in three different stages: acquisition, editing and distribution. In acquisition, 4K is a fait accompli. You can’t go anywhere in this show without seeing 4K in one camera or another.
4K editing is supported inside most, but not all, non-linear editing systems; Apple Final Cut Pro X and Adobe Premiere Pro come first to mind. (Though, surprisingly, Avid Media Composer does not yet support high-resolution images.)
But, distribution of 4k? Now that’s something we are still thinking through. Do we want to distribute theatrically? Broadcast? Cable? Mobile Devices? I think the real win for high-resolution images is going to be through Internet suppliers like Amazon, NetFlix, and iTunes; where they can deliver 4K via the Internet direct to the home.
While the distribution piece of the puzzle is not yet totally solved, in terms of acquisition, storage and editing, high resolution, high frame rate, even high bit-depth images are the wave of the future.
We are also seeing that technology is evolving faster than business models can evolve to support them. This rapid technological change is causing a lot of issues when it comes to deciding when and how to update our existing gear. The overriding concern is: “If I update now, will the gear I buy be obsolete in six months?” In the past, the answer was “yes,” which acted as a brake on spending, discouraging the purchase of new equipment. It became safer to wait.
This constant technological change meant that buyers can’t justify continuing to invest in new gear, yet clients expected us to have all the latest toys. In response, I saw that manufacturers slowed the number of new products they introduced. They are spending time, instead, updating existing products, instead of obsoleting existing products. This in turn, allows us to earn money with the gear we’ve got, which increases our ability to make a profit which gives us the money we need to invest in new gear.
I’m also seeing that competition from non-traditional vendors is shaking up traditional markets. No where is this more evident than cameras where Blackmagic Design and AJA both introduced new cameras this year. These are companies that have never been in the camera market before and they priced their new gear very aggressively.
AJA and Blackmagic Design are causing havoc, not at the low-end of the market – such as GoPro – or the high-end – with Arri Alexa or Phantom – but in mid-range cameras costing from $15,000 to $50,000 in price. This camera price range is definitely getting squeezed from all directions.
Budgets for both manufacturing and end-users remain very tight. This means that we need to be much smarter in terms of where we invest and what we invest in. Clients are expecting everyone to know everything, which means that collaboration becomes essential. Collaboration between hardware and software, between different software packages from different vendors; even members of the same team.
Collaborative software, collaborative file sharing, collaboration between different NLEs, plug-ins and color grading is increasingly important; and expanding, in terms of what we are seeing here at the show.
We’re discovering that no one is an island. We are all interconnected. Not only in terms of social media, but interconnected in terms of where our collaborative partners are.
The Cloud is everywhere, but not fully accepted anywhere. The Cloud still has a lot to prove. While there are a lot of good things being said about The Cloud, issues such as security, media ownership, storage, bandwidth and the speed with which we can connect to The Cloud – what’s called the “speed of the last mile” – prevent us from trusting it completely.
I’m expecting to hear lots more about The Cloud in coming months. Separating the hype from the reality, though, will take a while longer.
I was surprised there weren’t more changes in storage technology. Spinning media still dominates, flash/SSD drives are still extraordinarily expensive, Thunderbolt continues to grow but its hardly a flood, and there was almost no marriage of spinning media with flash technology. This year felt very much like last year; though Hitachi’s 6 TB drives were highlighted by many RAID vendors as they continued to beef up the size of their storage.
For the first time, we saw archiving using LTO-6 tape drives get below $4,000 with the new mTape hardware from mLogic, combined with PreRoll Post from Imagine Products. Most other LTO manufacturers showcased archiving appliances hovering around the $10,000 mark. Apparently, the needs of the media community are not significant enough when compared to the corporate enterprise market.
I’m also seeing that vendors are working very hard to mask the complexity of their products, with simpler user interfaces because so many users are new to the market and don’t have the time to decipher how complex equipment is supposed to work.
I’m also seeing initial experiments with subscription-based software turning into a flood. The rush was unlocked when Adobe shifted to a subscription-only model, so much so that this year, subscriptions were widely adopted across the show floor from both large and small software developers.
The idea of providing continual updates in return for a consistent revenue stream is virtually irresistible. Going forward, most software will be available two ways: standard licensing and subscriptions. While many users will debate the merits of subscriptions, for developers who consistently update their products, subscriptions will become increasingly attractive because they provide consistent revenue, which allows for improved budgeting and development.
This year’s NAB was not revolutionary. There were very few “break-through” products. Instead, the show reflected and reinforced the evolutionary trend in our industry as manufacturers searched for ways to recover from the Great Recession by balancing between creating new technology and evolving the technology we have into more hands at more reasonable prices.
Telling stories hasn’t really changed in the last hundred years. But the technology we use to tell those stories has been changing at a dizzying pace. This year, it felt like we all took a step back to catch our breath before the “Next Big Thing” arrives.
As always, let me know what you think.
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