NAB 2012 Winners and Losers
Another NAB show has come and gone and most all broadcasting professionals are back home, snuggled into their edit suites, camera storage rooms and executive offices dreaming of all that cool gear we got to play with that is not yet shipping. There’s always a ton of gear that is announced and demonstrated that won’t be shipping for months (or maybe even years) to come. Some of them even win awards.
I usually like to wrap up the really big show with a list of winners and losers for the NAB that has just passed … at least, I like to do that for the more post-production-centric toys and services we see mainly in the South Hall. But this year will be a bit different.
Not that there weren’t some winners and losers at NAB 2012. Thunderbolt was definitely a winner, as there were new Thunderbolt products from a lot of manufacturers (sadly, however, I didn’t see any shorter Thunderbolt cables). Those Thunderbolt devices were attached to a lot of iMacs and MacBook Pros making the Mac Pro tower a big NAB 2012 loser. Autodesk and Adobe were big winners showing a redesigned Smoke for Mac 2013 and a redesigned Premiere Pro CS6, respectively. In fact, Adobe had the whole CS6 suite to show off, which packed the crowds in at their booth all week long. Avid, on the other hand, missed the winner's circle this year, since Media Composer got only a small update by adding some new export options, including JPEG–2000. I was reminded that outside of my little Media Composer world Avid had a great show with some big infrastructure, asset management, news and cloud based initiatives. I was also reminded that the bulk of Avid’s business isn’t software but rather all that hardware. Blackmagic Design was once again a winner, as everyone at the show was talking about the Blackmagic Digital Cinema Camera. But no one seemed to be talking about Resolve 9, even though it’s a big update. Assimilate was a winner, as they had a very nice and busy booth on the floor. I have never seen so many Assimilate options in one place. Matrox had a very nice booth, once again, but I didn't hear the Matrox name much during the week. The most anyone mentioned AJA was usually to talk about their T-TAP, a little $249 monitoring product for Thunderbolt.
Of course, most people were talking about 4K, which leads us to …
The Big Winner: Camera Geeks
If you’re a DP or all-around camera “nerd,” then this was the NAB for you.
Blackmagic Design dropped the surprise bombshell of the week by showing their upcoming $3,000 2.5K box needing a lens they call the Blackmagic Design Digital Cinema Camera. It uses SSDs to record media, has a touchscreen interface for custom metadata, will take Canon lenses and shoots Cinema DNG, DNxHD and ProRes.
Canon showed two big products that made the camera nerds fawn. The company's DSLR dominance will continue with the EOS 1D C, a 4K video capture-capable DSLR. If 4K is your goal and the DSLR form-factor seems a bit silly these days, then check out Canon's EOS C500, a step beyond their popular C300, which was announced what seems now like a couple of weeks ago.
Sony had its high-end F65 on display, which offers true 4K and beyond, but more people seemed to be talking about the FS–700. It’s a “4K-ready” camera that will shoot high frame rates and costs under $10,000.
RED announced an upcoming 6K sensor upgrade for the EPIC and Scarlet. 5K apparently isn’t far enough ahead of 2.5K and “4K-ready.”
ARRI showed an updated Alexa that gives it anamorphic capabilities (lens flares for all!) but seemed to eschew 4K. They may have more sense than most camera manufacturers, as the Alexa continues to impress and find a prominent place in Hollywood. Read over the ARRI News Magazine to see just what all ARRI is up to.
JVC had had a relatively affordable 4K camera, announced to much fanfare earlier in the year, so as not to be left out of the 4K mix. It looked to be more of an ENG-like approach to 4K imaging instead of the digital cinema approach, so that adds even more choices to the 4K pool.
GoPro didn’t announce a 4K version of their little wonder cam but they did announce a firmware upgrade that finally allows for 24 frames per second capture, a higher data rate and more post-production friendly recording options. You know it’s only a matter of time before someone gaffer-tapes four of these little things together and makes their own GoPro quad-HD 4K.
All these options add up to unprecedented choices in camera manufacturers, resolutions, formats, frame rates, codecs and ergonomics. It’s not that there’s just going to be a lot of cameras out there but there’ll be a lot of affordable cameras that offer features never before available at the prices offered. When they ship, that is.
What’s amazing about all these camera options is that resolutions, image quality, frame rates and features are all going up while prices are coming down. Never before has so much been available for so little. And “so much” doesn’t just mean the features that all the camera manufacturers are chasing but also a large choice in the sheer number of different cameras to choose from. It’s truly a great time to be a cinematographer / DP / camera operator / digital imaging nerd.
The Big Loser: Editors
Let me put this in context. Overall, editors had a lot of reasons to be happy as they wandered the South Hall of NAB. Smoke for Mac is now $3,500, Baselight is coming to Media Composer, Resolve continues to get impressive upgrades for free and Adobe Premiere Pro seems like it might finally be truly usable. So why are editors the big loser of NAB 2012? We’re the ones who are going to have to deal with all that footage being gathered by all those cameras mentioned above.
Anyone who works in post has seen the sheer amount of footage we receive increase as the move to digital acquisition has happened over the last few years. At the same time we’ve seen budgets shrink as we’re asked to wade through three, four, ten times the footage in often less time (for less money) than just a few years ago. I think editors have weathered this shift to digital quite well. We’re working longer hours for less money but regardless of the nonlinear editor of choice, we’ve all developed our own tricks and techniques to get through it all (I realize now I should have spent more time at NAB 2012 looking at asset management systems). Rarely is there a shoot these days that doesn’t include a cheap 5D or 7D as a constantly running b-cam (and often a c-cam or d-cam) to the a-cam which might be a 5D as well. The onset of DSLRs means everybody has one (even editors!) and they often double the amount of footage in the edit.
Add in media transfer and transcode times (you don’t really expect us to cut off that FireWire 800 drive, do you?) for all this footage and there’s a significant preparation period before actual cutting can begin. What’s the last thing we need to add to this mix? 4K.
Once again the editor is going to have to bear the burden of this move to 4K more than anyone else. I can hear the camera guys cursing as they read along because they are the ones who are going to have to buy and replace that new camera they just purchased a couple of years ago (or in the case of the Canon C300, a couple months ago) and camera rental houses will have to decide exactly what combination of cameras, lenses and support gear they will buy. DITs will have to move to Thunderbolt to efficiently transfer data. That’s all a financial burden that editors won’t have to bear. But post-production will have a financial stake in this 4K revolution as well as we build new infrastructures to move what might be four times the data we’ve had to move before. Besides just moving the data from the DITs shuttle drives to our media networks we’ve got to have software designed to work properly with 4K while running on computers and hard drives powerful enough and fast enough to play back 4K.
I can hear some people saying that it’s not a big deal as we won’t actually edit 4K frames. We’ll transcode to DNxHD 36 for offline as we do now. Or we’ll transcode to ProRes HQ and work with that set of files through the entire edit. Both of those statements may be true but ….
It’s going to take more time to downsample and transcode everything from 4K to 1080. Even with faster computers resampling a 4K frame to 1080 will most likely take a bit more time than transcoding 1080 to 1080. Even if it is a partial second multiply that times the millions of frames we’ll be working with in the coming years and it will take more time. The thought of the most powerful Mac Pro towers going away doesn’t make this thought any better. Not every 4K format out there is going to have a RED Rocket to accelerate transcoding.
Data transfers and transcode times aside, the other level of 4K that will greatly affect the editor is the extra options that 4K can offer in the edit. Any editor who has spent time reframing and recomposing a RED 4K (or 5K) shot during the edit was instantly gratified as they suddenly have a new option they had rarely seen before. You could already scale an HD frame more than you could SD but repoing that 5K image in a 1080 frame is a very pleasant experience. And it can make the client very happy too as it often saves an "un-savable" edit.
The downside of this is that extra aesthetic choice in the edit means there’s another element added to nearly every shot the editor is working with. You can’t add something like that to nearly every shot without giving the editor extra time to flesh out this new possibility. Somehow I doubt we’ll be given extra time (and extra money) during all these 4K edits to vehemently explore all the potential of 4K in a 1080 frame.
But before we can do that we’ll need all of our software updated to support native 4K. It’ll probably be a while before post-production software can all work fluidly with native 4K, but you can bet software vendors are working on just that. The 3D revolution never took off but 4K probably will. Camera guys will love it and the truth is, editors will too. We’ll all adapt and overcome if we want to stay in business; we always do.
Now let’s think for a minute about 3D at 4K… .