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NAB Stories: Five Industry Insiders on What They’re Looking For at NAB 2013

With NAB just around the corner, anticipation is running high. Attendees are going to hit the convention grounds running, scouring the halls for gear and gadgets that will extend their flexibility and efficiency on location, in post, and during playback. If it's the year of 4K, we're going to need to see some affordable high-quality display solutions. If it's the year of the cloud, we're going to need to learn more about reliable bandwidth for uploading all of our footage, no matter where we find ourselves working. New innovations are sure to raise new questions even as they answer existing ones.
 
We're not looking to predict what tech trends will come out on top when the dust settles after NAB, but we did reach out to a highly unscientific sampling of showgoers — post tech executives, an independent filmmaker, and a self-described rebel from Red Digital Cinema — to find out what they're expecting, and what they're hoping to get out of the show.
 

 
Jason Diamond
Director
 
What are you looking for at NAB?
 
It's hard to know what's real these days at NAB. You have companies that announced products at the last NAB who still haven't shipped them at this NAB. I don't consider it vaporware, because I genuinely believe the companies want to deliver these products, but it throws a weird pall over it when you get pumped about something and you say, "I can't wait for this — but I have no confidence that it will be ready." I know NAB is sort of a car show proof-of-concept event for certain products, but we've started going in with a grain-of-salt attitude.
 
But, on the whole, we're excited. As far as specific companies we're watching? We do a lot of work with Blackmagic, and I like their momentum, so we always go to their booth. Obviously we're big in the Red ecosystem, so we want Dragon [Red's newest sensor] now, we want 4K projectors now, we want all the doodads now. And there are some stabilized camera rigs we're looking at as well.
 
From a software perspective, Adobe always delivers pretty handily. Autodesk is interesting, but Smoke 2013 was a pretty long beta, so there's not a huge installed base yet. And you have companies like Assimilate who have been in the game for a long time from a 4K perspective. That's going to be the buzzword. Stereo was two years ago. Last year it was SSDs and recorders. And this year it's going to be 4K, especially based on what happened at CES. So Assimilate is trying to re-assert themselves in the playing field for something they've been doing longer than most companies, especially at their price point. They had 4K when Red came out in 2006. I think they're more focused now on showing off performance rather than features, and they're a good company to keep an eye on. 
 
Are there any missing pieces in today's pipelines that you're looking to fill? 
 
Way back when, the problem was drive performance. You used to need a RAID, but when Red came along, it had a smaller file size, and the problem became processing. And now the horsepower is increasing, but the files are getting exponentially larger. So you go back to needing a lot more storage and file storage management from a throughput perspective. And there's archiving. I hadn't touched a tape in four years, but now I have to deal with LTO. I'd love a cloud backup if someone would give me a pipe big enough. That might be the biggest problem right now. So much can be done in the cloud. Nvidia is letting you spin up racks and blades of processors in the cloud and get insane performance. Companies are working on uploading your Red files and creating all of your dailies in the cloud. It's infinitely more scalable, more powerful, and cheaper. So instead of spending money on a giant RAID, I'm spending money on an insane pipe up.
 
I am really looking for Apple to release a new Mac Pro. A lot of my friends have been building Hackintoshes, and another friend tricked out a new iMac and gets better performance with a Thunderbolt chassis packed with cards than he does on his old Mac Pro tower.
 
And I'm really interested in lenses. We have two Epics and we own two Blackmagic Cinema Cameras — one EF-mount and one MFT — and they're great, but it's all about the glass. You can use older, softer glass to smoothe out your sensor, or use super-sharp modern glass to get a sharper image. Now it's even more specific because the sensors are getting so big and sharp. I know there's a ton of anamorphic glass coming out this year, and we just shot another anamorphic project. I love the way it looks. The lens companies can't work as fast as the hardware and software companies, but there's a lot of really sweet anamorphic glass on the way. 
 

 
Chris Parker
CTO
 
What are you looking for at NAB?
 
We span a lot of services, from cameras to finishing and everything in between. We have a team of about eight people going to the show, all with different agendas. Some of them are camera engineers looking at the Sony F55 and ways to accessorize that system from a usability standpoint. As we start to grow our fleet of that camera, we're looking for ways to help it address the industry's needs. We're pretty established with the ARRI Alexa and our Canon program, so the F55 will be a prime focus at this show.
 
We're also looking at workflow. Obviously, the big buzzword this year is going to be 4K. Like everyone, we've seen buzz come and go, but I have the feeling 4K is going to slowly gain traction. Eventually it will be worth delivering a 4K end-to-end pipeline from cameras all the way through a workflow to finishing and mastering. So we'll be looking at tools for our 4K pipeline — things such as fast storage RAIDs and smaller Thunderbolt devices. USB 3.0 shuttle drives. Ways to move lots of data around when we end up mastering 4K footage. We'll also see what Smoke 2013 is all about and talk to vendors we know and trust to see how 4K pipelines are playing out. 
 
These buzzwords have a bit of lag time before they work within studio budgets. We're using this trip to start the early stages of building a solution for the 4K future. We put a lot of time into engineering and testing systems that will not only work technically, but will also work with budgets. We don't expect the requests to start coming in heavily for 12 to 24 months, but we want to be ahead of the curve. A large part of our business is planning for the future — making sure what we're developing is in line with the studios' thinking.
 
And then there's the typical stuff you'd expect someone with a large camera rentals division to be looking at. We'll keep a sharp eye on the glass from high-end manufacturers like Cooke, Fujinon, and Leica. We always keep an eye on the glass. 
 
Are there any holes in today's pipelines that you're looking to fill? 
 
I would love to see a portable high-speed Internet connection that could be used to move footage from sets into post — something that's affordable and stable enough to deploy in production. For us, that is going to be a seismic shift in how we offer our workflow services. That's the good thing about NAB. The production community is there, but we'll also be looking at Internet service providers and satellite- and LTE-based solutions for more portable high-speed connections.
 
And 4K is doable with today's technology, but it's a question of making sure the components you're piecing together interface nicely with one another to minimize bottlenecks. Say you need to move to a Thunderbolt-based shuttle drive system, but you're dealing with facilities that are largely eSATA based. It's going to cause an interface issue. We're looking to draw up timelines based around that sort of thing. 
 
Are you going to be showing anything at NAB that you want to tout?
 
Tuesday at 10 a.m., I'll be speaking at the NAB Post Pit on the topic of "Post on Demand." It'll be a little back-and-forth talking about our portable post system, specifically how it's used on shows like Pacific Rim and Revolution.
 

 
Josh Rizzo
VP of Technology
 
What are you looking for at NAB?
 
We're looking at how cloud editorial technology is developing. We're aware of Avid and the Interplay Sphere, and we're privy to what Adobe is doing. Forbidden Technologies has something cool that works interactively with Avid that's more cost-effective. It's all interesting, but it doesn't seem quite right yet. We're listening to the vibes to figure out who's putting the best foot forward toward a full, installable, workable round-trip editorial solution. We want to allow folks to edit anywhere, away from home base, and keep the creativity going. We know we want to be the company that engineers and packages the complete solution, and we're working to figure out the best way to go.
 
Another aspect is lightweight media and digital asset management. I say 'lightweight' because, while we are very familiar with Avid Interplay, for the bulk of our clientele that's too heavy-duty. A lot of our clients are transients — they're up for a certain amount of time, and then their show goes away. So with the learning curve to get a MAM product installed, and get them trained and rolling with it, well, the show's going to be over by th00e time they get used to it. We're trying to figure out if there's something we can start educating our clients on to get them pre-emptively trained on a concept of MAM so it's a selling point, not a hindrance.
 
The third leg is archival. As a concept, the digital archive still escapes many people. They forget about it until the end. We work hard to educate our clients, but it is ongoing and never-ending. Cloud archives are an interesting concept, but people don't trust it yet. Even a penny a gigabyte is starting to sound expensive at the quantities we need to back up. SO we are asking ourselves, what if we build our own and back up everything we ever touch? Is it more cost-effective? We haven't necessarily seen tool sets for that, but we think it's something people are going to want sooner rather than later. The demand will come from on high, and even though they may not want to pay for it, they'll need it to be there. We'll be looking at storage, LTO tape, and software vendors to see if someone's got some special sauce.
 
Resolution independence is a concept that's not new, but it's not in a lot of products out today. We work on shows that have everything from SD or HD Flip cams all the way up to 4K and Red, with 2K Alexa in between. Some of these are going to be reality shows, but other TV shows are shooting on as many formats as they can. Pulling them all into one editor, editing, conforming, coloring and outputting? There's not a really good round trip right now. We're looking at products that can support a multi-resolution round trip so we don't have to create as many proxies and we can get the workflow flowing as fast as possible without so much preprocessing. The dream of resolution independence is to bring it in and put it on very fast storage, work with it regardless of raster, and have it play nice with every link down the chain. It doesn't. We have heard rumblings that Avid is working on that, and we're looking to see what color tools are playing along.
 
Speaking of color, we love Avid and we believe in Avid's tool set, but the color management hasn't been the best it could be. We're looking to see what they're going to announce this year with regard to CDL support. Autodesk's Smoke for the Mac almost seems like an all-in-one editor that supports color, moving away from being a compositor. Overall we know the general state of the industry, but we want to grill some people on what they're doing about making standards so we can make different programs from different companies talk and keep all of our color and metadata along the way. Case in point: no two Avid Interplay installations are alike, and that says a lot about the needs of the industry. Frankly, we don't want to standardize everything. Everybody wants everything custom on each show, so there has to be a different metadata set per show. We're looking for tools to make that a little easier on our end, even if we have to hire programmers to do it. That's our job, and it keeps us in business, but at the same time it costs money and time. 
 
Are you going to be showing anything at NAB that you want to tout?
 
We have a product we're developing called The Workflow Engine. It's an attempt to start bridging some of these metadata concerns. You could say it's in alpha. We have all this metadata coming from different set positions — the script supervisor, the camera assistants, the audio guys, even costumes and greenery. People are creating really good apps like ScriptE and Movie Slate to capture some metadata without extra work. We're looking at ways to combine all of that metadata into a centralized cloud repository where you can sort it, sift it, report on it, and share it with your post house and your production. We're not saving clips. We're just creating a master metadata archive. Another part of the Workflow Engine in development, but one aspect getting a lot of play these days is “real-time review,” a live video review and approval system — nothing new to the industry. It’s secure live streaming from the back of an Avid or Final Cut or from cameras. We have started to build our own cloud CDN. There are no fancy annotations like CineSync, but it's fast, secure and scalable. We have a half-dozen TV shows that are using it. We hope to release that into the wild with a self-service, bring-your-own-encoder option after NAB.
 

 
Ted Schilowitz
Leader of the Rebellion
 
What are you looking for at NAB?
 
What's really exciting to me about the industry trade shows I got o now is how important and up front high-res capture and delivery is, 4K and beyond. We were really the ones who brought it to the forefront. Now a whole bunch of companies are building the ecosystem that we started, and realizing what we realized a long time ago — HD is not good enough for what we consider professional capture and delivery and, at a bare minimum, 4K is. Red started this party, and now everyone's coming.
 
I've heard people say they don't think 4K is practical, yet, in the mainstream. How would you respond to that?
 
I used to be much more diplomatic about this than I will be now. [Laughs.] I would say all the people who are saying that are only using half of their brains at this point. They have not opened their mind and their options, at all, to understand how easy, logical, and straightforward working in high resolution is these days. And that's another thing Red has pioneered. Just because we're working in high resolution, it should not be more difficult to move projects through the pipeline. You have to spend some time to make sure you're doing it in an efficient, streamlined fashion, but all the post workflows from all of the major NLEs to finishing support Red fully natively now. You can take and manipulate material at every step of the game natively, without worrying that you're taking a data hit by transcoding or converting to 4K uncompressed finishing format. That's the normal package.
 
So one of the things you'll be trying to do at NAB is educate people about workflow?
 
As part of our offerings at NAB, we're going to have an education initative at our booth. If you're familiar with our REDucation programs, we're going to have sort of a miniature version of that. It will run a few times a day and walk people through the workflow, from camera to on-set viewing and on-set grading to DI grading and finishing. The goal is to show how easy it is. It's super-straightforward. We support industry standards. And as opposed to talking about it, we're going to show it, with specific workflow cases and talking about specific projects.
 
What else will be at the booth?
 
There are always surprises. There will definitely be a Red Ray component to NAB. You will see a lot of discussion and demonstrations of 4K playback at the extremely low data rate of 10 Mbps. I started that bandwagon at CES, and this will continue. And Dragon is our next sensor. Without revealing too much, I can say there will be a very significant Dragon comonent to NAB. We're doing things related to keeping our pole position in the market.
 
Is there anything else you're showing at NAB that you want to tout?
 
I'll be doing a special seminar with the DI colorist Stephen Nakamura of Company 3 about Oz the Great and Powerful, which was shot with a bunch of Epics. We'll be talking about the process of how those files were created and moved into post and finishing. It was 5K acquisition with 2K stereo 3D delivery.
 
Do you think we'll be seeing a larger number of 4K deliveries this year?
 
A number of movies are starting to investigate this. And there's some press I read about Netflix where they said they have delivered the House of Cards project in HD now but are prepared to go back to the native files and finish it at 4K. They are not just thinking about this. They're ready to do it.
 

 
John Stevens
Director of Engineering
 
What are you looking for at NAB?
 
First of all, I go to NAB to get a general sense of where tchnology is headed as it relates to the post business. That's my big picture. Specifically, I'm looking at anything related to data management and asset management as it relates to a facility. Probably 80% to 90% of our workflow is file-based, but at the end you still have to deliver videotape — which we consider unfortunate. We do, primarily, episodic TV, and they still want a piece of tape at the end of the day. I'm looking for things that can make data management — the physical moving of files — more efficient. I'll also be looking at portable media. We're moving a lot of stuff back and forth from sets, and we're looking for better ways to do that. Currently, we're using LTO for a lot of it. Some of it is done electronically, but the amount of data being generated on set is becoming crazy. People don't stop their cameras anymore. They just let them run.
 
Another area is anything related to displays. Will OLEDs get to a price point where you can justify them for every room in a facility, not just very specific places? Are they nice? Very much so. But at a price point in the mid-$20,000s, it just makes no economic sense, at least for our market segment. The way our facility is set up, you can run anything anywhere in any bay. Everything is on a KVM and router. We have three color-correctors, and nothing is tied to a bay. That's how I built the place — there isn't a hero room. Plus, people are looking at on-set viewing, where they want those monitors to look better and better. How do you do it cost-effectively there? Also, we use a fairly expensive probe in the facility — a Photo Research spectroradiometer and a Klein K-10 — and I can't send that stuff out in the field, so we're looking at how good the cheaper probes are.
 
Are there any missing pieces in today's pipelines that you're looking to fill? 
 
I always look at storage. I'm a storage freak, so I want to see what is going on there — what is DDN doing, what is LSI up to, what's NetApp doing? There are some up and coming companies like CacheIO, a group of guys that left SeaChange and EMC and started a new company. We have SSD arrays deployed in our StorNext SAN already, which is how I can do 4K work easily. I can do seven streams of uncompressed DPX 4K off of our file system. So I'm interested in where SSDs are going. Micron has just released 1 TB SSDs at $599 list. Is anyone building anything that use those? Is there something Intel's come out with that someone else is using? A lot of people making arrays are held hostage, so to speak, by what their hardware people can provide them with.
 
Are you going to be showing anything at NAB that you want to tout?
 
One thing it might seem weird that I'm not looking at is encoding, and the reason is that we sell software that does all that [the Cortex system for file-based workflows, which includes MTI's Control Dailies]. I'm biased in that I have a whole development group dedicated to the subject, so I'm not interested in seeing it at NAB. We're working on it all the time.

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