The buzzword at this year's NAB was "4K," and technology is pointing the way to our 4K future by increasing the speed, the capability, and the efficiency of the tools relied on by filmmakers and other content creators. Here are some significant trends I noted at the show that may indicate how the industry will evolve over the next year. (Obviously, I'm not listing all of the important trends. Check in at the comments section, below, to tell me what I left out.)
Adobe Gains Ground in the NLE Wars
Adobe showed strength on the show floor as attendees packed the theater where upcoming Creative Suite features were being showcased. The continued appeal of the full CS package is one of the biggest selling points for Adobe Premiere, and neither Apple nor Avid has the same momentum. Avid did move in the right direction for its large and loyal user base, reducing the price of Media Composer to $995, making the former Symphony an optional feature upgrade, and simplifying media management in the new Media Composer 7. And Apple continued to tweak Final Cut Pro X, adding support for Sony's new camera formats and addressing a color-space issue for ProRes Log C Alexa workflows. Still, Adobe scored the most points simply by making Creative Suite an even more attractive proposition.
It was a good show for fans of anamorphic lensing, as Thales Angénieux and Cooke Optics announced complementary lines of zooms and primes, respectively, and ARRI had the first three of seven new ARRI/Zeiss T1.9 Master Anamorphic lenses in its booth. ARRI sought to remind everyone in attendance that the Alexa's 4×3 sensor is well-suited to film-style anamorphic photography. And if you're trying to get closer to the anamorphic look without actually shooting anamorphic, Schneider Optics can help you out with its new line of True-Streak filters, which generate streaks emanating from bright lights and highlights in camera, a la old-school anamorphic glass. You'll be shooting like J.J. Abrams in no time.
Camera Stabilization Hits the Next Generation
The lion's share of pre-NAB hype surrounded the Freefly Movi M10 camera stabilizer, a $15,000 "gyro-stabilized handheld camera gimbal" that makes handheld shots look like full-on Steadicam productions. The M10 holds up to 10 pounds. Larger (20 pound) and smaller (5 pound) versions are said to be coming soon. Just as the Canon 5D Mark II craze encouraged lots of shooters to create those admittedly gorgeous shallow-focus effects a large-sensor DSLR can give you, expect the Movi — and its inevitable imitators — to usher in a ton of fancy handheld camera work in the months and years to come. Will it challenge the venerable Steadicam? Time will tell.
High-Res Goes High Speed
The version demonstrated at NAB was still a bit of a science project, but the Phantom Flex 4K camera stood out by shooting 4K material at up to 1000 fps. The camera has a standard PL lens mount and a Super 35-sized sensor. What's more, Vision Research has significantly updated the camera's raw workflow, allowing compressed files to be recorded in camera for the first time using the new CineMag IV media. If 4K is going to be real this year, we're going to need a camera like this to handle all of our slow-motion needs. The Flex4K is slated to ship by the end of the year — AbelCine is already taking preorders if you've got $2500 to put on the barrel.
GPU Acceleration Reaches the Cloud
A lot of the attention paid to "cloud computing" in the media industry has focused on platforms for collaboration during the editorial process, which makes sense. But NVIDIA brought its GRID platform to the show and started talking up something called the Visual Computing Appliance (VCA), basically a rack-mounted collection of up to 16 fast GPUs connected to clients via 10 Gigabit Ethernet. The clients then fire up a virtual machine and do their work on the VCA, which streams the session over the network for viewing on the client system. That means a user on a lightweight computer can do computationally intensive graphics work. At NAB, NVIDIA was showing a MacBook Pro seamlessly controlling an instance of Autodesk 3ds Max 2014 from OS X and a Linux system "running" Adobe Photoshop CS6. It's a good way for a facility to centralize its GPU power and distribute it to up to 16 client machines as needed, but as long as the bandwidth is available, it could be used across an external network, as well. (And that's where things could get really interesting.)
Storage Gets Bigger and Faster
SSDs have been the speed freaks of the storage world, but new technologies are challenging them. Fusion-io threw down the gauntlet with the 1.6 TB NAND flash-based ioFX card, which bypasses traditional storage architecture for maximum speed. It's designed for demanding real-time 4K, 5K, and stereo-3D workflows with bandwidth of 1.4 GB/sec out of a single device — which scales linearly as you add more cards. (Four cards would give you 5.6 GB/sec of read bandwidth.) And the company says the ioFX's 0.06 ms latency trumps SSDs. Putting an ioFX in a portable chassis connected to a MacBook Pro via Thunderbolt will give you 860 MB/sec of throughput, which is nothing to sneeze at when you're on the road. Meanwhile, G-Technology announced its Evolution Series of drives, which reach up to 500 MB/sec when two drives are configured for RAID 0 in the Thunderbolt-connected G-Dock ev. And the new G-Drive Pro hits up to 480 MB/sec over Thunderbolt, allowing 15 minutes of uncompressed 4K footage to be transferred in 36 minutes versus 109 minutes using the previous generation of G-Drives.
Thunderbolt Comes of Age
It's been a while since Thunderbolt was introduced, but it hasn't taken off the way speed-hungry users had hoped. (And early adopters have experienced some frustrating glitches with devices like Apple's Thunderbolt display.) But there were real solutions at NAB that married high data throughput with highly mobile notebooks. The carry-on-sized DIT Station Rogue 4 integrates the Sonnet Echo Express Thunderbolt-to-PCIe expansion chassis to create a portable data-wrangling system. The new Livebook GFX from AJT Systems is a laptop-based score bug system for sports broadcasters that uses Thunderbolt to hook up an HD-SDI I/O box. With speeds doubling in 2014 — think 4K file transfer along with 4K display on a single port — expect to see a whole new generation of Thunderbolt products at the next NAB.
Unfinished Products Are Uncool
AJA kicked off NAB this year by showing a rather modest slate of new products, telling press that it has decided to stop making announcements until its gear is actually ready to ship. The move was partly a mea culpa — AJA's own highly anticipated Ki Pro Quad was announced with great fanfare at NAB 2012, but it took a full year for them to finish the thing. Still, it resonated as a goodwill gesture with reporters in the room as well as with customers who will be trying to use NAB product announcements as a roadmap for purchase decisions over the next year. Come IBC this fall, we'll see if AJA sticks to its guns — and if any other NAB exhibitors decide to follow its example.
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