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NAB Top 10: Big Ideas in Production and Post

What Was Innovative, Intriguing and Just Plain Awesome at the Show

As always, picking the top products at an NAB show is a tricky task. Yes, some technology is an obvious game-changer right out of the gate, while other innovations either founder on their way out of the factory or stumble and fall when they're put to use in real-world environments. So you should take this list, and any other, for what it's worth at this stage of the game. Most of the new products we first saw at NAB won't be on the market until later this year, so we'll learn how they perform under pressure at that point. But the following are the products that really caught our eye this year, whether they're just simple and usable options on any production (like the PAGlink batteries), extensions to existing post workflow (like The Foundry's Nuke Studio), or part of bigger strategies that look to the future of production and delivery (like Harmonic's VOS platform). 
 
Another reason to treat "best of NAB" announcements with a grain of salt? Nobody sees everything. The show is too big to cover in fine detail, and there were doubtless some excellent offerings this year that evaded our gaze, especially around the periphery of the show floor. If you found something terrifically exciting or just plain useful at the show this year, don't hesitate to let us know about it in the comments section.
 
 
Most Intriguing New Camera: AJA Cion
AJA earned the lion's share of NAB buzz with a carefully thought-out camera system that offers exactly the right kind of connectivity. "There’s not one proprietary connector or mount point anywhere on this camera,” said AJA President Nick Rashby, announcing the Cion. The specs are incredibly impressive: 4K APS-C sensor with global shutter. 12 stops. ProRes support up to 4444. Raw 4K at up to 120fps over 3G SDI or up to 30fps over Thunderbolt. It's a PL-mount camera, so glass won't be cheap. Neither will AJA's recording media, the Pak, which starts at $695 for a 256 GB cartridge. Then again, CFAST media would cost a lot more. ("Never go with off-the-shelf media," AJA's Bryce Button said. "You're going to have footage get lost.") There are still big questions — AJA hasn't said much about the raw implementation beyond a suggested workflow using the Corvid Ultra, and the camera was developed in secrecy so it'll be interesting to hear what a broad universe of users think of the ergonomics when it starts getting used out in the field. AJA
 
 
Most Innovative Idea for Production: Andra Motion Focus
Cameras were big at NAB, but the closest thing to a game-changer in the trenches of production was the Andra follow-focus system. It uses a magnetic field and sensors to track motion of a subject, controlling a motor that keeps it in focus, or that rack-focuses quickly and precisely to a pre-determined point. It might not put focus-pullers completely out of business — there's still a lot of work that needs to be done to get the feel of the focus shifts just right, using the system's spiffy iPad interface — but it should come in handy, especially for shooting wide open where depth of field is very shallow and focus can be hard to dial in quickly. Andra
 
 
Best 4K Price Break: Assimilate Scratch
This is at least the second or third "Year of 4K" at NAB, but solutions have been evolving to make 4K more affordable, meaning the universe of 4K production and post really has opened up to more customers each time around. The team at Assimilate says they put a tremendous amount of effort into driving down the price of 4K workflow this year in order to get boutique DI facilities on board with Scratch. The result is a turnkey system created with Versatile Distribution Services. A basic configuration runs Assimilate Scratch 8 on a 12-core HP Z820 workstation with Nvidia Quadro K6000 graphics, 32 GB of RAM, a 1 TB SATA boot disk, a 10 TB SATA disk array, a 1.65 TB Fusion-io PCIe acceleratorm and a Blu-ray Disc writer. The best part is the price — at B&H, we're told this system starts somewhere between $18,000 and $21,000. That's a great deal when you consider B&H was selling software licenses for Scratch 7 by itself for $21,000. Icing on the cake? Assimilate has been doing Red workflow longer than anyone, so they know Red, and 4K, inside and out. And with licensed ProRes encoding new to Scratch 8, a Windows system can hold its own against a Mac for all deliverables. Assimilate
 
 
Most Flexible Tool for Post: Blackmagic Design Da Vinci Resolve 11
The king is still the king — it's possible there is no greater value in all the realm of post-production than DaVinci Resolve, which is available at no charge in a powerful "Lite" version and for just $995 in a software-only version. (Bring your own control panel.) The latest Resolve is more editorial-friendly than ever, with new features making it a more usable editorial tool, including dual-monitor support, audio crossfades, independent audio and video in and out points, dynamic JKL trimming, a new title tool, the ability to use plugins on the timeline, and the ability to collaborate on a single timeline, not just the same project. Resolve's media management game has been upped, and a new auto-grade feature lets you get started quickly by lining up an on-screen grid on a color chart in a scene to set a base grade. Best of all, it's a free upgrade for existing customers that's due in June. Blackmagic Design
 
 
Biggest News for VFX Artists: The Foundry Nuke Studio
The Foundry came to NAB with a dramatically expanded workflow for its flagship Nuke software. The new product, Nuke Studio, will combine collaborative VFX, online editing, and finishing in a single application, giving Nuke artists control of an end-to-end workflow for node-based VFX, including the ability to share composites among a team as well as 4K real-time playback for client review. Building on NukeX, Nuke Studio will feature real-time effects, with Nuke nodes right on the timeline. Nuke Studio represents the culmination of recent thinking at The Foundry, which last year had started promoting the use of Nuke together with its shot-management, conform and review tool Hiero together as part of a comprehensive workflow for editorial and compositing. The Foundry says Nuke Studio will ship for Windows, Mac and Linux by the end of 2014. The Foundry
 
 
Best Look at the Future: Harmonic VOS Platform
Looking to leverage the move to IT-based infrastructure for video delivery, Harmonic unveiled its new VOS software platform at the show. The VOS platform is designed to bring costs down dramatically by performing encoding, graphics, and playout tasks for broadcast on generic computers, networks, and storage instead of specialized hardware. A key component is Harmonic's Pure Compression Engine software, which runs on Intel processors in a virtualized blade architecture and supports highly effecient HEVC compression in addition to MPEG-2 and MPEG-4/AVC encoding for SD, HD and Ultra HD. The first VOS-based product, Elextra XVM, combines graphics and branding, compression, and playout, allowing data center capacity to be scaled up and down on demand, depending on the horsepower required. That will allow Harmonic to implement flexible, time-based pricing models based on how much processing power is actually being used. Is this a preview of the future for broadcast and video post-production? "It's a trend, quite frankly, that we're betting our company on," said Harmonic's Krish Padmanabhan, senior VP for video products. Harmonic
 
 
Best Deal in Displays: HP Z27x and Z24x DreamColor Displays
The original HP DreamColor monitors are coveted in post-production, especially in VFX and animation, where color accuracy is critical. Well, HP's two new DreamColor monitors have better color and a lower price. Power users who need a very high quality image will probably opt for the $1,499 Z27x (2560×1440), which offers an integrated calibration engine and Ethernet connectivity for remote management, and which now covers 99 percent of the DCI-P3 gamut compared to 97 percent on the original model. However, many users—editors, especially—will probably be very happy with the $599 Z24x (1920×1200), which looks like a very good deal even though it only reaches 96 percent of the DCI-P3 gamut. Both monitors have 10-bit color and offer presets including Adobe RGB, BT.709, BT.2020, and DCI-P3. The more expensive display has some perks, like support for 4K input and native sync to 50 and 48 Hz sources (the Z24x is 60 Hz only), but the Z24x promises to be an exceptionally good value for users on a budget. HP
 
 
Densest Storage for 4K: LaCie 8big Rack
LaCie came to NAB making big claims for its 8big Rack — its website proclaims, "Fibre Channel DAS has been dethroned" — which offers incredibly dense rack-mounted storage for 4K video workflow. A single 8big unit can hold up to 48 TB of disk capacity and provide a screaming 1330 MB/sec of sustained data transfer, the company said. That makes it a formidable performer, especially for studios who are trying to build out a 4K pipeline without having storage take over the entire facility. Thunderbolt I/O is key to the system's scalability, since it means you could, in theory, daisy-chain six devices on each available Thunderbolt port on a computer for really big amounts of capacity and throughput. (New Mac Pro, we're looking at you.) LaCie
 
 
Smartest Idea in Batteries: PAG PAGLink
London company PAG's intelligent, stackable Lithium-Ion batteries have been around for a couple of years now, but they're just starting to attract attention in the U.S. You can stack two or three of them off the back of your camera, and they're hot-swappable so you can pop a dead battery off and replace it with a fresh one at any time. Individual batteries are 94Wh/10A, but when two or more batteries are linked you can get 188Wh/12A out of them. The battery closest to the camera acts as a kind of traffic cop, drawing power from one or more mounted batteries to meet demand. Even better, the new "3-Stud" version is compatible with the Gold Mount/Snap-On camera plate and Anton/Bauer Li-Ion chargers, making charging up multiple batteries an easier, intervention-free task. And PAG says the batteries are unrestricted for air travel — each one comes with documentation and an "Air Transport Safe" sticker indicating its UN certification for flight. Best of all? They're available right now. PAG
 
 
Little Low-Light Performer: Sony α7S
Hybrid still and video cameras continue to generate an enormous amount of buzz among shooters who value high-quality images in a small form factor. Sony's big NAB surprise announcement was the α7S, a new full-frame camera that outputs 4K UHD via HDMI for recording with the forthcoming Shogun 7-inch IPS-display monitor/recorder. The selling point of this camera is not just the 4K capability, but also the ability to record using Sony's XAVC S codec and especially its low-light capabilities. With an expandable ISO of up to 409600, should be quite capable of shooting in the near-dark. How capable? Just watch the demo video, above. But don't start planning that night shoot yet — pricing and availability are still to be determined. Sony

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