The first thing I noticed about NAB 2008 was the quiet. South Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center is where all the interesting (read: software & new media) applications have been and, for the last several years, Avid and Apple had dominated the entire lower South hall. Across the aisle, the two behemoths outdid each other in terms of the size of their booth and the decibels of their demos. Of course, this caused a domino effect, and the entire hall reverberated with reverb. In the absence of Apple and Avid, some sanity prevailed. You could hear yourself and the person next to you talk.
But the easy atmosphere was also the result of fewer attendees and fewer exhibitors. NAB’s site said that there were 105, 259 registered attendees, but I think they must have counted me (and many others) twice. The reasons? Perhaps because of the absence of Apple and Avid. Definitely because post houses and others hard hit by the writers strike couldn’t afford to come in full force. Other reasons (such as the waning relevance of the trade show)? Too early to tell.

Wider aisles were good (although plopping benches in the middle of them was a tad odd-a dedicated living room space would have made more sense), but NAB made the strange choice of filling other empty exhibitor spots with manufacturers that belonged in the Central or North Hall. Walking along looking at the latest VFX software, I suffered cognitive dissonance when I ran into a booth selling widgets-and not the Internet version.

NAB’s Content Theatre featured some very cool conference talk, although my many appointments on the show floor prevented me from attending many. I did hear Barry Sonnenfeld speak about the decline of Western democracy and the Internet (see video on StudioDaily) and moderated a panel about TV and other entertainment for the mobile device (yep, it’s coming). I missed Doug Liman, Harry Shearer, Tim Robbins, Alvin Toffler…you get the idea. Jeesh, it wasn’t too long ago that NAB was the show that black-suited engineers attended. Now….presto, it’s a content show.

Back to the booths. I focused on all things Digital Intermediate, with a few side tours to cameras, 3D stereoscopy and the like. First, if you didn’t make it to NAB, you didn’t miss any monumental announcements. Companies are all on cycles to introduce new technologies, and the moon must have been conjoined with Mars, because nobody introduced anything that knocked my socks off. That said, here are the most interesting bits and pieces I observed:

Although cameras are not my main area of coverage, it’s hard to ignore Red and NAB 2008 was no exception.

Marketing is a bigger part of the technology wars than we like to think. Survivors of the early days of NLEs can attest to that, and I suppose there are still Sony executives out there who’d like a re-do on their Betamax strategy.

Sony and Panasonic may be camera manufacturers with a pedigree-and a huge install base-but what can you say about the marketing wizardry of Red? The Red booth at NAB had a velvet rope and a big bad bouncer. Really. What a great way to build your own buzz. Not dissimilar to Apple mania (one attendee told me he saw two young men with a star-struck gaze saying rapturously, I loooove Red). Okay, then!

But….Red’s new Scarlet-“3K for $3K”-sounds pretty tantalizing, especially with a fixed lens (one hopes of good glass) so the price doesn’t quadruple by the time it’s actually ready to roll.

Sony showed its first solid state recorder, the PMW-EX30, with a 60 GB external storage unit and Panasonic came out with a 64GB P2 card and a very reasonably priced 1080 HD camera.

These companies operate in a parallel universe to a company like Red, which celebrates its outsider status. I’m not going to begin to make a judgment on any of the cameras but, once again, make the observation that marketing goes a long way to moving the market. Of course, even marketing can only go so far.

Red limits its alliances with others’ manufacturers products, but at this NAB, the company debuted an approved post workflow with Assimilate. Scratch Cine is a $32K solution, bundled with Boxx, for dailies and conform (Assimilate’s Lucas Wilson says some people are also using it for DI). Aimed at Red owners and small businesses, Scratch Cine can also be purchased under a lease-to-buy program at $999 a month with a 3-year amortization. Media is stored on a 320TB Red disk pack. The idea, said Red’s Jeff Edson, is that a user can purchase a Red camera and lens, Scratch Cine and editorial system (FCP or Avid) for $100K…and be in business.

Digital Intermediates
Manufacturers with offerings for the DI market were well represented at NAB, and they all had interesting things to show and tell. The trends were working in higher resolutions (now that we’re at 4K, will 6K be the next leap?) and the real-time processing (or “de-Bayering”) of data from the high-res data-based cameras such as Viper and Red.

Da Vinci-showing with Bright Systems storage-showed its re-engineered 4K Resolve, using Core. Core stands for Cuda Optimized Resolve Engine, the “Cuda” part being NVidia’s development language. To refresh your memory, NVidia is the manufacturer of graphics processing cards. “Two industry leaders have come together,” said da Vinci general manager Bill Robertson. “Nvidia has the GPUs for super-computing and DaVinci wrote the algorithms to best take advantage of NVidia’s strengths.” The entry-level R200 Resolve is based on a single Core. The next level R300 is twice as fast as the R200 (although DaVinci wouldn’t quantify speed for either box).

Da Vinci and Bright Systems had announced a formalized relationship a year ago, and the fruits of that-in 4K-were visible at NAB 2008. A Bright Systems spokesperson pointed out that “IT systems are not ideal for the film/TV business,” as the data is randomized. “With BrightClip, we give an API to da Vinci, they hand over recording of disc drive to Bright which guarantees playback without drastic degradation,” he said. “We guarantee maximum playback. Data is not randomized but laid out in an optimal way. And the system is open so you can have multiple systems using maximum capabilities of the disc drive.”

Quantel introduced its Neo color correction control panel for Pablo. Developed over a nine-month period (in consultation with colorists), Neo aims for a “simple and uncluttered layout” for fast access to features. Neo has dedicated one-touch controls for all major functions, an integrated keyboard and glide pads; one-button access to all menus; and a range of pre-defined shapes that can be tweaked. Neo also has exchangeable left and right hand panels that are user-configurable (good news for lefties, I imagine). Also announced was support for double-speed ingest from Sony HDCAM SR, the result of a request from Brazilian broadcaster, TV GLOBO. Also of note was a new model iQ and Pablo in 2K, 2K Genetic Engineering for a 2K pipeline and other new Pablo features.

Filmlight introduced an extension of its Truelight color management system that includes support for widely used third-party color correction, compositing, visual effects and monitoring tools. The result will make high quality color management within reach of small-to-medium-size facilities, which will no longer have to write custom LUTs. Facilities using Truelight with Baselight for color grading will be able to apply the same color management to compositing and VFX workstations. With Truelight Unlimited, the user can export 3D LUTs to Autodesk’s Lustre and Flame, for example, without resorting to Truelight’s SDK. Truelight “looks” will include bleach by-pass and 2-strip and 3-strip Technicolor.

Truelight on Set, expected for a late summer release, will allow grading on the set, which can be exported as a Color Decision List, to Baselight or any other grading system.
Also announced was Baselight 8, with GPU acceleration thanks to NVidia, and new architecture, offers real-time 4K grading with unlimited layers.

An aside: NAB 2008 was a great show for NVidia, whose GPUs are now present in the inner-workings of an impressive list of products at Adobe, Autodesk, Cine-tal Systems, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Sun Microsystems and others.

FilmLight’s Truelight on Set may be competition for Gamma & Density‘s 3CP, which has already been used on a long list of big features (the latest being “State of Play”). At this NAB, Gamma & Density debuted 3CP as software for sale (CHECK)

At the Iridas booth, I saw SpeedGrade XR, which features the company’s new RealTime RAW 2.0 technology for review, grading and finishing unrendered AW formats. Last year, Iridas showed live de-Bayering from the Phantom camera, and now the company is showing the same thing for every camera except Red. Once again, NVidia’s GPUs are powering the substantially enhanced algorithms. This way, all GPU adjustments are stored as XML scripts, text-readable; with the same file-naming conventions, two people can work on the same material. Iridas also offers a live synching tool for remote collaboration. Furthermore, none of the changes are baked in, offering those famous (or infamous) last-minute tweaks. “Our commitment is universal RAW support,” said Iridas spokesperson Eric Philpott.

At Digital Vision, the demonstration was with FilmMaster with a 4K workflow and 4K SAN, playing back in real-time with off-the-shelf hardware. Turbine, based on Dell blades, is scalable, offering drastically faster render time for real-time HD, for example. The ASC’s Color Decision List (CDL) is also supported in the current version of FilmMaster.

From Cintel comes the Ditto pin-registered scanner, which costs $250K (and up) and is capable of 4.5 fps in 2K, up to 12 fps in B&W. Image monitor tools have been added, and NAB 2008 was the first showing of the 16mm option. Also new is a servo system with more stability and accuracy for high-res scans, called X-Speed, and a 8mm kit.

Celco showed Firestorm 4K, the lateset film recorder, and CineSafe 4K, for archival purposes, restoration and DIs.

Very interesting news from Cine-Tal and Rising Sun Research. Cine-Tal bought Rising Sun Research’s cine-space product line and customer base; Rising Sun Research will partner to service the technology and customers. Cine-Tal president Rob Carroll reported that the company is using the RSR product for “ongoing development to manage all kinds of monitors.” Cine-Tal also debuted Davio, which processes video and DI material with multiple applications, and 2K support ;for CInemage. It was also a good year for Cine-Tal’s proliferation; at NAB 2008, its monitors could be found in the booths of Arri, Assimilate, Autodesk, Cintel, Codex Digital, Dolby, Iridas, Quantel and many others.

For its part, Rising Sun Research continues to market its cinesync and cinesync pro, which synchronize media in different locations. New pricing is intended for larger facilities, and new features include allowing it to run in an offline mode and adding Linux support. The ability to communicate color looks comes with support for 3D LUTs; this isn’t intended for use for DIs, but simply to communicate color information.

S.two showed the ability to take raw data from the ARRI D21 camera and transfer it over two HD-SDI links. S.two records the data in DPX files on a removable magazine. De-Bayering happens in realt-ime in the box, and images can be shown on an HD monitor; anamorphic lenses can also be used, not just HD’s 16:9 aspect ratio. Also shown was the iDock for ingest, which the company described as “like a VTR with removable D-mags and all the features of a VTR.” It can play into FCP in real-time with time-code information, entirely automated (the system also works with Avid NLEs). The A.Dock is for archival usage; it copies to an internal disc cache that holds 2 terabytes for near-line storage and is also connected to a tape library that uses LTO4 tape.

Codex Digital debuted a portable field recorder for HD, 2K and 4K broadcast television; first units are expected to ship in June 2008. It was exhibited in the Band Pro booth, featuring an end-to-end workflow, capturing 1080p, 4:4:4, from a Sony F23 camera, and delivering it to a range of editing and compositing systems. Also announced was support for ARRI’s brand new D-21 camera, as well as future cameras developed by ARRI. As an approved supporter of ARRI’s ARRIRAW T-Link, Codex Digital can record uncompressed or JPEG 2000

3D Stereoscopy
Just a few years ago, 3D was the domain of the occasional large-format film. Dogged by a history of B-movies and other strangeness, 3D was seen as the ultimate niche entertainment. No more-and if you’ve seen any recent 3D film/video endeavors, you know why.

Naturally, manufacturers are coming up with the tools to make it easier to post 3D. Quantel launched its 3D capabilities for Pablo at IBC last year, and since then has been on the road demonstrating the upgrade. The company reports that “17 brand-new Pablo machines or the Stereoscopic 3D upgrades for Pablo have been purchased by post and DI houses in the past few months and they have all been put hard to work on 3D projects for clients from all the major studios.”

Da Vinci is now coming up with its own stereoscopic 3D system, to be deliverable in autumn 2008. The “high-end” system will make it possible to copy the grade from one eye to the other, in 2K, and continue to grade in 3D. Another important feature will be the ability to adjust interoccular in context, using Conform edit tools. A da Vinci spokesperson revealed that the 3D application is being developed in concert with a “key client” who as of this writing remains unnamed. Iridas also showed stereo grading; dual stream is standard, said spokesperson Eric Philpott. Cine-Tal also showed color processing for the Dolby 3D stereoscopic projection (intended for facilities, not exhibitors).

Iconix is now offering tools for a 3D stereo pipeline, including cameras, rigs, on-set storage and post production. The newest Iconix camera, the Studio2K, is a POV camrea capable of 2K digital cinema outputs. The Iconix cameras work with rigs from  and Polecam; the ReadyStor3D from Digital Ordinance provides on-set storage with dual 4:2:2 outputs.