Another NAB is on the books and the 2010 edition was a biggie. Attendance was up and the show floor seemed visibly more crowded than last year. Certain booths were so crowded from Monday on that you had to fight your way into a demo seat or to get your hands on a piece of gear. My NAB was different than all of those before as I spent a large part of Tuesday and Wednesday at the Post|Production World Conference teaching two in-depth classes for the conference’s sponsoring company Future Media Concepts: one on Avid for Final Cut Pro Editors and one on Music Video Workflow. Attendance at the classes was good and the students asked a lot of great questions. It was a very enjoyable experience. With the time spent in the classroom I had somewhat limited time on the show floor. With that limited time I decided to concentrate only on things that would be affecting my professional life directly. (These posts are going to concentrate on post-production more than anything else.) That meant limited time in the Central Hall with cameras and camera gear and most of my time spent in the South Hall with all of the post-production companies. I’m also proud to say that I didn’t put on a single pair of 3D glasses the entire week. As big a buzz as 3D was (and you didn’t have to put on the glasses to see 3D’s impact), it’s not something that I see in my professional world. With that, I’ve divided what I saw at NAB 2010 into these categories – the big, the small and the medium. I’ll post up one category a day for the next three days as I make notes on and think about all that I saw. Up first, the Big.

The Big

Probably the most surprising news in post-production was Blackmagic Design’s announcement that its super-high-end color grading division, DaVinci, acquired last year, would go mass-market with price drops across the Resolve line that could equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on which old vs. new system you might be comparing. To use an automotive analogy, it’s kind of like an automotive technology company like Dephi buying Lamborghini and dropping the price of the Gallardo to $9,000 and the Murciélago to $30,000. And by that I mean that if you were in the sports car space, and drove a Mazda Miata or Chevy Corvette, then the idea of the supercar had suddenly changed and what you could afford changed with it. They have Apple’s Color square in their sights with the $995 software-only version of the Resolve. If you have a Color install with a Tangent Wave control surface, the right Decklink card and fast enough hard drives then, according to Blackmagic, you can get realtime 10-bit 1080 HD out of the software Resolve. You’ll be able to do amazing things that are impossible on Color. Besides the realtime (which is huge in a grading suite with clients), you can expect a very cool tracking tool, an ease and ability to select secondaries as well as image quality that DaVinci has always been known for. If you want the hardware control surface that is part of what makes a complete DaVinci suite then add $29,000 to the price tag and plug its USB connection into your Mac. Then there’s the Linux version too that rounds out the Resolve offerings. An Earth shaking announcement indeed.

Avid was the other big company that had a few surprises up its sleeve. While many were probably expecting an updated Media Composer (they have after all delivered 3 very solid updates in the last few years so why stop?) I think the feature set surprised many, myself included. Rumors had surfaced that Media Composer 5.0 would support the native import of many flavors of QuickTime via the Avid Media Access architecture. That same rumor said that a lot, but not all, flavors would be supported and one missing codec would be native H.264 .movs from the Canon DSLRs. When MC 5 hit the public demo we saw that not only was H.264 supported but pretty much any QuickTime that you can open in your QuickTime Player  can be natively imported into MC 5. That’s going to (finally) mean native support of DNxHD QuickTimes. Add to that native RED .R3Ds and support for Canon’s newest codec and MC 5 supports most anything natively. It’s a completely different way of thinking about working with media in Media Composer. And speaking of new ways of thinking, Avid also introduced the smart tool into the MC 5 timeline. This tool enables “drag and drop” of elements on the timeline. Think direct click and drag of all timeline elements. No more Segment mode to move clips unless you want it since all of these new elements can be turned on and off not just in their entirety but selectively. You could leave direct moving of clips on but direct trimming off. It’s the best of both worlds and should be welcome to old and new Avid editors alike. It’s indeed some new thinking from the new (er) management at Avid. They are squarely aiming at the Final Cut Pro editor with the drag and drop timeline. They also mentioned ProRes support in most every MC 5.0 AMA demo they did. Media Composer 5.0 is probably the biggest Avid release that I have ever seen.

And you can’t talk about Avid’s announcements without mentioning their first ever Media Composer support for third party hardware in the Matrox MXO2 Mini for Media Composer 5.0. At $449 it is a very affordable monitoring option for HD and SD. This has been a long time coming and was desperately needed to bring more installs of Media Composer into the small post houses and one-man-band-type of operations. If Avid couldn’t drop the Mojo DX down into Matrox/Blackmagic/AJA territory then starting to support them one of them is the next best thing. Come to think of it … it’s probably a better thing since if they want to get into more edit suites it’s easier to add software onto existing hardware than buy it all. It’s no AJA Kona support but the MXO tools are good ones and according to Avid they are committed to “openness, productivity and collaboration.” Read into that what you will but the support of any third party hardware at all is, if nothing else, a good start.

Autodesk had previously announced Smoke on Mac well before the show but the Smoke on Mac demo booths were always packed with people every one of the many times I walked by. I literally could not get a closeup view without either waiting a long time or shoving my way through. Autodesk was also running Smoke on Mac demos in their theatre quite often and those were all packed as well. I sat in on one of those and it is an impressive, although complex, package.

Adobe announced Creative Suite 5 on Monday of the show. Big improvements across the board equals one of the biggest Creative Suite updates Adobe has ever done. While all Adobe applications got updated there’s some specific tools that will be most useful for broadcast creative. All applications are now 64-bit, moving them to a modern architecture. In After Effects that means you can RAM preview way more time than ever before, including a 30 second spot. Think about how much easier that is going to make commercial work. The After Effects Roto Brush tries to make rotoscoping as easy as a couple of brush strokes on the foreground and background. It’s one of those automagic tools that really make you say wow. Premiere Pro gains the Mercury Playback Engine. While Mercury works in the software world with a supported graphics card in your computer you can get more realtime performance that ever before, mixing pretty much any and every format and frame rate natively. And the big demo feature in Photoshop CS5 is the Content Aware Fill that magically creates backgrounds (and more) when you delete a foreground object from your image. There really is too much to mention in CS5 so you’ll have to work your way through all of the new features at the CS5 launch site. Check the chapter selection of CS5 for Video Production to see what affects us most.

Adobe seemed to be launching a product the right way. They have implemented features in CS5 that while flashy could make for a much easier and faster workflow. I didn’t see a single demo of some of the cool features in my week at NAB that didn’t elicit a somewhat audible gasp from the crowd watching the presentation. That meant later in casual conversations people would ask “did you see the new AE roto brush?” This drove traffic to the Adobe booth as it was busy all week. They seem to have really though out the feature set of this update very well. The proof will of course be in the pudding when we start working with CS5 and see just how fast and stable the applications are overall. In the case of Premiere Pro CS5 everyone is hoping for stability.

Any other major announcements from the big post companies that you saw?

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the small guys and some of what they were showing.