This year NAB week was a busy one for me. I spent less time on the exhibit show floor than I had in any of my previous years attending. The main reason was because I spent half of my Tuesday and Wednesday in the North Hall teaching a couple of classes as part of the Pro|Production World conference. I wouldn’t trade that time in the classroom for more exhibit time; the classes were challenging to teach, well attended and most of all, fun. Add in a few meetings during the day and I decided not to spend too much time in the North and Central halls, where most of the camera and production gear lived. (However, James Mathers did spend a lot of time in those halls shooting video, and StudioDaily has clips featuring new gear from 45+ of those exhibitors here.) Instead, I tried to concentrate on the South Hall, home for most things post-production. Since my profession and field of interest is mainly post, that’s what I’ll concentrate on here with my “NAB 2011 Winners and Losers,” as well as those that hovered around both categories but for one reason or another, ended up in neither (“Push/Draw”).
Color Grading – Last year’s show saw the bombshell introduction of DaVinci Resolve for the Mac coming to the market at an unbelievable price. This year, many more color grading options were introduced across the board. Resolve got a very strong version 8 update that includes much better conform options, including a multilayer timeline, better grading tools and image stabilization, to name a few. Blackmagic also introduced Resolve Lite, a free, full-featured Resolve limited to two nodes. The free version was a popular concept: Red Giant Software introduced Colorista Free, a CDL-compliant plug-in for basic primaries only. Filmlight showed an upcoming Baselight for Final Cut Pro plug-in that could expand to other plug-ins across many different post-production products. Assimilate introduced its latest SCRATCH 6 upgrade for the Mac as well as for Windows 7. At around $17K it’s not as cheap as Resolve by any means but it’s still a brand new product of note. IRIDAS showed SpeedGrade NX and a preview of a new finishing system called Lumetri. I also happened across a small booth and a company called Marquise demoing its RAIN product, a full, high-end color grading solution. The Foundry had ongoing demos of Storm and Nuke 6.3 and Quantel showed off the latest updates, including ARRI RAW support, to Pablo. I’m sure somewhere in the Autodesk booth you could see a demo of Lustre. Even without Apple Color on the floor in a big booth there were many, many options for color grading.
Filmlight – While Filmlight didn’t have a presence on the show floor last year, opting instead for a suite at the nearby Renaissance Hotel, I pegged them as a loser last year after they introduced a lower-cost Baselight and no one really seemed to care. This year the company did several things that definitely generated some positive Baselight buzz. First, Filmlight made quite a few announcements that went live on Sunday, before the exhibit floor opened. One of those announcements was a Baselight plug-in for Final Cut Pro. While that’s decidedly downmarket for traditional Baselight customers who might be upgrading or buying a full system, the idea behind the plug-in is a very good one. And since it’s FCP-related, that got people talking. Filmlight also actually had a booth on the show floor this year. It was small, kind of a black fabric igloo with only two demo stations, but it was there and the Baselight demo artists were happy to show the wares. Finally, Filmlight has another super cool demo product to show, the Blackboard 2 control panel. While most people won’t ever work with one it got everyone’s attention and became a topic of discussion: “Hey, have you seen that Baselight thing with all the crazy buttons?” What makes it so cool? Each button on the massive board is like a little TV screen that can dynamically change depending on operation. It can also be put into a very impressive demo mode which was what got many people to stop and check it out.
Avid – With the release of the revamped and opened up Media Composer 5.0 at last year’s NAB, Avid had a blockbuster show. This year’s 5.5 upgrade didn’t generate near the buzz. What did generate buzz for Avid, however, was the introduction of a $995 cross-grade promotion for current Final Cut Pro owners. Again, get FCP connected somehow, and people will talk. This happened right on top of the sneak preview of Final Cut Pro X at Tuesday’s SuperMeet. Coincidence? I think not. Avid also generated quite a bit of buzz for the rescheduled Kevin Smith presentations. While he did get bumped from that SuperMeet he ended up as a Wednesday morning NAB keynote. He had always been scheduled for a Tuesday afternoon talk at the Avid booth and after that was over, word spread quickly about how much fun and racy that presentation was. Did we expect anything less from Mr. Smith? It made quite a few people reconfigure their own schedules—or wake up earlier than they expected—in order to attend the Wednesday morning keynote.
On-Camera Digital Recorders – AJA finally began shipping the AJA Ki Pro Mini just a while ago and it has proved very popular. It was quite popular on the show floor and RED even blessed the Ki Pro Mini as a “certified” 1080 capture device for the EPIC. Atomos, new to the show, introduced its lower-cost Ninja and Samurai products. Was price the biggest draw? Atomos always seemed to have a packed booth. Codex Digital was in the Central Hall, but I made an exception, as Codex recorders are the gold standard of digital disk recorders for digital cinema. Cinedeck had some nice improvements to its touch-screen recorder device that offers more than the usual ProRes codec with support for Avid DNxHD and Cineform. Blackmagic showed the $345 HyperDeck Shuttle which uses removable solid state drives to record uncompressed. The drives can then be plugged into the rack mountable $995 HyperDeck Studio and controlled via RS422 for a true digital video deck. There were undoubtedly a few more on-camera recorders in the halls, but isn’t five enough?
Thunderbolt – There were no Thunderbolt products that were available to purchase on or directly after the NAB show floor. But there were a lot of Thunderbolt products shown. The Apple/Intel technology will enable a new era in data transmission between computers and peripherals of all sorts. When I saw it in operation, it was indeed quite impressive. Matrox showed its Thunderbolt adapter under glass Blackmagic, Promise and Adobe gave live demos in their booths. Products should be shipping this summer; they really can’t come along soon enough.
AJA – While AJA didn’t reveal any surprise products like it has at NABs past the company did announce a very well-received 4K mode for Kona 3G. This is the same Kona 3G card that shipped last year. Rather than making users purchase a brand new card for 4K there will be a free driver update that can remap the 4 SDI connectors on the 3G card as all outputs, each displaying a quadrant of the 4K display. Truth be told, AJA could probably have charged a price for the driver and/or introduced a “special 4K edition” of the 3G card. Kudos for being forward thinking, and generous, about this for customers. I’ve seen some comments from people who thought AJA was a loser at this year’s show because they didn’t have the usual spread of brand new products. But I think this kind of gesture both pleases and benefits customers and that’s a win. AJA did recently announce AJA Io Express support for Avid Media Composer and the technology was featured in its booth. This is the second non-Avid hardware support and the first that allows tape in and out.
Avid Artist Series Artist Color Control Surface – I would normally think of something bigger than a single product as a “winner” when it comes to NAB but this year the Avid Artist Color control surface (formerly the Euphonix MC Color) seemed to be all over the South Hall. The differences between the Artist Color and it’s arch rival the Tangent Wave aren’t that great anymore, though there seemed to be a lot more Artist Color surfaces around the show floor than Wave consoles, at a ratio of about 2- or 3-to-1. Many developers I spoke with specifically mentioned the EUCON protocol that runs the Color console, as well as all the other hardware products in this series. They obviously like the support from Avid and see quite a bit of future development potential.
Blackmagic Design – After being a big winner last year with the introduction of a $1,000 Resolve, these guys obviously listened to customers about what they really wanted in the next version of Resolve. Version 8 of the software was demoed with a completely revamped Conform tab that features a multilayer timeline, easy- to-use editing tools, the ability to conform metadata-less 5D/7D media without using the cumbersome media pool, and Final Cut Pro XML support. Add to that a new stabilizer, based on the already great Resolve tracker, and several new grading tools and version 8 looks like a very nice update. Best of all, it will be a free update to existing customers; I’m guessing every subsequent update for existing customers will probably always be free. To appeal to new users, Blackmagic unveiled DaVinci Resolve Lite, a free version that supports only two nodes of corrections but just about everything else. I did talk to a few colorists after NAB who considered this free version a resounding loser, however. I still think it is a winner, as is the HyperDeck Shuttle and HyperDeck Studio mentioned above. While the Shuttle was cool for the shooters the Studio may very well be a replacement for expensive tape decks in many post houses. Since HDCAM SR is both expensive and in short supply I could see using the Studio as a similar-type record deck for $995. I’m not exactly sure where all these SSD drives are going to come from (the image on the Blackmagic website shows SSD drives in blue D-Beta-like cases). And if you want to use it as a deck, you’ll probably need a lot of them. Still, the idea is right. It currently is uncompressed only but it would be great if it would support codecs like ProRes and DNxHD as well.
Final Cut Pro X – It was only shown for a short time on Tuesday night but after the sneak preview (and for most of the time before it) this next version of Apple’s Final Cut Pro was usually the topic of conversation wherever you went. For top-of-mind discussion, Apple wins again.
Assimilate – While unveiling a brand new version of SCRATCH and porting it to the Mac would seem like two major wins for Assimilate, I was surprised the company didn’t have a booth on the floor to show attendees more about it. I spoke to several people who sparked my interest in the new version of SCRATCH 6 for the Mac, but when I realized you could only get a demo in the company’s room at the Renaissance Hotel, it kind of left my mind. Assimilate had even more news that deserved a central venue somewhere in the convention halls: a new dailies product called SCRATCH Lab ($4,995, Mac and Windows) and new lower pricing, at $17,995, for the full SCRATCH (both Mac and Windows) system. But even that price, when I heard about it, left my mind as soon as I got to the Blackmagic booth and saw Resolve 8. I suspect it did for many others as well. I know Assimilate is a small company and it’s expensive to have a booth on the NAB show floor, but out of sight is unfortunately out of mind.
Archiving and Backup – There we were once again at NAB, right in the middle of the tapeless revolution, and yet there was no corresponding revelation about how we can inexpensively and securely archive and backup all this data tapeless cameras generate. Hard drive vendors were everywhere but archiving seemed to be lacking yet again. Of the archiving solutions there, Cache-A was the name I heard referenced most often. But nothing they showed seemed really revolutionary or really affordable, for that matter. In fact, one of the most common questions was: Have you seen any good backup solutions?
Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere Pro (on Wednesday morning, after the FCPUG SuperMeet) – How can I consider these two pieces of nonlinear editing software losers, especially when they both received updates at or around NAB? First, their updates weren’t the BIG updates that came along last year, but that’s not the reason. You can’t have a huge update at every NAB. No, as of Wednesday morning, everyone was talking about Apple’s Final Cut Pro X demo at the SuperMeet the night before. I can’t think of a single conversation that I had from Wednesday morning until I left Las Vegas Thursday evening that didn’t, at some point, turn to FCP X. Even listening to neighboring conversations on the bus or in a café at the airport, one could hear others discussing FCP X. Even the days running up to SuperMeet had their share of FCP X conversations. No matter what the topic, people were talking about FCP X. Exactly what Apple wanted. Exactly what Apple knew would happen.
Tangent Devices – The Tangent Wave was the first of the affordable color grading control surfaces to come along but at this NAB show, its rival the Avid Artist Color surface was the clear winner. Tangent didn’t have a booth on the show floor, instead relying on other companies to demo its products. While Tangent had quite a few panels on the floor it felt to me as if it wasn’t there as a company. Now Tangent was showing something new behind closed doors, something that I heard was pretty cool. But without a booth as a checkpoint, I didn’t know where to go to try and get a sneak peek at it!
Final Cut Pro X – Even with FCP X’s dominance of every discussion, what was said wasn’t all good. Despite the cheering and yelling from a small portion of the SuperMeet crowd following Apple’s short demo, there were so many questions about so many simple features we use every day in FCP 7 that a lot of people I talked to in the days after the demo declared it a failure. Many said it looked too much like a revamp of iMovie Pro and was not ready for prime time … at least from a demo perspective.
RED – It was a big plus to have RED back on the floor this year with its big tent, big 4K screen room and big bouncers. And everyone was talking about the booth demo. Instead of the usual still life scenes and bored models doing everyday tasks that the other camera manufacturers have over in the Central Hall, RED had an actual tattoo parlor set up with people getting actual tattoos! You’ve got to hand it to them to push the envelope in terms of spectacle. But they didn’t have any big new product announcements that shook up the show floor. In fact, it seems the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan may be hurting the EPIC ship dates in terms of camera parts, even though the EPIC sensors are made in Israel. Still, having RED back was a major plus and the 4K theater was enjoyable. This is why RED continued to be a draw in the minds of many NABers.
Adobe – Last year was a big year for Adobe when it launched CS5. It’s understandable that the company this year wouldn’t see the same kind of excitement since CS5.5 wasn’t as big of an update. Yes, we’re getting Audition for Mac in the CS Suite and yes, the After Effects Warp Stabilizer is cool, and yes, the new Photoshop development API has a lot of potential. But it might be 2012 before we’re really buzzing again about Adobe. I’m guessing the next version of CS will probably respond in some way to Final Cut Pro X.
Matrox – On the surface it seemed Matrox would come up an NAB loser. They didn’t really have many new product announcements that were shipping. AJA stepped in with a more robust hardware option for Avid Media Composer (the Io Express lets you capture and output to tape) meaning Matrox isn’t the only non-Avid, third-party hardware in town anymore. As mentioned above, Matrox’s standalone Thunderbolt adapter (for $299) will let any Matrox user connect their current Matrox hardware via Thunderbolt. The company will also ship Thunderbolt versions of a lot of its current products but this adapter makes sense for existing customers who have already made an investment in existing products. Thanks, Matrox, for not making everyone buy new hardware.
Lightworks – Last year the current Lightworks owner Editshare had a tiny corner in the back of its booth where it demoed its newest acquisition, Lightworks nonlinear editing software. This year, Lightworks was front and center. Four or five Lightworks edit stations, including the unique Lightworks hardware controller, were displayed for all to touch and try. The folks at Editshare’s booth insisted the open beta is still on track to hit its targets, including Mac OS support by the end of the year. I have to put Lightworks in the push column, however, since there didn’t seem to be a lot of people talking about the company or its product. If the open beta can hit its targets, however, next year will be a pivotal year for Lightworks.
3D – Last year 3D was a big winner and this year tools related to stereo production continued to mature, though 3D didn’t have the buzz factor and urgency as a topic that it had last year. At any given point you would be within a few steps of something related to 3D, but the booth babes weren’t throwing 3D glasses on your head like were last year. That said, the marriage of GoPro and CineForm did produce some low-budget buzz around stereoscopic production and post.
Final Cut Pro X – Apple chose to demo FCP X at a professional user group but really didn’t show that many pro features, nor did the company mention third-party plug-in support and/or the ability to interface with other applications, including its own. But Apple did show a very different application with quite the fluid interface and several innovative new features were highlighted. In the end, however, there were just as many questions as there were answers, giving FCP X the dubious distinction of ending up in all three of my post-NAB categories.
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