NAB Las Vegas highlights

I’ll just put down a few words on the stories that I found of interest this week. Technology is changing fast but sometimes it’s difficult to see where the real breakthroughs are. At Las Vegas there is so much hype and marketing material that sometime the products that are announced a little way ahead of time can have a brief, but important lead in the marketing stakes. Autodesk have done that by delivering the Max 9 and Maya 8.5 releases a month ago, but having parties at NAB to promote them.

Other companies such as Apple use the tension before the announcements to heighten awareness. They certainly had some good news to speak about. Maybe it’s only new releases but it is the company that you keep which sometimes adds to the story. Sony suits were around for the Apple keynote. Everyone was waiting for the new FCP version and it does look good. Final Cut Server is announced: with workflow management, automation, automated encoding of 100 file types and proxy generation. Final Cut Studio is using the newly announced ProRes422 as an uncompressed production format. It’s compressed, but is more along the lines of the older lossless compression that came from Matrox. That worked well for Matrox in the Digibeta world, but I would have hoped that it might be a 4:4:4 format in the modern day. Apple say uncompressed, but it’s 4:2:2. There’s a loss there already. Colours are compromised on vertical edges. It is 1080p and 10-bit so it will be good for me, but for film makers, I’m not so sure. Apple are aiming at high resolution but still managing compression to under 20Mbps for HD footage. Very impressive.

The timeline now has mixed formats, mixed resolutions, mixed framerates even. They are bringing in Motion templates and features from Shake such as SmoothCam. There are now 3D particles. The audio system, Soundtrack Pro 2 brings in similar features to Audition with Fourier transform type facilities to make it easy to edit out clicks and bumps or unwanted frequencies. The compression will produce MPEG2, h264, wmv and flv with the options of animated watermarks and timecode overlays. Colour grading is so much more straightforward. It is making life easier for the operator who is continuing to cover more aspects of the job in a multitasking environment. The ease of use is very important and has been done well. Amazing that they can do all this and still keep the price low. FCS is only $1299. This is less than it will cost me to upgrade my Production Studio Premium package. It will certainly make me think of moving. I might just rush out and buy a Mac.

The Red button appeared on the screen when high rez footage came into view. I’m not sure if they were showing footage from the Peter Jackson tests. He has been trying out the cameras in New Zealand. They have an impressive spcification and I hope home cinema systems will be coming this way in ten years time. The cameras have 12Mpixel sensors, up to 60fps, and 12-bit colour in RAW format or 10-bit oversampled HD, 66db signal to noise ration, Canon lens mounts. All for around £20k. Wonderful.

To get the material in and out, Blackmagic Eclipse is an upgrade of the current Multibridge Extreme range and adds a 3Gbps SDI channel to get 4:4:4 down a single BNC connection. Truly ready for film editing. Being an external box, it allows Blackmagic to add other facilities such as HDMI and the use of the box as a standalone video standards converter. It also uses the DirectShow interface to allow live previews from Adobe and Apple software. AJA have announced a similar external offering with their external Io HD box. Both are around $3500 which is a good price for HD interfacing. I think I prefer the Multibridge for its flexibility but the AJA box is smaller.

Quantel have their new teamwork system called Genetic Engineering. They’re hoping to make their Sam server the hub of the DI workspace. The DPX (and SMPTE) format files it uses are slightly more flexible than the older Cineon standard with a variable length header and format blocks for both film and television data. Other manufacturers seem to be falling in line to use the same format and fit into this shared production workflow. It will be interesting to see how it fits with Final Cut Server in some of the bigger post houses. Omneon are also active here with MediaDeck, their latest video server.

On the compression front, the BBC is pushing the next version of their Dirac Pro algorithms. It will compress 1080p into the same bandwidth as 1080i so that it can use the current HD routing and distribution hardware. This is important for those with a big investment in equipment. They are forming licensing agreements for their open source, wavelet based compression algorithm.

Of course Adobe and Microsoft were in Las Vegas with new announcements. Adobe announced their new EXPENSIVE video suites. It will cost more for my upgrades than I paid for the software less than six months ago. Disgraceful. Adobe also showed their new standalone Media Player with no Adobe branding. Not simply no branding, but it will even skin itself dynamically according to the video that is playing. It’s based on their Apollo framework, so should work well on all platforms. (They showed it playing on Intel’s new handheld internet device). Microsoft announced their Silverlight product, which is really only a new name for WPF/E. Flash 9 has passed the 75% installed figure and is really dominant, but Microsoft will have Silverlight installed on Windows so it should be quite a battle. Apollo has an enthusiastic developer following and being cross platform, it might prove to be what swings the battle toward Adobe. Microsoft seem to have been going backwards on the Mac front recently but they have a lot of weight to put behind their new developments. This is just the start of the battle.

Advertisements

Apollo arrives

Well, the long awaited Apollo has now arrived in alpha form. I shall be interested to see whether it lives up to its initial hype. We had a go with the WPF dotNet extension and that looks pretty cool. Trouble is that there’s a lot of learning to do, to get your head around all the Visual Studio environment. I’m sure that it will take off but it will be some time before the large corporates have Vista on their desktop so it will need a special instal of WPF when you install the app. WPF/E, although a cut down version, might be the one to bring more pressure to bear on Adobe and the Flash player. It should be a small download of 1Mb and installs without user intervention. However, Apollo will compete for sure with the dominance of Flash. eBay is one of the sites being quoted as developing a desktop version. I’m sure that there will be many others.

Apollo alpha

Let’s download it and have a play. There’s a lot of documentation, around 13Mb, and the sdk another 18Mb. But the biggest download is the extension for the Flex2 environment, at 40Mb….wow! Better go and have a look.