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Top Ten Trends of NAB 2012

Its a Mad Mad Mad Mad NAB 2012 - here's why

By Mike Curtis | April 18, 2012

Lots of change this year - not just new products, but new KINDS of new products from companies we didn't expect them from. Here's some new tech, trends, and an attention seeking Top Ten List of my take on the show so far.

Part of it is just the maturation on the industry - as things that were uniquely challenging in the past get easier they get commodified, thus allowing newer entrants to come in. Plus, once one newbie comes in and (eventually) makes a name and market for themselves and gets working products consistently out the door (think a color), it encourages others to branch out. I saw someone post on Facebook that "In 5 years everyone will be making their own RAW cameras. At home." Might be.

Some of the oddnesses this year:

Blackmagic Design, maker of post production gear, introduces a camera. And a RAW recording, 2.5K $3000 camera at that, smelling like the Scarlet That Might Have Been.

You've probably already heard about Canon's two 4K cameras, but did you hear about their 4K displays?

Recorders everywhere, of every kind! 4K, RAW, uncompressed, ProRes, DNxHD, all kinds - some under $1000 including things like 800x480 touchscreens. Atomos, Codex, AJA, Blackmagic, Convergent, on and on and on. Last year they were here or announced, now they're all here and small/inexpensive.

Laser based 4K 3D projector coming from Red on display - yes indeed, kiddos - LAY-ZORS. All that's missing is putting them in space. Jim, get on that.

Teranex for $2000? Why not? Autodesk Smoke for Mac for $3500? Sure! Uncompressed Thunderbolt HD-SDI dongles for under $300? It could happen!

Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!

Hyperbole? Attention seeking? (From writers maybe?)

OK, Lots of noise and furor, but lets step back and look at some of trends, in an attention seeking Top Ten List format:

1.) Line crossing - as discussed above - camera makers making displays, add-in card makers making cameras, and so on. It is anybody's game, anywhere. Game On. Update - another thought that just occurred to me - for companies adding to their product lines, is there any correlation to vertical intergration due to increasingly proprietary workflows for all this new, RAW, 4K vs QuadHD, my-flavor-of-raw-different-from-yours stuff? Apple felt it had to silo the hardware/software to get proper integration in their product line, feeling that the MS-like licensing model wouldn't give them a satisfactory end result. MIGHT this be behind some of the line crossing? Or just commoditization of tech encouraging folks to venture into new areas the haven't been before?

2.) Recorders EVERYWHERE - last year was Uncompressed and ProRes and some DNxHD, now a lot of players have ProRes and DNxHD in the same device, and if the bandwidth in the recording media supports it, uncompressed as well. But there are LOTS of them - Codex, S.two, AJA, Convergent, Blackmagic, Atomos. The new Atomos are my (at least by the specs and a quick look-see) favorite for indies so far in terms of price/performance/features/size/handiness. Newest gadgets are always the smallest.

3.) 4K is No Big Deal any more - Red started it (at a commercially viable scale), now Canon and Sony both (1 now, another "4K capable") have viable entrants. JVC has a non-viable entrant, and Panasonic will have an entrant….in a year and a half. Red announced they Dragon sensor upgrade for Epics for later this year - 6K for $6K, 15+ stops of dynamic range. Dayum.

4.) Along those lines, Just-A-Broadcast-Camera doesn't cut it for Teh Sexy anymore. If your camera only does broadcast frame rates, I Am Not Interested, and possibly offended at the waste of my time on the show floor. And I am not alone. Your camera does 1080p30 and 720p60 at most? Boring…yawn. Hey, long GOP MPEG-2? How nice for you…five years ago. 4:2:0? And not a DSLR? Are you kidding me? I'm not even going to write anything down any notes before I walk off, and quietly drop the brochure you handed me in the trash. But Sony's FS700, shooting 1080p at up to 240 frames for a sub-$10K body? Hell yeah. (And up to 960 fps for lower resolutions - did Phantom just suck in its breath? A little? Maybe not for this camera, but for the next...)

5. ) More RAW - again, Red popularized Bayer pattern raw for mainstream video acquisition, but Canon is doing it it now, Sony has a twist on it, and Blackmagic is getting into it starting at $3000. There's also a slew of you've-never-heard-of-them teeny tiny raw shootin' cameras too - IndieCam, IO Industries, Lux Media Plan, P+S Technik, WeissCam (OK you might have heard of those last two - but the first 3? First I've heard of'em).

6.) Smaller. WAY smaller. - interesting that the "heavy iron" players are still making full sized cameras (also with full sized feature sets), but the new Canon 4K cameras? Small. Blackmagic's? A fat paperback. ProRes recorder? Bigger a few tins of Altoids stacked up, smaller than the volume of my fist. Moore's Law cranking away on the size factor - integrated ASICS RAWK. But it is amazing how fast kit is getting small. And the newer the entrant, the smaller the kit. Also, simpler - what used to be a big PCIe board and a breakout box might now be a simple Thunderbolt dongle on a cable. Yeah - NO ONE is making newer versions of anything bigger, regardless of feature improvements it seems.

7.) Ergonomic camera form factors? Just give up, fuggagedaboudit. For every graybeard that remembers an Aaton A-minima fondly, and the way it was a cat-on-a-shoulder hug, the new low cost entrants are….bricks. Bricks with maybe a screen that folds up. Red was the first really modular brick in my timeframe, but at least they made a ton of (price adds up) accessories to rig it up. The HD-DSLR crowd relies on third parties like Zacuto, Red Rock Micro, and others to kit'em out in a shootable config. The new cameras from Sony (FS100 and FS700), and even moreso the BlackMagic Digital Cinema Camera are just bricks with lenses and a few bolt holes for 3rd parties to figure out how you'd actually, you know - hold and operate the damn things. The handles on the BMD camera make me think of handles on a fat paperback, or better yet filming with a fatter iPad. But without FIZ controls in hand's reach. Or a record trigger. Or anything, because both your hands are fully engaged just holding the damn thing up and level. (I'm rough on them because so much promise, so rushed out the door without enough thought - see my whole article on them).

8.) Prices are CRASHING down. Remember how Teranex was this big fancy box only the Big Boys had? It is $2-3K now - you can use one as your HD capture card (and noise reduce while you capture!)…to a laptop. Need HDMI/HD-SDI output from your HD capable machine? At one point that was mandatorily a tower with a PCIe card that cost thousands…now there's a $295 Thunderbolt HDMI/HD-SDI cabled dongle for under $300 coming from AJA to plug into your tower….or iMac….or even laptop. DaVinci Resolve last year collapsed to $1000. Autodesk Flame was redesigned and dropped from $15,000 to $3,500 this year. Uncompressed RAW recording? Many dozens of thousands of dollars a few years ago, now under $3K. And on and on. Buying new specialty hardware/software? Think twice if it won't pay for itself this calendar year. I saw a fancy dailies color correction system that was $50K for software only….good luck with that one, both to the buyer (can you amortize it fast enough?) and the seller (How many seats of that are you going to sell?). I see nothing but brutal, brutal pressure on budgets in post in Hollywood - even on big budget films. Post is seen as friction, an annoying expense to be overcome, in so much of Hollywood, especially when it comes to the practical, non-sexy plumbing side of it, and prices are responding accordingly. Yo, buyers? Amortize, baby. Amortize FAST.

9.) Speaking of laptops….are Mac Pros DONE? I noticed all the new interesting products were Thunderbolt based. Not just for the sake of working with MacBook Pros, but also more than one vendor said "in case you can't get a Mac Pro" as an aside in their schpiel. As in, they are in short supply? As in, you're in the field and don't have one handy? Nope, the implied but not-said-out-loud message seemed to be (at least to my ears) "We don't know if there will be more, or if they'll keep being sold." Nobody is saying it out loud explicitly, but I sense/smell a lot of fear (or early knowledge?) that tower Macs' days may be numbered. Makes me sad, my CAREER has been based on abusing tower Macs to the edge of what they could do. (That and watching progress bars. My job was seemingly to come up with new ways to make progress bar go slower as Macs got faster. Time to make the pixels. And watch progress bars. Drink caffeine and worry at them to go faster. Rinse, repeat.) The industry's perception of Apple as a truly professional player for heavy work, seems to be hanging exactly on the fence, risking about to topple over. After a lot of pros took a deep breath and let Final Cut go over the last year (a big wet kiss to Avid, and a perfect window for the rising Adobe CS family), Apple took the encouraging if rare (for them) step to announce actual planned features to roll out this year - a promising sign, even if they should've had most/all of those features from FCP-X v1.0 to have a smooth transition for professionals. Pulling towards the oblivion end of the pool - the whispered or unspoken fear that desktop Macs may be Done For - personally, I'm HOPING for one more extra oomphy pimped out 12 core to buy as my possibly last tower Mac - I still need the horsepower for what I do. Will I get it? I dunno, considering how rarely Mac Pros have been updated over the last 5 years - I checked: literally TWICE. That's it. In 5 years. Think on that when you consider iPod/iPhone/iPad updates in the same timeframe. My current Big Box? An 8 core I bought right as the first Red One's shipped - yep - a looooooooonnnnnnng time ago. But there's been only 2 or 3 updates to the towers since then. For editing and audio, not a big deal. For heavy lifting work, It Matters.

10.) Camera market segmentation via recording media bitrate throttling? DEAD. Deader than fried chicken. It used to be camera makers (Sony maybe?) could protect their higher end cameras by crippling the recording formats of the lower end cameras (4:2:0 on F3 maybe?). That just isn't viable any more. You HAVE to have a Monitor Out port, be it HD-SDI or HDMI on anything pretending to be even semi-professional these days - this is the unlocked gate into the kingdom of capture quality. With competent options starting at about a grand to record ProResHQ (better than D-5, almost as good as 4:2:2 HDCAM SR don't forget!) or DNxHD 220, that market segmentation approach just won't work any more. If you can get better-than-$80K-D5-deck quality for $1000 retail from a dinky little scrappy startup, don't tell me, Big Camera Company, that your $10-$20K camera "couldn't afford" to add quality 4:2:2 recording to it. Don't insult my intelligence that way.

Do. Not.

And if it only has 8 bit output on the HD-SDI or HDMI? That just makes the pros roll their eyes - "Why yes, I WOULD like banding in my outdoor shots in the skies, gosh golly thanks!"

In the HD-DSLR crowd, they are at least protected by the lack of horsepower to even PUSH a full raster image out the port whilst recording, even if they have mandatory overlays. Nikon's D4 and D800 buck that trend, and I noticed an Atomos Ninja on one in the Nikon booth on a D800 - a well scaled addition, practically and financially. Doodle around with the built-in recording, do paying gigs on an owned or rented Atomos or KiPro Mini or metric equivalent. In any case, for those vendors who try to continue this protectionism in the future? Just embarrassing. At least admit it and call the onboard offline quality, with an expectation of opening up "serious" recording to another option. Along those lines, as nice as the Sony SR codec is….why buy an SR-R1 with that pricey media when you can get one of a half dozen other choices at a fraction of the price and size? SR 220 might be somewhat to notably better than ProRes/DNxHD, but for the image quality of the cameras in the price range we're talking about here (under $20K)….can anyone tell the difference? Sony makes well/over-engineered and reliable solutions…at too high a price. Consistently. I'm really, REALLY encouraged by the "go for it" specs on the FS700, especially at that price point, I hope they continue that kind of radical technical push forward at those kind of price points.

OK, and now I'm off to the AJA Party. All for you, peeps, all for you. I'll liquor up Thad and Jon and see what they spill about future plans.

Remember, folks - what happens in Vegas stays on Facebook.



PS - I learned Jon's wife has a new dog. Are you excited to hear this? ; ) And my hotel WiFi suxors, couldn't post this until today from the newsroom. : (

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Rob: | April, 18, 2012

So when is somebody going to make a Thunderbolt compatible PCIe card w/drivers for the PC? Thunderbolt is based on Intel technology, Lightpeak, so that should help with any IP issues.

Next time I buy a new computer for video work I’m going to move onto a PC/Windows box. I’ve already switched to Adobe PP.

Jim Nicholls: | April, 25, 2012

Thanks for your A-grade, tongue-in-cheek, but very acute report Mike. Those industry trends you identified point to the whirlwind of change engulfing us all.

BMD seems to be leading the charge with a low cost business model that no doubt leaves compeditors shaking their heads. I wonder if many in the industry will be profitable enough to go forward with future implications for diversity of suppliers as some fall by the wayside!

But the most stiking observation you made was the direction Apple seem to be taking away from their pro apps/platforms. For some time now I have been of a similar view. It appears to me Apple are abandoning that market and I just feel it is a dreadful betrayal of their loyal customers.

In particular, in view of their profitability, I cant understand that brutal harshness of their apparent decision making. 
In any event it is columns like yours that will help us to do those vital three things…. adapt, adapt, adapt!


Rob: | April, 26, 2012

Apple has a long history of leaving it’s customers and sometimes their suppliers in the dust. To me they’re a cross between the Sirens of Ulysses and the Borg of Startrek. It’s happened to two companies I worked for so I’ve seen it first hand.

However I can’t help but wonder if their take-no-prisoners attitude may be part of what has made them so successful. Nether their pro-apps nor their computers is responsible for them being the most valuable company in the world.

Consumer electronic products have been their ticket over the top. FCP-X is a consumer editor. So if they’re just greedy, they’re doing it right.

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