I spent NAB 2008 walking around, looking for gear for our production company and getting a feel for where things are headed in general. I took away several strong impressions about where the industry is going—as well as a couple of interesting toys.
The Format Wars ain’t over
With the advent of DV-based standard definition formats, we thought that the format wars would finally wind down. But in 2008’s HD ferment, the opposite is true: there are more formats—more codecs, more wrappers, more storage media—than ever before:
- Codecs: JPEG2000 (Cineform, REDCODE, GVG Infinity), MPEG-2 (HDV, XDCAM, various servers; ATSC broadcasting), MPEG-4 (AVC-Intra, AVCHD, HDCAM-SR), DV (DVCPROHD), HDCAM, ProRes422, DNxHD, just to name a few. And even within a codec family, so many variations: in 1080-line HDV alone, you’ve got the original 1080i , Canon 24F, Sony 24P,…
- Wrappers: MXF (both OP atom and OP1a, wrapping MPEG-2 and DVCPROHD), MP4 (wrapping MPEG-2 essence on the Sony EX1 and EX3 camcorders), MPEG-2 program streams and transport streams (HDV), DPX, OpenEXR, QuickTime, AVI…
- Storage: tape, optical disk, hard disk, or solid-state; sometimes with three of these options available on a single camera (JVC HD200 with HDV tape, plus the new add-on SDHC/HDD recorder).
Those are just the quick examples I pulled out of thin air; it’s not meant to be a comprehensive list by any means. And there’s no indication that this multiplicity of choices is likely to thin out any time soon.
Solid State Storage is where the future is
Every major camera vendor now offers solid-state storage options:
- Panasonic: P2 (DVCPRO and AVC-Intra) and SHDC (AVCHD). All Panasonic’s new camcorders use solid-state recording. The only new product with any tape capability is the HVX200A, which keeps standard-def DV tape for those who need to keep using that workflow.
- Sony: XDCAM EX on SxS cards; HDV on CF cards. Sony even showed an SxS studio deck.
- JVC: an add-on module for HDV recording on SDHC cards (also with a 10-hour hard disk):
- Ikegami: GFCAM, a solid-state flashpack version of EditCam.
- Canon: SDHC cards or internal memory only on their tiny AVCHD camcorders.
- RED: CF cards.
One of the hottest items at the show was Convergent Design’s Flash XDR recorder, recording MPEG-2 to CF cards. Toshiba and SeaChange showed solid-state video servers. Codex Digital‘s portable cine recorder can be loaded with either hard disk or flash memory recording packs.
We’re not to the point where the solid-state card is cheap enough to be the archival medium—shoot on it, hand it to the client at the end of the day, shelve it for future retrieval—but with IBM’s recent developments in spintronics (see also here and here) that day may not be far off.
Incandescent lighting is so last century
Fluorescent and LED lighting systems have definitely arrived. It’s getting to the point where you can light a studio or a location without ever heating up a coil of tungsten wire in an evacuated glass or quartz envelope.
Kino Flo, of course, is the big name in fluorescents, but Mole-Richardson has some very competitive Biax fixtures, while Rololight has fixtures that literally roll up.
For LEDs, Lite Panels is probably the biggest gorilla, but don’t discount the smaller players, like Zylight with their color-tweakable, remote-controllable instruments. Element Labs has their own Kelvin TILE LED source, sold through Kino Flo. Nila‘s system has an impressive punch; the square fixture at the right of this image was putting a big, bright pool of light on the ceiling of the convention center, and was simply too bright to look at head on.
Arri and Dedo both had ceramic lamps in some of their instruments: 4000 hour lives with HMI-like efficiencies, yet 3200K color temperatures.
Of course, you can still shoot incandescents; the instruments are cheap, even if the power (and cooling) bills aren’t.
There are HD and digital cine cameras available with anywhere from 960×540 photosites (several of the Panasonics) to 5760×2160 (Sony F35). In between you’ve got the standard 1280×720 and 1920×1080, as well as oddballs like1440x810 (Sony HVRZ7, HVR-S270) or 2880×2160 (Arri D21). RED alone has announced three different sensor sizes: 3K, 4K, or 5K.
Add to that the two standard HD resolutions, 2K or 4K digital cinema release formats, SD deliverables in both 480 and 576-line formats (which could be either 4×3 or 16×9), recording resolutions (for 1080-line HD, you can choose from 1280, 1440, or 1920-pixel-per-line sampling depending on your recording format), not to mention the different screen resolutions someone might view your content on, and it’s pretty clear that the good old days of “shoot 525/59.94, edit 525/59.94, deliver 525/59.94, view 525/59.94” are gone forever.
GigE shared storage
At least two vendors were selling HD-capable shared storage for editing with only Gigabit Ethernet connections: EditShare and Laird Telemedia’s LairdShareHD. With high-quality editing codecs like ProRes422 HQ, Canopus HQ, DNxHD, Dirac, and Cineform, GigE has the bandwidth when the network layer is properly tuned. Both Laird and EditShare use carefully optimized kernels to ensure that the maximum possible throughput is maintained, allowing responsive editing of multiple HD streams without the complexity of Fibre Channel SANs.
If that’s not studly enough for you, CalDigit has storage systems that extend the PCIe bus all the way out to the external drive array through PCIe switching fabrics. Freaky, geeky fun! Fast, too. They even have ExpressCard34 adapters so your laptops can access the same storage.
RED is here to stay
By showing mockups of the $3,000, 3K “Scarlet” and the $40,000, 5k “Epic” cameras, RED Digital Cinema Camera Company has indicated that they’re here to stay: the RED ONE isn’t a one-off. RED also showed a 4K optical disk player and improved lenses, and quietly released a beta-version Log & Transfer plugin for Final Cut Pro, allowing one-step ingest of RED clips directly to an FCP bin. You can even apply looks created in RED Alert! during import; it’s not quite the SpeedGrade workflow just yet, but it’s getting closer.
I also took home a couple of new toys—erm, tools— to work with: two Lite Panel Micro LED panels, and two new charts from DSC Labs (with a production still from Barry Green’s HD shootout in rotation on the website’s front page), including one of the four existing DSC Labs 4K (!) resolution test charts, which they retrieved from the Iconix booth for me. I’ll be writing up a review of the Lite Panel Micro in the near future, and you’ll be seeing the res chart in yet another set of RED resolution tests later this week.
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