An Akeley Audio Camera at the ASC booth.
When it comes to cameras and production gear, I saw three major themes at NAB this year: 3D, storage, and digital cine accessories. I’ll discuss these, look at what the “big 3” camera suppliers had on offer, and mention other things of interest at the show.
3D—or, more correctly, stereo imaging—is a preoccupation of researchers and vendors, based on the number of 3D demos at the show.
Panasonic’s mockup of a possible future stereo camcorder.
Panasonic showed this rather intimidating mockup, clearly the result of an ill-considered assignation between an HPX170 and a pair of binoculars following a night of drunken debauchery.
More realistically, they demoed a 103-inch 3D plasma display (using polarized glasses) with a variety of clips that illustrated both the promise and the problems inherent in the medium: yes, dimensionality is fun, but shallow depth of field doesn’t work nearly so well in 3D as in 2D (which makes dual release paths problematic for live-action productions; with CGI at least you can render a 2D version with shallow depth of field and a 3D version with deep focus), and items coming towards the viewer from the plane of the screen break not only the fourth wall, but the entire illusion, once they clip at the edges of the screen they’ve just come through.
Sony showed off 3D-capable LCDs using line-alternating polarizers and passive glasses: interleaved polarizers on the screen direct all the even lines to one eye and all the odd lines to the other eye. It’s a very effective display method, and it looked very good (especially with Sony’s deep-focus demo material) but get too close to the screen and the line-interleaved nature of the image starts to become apparent.
Both approaches still need glasses. Various demos avoided glasses by using lenticular screens (as did the informational video kiosks in the corridors of the north hall) or, in one case, by an array of side-by-side projectors allowing partial walk-arounds of scenes within an area as wide as the screen itself, but these tends to suffer from lowered resolution, aliasing, and at times severe ghosting.
Even the polarized glasses systems show noticeable (sometimes distracting) crosstalk or ghosting. Unfortunately the amount of crosstalk was different on each of the systems; it’s hard to see how ghost-busting during authoring will solve this problem. Either the image-separation technologies need to improve or displays will have to perform their own bespoke ghost-busting, or both.
Panasonic cited 3D as the driving force behind “AVC Ultra”, a higher quality / higher bitrate version of AVC-Intra, since twice the image data needs to be carried. Sony similarly said that 3D was a target application for 3G (3 Gigabit/sec) production equipment, which is otherwise used in the 2D world for 1080/60P acquisition and production.
Cineform Neo3D controls for display type and view alignment.
Cineform showed off Neo3D, the stereo-enhanced version of their high-quality, cross-platform, raw codec (as used in the SI-2K camera and the Wafian disk recorders). Neo3D carries one eye as a video stream, the other as a metadata stream (taking a somewhat similar approach to what TDVision has done for MPEG distribution, though Neo3D keeps both images intact instead of image + difference data).
Both views remain separately-encoded and are only mixed together during playback, depending on the options you set to match the display technology you’re using (see image above). Likewise, each image remains separately tweakable (so you can correct exposure differences, for example), and you can adjust convergence and alignment on the fly. It’s an extension of Neo4K, so it includes all the active metadata tweaking for debayering/decoding images nondestructively.
One very cool aspect of Neo3D is that it’s not just a codec, but an application with a shared underlying database. This mean that you can run apps in parallel—like FCP and Cineform’s metadata-tweaking utility—and changes in one are reflected instantly in the other. If you decide to regrade the decoding of one or a set of files, or change the display method of a 3D clip, there’s no need to exit FCP to make the changes; simply tweak what you need to in Cineform’s UI and the changes take place in FCP as soon as the next frame is decoded.
Neo3D uses QuickTime today, with DirectShow / AVI coming in the future. Today it’s a great way to cut 3D in FCP, while AVI support will make it a truly cross-platform, NLE-agnostic tool (of course, the NLE has to be able to use the codec: as long as it uses QuickTime or DirectShow, it’ll be fine).
gCubik: Sharing and Grasping 3D Images
Is 3D really here to stay as a mainstream tool, or is it just the latest instance of an oft-repeated fad? I asked that question a lot, and found to my surprise that many people, including DPs working full-time in 3D, agree with me: it’s a fad. Every generation gets its own dose of 3D, but then tires of it and moves on… it works very well for immersive “event” programs, like sports and concerts, but its value in storytelling is still very debatable, and the compromises involved in both production and consumption of 3D content are still substantial.
Hey, I could be wrong. Maybe, maybe not. We’ll see, eh?
Four different tapeless recorders at Arri’s booth.
There was a veritable explosion of field recorders that don’t use tape. Here are four shown on Arri’s booth:
S.two OB-1 solid-state uncompressed HD recorder.
The S.two OB-1 (seen previously at the HPA Tech Retreat) replaces S.two’s previous hard-disk recorders at a fraction of the size, weight, and power consumption.
AJA Ki Pro hard disk / ExpressCard34 ProRes422 recorder
As previously mentioned, AJA’s Ki Pro is a self-contained ProRes422 field recorder with comprehensive analog and digital I/O. At $4000 it’s very affordable, and even those not using Final Cut Pro may wish to use it as a 10-bit, 4:2:2, full-raster “black box” recorder, playing it back via HD-SDI into their NLE and codec of choice.
Toshiba IK-HR1S 1/3″ CMOS HD compact camera and Convergent Design Flash XDR recorder.
Convergent Design nanoFLASH CF card recorder.
This year they showed the nanoFLASH recorder, which does most of what the Flash XDR does in a smaller, cheaper, much more portable product. It has only two CF slots instead of four, and sacrifices the XDR’s discrete buttons for membrane switches, but it can still record 8-bit, 4:2:2, full-raster I-frame MPEG-2 at up to 160 Mbit/sec, or long-GOP up to 100 Mbit/sec.
I’ve heard several folks discount Convergent Design because it isn’t a big name like Sony, AJA, or the like. But consider that the founder, Mike Schell, has been playing in this arena at least as far back as 1997’s DPS Spark, the first 1394 capture card for DV editing (back then, I bought a Spark for $900, and a 2 GB SCSI drive for $900, and put them in my blazingly fast 133 MHz Windows 95 PC: that’s how long ago it was!). Mike knows his stuff, and he’s in this for the long term; discount him at your peril.
Panasonic A-Series and E-Series P2 cards.
Fujifilm A-series and E-series P2 cards.
Maxell’s A-series and E-series P2 cards.
One of the Big Stories at NAB was the appearance of E-series P2 cards. Current P2 cards, the A-series, use SLC (single-level cell) flash memory; it’s expensive but durable. You can fill up an A-series card every day and it’ll last you for 100 years. E-series cards use MLC (multi-level cell) flash, which is cheaper (and faster to read, too, reducing transfer times), but somewhat less robust: it’s rated for five years of daily use.
For many shooters, an E-series card will outlive their cameras, and maybe even outlive them; Barry Green on the Panasonic booth thought he’s test the life of E-series cards by putting a couple in one of his cameras in loop-record mode… until he figured out how long it would tie up his camera!
The cards track their use and tell the camera when they’re getting near the end of their rated cycle count, and if you use Panasonic’s PC-based P2 Formatter software, you’ll get a “gas gauge” of lifespan used.
Panasonic’s E-series cards will be less than half the price of A-series cards, which remain in the lineup for hard-core, heavy users:
- 16GB: A-series $900, E-series $420
- 32GB: A-series $1650, E-series $625
- 64GB: A-series $2600, E-series $998
The 16GB and 32 GB cards will ship in May, the 64GB in August.
Maxell was also showing their IDVR line of ruggedized 250 GB hard drives and docking stations.
Maxell IVDR disk pack with “electronic paper” label.
The drive packs include a label of electronic paper (e.g., the stuff a Kindle’s display is made of), which can be set up to show a thumbnail of a clip or other graphical and textual info using a PC-based program. E-paper retains an image without power, so you can write the label and then stick the drive on the shelf. Sure beats post-it notes or scribbled-on bits of camera tape!
1 Beyond Wrangler: ruggedized ingest/edit system with multiple card slots, dual removable drives, and LTO 3 tape.
1 Beyond has been building and selling editing systems for a long time. Their Wrangler line of ruggedized computers is set up for DITs and data wranglers, letting them offload all these non-tape devices in the field in an expeditious manner. Pop your media into the Wrangler—it has slots for P2, CF, SDHC, Memory Stick, and just about any other card, as well as FW800 ports for RED drives—and the contents thereof are automatically transferred to two removable hard disk packs simultaneously, then verified. Data can be further replicated onto an LTO 3 tape to keep the bonding companies happy. The box has the horsepower to run your Windows NLE of choice (the one shown is running Edius) or, as shown at the RedUser party, a program like Iridas SpeedGrade OnSet for location grading and look management.
An HDCAM-SR tape alongside an SRW-9000’s assistant’s panel.
Does this mean tape is dead? Not quite; Sony announced the SRW-9000 HDCAM-SR camcorder for high-end TV production. But that’s the only new high-end tape-based product I saw.
Next: Cine Accessories, JVC, Panasonic, and Sony…
RED (and other) Cine Camera Accessories
There was a huge increase in camera accessories for digital cine cameras, which mostly means the RED ONE (with all due respect to the Arri D-21 and SI-2K, RED has really blown the market wide open). I’ve already talked about all the new PL mount lenses, though I missed one in that earlier report:
ActionProducts makes this Leica lens adapter for RED.
OK, it’s not a lens itself, it’s an adapter that lets you mount a Leica lens. Dig out those Summicrons and party!
Element Technica breakout boxes in designer colors, to match your iPod nano.
These colored BOBs, alas, aren’t for sale; ET did them just for fun. The charcoal on the lower right may be the new standard color, though.
Element Technica’s EVF extension arm for RED.
ET has this longer EVF arm for use with a tripod linkage.
Air Sea Land’s Remote Interface Box (RIB) for RED ONE.
Air Sea Land (a.k.a. Toys4RED) is now shipping the RIB (Remote Interface Box) and RIP (Remote Interface Panel) for RED. These rationalize the RED ONE’s oddball connector choices with industry-standard sockets, and do clever things like providing headphone-volume pots and rotary switches to select connector functions.
Air Sea Land’s T-Bag splash bag for RED ONE.
ASL also offers this splash bag to waterproof your RED ONE for watery use.
Viewfactor’s Impero wireless FIZ (focus/iris/zoom) controller.
Viewfactor’s Inclino lens drive controller and motors.
Viewfactor provides the “Origo” start/stop switch for RED, and the Inclino / Impero remote lens control system. A full 3-axis set is about US$5500, considerably cheaper than competing controllers. Is it any good? It’ll be interesting to find out!
Sachtler Artemis EFP HD SE stabilizer for RED ONE.
Sachtler’s Artemis is a German alternative to Steadicam. Now there’s a RED edition with RED’s Lemo power connectors fitted, allowing batteries to be relocated to the sled for balance as well as power. Multiple batteries may be used, allowing for hot-swap without power-down. Depending on options, it’ll run you $22,000 to $32,250.
ActionProducts Zero-G stabilizer for RED.
ActionProducts has a couple of RED-adapted stabilizers, the ActionCam Zero-G shown here ($27,500) or the red-edition ($14,800) which uses RED’s LCD and battery to keep cost down.
ActionProducts handheld kit components.
ActionProducts has handheld kits, as well.
Ken Freed demonstrates a JVC 200-series HDV camcorder in studio garb.
The JVC booth was aswarm with people clustered around the new GY-HM700 and GY-HM100 cameras, which record QuickTime-wrapped, 35 Mbit MPEG-2 files to SD cards: essentially the XDCAM EX codec in an FCP-ready format. I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the cameras, but I did wedge myself in close enough to the monitors to see details. The HM700 makes a very smooth, crisp image. The HM100, alas, shows a lot of fine-detail twinkle and jaggies on diagonals; it appears to be using low-resolution chips and isn’t doing a very good job of upconverting their output to HD.
JVC also has some of the best-looking HD LCDs around, with deep blacks, rich colors, excellent motion rendering, and wide viewing angles.
The Panasonic AG-HPX300 1/3″ 3MOS camcorder.
The HPX300 is a very interesting looking camera. It has all the flexibility of an HVX200 or HPX500, but with full-resolution MOS sensors. It has all the built-in scopes of the HPX170, and a freakin’ awesome high-res LCOS viewfinder.
One reason the HPX300 is special: AVC-Intra recording.
It records not only DV-format clips in SD and HD, but AVC-Intra files, too: 10-bit, 4:2:2, full-raster images. I can’t wait to get my hot sweaty hands on one of these puppies to run it through its paces.
Panasonic AG-HMC150 and AG-HMC40 AVCCAM (AVCHD) camcorders.
Panasonic isn’t ignoring the small cams, either. The HMC40 appears to be the AVCHD descendant of the DVC30 from a few years ago. It is said to use 3 full-resolution, 2-Megapixel 1/4″ MOS sensors. It’ll be $3200 when it ships in August.
Panasonic HMR10 AVCCAM (AVCHD) recorder and HKC10 POV camera.
The HMR10 is a pocket-sized AVCHD recorder, and the HKC10 is a POV (point-of-view) camera that plugs into it. Neither is shipping just yet, but the HMR10 should cost around $2650 while the HKC10 will be $2100.
BandPro’s Randy Wedick and Jim Hegadorn set up a PDW-800.
In addition to the SRW-9000 and PDW-800, and other cameras previously mentioned, Sony was showing off the HDV-format HVR-Z5u HDV camcorder (which I’ll be reviewing soon).
Sony’s HXR-MC1 AVCHD POV camera and recorder.
They also showcased their own POV camera, the HXR-MC1. It’s a consumer AVCHD camera repackaged into the POV form factor, recording on Memory Stick Pro Duo. Some folks complain that the connecting cable is fixed and not removable, but (a) that keeps cost down (the package is around $2900) and (b) it’s only the first HD POV cam Sony has come out with: Sony says to stay tuned if this one isn’t quite what you’re looking for. I’ll be reviewing this one in the near future, too.
Next: Other Cool Things, Interesting Sights, and Final Thoughts…
Other Cool Things and Interesting Sights
Support kits for DSLRs like the Canon 5D are appearing, so that you can take something designed as a still camera and make it fit a cine workflow…
Zacuto DSLR rig with Canon 5D camera.
Zacuto DSLR rig with Canon 5D camera.
Zacuto has their mix ‘n’ match bag o’ parts from which this and other support kits may be fabricated. Note the gunstock for bracing as well as the shoulder pad for support.
Caution: a fully loaded rig may cost as much as the camera that sits on it!
Redrock Micro DSLR rig.
Redrock Micro DSLR rig.
Red Rock Micro has their own bags o’ parts.
Both the Zacuto and Red Rock kits feel pretty good on the shoulder, and the eye-level LCD adapters work well. However, what they really reveal is that the Canon’s LCD isn’t crisp enough to use as a focusing viewfinder! To me, these kits will be a lot more interesting when the much-anticipated Panasonic GH-1 comes out.
Marshall Electronics daylight-viewable LCDs reflecting a direct spotlight.
Marshall showed these displays last year but they’re just as impressive this year. They largely eliminate the need to set up a tent every time you use a monitor outdoors in direct sunlight.
Everything has a display: this one is on a Canon zoom mounted on BandPro’s PDW-800.
Even ENG lenses have built-in displays these days. Now, when can I control it and monitor it on my iPhone, over WiFi? (Of course, then I’d have to get an iPhone, wouldn’t I?)
Ross Video’s Synergy switcher (vision mixer) control panel.
Nothing says “big iron” like a switcher panel, even if most of the big iron has been replaced with compact CPUs. Ah, for the Good Old Days…
JL Cooper Eclipse CX control surface.
Man, colorists get all the cool toys… I worked with this one a bit; they had it driving Apple Color. It solves ALL my annoyances with Color’s UI modality; the trackballs and transport controls and the pots always work no matter WHERE the mouse pointer is.
I so want one.
GV‘s 2/3″ 3-CMOS Infinity camcorder, now with a free seat of Edius and optional 24p.
Let’s not forget the Infinity, which offers the option to shoot in DV, MPEG-2, or JPEG 2000, and records on Iomega Rev drives or CF cards. The camcorder even has Gigabit Ethernet built in.
NewTek’s TriCaster SD/HD switcher / production system demo.
Long-time NAB attendees will recognize this booth… the products keep evolving but NewTek‘s demos follow a time-honored and successful strategy: have Kiki give the demo!
Arri PAX LED lighting and controller: pick a color and call it up.
Arri now has LED lights, complete with a control panel to tune their brightness and color. Gels are so 20th Century…
Matthews RED dolly (no relation to the camera).
Matthews showed the Red Dolly, which works for low-mode handheld work as well as bungee-stabilized or bazooka-mounted cameras.
Looking straight up into an Airstar reflector balloon.
One of my favorite items at the show: Airstar‘s reflective balloon. Instead of using a crane to hang light above your location, you can have Airstar float this internally silvered flat balloon with a transparent underside, then bounce ground-based lights from it. Hey presto: instant soft downlight with no nasty cranes!
Cable samples in Belden’s booth.
Belden makes excellent bulk cable and tends to be an industry-standard supplier. And I’m not just saying that just because they gave me (and anyone else who asked) a nice Belden HDMI cable just for stopping by, grin.
Camera Corps Q-Ball HD remote PTZ cameras.
Remote pan-tilt-zoom HD cameras in your choice of designer finishes. Now, if there only a way to put those multicolored Element Technica breakout boxes on them…
Lectrosonics “Super Miniature” wireless mic transmitters in the North Hall.
Ah, audio… there’s more to television and movies than pictures, remember? Lectrosonics is the wireless mic supplier the others are compared against. Most of their systems use 9V batteries but these supermini packs use AAs.
Aaton Cantar-X audio mixer / recorder with optional fader panel.
Sound Devices 788T 8-input, 12-track recorder with CL-8 control surface.
Nagra LB two-channel recorder with built-in clip editing.
Three of my favorite recorders:
Angenieux builds big lenses, too, not just Optimo DPs!
Lightcraft’s Eliot Mack demos the Previzion freeform handheld keying/compositing system.
We have one of these on order, so I’ll be able to report on it in detail later in the year. But basically, it’s astonishing.
There was a Mini Clubman uplink “truck” last year, but this time it has its own pop-up canopy.
Hey, Jannard, think you’re tough? Think you’re hard? These guys brought a freakin’ tank!
Operation Interdependence helps civilians send care packages to troops overseas. Their booth display had a way of dominating the outdoor exhibits.
Crate City: How the Panasonic booth travels.
One thing the casual attendee may not realize is just how much effort it is to have a big booth at a major trade show. A small supplier with a 10×10 may not suffer too badly, but if you have a big, hardware-heavy booth like Panasonic does, you may literally have several semitrailers of stuff—cabinets, counters, carpets, lighting grids, display cases, banners, digital signage systems, custom construction, projectors, electrical panels, cable harnesses, networking equipment, water coolers, cappuccino bars, fans, office furniture, literature kits, swag, etc., not to mention crate after crate of just-barely-working, brand-new product prototypes.
It can take over a week to erect and stage a big booth, and that’s after weeks of off-site prep and pre-staging. And then, once the show closes, you may have only a day or two to strike.
This forest of crates between the South and Central halls says a couple of things: Panasonic has lots of stuff (all these crates are Panasonic’s), and Panasonic has probably made special arrangements to have their crates stored nearby, so that they get their crates soon after the show closes so they won’t have to stand around and wait before they can strike.
It’s a heck of a lot of work. Big companies often have staging crews to do a lot of the heavy lifting, but the folks you see on the floor giving demos often help out as well (and on the smaller stands, the demo dogs usually are the staging crew).
Having worked about 20 NABs as both a crew rat and a demo dog, at companies ranging from 4 to 200+ people, all I can say is that the show goes by a lot quicker and a lot less painfully if you’re an attendee than if you’re an exhibitor!
A locust lurking on the escalator at 1:15am Wednesday 22 April.
After my Day of the Locusts post, I took the monorail back to my hotel (note: at 1am on a weekday, you can often have the northernmost car of a southbound monorail to yourself). There were still a few locusts hanging out around the MGM Grand station, and a some squished bodies at the base of the escalator, but the Biblical swarms reported earlier in the day had largely dissipated.
Flight of Luminous Insects: MGM Grand station, 1:26am Wednesday 22 April, 1/6 second exposure.
Those bugs that weren’t resting otiose on the handrails or pavements were flying around the bright lights of the stations. By the next night, most had departed.
WWII Cunningham Combat Camera at the ASC booth.
Another relic from the past. How soon will all the shiny new toys from this year seem as weird and dated as this gun-like camera?