NAB 2012: Sony Press Conference

Memories of things past…….

Alec Shapiro hosting the 2012 Sony Press event. Sorry about the poor picture, but that’s a cellphone for ya.

The annual Sony NAB press conference was held at Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel, with a setting that seemed to be a bit less grandiose than previous years. Perhaps this is fitting considering that Sony recently announced as many as 10,000 layoffs coming in the near future. But even without that hanging over the festivities, the announcements made by Senior Vice President for Broadcast & Production Systems Alec Shapiro were less than stellar, and at times even seemed pretty out of touch, at least to an old broadcast hand like me.

The overarching theme was “Believe Beyond HD,” and near the end of the presentation the spectre of 4K acquisition did rear it’s head. However, the first three items presented were not 4K productions, but 3D. Clips from the upcoming programs “Stormsurfers” and hip-hop competition “Battle Of The Year” were projected on a mid-sized screen, but oddly, even with the provided RealD glasses neither clip looked very 3D at all. (And seeing one of the “Stormsurfers” surfers very obviously holding a GoPro camera on the end of a stick suggests, at least, that not *all* of the footage was shot on Sony cameras.) Shapiro opined that 3D was growing by leaps and bounds, but at least in the home TV market, the just isn’t true, and might well be a big part of Sony’s current financial malaise. The third 3D production mentioned was ESPN’s coverage of the X Games, but oddly, no clips were played – and I would REALLY have liked to seen those.

After showing photos of the remarkable rebirth of Sony’s Sendai, Japan tape factory after last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, Shapiro said something else that rang hollow, declaring that XDCam optical disc video acquisition was now the defacto world standard. As a guy that has been to a lot of media scrums in my time, I find this impossible to believe. Maybe he has better numbers than I do, but I just don’t see all that many XDCam recorders out there, and in fact every station seems to be using something different, be it P2HD, XDCam EX, some flavor of DVCPro, HDV, HDCam, and even some still on BetaSP. It seems to me that Sony has an odd dilemma, with a huge raft of different formats out there. You have to guess that Sony has a lot of cannibalization in their line – why would someone buy XDCam disc now when you can get the same codec on XDCam EX, or take a tiny bit of a quality hit by going to NXCam, yet *another* Sony product that is an awful lot less expensive?

A large amount of time was spent with a live remote shot to the “MLB Fan Cave,” some sort of cross-promotion with Major League Baseball at 4th and Broadway in New York City. It essentially resembled fifteen HDTVs on a wall, where people can watch as many baseball games are happening at once on the screens. While it may well be true that a majority of MLB games are shot on Sony cameras, what came off the screen was a bunch of bored slackers sitting on a big couch, whose only enjoyment in this scene was gleefully informing Mr. Shapiro that his beloved Mets had “lost big.” Was Mr. Shapiro trying to sell TVs to broadcasters? Thanks, but we have plenty of those. More focus on the process and tools would have been much more useful.

Then it was on to movies, and the F35 and F65 cameras, and a little bit about the new NX30 NXCam and the FS700 that Adam Wilt had a good time putting through it’s paces, with eventual 4K output. And…that was it. And that makes me rather sad. I like Sony. I have great memories of most of the Sony gear I’ve used in the last 30+ years, from the BVU-50 deck to my first (and second, and third) Betacams, to audio boards and microphones to the Anycast switcher I use several times each week to what is (IMHO) the best purpose-built A/B roll linear editor ever made, the BVE-910. And there just doesn’t seem to be that kind of great broadcast stuff in the pipe anymore. I’m hoping this is just a stall in the Sony story, but time will tell.

Well, that’s my opinion. What do you think?

Bruce A Johnson

A 1981 graduate of the Boston University College of Communication, Bruce A. Johnson got his first job in broadcast television at WFTV, an ABC affiliate in Orlando, FL. While there, he rose through the ranks from teleprompter operator to videographer, editor, producer and director of many different types of programming. It was in the early 1980’s that he bought his first computer – a Timex/Sinclair 1000 – a device he hated so much, he promptly exchanged it for an Atari 400. But the bug had bitten hard. In 1987, Johnson joined Wisconsin Public Television in Madison as a videographer/editor, and still works there to the present day. His responsibilities have grown, however, and now include research and presentations on the issues surrounding the digital television transition, new consumer technology and the use of public television spectrum in homeland security. He freelances through his company Painted Post MultiMedia, and has written extensively for magazines including DV and Studio Monthly.

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