Another highlight of NAB 09 came in the same room that the Final Cut Pro User Group held the Tuesday night SuperMeet. It was the Wednesday REDUser event. Since RED didn’t have a presence on the NAB show floor this was their NAB by presenting current Scarlet and Epic prototypes and their new prime lenses at the REDUser party. Like the Tuesday night SuperMeet before it the REDUser party featured free food and a cash bar, vendors in the outer area of the Amazon ballroom and the presentations in an adjacent room where a raffle was also held.
If you follow the RED community and especially the forums on reduser.net you might have noticed that when RED leader Jim Jannard posts a topic into the Recon forum there is always hundreds of responses, often in a …. how should I put this …. extremely overly enthusiastic way. Sometimes the responses are quite good and ask some pointed questions in response to what Jannard posts but often they are just a bit gherm -ish. I had wondered if some of this might manifest itself at some of the official presentations from RED or a large crowd gathered around Jannard to Ted Schilitotz that followed their every move but that wasn’t the case. If you’ve ever watched a Steve Jobs keynote from a MacWorld or Apple product announcement then you’ve probably heard the crowd go a little bit too wild with screaming and applause at certain announcements or demos of a product. I saw several of the RED presentations at the event and this didn’t really happen at all. At one point Ted even had to ask for a reaction from the audience with an “isn’t that cool?” kind of comment. Kudos to the RED community for keeping what seemed to be a healthy bit of skepticism (a number of questions I overheard from attendees were questioning if the new cameras would ship at all) about the Scarlet and Epic cameras which, despite rumors that there would be versions users could actually hold in their hands, were off limits as they were under glass. But I would also say that after seeing some of the demos and especially after talking to a number of the RED employees many of us came away optimistic about the future products from RED.
My other big surprise at the event was how open and honest the RED employees that I talked to seemed to be. They were very casual in their assessment of the products and (I felt) tried to answer questions honestly. The only thing that they wouldn’t talk about was shipping dates for the Scarlet and Epic. My main interest was in the Scarlet. A conversation with one of RED’s product design specialists revealed a couple of things about the prototypes under glass. The units on display weren’t working units (though those do exist) but rather at a design stage where all buttons, dials and switches where working with proper presses and detents. Modules and accessories would snap on and off as well. The RED employee even reached into the case at one point and snapped the remote REDmote unit off of the Scarlet that was setup in a DSLR-like configuration. It looked like it came off and back on with a proper snap. There were two Scarlet protoypes in the case. As I mentioned one setup was more DSLR-like than the other with a eye-piece attached while the other had a small LCD attached. There were a number of snap-on modules sat out behind the back of the Scarlets. These included CF card readers, batteries and a solid-state hard drive. I also showed this Twitter posting that was making its way around during the event to the RED design guy and he said first, consider the source it’s Twitter,’ then said while that the tweet was absolutely false RED is absolutely on track to ship the Scarlets in a timely manner. He would not even give a hint as to when that is but was very confident about their ability to get them shipping.
The big revalation of the evening (at least for me) came during a showing of the RED demo reel. Besides the fact that there were tons of recognizable features, commercials and tv shows in the demo that I had no idea were shot on RED, Ted announced that the demo was being projected in 4K using RED Ray playback technology running at only 10 megaBITS per second. To put that in perspective, DV video runs at 25 megabits per second, hence the name DV25 when using that resolution in Avid. I was sitting half way back and to the side in the screening room and the footage looked gorgeous and very clean. Many who were sitting much closer to the screen than I was reported the same thing. I thought about this later more as a movie goer in a theatre: did the image look good enough to transport me from reality into a movie world? Absolutely. I think the possibilities with this technology are almost as big as the RED cameras themselves. Imagine if RED licences this technology in such a way that any digital screen at a movie theatre could playback RED Ray encoded movies. Besides making it (potentially) cheaper and easier to get your film to a festival in a physical way in a much higher quailty than is possible now, an ftp upload of that movie would make it even easier! One thing I did find out from talking to RED’s codec guru was that the 4K RED Ray demo wasn’t playing back off of a red-laser DVD 5 in a RED Ray drive but rather off of disk. To me that means it was a demonstration of the efficient codec they have created rather than the RED Ray hardware. I’m sure it took a lot of processing power to decode that material but processing power is something that is getting faster and cheaper as time goes by. The RED Ray technology indeed very exciting but still no word on a ship date.
One big part of RED’s presence at the event was a small enclosed room where they were showing off their new prime lens set and showing one of their new lenses in a side-by-side comparison with a Zeiss and Cooke lens where a pattern was projected on the wall for showing sharpness. Now I don’t know a lot about lens testing but I could easily see how much sharper the RED lens was at the edge of the pattern than both the Zeiss and Cooke. It was quite a dramatic difference. I took a photo of both of the edges with my iPhone but only felt comfortable posting the shot of the RED lens as part of the softness that is apparent in the Cooke photo could be due to a bit of iPhone camera shake. Just believe me when I say that the RED lens was much sharper. Of course there is more to a proper lens test than just what they were showing but from a stand-point of sharpness, the RED lens had it in droves. A full set of the lenses were on-site, under glass but if you asked then a RED employee would get them out for you to handle. The one I handled was quite heavy and meaty in my hand with the focus and aperture ring having very smooth operation.
The event was long, being scheduled to last from 3 – 11 pm. I arrived around 6 and left a little after 10:00, before the raffle began. I don’t know if the raffle was as entertaining as the FCPUG SuperMeet the night before but a raffle is always a fun was to end an evening like that. I think one question that was on everyone’s mind was if RED would ever set-up shop on the NAB show floor again. This Wednesday night event seemed plenty successful and probably cost less than a booth on the NAB show floor. My guess would be that the big red RED tent will be back on the NAB show floor next year if they have shipping products to show, bouncers and all. We’ll look forward to them being back since the south hall is a little more fun with RED there.