NAB Roundup 2011

The NAB show is always a daunting and slightly bewildering experience. There is always an overwhelming amount on display, and one always has the sneaking feeling of potentially missing the next big thing tucked away in some some little stand somewhere.

I wouldn’t say that the last point was unlikely this year, but NAB 2011 was a year of evolutionary, not revolutionary change. Some vendors might argue the exception of course, but in the main there were mostly incremental developments to existing key technologies, with the odd exception.

Trends:

In overview several trends are still going strong. 3D is maturing and is ubiquitous at the high res DI end of post. In the broadcast and live events arena, companies like 3reality pushing the 3D or S3D ‘live’ production experience very hard. SKY is still attempting to popularise the 3D experience here in the UK, but 3D in the home is still  for many potential users an experience that is not compelling enough to make the leap. Yet.

File based workflows are finally well and truly everywhere. An interesting adjunct to this continuing trend is the rising profile of IMF or ‘Interoperable Master Format’.

In brief it is a ‘container’ specification (based on MXF), that allows stakeholders in the content creation, management and distribution process to drive sophisticated (and potentially) automated delivery workflows  using the IMF packaged Essence and metadata.

imageImage from http://www.etcenter.org/imf/

The initiative was driven by the Entertainment Technology Centre at the USC and note that the that the ‘standard’ is still evolving from draft form and is little over a year old. There is also a lot of politics in all of this as you would expect- and I will tackle that in another piece soon I hope…

However it aims that; “Some of the benefits of the IMF should be: * Single, interchangeable master file format * Automated packaging & delivery * Minimize storage * Simplify post production transcodes The IMF will store one master set of file based elements to be assembled for any downstream distribution using multiple Composition Play Lists (Recipes), similar to what is used in present day Digital Cinema Packaging (DCP). The broad concept of a high quality, uniform IMF should lower costs, improve time-to-market, and increase interoperability of existing production processes and needs. Of course, a IMF file-based workflow could be implemented and customized by any content creator, service provider, or distribution partner.”

Source: http://www.etcenter.org/imf/ We will be coming back to this later in the article…

As an emerging technology there has also been a lot of buzz around LTFS (Linear Tape File system). The gist of it was covered by Rupert here. There were several neat applications of this and we will cover these below too.

Finally something that counts as a trend, but that has simply not have enough time to become one yet was Lightpeak now known as Thunderbolt. There were several Thunderbolt supported devices on show from about half a dozen vendors. The technology itself is potentially a hugely liberating one. Instead of having to couple devices via restrictive Fibre Channel, SAS and SATA busses, and also via DVI and HDMI interfaces, storage, I/O processing and display devices can all play together via Thunderbolt.

One huge reservation (dare I say) is the ‘consumer’ – i.e not pro design of the connector itself. You have all seen it already, it is based on the mini display port connector. Problem is there is no robust stick and click or retention mechanism to anchor the connector. (Probably because it would spoil the appearance of the connector on the side of a Mac or Apple display) Winking smileimage

However snide comments aside, much as I look forward to all the developments that Thunderbolt will bring, dealing with these connectors in the field is going to be a real challenge.

That grumpy quibble aside there were very interesting offerings from AJA, BlackMagic, Promise, Sonnet, GTECH, and Matrox that looked pretty cool, all using Thunderbolt.

image image

So, enough digression for the moment, lets jump in and dig through some of the offerings this year in a (sort of) alphabetical order. Just before we begin. As you know, some of these things mentioned below we sell and support, some we don’t. This list really encompasses what I saw that I thought would be worth offering feedback on. This is a personal and no doubt opinion riddled journey. Any queries, call me on them.AJA

AJA kicked the show announcements off with a bang after announcing that 4K mode would be available for free to existing Kona users via a v9.0 driver upgrade. AJA say that their 4K Mode in KONA 3G “is elegant and simple. KONA 3G offers 4K playback in both YCbCr and RGB, at resolutions up to 4096×2160. When 4K play out is selected, the four SDI connectors on the KONA 3G are remapped as outputs for driving four quadrants of a 4K display”. There are probably a limited number of people that will actually use this right now, but at least it brings AJA up to par with their nemeses – the Atomix card from DVS.

One further thing to note is that this 4K option is available only on Mac right now with the PC capability following suit at a later date TBA.

AJA also showed a tech preview of a Thunderbolt enabled IO device codenamed “Phazer” and a new family of SDI optical to Fiber mini-converters, the Hi5-Fiber and Fido devices.

Finally they also announced a successor to the FS1 – the FS2 which supports Fiber I/O. Dolby-e and a host of other features which FS1 users have been clamouring for.

Autodesk

Amongst its large product portfolio, Autodesk announced Smoke on mac (SMAC) 2012- it’s key features included:  Redesigned 3D lighting system in the Action module that produces shadows and realistic 3D lighting. Animation import from Autodesk animation software tools via Autodesk FBX. Comprehensive stereo 3D (S3D) toolset. Keying and advanced 3D compositing. Conform and finishing workflow for Apple Final Cut Pro and Avid Media Composer.
Support for native media from H.264 QT to full-resolution R3D media. We are looking forward to spanking this new release in house to understand how these new features and capabilities extend.  Stay tuned for more news, and an update from one of our in house SMAC fanatics…

Aspera:

As you know, Aspera power the transfer and delivery of hundreds of terrabytes of data worldwide every day. At the NAB2011 Aspera event we were very fortunate to spend time with Michelle Munson, co-founder and co-inventor of Aspera’s FASP transport technology on what new technologies the  company was bringing to the show.
Aspera Sync 1.0 is a new software engine built from scratch to solve issues with multidirectional file replication and continuous synchronisation over the WAN of very large data stores involving millions of files and or files of any size. A new version of fasp 2.7 adds next generation capability across the Aspera product line.There is also a new version of Aspera console 1.5 for centralised configuration, reporting and tracking.
A lot of this stuff sounds very dry and academic until you see it in action. Moving files for delivery  to transmission, to clients, or to a disaster recovery repository in a secure, fast, reliable and reportable fashion is a difficult problem and is a big deal. Aspera have introduced a new set of technologies in fasp that make dealing with this reality a manageable one. You should check it out if you haven’t.

Avid

Avid’s announcements this year were spread out across their product range. They previewed Interplay Central – which features an incarnation of the technology acquired as part of their Maximum Throughput purchase, (2009) which essentially allows journalists or users to access the Interplay environment through a portal via a web browser.
The first iteration of the product targets mobile news, and indeed there was a demo shown with access and contribution via a Blackberry. But subsequent offerings could also easily target sports and fast turn around programs and reality TV type offerings. This effort needs to be seen as part of Avid’s push toward what they describe as the IME or Integrated Media Enterprise. This cohesive whole would or could include the Interplay MAM (Media Asset Management) offering (Based on the Blue Order acquisition) and tie in seamlessly with the Interplay PAM (Production Asset Management) segment also.

Thus it is important to understand Avid’s vision here as seeing media and content companies with their assets, business processes and production environment unified as a whole, with all the information and content access being unified within the organisation, and able to be touched and managed by this integrated environment.

Within this context they also showed a technology preview of stereoscopic tools in a tech preview of Media Composer (which allegedly we hear on good authority is apparently being used currently on Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit”. These tools include stereo clip management, S3D editing, titling and playback options, as well as depth and adjustment tools for offline use, with all the metadata propogating throughout the process.

Couple this goodness with Avid’s current success with Pro-tools, and it’s current achievement with Media Composer 5.5 and an award for it’s AMA technology innovation and you can see there is a lot of positive activity and buzz in the company.

Apple

Well what can we say.
They had no stand at the show, yet their products were everywhere. Many of us are slaves to their technology (I confess to an IPad2) and their offsite event at the Supermeet users group effectively disrupted NAB this year. We offered a first look here and we will follow this up with a retrospective on how we think it is going to play going forward.
Save to say that the Apple ecosystem is very very  healthy indeed, and if we can make a final prediction, it is: No, they are not going to do .MXF themselves anytime soon. (I lost count of the number of times we heard users asking about this)

Blackmagic Design

The democratisers of digital video were back with one of the largest stands at the show again, and had a plethora of new products on display. As mentioned previously they showed a Thunderbolt enabled IO device in the form of the UltraStudio 3D, as well as an interesting device called Hyperdeck Studio which is their new rackmount solid state disk recorder, recording to uncompressed Quicktime.

image

Hyperdeck studio records across two SSD drives for so called “infinite recording” (you have to switch disks obviously) Further you can choose to record on the Hyperdeck shuttle device itself although it doesn’t accept dual link inputs like it’s big brother the Hyperdeck studio.

image(image from BMD website)

So, when you are ready to edit, you pop your drive into a standard SATA caddy connected via USB and depending on your format you could conceivably edit straight from there (I believe the drives are formatted Mac HFS need to check this) Overall very interesting bits of kit, and you can find the tech sheet comparison here:

image(image from BMD website)

Finally tucked away in the virtual product corner is the Decklink Quad, which as the name suggests is essentially a 4 x I/O decklink card. This device is however targeted at developers and it will be interesting to see who leaps onto the quad bandwagon- see more below.

Cache-A

Cache-A were back with bigger and better as you would expect. Boasting an expanded product line of Prime Cache and Pro Cache devices, as well as support for medium size robotic libraries up to 48 slots, with LTO5 support of course.
Personally I think Cache-A products work best in that single device space occupied by the Prime Cache and Pro Cache products. Not only are they ideal as on set devices, they are also a great format to use as interchange devices, (if your recipient has a Cache-A of course) as well as single point backup for smaller houses. Being network attached, they also ideally occupy that role as a shared device in the small business or standalone user environments where backup schedules allow the content to be trickled to data tape over time…

Cinegy

To much anticipation Cinegy shipped version 2.0 of its Cinegy Capture software. I am going to be lazy and Cmd-C a substantial portion of the press release here as at this point they say it better than me: “The idea behind Cinegy Capture is as simple as it is revolutionary. One or multiple instances can be installed on a server or standard PC with the respective number of SDI cards. Once started, Cinegy Capture announces itself to the network as an appliance that can be controlled remotely via a Silverlight based web client which runs on Windows and Mac OS X alike.” How cool is that Winking smile

One of the really neat things about Cinegy is it’s ability to write out multiple codecs in real time at the same time. very few other things do this in the market as cost effectively and elegantly as Cinegy do.

Further: [Cmd-P]”Cinegy Capture 2.0 Pro supports all new multi-encode and multi-wrap capabilities, allowing the toughest new HD formats to be encoded in software once and target an Avid-compatible MXF and an FCP-compatible MOV simultaneously. Cinegy Capture Pro also allows real-time generation of frame-accurate proxy formats in the latest codecs; use it to create an H.264 MP4 proxy while recording AVCI or DNxHD.
Cinegy Capture 2.0 adds increased support for SDI hardware, now supporting the AJA Kona and Corvid family of IO cards, as well as the new IO Express products. Cinegy are helping to drive forward industry standards. Using the draft FIMS specifications for an open API, Cinegy Capture is the first software-based ingest system to be demonstrated working with IBM and Sony management systems creating AS-02 MXF files for processing and editing with Cube-Tec and Avid software”.
Phew – that’s quite a mouthful, but take a moment to process the above- there is some really interesting stuff going on there.
Finally:
Cinegy also announced the launch of a new edition of Cinegy Capture Express in response to the release of the Blackagic Decklink Quad SDI card. Combining the new Cinegy Capture Blackmagic edition along with the Blackmagic Decklink Quad SDI card enables the broadcasters with a revolutionary solution to encode up to four simultaneous XDCAM HD 422 streams.

DVS

DVS showcased it’s Venice broadcast server which integrates with interplay and also supports modern formats like IMF and MXF AS-02 (there’s that IMF thing again) One of the neat things about Venice is that you can use it as a ingest and play out device to feed most environments in either .MXF, DNX variants or uncompressed QuickTime (amongst other formats) while the material is still being recorded.
DVS has also enhanced the capabilities of Clipster with capable stereo tools and were also showing real-time playback of RED EPIC 5K footage.
One very neat demo was showing how a work-order created in Salesforce could programmatically drive a workflow on Clipster using SOAP and the flexibility of the IMF package to automatically trigger the creation of a set of deliverables from a web browser via the Clipster to an end user. Very neat indeed.

Filmlight

As we discussed here, Filmlight blew attendees socks off with the announcement of their sub $1000 dollar plugin for FCP. But this announcement did not overshadow the Blackboard2 hardware surface with soft programmable keys (the blackboard 1 is still, even prior to the announcement of BB2 the best grading surface around in my opinion) and finally also showed Baselight v 4.3.
I must confess I did not manage to spend nearly enough time on this, and I hope to visit Filmlight soon to have a closer look at both. Will update you on this separately when it happens.

For.a

image source for.a.

A device that has been teasing broadcast and post people for some time now is the anonymously titled  “LTR-120HS” [AVC-Intra/DVCPRO model]
But this bland product nomenclature hides a very interesting beast- an LTO5 video recorder.Something coined as a ingest to archive device. The back of the device looks like a VTR with inputs for baseband video etc…However it behaves just like a VTR, with a built in viewer window, transport control etc…
Again, not enough time to dig into this deeply enough, but we are going to try and get hold of one soon to take a much closer look at our offices- stay tuned.

Interra Systems

Baton. Pronounced “baytin”.
Exceptionally capable and sophisticated file based QC and analysis for broadcast and distribution. Supports a fully automated and deeply reportable workflow. The best solution of it’s kind I have seen by far.
Check it out here

Xendata

Archiving is a strange business. Until a few years ago it had been safely consigned to the mouldy back rooms of facilities managed by lowly souls seldom seeing the light of day.
How this has changed with the advent of file based acquisition. Now archiving is primetime, sexy, essential and interesting. XenData, have thankfully, always appreciated that archiving is interesting and essential. They are authors of some of the most solid archiving solutions out there, and this year at NAB in addition to their mature server and disk-cache based solutions, they debuted a direct attached solution running under windows7- the X1500. The X1500 solution uses XenData6 workstation software and writes out files to LTO5  tape in a industry standard .tar format. The really nice thing is that it is fast – very fast – around 90MB/sec (it is direct attached SAS) and further, the tape directories can be browsed under the standard windows7 explorer interface. Once you are done archiving, you stack your tapes on a “virtual shelf” and then eject them. Unlike the other XenData solutions there is no cache- the files are written directly to tape, however the  cartridges can be incorporated, read, and made available within the existing XenData server product portfolio.

In conclusion:

Well this has been a hopefully not too random gallop across the show floors. There was so much to see that was not featured here-

Full Cinema rigged DSLRs with video tap, monitoring and focus rigs were everywhere (I should have called it a trend) And in one instance, with look and grade balanced technology care of Filmlight and Technicolor.

IMG_0209

Loads of  SR, SSD and OLED monitor goodness from SONY, version 3 software shown from our very own CONTENTAGENT as well as file moving solutions from Marquis Broadcast, LTO5 solutions from StorageDNA in the form of DNASync, Archiving solutionde from Atempo, FrontPorch and much more. Too much.

However from a post-centric /editorial / workflow perspective I hope this has been an interesting walkabout, and if you have any thoughts or suggestions, please hit us up with comments on the blog.

Thanks, as ever, for a slice of your attention and your time.

About Graham

After leaving uni with a postgrad degree in journalism Graham Joined a multi award-winning commercials post house as an editorial assistant. Five years later, as an editor with a strong background in film, video and non linear finishing, he joined Avid in London - first as a trainer, and later in technical support, becoming UK product specialist for Media Composer. Post production workflow design and implementation has always been a passion, and Graham led much of the pioneering non-linear shared production and editorial process work on large feature films and documentaries, most of which are still in use today. Currently he focuses on shared automated broadcast and post environments and optimised file-based workflows.
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