The New England Chapter of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) held its Annual Digital Production Showcase (which has become a mid-winter tradition) on Wednesday, January 17th at WCVB-TV’s studio in Needham, Massachusetts. My photos from the event are available on Flickr. In addition to being fed sandwiches and piping hot New England clam chowder (very appropriate given the cold snap) attendees had a chance to experience hands-on demos of the latest digital production tools in a collegial atmosphere. I thank SMPTE/New England for hosting such a delightful event in which I can catch up with what’s happening in the realm of digital production.
While vendors had lots to show, the really interesting conversations were on the show floor, abuzz with speculation of what vendors might be unveiling at NAB in Las Vegas this year. This year the show had more exhibits than ever before, and while the emphasis of the show is video post production and non-linear editing, I took delight in checking out several new cameras.
Marty Feldman from The Camera Company showed me the new HVR-V1U, Sony’s first entry into an affordable entry-level progressive scan HDV camera, it sports three 1/4″ CMOS chips. Also in the Camera Company Booth were two other popular HDV camcorders, the Canon XH-A1 and the JVC GY-HD250. The HD250 is a much needed upgrade to their ProHD line-up featuring 720/60p recording, HD SDI and component out, and a decent battery connector for Anton-Bauer batteries. The cheesy add-on connector that’s available for the earlier GY-HD100 was very fragile to put it politely. With the 250 the camera line has grown up
Vendors know that many sophisticated people will be kicking the tires at this event, so they send out some of their more knowledgeable representatives for this show, it was a good evening for getting answers to tough camera and post-production questions.
There was also talk among some Final Cut Pro editors that they are tired of rendering hell and are ready to switch to some of the real-time alternatives now available on “the other platform.” As editors mix different media types on the timeline these days, the time wasted rendering is becoming a serious productivity issue. More than one editor I spoke with expressed their disappointment that Apple has yet to address this issue and is apparently more concerned with iPods and iPhones than creative production.
1 Beyond was at the show pleased to offer Final Cut Pro editors an alternatives with the Matrox Axio running on their HD Octoflex eight processor workstation running Windows XP. When it comes to HD editing, and you start to compare prices and performance, the Axio solution is in the same ballpark as Final Cut Pro on a Mac Pro with a Kona 3 card but offers better real-time performance.
Why has it taken Apple so long to deliver a true real-time solution? There were no significant announcements at NAB from Apple last year regarding Final Cut Pro. Will Apple at NAB this year finally unveil the long-rumored next version of Final Cut Pro? Will it finally address the problems of real-time performance, color correction, and media management? Apple’s acquisition of Silicon Color and Art Box leads me to speculate that Apple may have something interesting to show. In the meantime, with deadlines looming, some editors tell me they are at the point where they would rather switch that wait. Personally, I’m going to wait.
In addition to their line of P2 cameras and decks, Panasonic had on hand their amazing BT-LH2600W 26″ LCD and BT-LH1700W 17″ LCD monitors. Although the blacks are still not as good as you will find with professional CRT monitors, these LCDs come very close and do a good job of simulating the color response of SMPTE phosphors. These monitors have a useful function that will superimposed a Waveform monitor display over the image. They also provide dual-rate SDI HD or SD inputs, component input (Y, Pb, Pr) as well as a PC RGB input. Most critical viewers will prefer to use a Sony BVM or PVM series glass CRT, but since CRTs have been phased out and sell on eBay for more than their original selling price, these LCD monitors from Panasonic are really looking good as a flatter, more environmentally friendly alternative.
With digital production comes the need to manage lots of storage, with high performance and reliability. I saw two RAID storage solutions that meet the needs of small to medium sized-facilities. 1 Beyond was showing off their Intelliraid C-XPR providing fiber channel performance designed specifically for video that allows you to work with 30fps, uncompressed, 1080i video without skipping a beat. Another storage option is the Terrablock from Facilis Technology. Francis Albert, president, founder, and former Avid guy, described it as a high-performance fibre channel storage soulution that can be shared between Linux, Windows XP and Mac OS X clients running a range of NLE applications. Their 12D model can support 10 clients over 4Gbit fibre and in terms of real-time performance is cpable of serving two clients at a time playing 24P 10-bit 1080 video, or a single client running 2K DPX at 24fps.
In comparison to the many new storage offerings like the two above, Apple’s XServe RAID is looking mighty long in the tooth. Why does Apple do that? They introduce an amazing product, market the hell out of it, sell a bunch, and then forgets about it for sometimes years? Sometimes I think Apple is like an ADD teenager that gets very excited about something and and then moves on to the next crush.
Tom Talbot of Rule Broadcast Systems showed me Anycast with Sony’s new add-on board that allows it to switch high definition, as well as mix HD and SD sources. Anycast provides cost effective switching of multiple cameras for covering live events and now with the ability to bring HD cameras into the mix, is an even more compelling offering for people who need to switch multiple cameras but are working on a very tight budget. Also in the Rule both was Sony’s F350 XDXAM HD camera, which I’ve had the pleasure of shooting with and I’m very impressed with the amazing image quality, in spite of 1/2″ chips and the MPEG-2 recording. With excellent image quality, variable frame rates, progressive scan, Blu-Ray disk recording, ENG form-factor, and the ability to put good glass on it, the F350 offers a compelling middle ground in-between the crowd of low-end camcorders with the fragile and problematic HDV recording format and the higher-end 2/3″ professional camcorders. I have to say I really like the XDXCAM HD disk format in lieu of tape idea.
David Talamas had the amazing little Zylight in his booth (which I raved about in my NAB 2006 post), along with the elegant Sound Devices 744T digital audio recorder and the JVC GY-HD250 which he’s very pleased with. The JVC has done well for them, and customers are constantly amazed with the picture quality, as long as you take the time to create a look for the camera. JVC has not yet figured out that they really need to tweak their default look. One of the reasons filmmakers are so happy with the DVX100 and HVX200 from Panasonic is that right out of the box they look great. The JVC can also look very good (I shoot with one now and then) but you have to tweak the settings.
WCVB-TV was a gracious host and in addition to providing a spacious location for this event, was taking attendees on tours of their facility. There was much more to see, including the latest offerings from Autodesk, Grass Valley’s portable news room, Panasonic’s DVCPRO HD cameras, decks, and P2 players, Avid’s product line, Harris-Leitch, Quantel, Telestream, and more.