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London’s BVE Expo Offers a Sneak Peak at NAB

February 21, 2011 | By

I hadn’t intended to go to BVE Expo with NAB just around the corner. Things in the British industry, (and I’ll be crucified on a C-stand for saying this),  are often a cheap imitation of American practice at the best of times, and this is infamously not the best of times. Because of that, though, a London show is an interesting economic barometer, and probably a more sensitive one than Vegas. Either way, the Earls Court 2 exhibition centre was well filled with “booth babes” and filmmaking equipment and what appeared to be a convention of mostly middle-aged men trying gruffly to disguise their boyish enthusiasm for both.

Avid‘s release of Media Composer and Symphony 5.5 was probably shouted about loudest, or possibly just shouted about by the people with the biggest booth, but I find it difficult to get excited. With Premiere CS5 arguably ascendant over Final Cut, (which I used to fear would kill Adobe‘s offering stone dead), there’s clearly healthy competition in nonlinear edit market, and I’d love to be able to say that the only reason to use Avid is if you are an Avid person. Now, I can’t actually say that, but still, it’s always a good idea to be suspicious of the incumbent, even if Premiere’s recent success may be closely coupled to its support of currently-fashionable DSLR shooting.

There is probably more fun to be had if you’re specifying a grading monitor. Dolby took the Best New Product prize with their PRM-4200, but there is strong competition from the smaller Sony BVM-E series displays. The issue here is that Sony uses an OLED panel, which potentially offers vastly improved contrast performance over the more mature TFT technology. Both companies claim to solve a serious problem with reference monitoring in grading suites, where people are forced to use DLP projectors or carefully shepherd the life of now-aging CRT tubes. Dolby’s TFT-based PRM-4200 uses an individually-addressable matrix of 1500 clusters of RGB LEDs to mitigate the contrast problems of TFT technology, but while this improves overall contrast performance, (if we switch off the backlight, the contrast ratio is theoretically infinite), there is necessarily a limit to local contrast in fine detail. I think this is a stopgap at best, until OLED is capable of providing larger displays.

Let’s now depart Dolby’s gloomy viewing tent, blinking owlishly into the actinic brightness of the lighting displays where we find the usual dozen people selling effectively identical fluorescent devices, and one interesting innovation with LEDs. This is from a company that’s named itself TheLight, (in order to ensure that it’s very difficult to google), and has integrated optical feedback circuitry to ensure that the lamp head can maintain its own colour calibration. This sort of active feedback is critical since white LEDs have a tendency to go green or purple as their phosphors decay in use – as they probably will, given the common claims for 50,000-hour lifespans.

Not that Arri is short of coverage right now, but the Alexa electronic viewfinder, with a native resolution of 1280×720, is extremely nice. Apparently the first optical-viewfinder Alexas now exist. I’ve never slavishly subscribed to the optical-is-best viewpoint, but the choice is nice to have. I scampered eagerly over to the Canon booth to question them about a response to the Panasonic AF-101, but it seems we’ll have to wait until NAB to see what else might be about to enter that part of the market as nobody had any new information.

I suppose we could reasonably take the lesson from BVE 2011 that, for the next few weeks at least, Red has made high-end cinematography much cheaper by encouraging Arri to moderate their prices.

BVE Expo’s organizers have announced a new show – BVE North – to take place in Manchester.  They’re clearly confident there’s enough people to exhibit and enough people to attend, and at this point I’ll take any good news I can get.

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