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NAB 2016: A Welcome Return to Sanity

March 7, 2016 | By

You can read this, if you like, as either a retrospective on the BVE show in London, or an anticipation of next month’s NAB show in Las Vegas. It’s certainly a record of what we saw at BVE, and what we might hope to see in Nevada, because most overwhelmingly, this year’s trade show season seems so far to have been a welcome return to sanity.

That sort of idea probably deserves a definition of sanity, though, and that’s difficult. Much as people have claimed that artificial intelligence is impossible because so little real intelligence exists to use as a model, the last decade or so has been so full of big ideas – stereo 3D, high frame rate, HDR, and so on – that merely concentrating on the business and the pleasure of making movies could be seen as having, on occasion, taken a back seat. Witness every 3D movie with an inevitable shot of someone pointing a pointy stick into the camera. While shooting high frame rate didn’t necessarily create too outrageous an additional workload in the context of the the big productions on which it was done, the ferocity of the negative reaction to it – “it looks like a soap opera!” was probably more than enough to leave a bitter taste in most people’s mouths.

What we don’t have at the moment, and happily so, is a new big thing. HDR is happening, slowly and surely and with an agreeable amount of cautious standardization. That’s necessary, because it’s one of those dangerous developments that requires everyone to buy a new TV, which is great for TV manufacturers but requires everyone else to carefully ensure that all the crucial decisions are made before consumer products hit the market. Whether that’s been done in an entirely ideal manner as regards HDR displays is a matter of some conjecture, but the fact that it can be derived from a conventional camera original via conventional postproduction techniques, on top of the fact that it is universally considered beautiful and saleable, means that HDR is broadly welcomed by all trades.

Even recent breakouts like remotely-operated aerial vehicles seem to have calmed down, with perhaps the moderating influence of government regulation acting to professionalize the sector, allowing us to skip at least some of the years of development that tend to be filled by underfunded startups with eyes full of technology but a worrying lack of professional ability. The phrase fly-by-night has never been so appropriate.

So, the inconvenient things have gone away, the attractive, convenient things are coming at a reasonable pace, and the world seems at peace with itself. We may have reached, in early 2016, a point at which we are more free than at any time in the past decade and a half to concentrate on the craft. If true, it isn’t clear whether this would affect upscale productions. With big crews comes the ability to get the technology out of the way of the art, but it’ll certainly have an effect on shows at anything but the highest of the high end. If we’re simply going to make movies for a while, and take advantage of the new technology where it helps without being bothered by it where it doesn’t, that’s fantastic.

Of course, this situation may not be beloved of manufacturers, whose interest is in a constant rolling upgrade program, but even they can take heart at the continued existence of audio acquisition equipment as a business. More so than picture, sound has been effectively unencumbered by the limitations of electronics for some time, and companies such as Sound Devices continue to thrive. This also isn’t a manifesto for luddism; there is always room for more performance in our equipment and genuinely good new techniques should be enthusiastically embraced, as with HDR. For the time being, though, we might all take a moment to enjoy the quiet, even if NAB might end up showing it to have been the eye of the storm all along.

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