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Sundance Technology Roundup


The Sundance Digital Center, located at the same place on the Main Street Mall each year, is like trade-show-lite. There’s no row after row of endless stuff to see—just a few major vendors showing products of interest to indie filmmakers, along with some cutting-edge vendors you haven’t seen before and may not see again. Some examples:Adobe showed new software updates and bundles. The top-of-the-line Adobe Production Studio now combines full new versions of Adobe After Effects 7.0, Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0, Adobe Audition 2.0, Adobe Encore 2.0 and the latest versions of Adobe Photoshop CS2 and Adobe Illustrator CS2. Also, the company’s recent purchase of Macromedia means it now owns Flash Pro 8. Premier and After Effects have been able to export in SWF format for a while but now they can output FLV (or flash video) as well. Although HD Video is causing the industry to retool, Flash Video is acting as a catalyst and, surprisingly, many people are shooting in HD for Flash to achieve better keying.Avid showed Avid Xpress Studio HD, the bundle that includes Avid Express Pro HD, Avid Pro Tools LE, Avid 3D, Avid FX and Avid DVD by Sonic. A couple of editors that had used Avid express on the features that were playing at the festival had nothing but good things to say about the experience. One of the best things about Avid is that you can work on Avid Express from your laptop, then go to the biggest studios in town and finish on a Symphony Nitris. Same thing with Pro Tools: every big mixing stage has a Pro Tools HD setup that will play the session you created in your bedroom or garage. No other editing software can say that.Sony showed HD Cameras. One movie at Sundance, Puccini for Beginners, was shot on XDCAM SD and, with the exception of the slightly fuzzy opening pan of New York at night, looked gorgeous. This year Sony showed an HD version of the XDCAM (which records on optical disc, not tape), the PDW-F350. It features selectable frame rates from 4 to 60 FPS, has the longest recording time of any HD camera—120 minutes—and four channels of audio. There was also Sony’s small HVR-A1U (it only has one 3-megapixel CMOS chip but features 1080i HDV/DVCAM/DV recording and XLR audio inputs). The HVR-Z1U (already over 80,000 units sold) and the HVR-M10U portable VTR were also there.Hewlett Packard displayed the same computers as last year but they are a little faster and the laptop now has a dual-core processor.Blackmagic Design showed the full line of Decklink HD/SD capture cards. Decklink HD costs $595, Decklink HD Plus is $695, Decklink HD Pro 4:2:2 can be had for $995 and Decklink HD Pro 4:4:4 will set you back $1,495. The buzz was that you can’t get better quality hi-def than Decklink’s 10-bit uncompressed HD-SDI video because there’s no video compression at all. All decklink HD cards feature AES digital out and handle rendering for Apple Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premier Pro or Sony Vegas 6, so many more real-time effects are possible. They all have RS-422 so you can control any deck that supports RS-422 with timecode.Last but far from least was the Think Mobile booth where several different projects that had been encoded using products from Heuris were shown. Heuris has been the encoder of choice for gaming companies such as Electronic Arts. Digital dailies encoded this way are small enough to be downloaded from an FTP site and played back on a PlayStation Portable, one of the new cell phones, or video iPods. Several major movies including Zorro 2 have already used this system for dailies.Speaking of iPods and new technologies, Slamdance (a different festival from Sundance, but running at the same time) hosted a podcast screening and discussion led by the filmmakers behind Four Eyed Monsters, a world premier Slamdance competition feature that has become one of the most popular podcasts on iTunes. Slamdance co-founder Dan Mirvish said, “There are a lot of celebrities, Hollywood execs and others with fancy new iPods in Park City. Now they’ll have something relevant to watch.”Back at the Digital Center, two forums addressed the podcasting phenomenon: “Podcasting, Blogging and the Freedom of Speech,” moderated by internet entrepreneur and Weblogs Inc. CEO Jason Calacanis; and “Cinema on the Move: New Mobile Technologies & the Next Wave of Filmmaking,” hosted by Walt Mossberg, personal technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal.

Written by Bob Bayless

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