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Trend Spotting – Plus NAB Coverage

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April’s NAB show in Las Vegas drew crowds not seen since before 9/11 (over 105,000 attendees) who strove to keep up with fast-moving technology.At times it seemed like most of those people were milling around the booth of a new company, Red Digital Cinema, which claimed to have in development a digital camera promising mind-boggling specs at a low cost.There’s more about the 4K Red camera on page 15, but let’s start with 4K in post, where a new class of blistering-fast hardware is making the technical problems of dealing with 4K data in postproduction a little more manageable.At NAB, many of the film scanner manufacturers were demonstrating speed upgrades this year. FilmLight’s new Northlight 2 delivers a 4X increase in scanning speed over its predecessor, reaching 2 frames per second at 2K and a 1 frame per second at 4K. Imagica’s Imager HSX film scanner can reach speeds of 1 fps at 4K, or 3 frames per second at 2K. Arri introduced a speed upgrade for its ArriScan which can now run at 3 frames per second at 3K.Interestingly, some companies (like Quantel and Cintel with its diTTo) are starting to push the DI workflow for TV-commercial postproduction, as the DI process becomes more common and “trickles down.”And while big post houses all over the world are starting to gear up for 4K, Quantel’s marketing manager, for Post and DI, Mark Horton reported that, “For the moment, most of the 4K work that is going on is going through LA, but the amount of 4K projects that are just starting up is actually quite large—in the tens.”Quantel was demonstrating real-time 4K color correction in Pablo running on iQ. For the demo, this involved pulling a continuous 1.15 Gbps of data off of disks, without falling back on proxies.“We’re not doing any proxies,” explained Horton. “What people don’t realize is that if you use proxies, you have to do everything twice. You haven’t actually done the real work. What you’ve done is the proxy of the real work, and then you’ve got to do the work itself.”Quantel’s strategy, as always, relies on proprietary hardware accelerators in its iQ platform.FilmLight, with its Baselight grading systems, takes the opposite approach, trying to ride the cost curve of commodity hardware.The company is now using the new 16-processor (Octal dual-core AMD Opteron) systems for its Baselight HD. In addition, it is now shipping a separate PC with its Blackboard control surfaces to run the Blackboard as well as the Graphical User Interface (GUI), freeing up all 16 cores in the processing node for grading.Digital Vision unveiled a competitive 17-processor Nucoda workstation based around the same AMD 64-bit Opteron processors, and the latest NVIDIA Quadro FX 5500 cards.The platform supports the full range of Nucoda software including Nucoda Film Master, Nucoda Film Cutter, Nucoda Data Conform and Nucoda DVO Image Processing tools. This new system gives colorists and restoration artists processing speeds that are more than 10 times faster.“We have responded to the needs of the creative community by recognizing that our clients require interactive capabilities when grading in front of directors and DPs as well as providing greater processing power for completing restoration projects in 4K,” said Robert Ekström, president of Digital Vision.Not long ago, the high-performance computing market was dominated by SGI. But with fierce competition, and the bottom continually falling out of the market, the company has fallen on tough times in recent years. Immediately after NAB, SGI filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company has since reorganized its debts, negotiated a $70-million financing facility and hopes to emerge from Chapter 11 in six months.Seeing the writing on the wall, long-time development partner Autodesk launched a Linux-version of its flagship visual effects system, Discreet Inferno, at the show. The company reports that the Linux version, running on dual-core IBM workstations and AMD processors, offers up to five times the speed performance per CPU as previous SGI platforms such as the Onyx 2.Much to the dismay of customers worldwide, the Linux version of Inferno was launched last November, but it was only available in Japan.Red Camera or Red Herring?The was a lot of talk at NAB about the use of 4K in production. Until recently, Dalsa’s Origin was really the only game in town when it came to 4K uncompressed cameras.But this year, upstart start-up Red Digital Cinema showed up with a milled aluminum model of a camera the company plans to build, along with a fantastic spec sheet that promises the camera will be all things to all people, from the wedding videographer shooting in 720P or 1080i all the way up to a major Hollywood production shooting uncompressed 4:4:4 2K or 4K, achieving speeds of 60 fps at 4K. All is bundled into a lightweight camera that sells for only $17,500.Many cinematographers remain extremely skeptical of Red’s claims, but based largely on word of mouth, the booth was swamped throughout the show, and the company was taking $1,000 deposits from eager customers.Over 225 “cameras” were sold at NAB, and attendees voted it Best in Show in the NAB Award for Innovation in Media, even though it doesn’t actually exist yet.But if Red can pull off what it promises—a Super35mm-sized 4K “Mysterium” image sensor running uncompressed 4:4:4 at 60 fps, the RedCODE codec, the Red line of lenses, RedFLASH memory, and RedRAID storage—then certainly it will have earned the award next year.However, the deposit contract states that while the $1,000 is refundable at any time, “Red makes no promises or representations as to the delivery date of the camera or final specifications.”“That’s the spirit that our company was built on—that entrepreneurial, you-take-a-chance spirit, and I think a lot of that has gone out of television,” said Linda Rheinstein, consultant to The Production Group (who bought “camera” #77). “I think that [Red] is shaking it up, so I say, ‘more power to you.’ You’re seeing what the problems are and at least you’re addressing the problems.”Plus8Digital’s president Marker Karahadian bought five cameras. “We would have bought 10 if we could but there was a limit,” he said. “Either you’re a player or you’re not. Either you’re going to have what people want to shoot with, or you’re not. I’m not going to let an opportunity like this go by without being a part of it.”It was impossible to verify any of Red’s claims, but to many customers it was a leap of faith, based largely on the reputations of company founder Jim Jannard, (founder of Oakley Sunglasses) and his right hand man, Ted Schilowitz, (who has the job title Leader of the Rebellion).“They have a high set of goals and they set the bar at something that might not be achievable, but then again, it might,” said Jim Mathers, cinematographer and co-founder of the Digital Cinema Society (who bought #30). “I had a chance to meet Jim Jannard recently and took a tour of the Oakley plant and it’s very impressive. It makes you think that if anybody could pull this off, then they could. If they don’t come through and deliver it, I’ll take [the deposit] back, but I hope I don’t have to.”In terms of a field recording device for 4K, Codex Digital released a highly ruggedized field recorder for high-end digital cameras like the Dalsa Origin, the Panavision Genesis, the Thomson Viper, the Arri D-20 and the Sony HD range.With a built-in touch-screen interface and dedicated transport controls, Codex is a self-contained recording system that can handle tasks from shot logging, to acting like a dedicated 2K screening system and production server on set.Panasonic’s HVX200, a variable frame-rate camera which records DVCPRO 20,
50 or DVCPRO HD to P2 memory cards or mini-DV tape, is becoming wildly popular with indies and documentary filmmakers, offering a feature-rich camera for under $6,000.At NAB, the company expanded its P2 HD line of products with the introduction of the AJ-HPC2000, a shoulder-mount P2 HD camcorder with a 2/3-inch image sensor, as well as the AJ-HPS1500 studio recorder, the AJ-HPM100 mobile recorder and the AJ-PCD20 drive.Sony, meanwhile, was showing its XDCAM HD line of optical disc camcorders, which can record up to two hours of content on to a Blu-Laser DVD.The two XDCAM HD camcorders—the PDW-F330 and PDW-F350—offer features like 24P recording in both SD or HD, interval recording and slow shutter. The PDW-F350 HD camcorder additionally offers variable-frame-rate recording capabilities for overcranking and undercranking effects.Into this burgeoning market for tapeless cameras steps Thomson with its Grass Valley Infinity Series camcorder. Infinity records to Iomega REV PRO drives or SanDisk CompactFlash cards. It supports a wide variety of formats, including MPEG-2, DV25 or the new JPEG 2000 codecs.Infinity will sell for about $26,000 (not including the lens) and is scheduled to be available by the end of July.The company announced an Open Alliance Partner (OAP) initiative—a list of companies that are supporting and helping to flesh out Infinity’s file-based workflow.For starters, Hewlett-Packard will offer REV PRO Media as an option on its workstations. Of course, with Thomson’s recent acquisition of Canopus, the new turnkey Edius editing workstations (which run on HP xw4300 and xw8200 workstations) will come with REV PRO drives as a standard feature.Thomson also announced a collaborative development effort with Avid to provide interoperability between the Infinity’s removable media, and Avid editing systems.Other key OAP partners that plan to support Infinity include companies such as CineForm, MediaConcept, MOG Solutions and Telestream.At NAB Avid Technology unveiled a new Media Composer family, which includes a new software-only version of the company’s cornerstone editing application, available for both Mac and PC, as well as a range of hardware-accelerated configurations making use of the company’s Mojo and Adrenaline accelerators. Version 2.5 of Media Composer is scheduled to ship in the second quarter of 2006. The software-only version will start at $4,995.The new version adds a range of capabilities, including: direct ingest of Sony XDCAM HD footage over FireWire; motion tracking and stabilization tools.In addition, the new Media Composer systems will support Avid Interplay, the company’s new “nonlinear workflow engine,” which enables users to collaborate and take a team approach to editing. Avid Interplay enables editors to share video and audio assets as well as other production-critical files, such as graphics files. As users modify any shared asset, the Avid Interplay system gives every individual immediate access to the new material.Across the street from the Las Vegas Convention Center at NAB, Creative Bridge showed its new Mobile Digital Lab and Theater (MDLT), a fully manned, mobile unit that offers on-set “pre-postproduction” for Thomson Viper and Sony HDCAM SR shoots. The truck is basically an on-set RGB 4:4:4 digital lab. Ingested from S.two drives or HDCAM SR tapes, the data is cloned, archived to LTO tapes and prepped for editorial on location. It also allows DP and directors several options for look management.Half of the truck is taken up by a screening room for digital dailies. The screening room can instantly play back each scene/take/reel with synced audio in a fully uncompressed, calibrated 1920 x 1080 24P native environment.The system relies on Assimilate’s Scratch Data-Centric Workflow Solution to allow directors and DPs to control the look and color balance of their material.It also features Gamma & Density’s 3cP software to enable DPs to build LUTs that remain consistent throughout the postproduction pipeline.

Written by Scott Lehane

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