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With one of the most trusted, respected and feared voices in the industry, Bob Zelin gives a no-holds-barred look at some of NAB ‘11’s Best of Show.
Because I am mainly involved with shared storage and post-production workflow these days, I stayed mostly where these things were concentrated -- in the South Lower hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center -- and I was overwhelmed by all of the new technology I saw in just that one small corner. In fact, a month later, I am still overwhelmed.
If I had to pick a single theme for this year's NAB Show, it was that videotape is finally dead. Of course, most of us still have to deliver tape, but it reminds me of the days when people said that 1" machines would never be obsolete, and three years later they were. No one was showing videotape machines. In contrast, everyone was showing solid-state recording devices.
The incredible boxes ranged from the AJA Ki Pro, Atomos Ninja, Convergent Design Gemini, Sound Devices PIX production recorders, Focus Enhancements DTE Recorders, and the insanely inexpensive Blackmagic HyperDeck Shuttle. All of these digital recorders can record HD-SDI video, and all of them cost a fraction of the price of the least expensive video tape recorders.
It was also great to see Ted from RED showing the AJA Ki Pro Mini mounted right onto the back of their new EPIC camera, for direct recording of a 1080p signal from the RED in ProRes422HQ, without having to transcode the .r3d files.
All of these products used compact flash cards, or 2" SATA drives, or SSD drives as their recording media. Even Sony showed a tapeless HDCAM SR deck, the SRR1000, which can record 2D, 3D, 1080p, and 4K, all in one unit, using 4TB of SSD drives as the recording media.
The incredible EditShare booth showed an end-toend workflow for any modern facility. Their outline was: Ingest, Manage, Store, Edit, Playout, Archive. That said it all. No matter whose products you use, this is the way that we all have to work today, and the perfect way to organize some highlights of what I saw.
Today, ingest is a lot more than simply popping in a videotape, and the most impressive ingest product was shown by a small company called Softron Media Services, their MovieRecorder software, which costs $1100 per channel.
Softron MovieRecorder. The included remote control application, shown here, allows control and monitoring of networked ingest stations.
If you currently own a Mac with a capture device from AJA, Blackmagic Design, Matrox or Motu, all you need is the Movie Recorder software. But Softron was showing a demo using the new Blackmagic DeckLink Quad card -- basically four fully-independent DeckLink cards in one, for $995 -- to capture four channels of video -- ALL LIVE, all in separate files.
AND it will create a simultaneous ProRes proxy file for each stream at the same time, even to a different location. AND it will allow you to enter log notes on the media you are recording while it is recording for each stream. AND you can control it from your iPhone or iPad.
Softron MovieRecorder Remote on iPhone
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!
After a few seconds delay, you can start EDITING this media, while you are recording! I was speechless while seeing this demonstration. The ability to do all of this with your existing Mac and your existing capture card, and simply adding some software is just incredible.
And if you do have to add hardware, you can get four simultaneous streams for under $1000 bucks with the DeckLink Quad
Blackmagic Design DeckLink Quad, professional editing with 4 SDI inputs and 4 SDI outputs
Speaking of Blackmagic Design, I mentioned earlier in this article that you can, of course, ingest from one of countless new digital HD-SDI recorders, but no one can do it as cheaply as Blackmagic. The HyperDeck Shuttle
is a solid-state recording device that uses removable SSD drives. It bypasses your camera's compression to record 10-bit uncompressed video -- and it costs $345. That ain't no typo, my friend. They are crazy.
The only disadvantage of this product is that most of us today work with compressed HD files, like Apple ProRes422, or Avid DNxHD, or DVCPRO HD. Most editing systems can handle the uncompressed files, of course, but getting these huge uncompressed 10 bit HD-SDI files into our system is a memory and bandwidth hog, and many will still prefer to transcode to those preferred, compressed formats. But $345 for uncompressed 10-bit recording?
With no presence from Apple with Final Cut Server (and who knows the fate of Final Cut Server with all the Apple changes), CatDV from Square Box Systems is still the king: low entry cost, easy to use, and with the new ability to asset manage Avid files, as well as FCP files.
The new version of CatDV, from Square Box Systems. This amazing media management system supports Mac and Windows, Avid and Final Cut Pro, has web and iPhone clients, has added new RAW file support, AND has a free downloadable trial. Please click image above for larger view.
Their booth was packed, and I know why -- the first time you see CatDV in action, and how easy it is to use, it becomes very addictive. Everyone wants to do everything in one application, but when you see how easy it is to manage assets with CatDV, and then get your managed files instantly into your NLE editing application, you realize it's no big deal, and you just want CatDV.
This concept is very important, because the new Apple FCPX is a standalone application that is not packaged in an integrated suite, so we will have to go "outside" the app to do other stuff. But with properly integrated programs from companies like CatDV -- well, it's just easy, and seamless.
Drives are getting bigger and cheaper, and having hundreds of terabytes of storage is more common than anyone could have imagined just a few years ago, meaning that the number of files you have online at any time is skyrocketing. Wake up! There's no reason to complain about media management anymore.
Boy, oh boy, storage was everywhere! Maxx Digital showed their new Evo 4K Expando Chassis, using the new 6Gig Hitachi 3 Terabyte drives. A single 16 bay drive chassis had 48 Terabytes in it, and based on the industry standard AJA System Test, was operating at 1600 MB/sec.! This is 900-1000 MB/sec faster than LAST MONTH. I think this defines the expression "leaps and bounds." All of a sudden, doing 2K editing is no longer a challenge.
Maxx Digital also showed the new 10Gig Final Share shared storage system, which uses off-the-shelf 10Gig Ethernet products. But Maxx was not alone -- Avid, JMR, Facilis, Small Tree and EditShare were also showing the incredible performance of 10 Gig Ethernet, being a viable alternative to Fibre Channel in shared storage environments.
Active Storage single-handedly saved the day for conventional shared storage by releasing the new Active SAN, a fantastic, easy to use Xserve replacement.
JMR also showed their new beautiful drive chassis, the SilverStor, which looks just like a Mac Pro, but can house 18 SATA drives, and two disk drive host adaptors to run all of them, along with PCI Expanders to daisy chain these chassis together.
This is critical! It is increasingly clear to me that, as all of us continue to need more and more storage, not having the ability to daisy chain storage together leaves you in a dead end situation. JMR fixes this.
AVID ISIS 5000
The best storage at the show: Avid ISIS 5000, an amazing product. I LOVE the ISIS 5000! I wish I could have spent another four hours with it at the show. Avid has pushed for "the customer experience" with their new SAN, trying to make installation and ease of use as simple as possible, and they have really done it.
Avid ISIS 5000 is amazing, with very easy to use controls. There is no question that everyone else is now going to be playing catch-up. Please click on image above for larger view.
The ISIS 5000 is based on a 10 Gig Myricom card which feeds a switch from Force 10 or Cisco, which then connects via copper 1Gig Ethernet to the client computers. The entry level 16 Terabyte system retails for $33,000, and supports 40 clients with DNxHD resolutions. It can also be expanded to 90 clients.
If you own an Avid, why buy anything else? It's a no brainer, and additionally supports other NLE edit systems like FCP and Adobe Premiere. It's also easy to set up, all too rare for a SAN. The only complaint is that Avid should have released this very product several years ago. With its low cost of entry and obvious tie-in with new low cost Media Composer systems based on HP Z400 workstations or Mac Pro computers, this is a product that deserves recognition.
The reality is that everyone from Maxx Digital to EditShare to Small Tree to Facilis is now playing catch-up with the Avid ISIS 5000. There is no question that this is a "best buy" product.
How can you beat Cache-A? They dropped their price on the 800GB Prime-Cache LTO-4 while introducing the new, cost-effective 1500GB LTO-5-based Prime-Cache5, and they still offer the smartest LTO Archive products on the market. Why? Because it's not just an LTO that ties up your computer all day and night while you create a tape. It's an appliance that lets you archive to an internal drive, and then allows the slow, painful process of writing to LTO tape to happen in the background, making it totally transparent to the user.
The Pro-Cache5 by Cache-A
There is even a direct tie to the CatDV asset management program, to allow you to find your archived data.
BEST IN SHOW: BLACKMAGIC DESIGN
But nobody, and I mean NOBODY was crazier than Blackmagic Design. For the second year in a row, they are single-handedly shaking up the industry like no one else. And it's all based on their insane low cost for products that up until the NAB Show 2011 were, in a word, EXPENSIVE.
Blackmagic is now is the monitor business. Their first product is called SmartView Duo, a rack mount pair of 8" monitors with SDI connections up to 3Gb/s. You can control them via Ethernet, even from a laptop, and they can display up to a 2K image! And for only $695! How is this price possible? This is the opportunity for everyone to have true HD monitors for less money than you can buy some piece of CRT garbage on eBay.
Blackmagic Design SmartView Duo
The Blackmagic H.264 ProRecorder is just $495 for a real-time H.264 encoder. Support for inputs including HDMI or SDI means real-time encoding to SD or HD H.264 for everything from a DVD player to HDCAM SR.
Sometimes I think that this may have been the most important item at the show. All that proxy media that Avid showed in their cloud editing technology demo, and that Quantel is doing now in their QTube cloud editing solution? All that video going out to the web? People want H.264, and they want it now. Every day, clients are having me build shared storage solutions that need lo-res proxies, because as big as storage systems are getting, they're never big enough.
Those files are coming from products like this: encoded in real time, for no wasted time or space. And at this price, practically no money.
At the Verizon booth, they were even showing this product with software developed with Blackmagic's SDK to do LIVE STREAMING!!! I want this H.264 encoder, and I want that software!
You may have heard that Apple Color will no longer be part of FCPX, BUT WHO CARES, because the crazy people at Blackmagic are going to give away Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve Lite FOR FREE, starting in July. That's right -- FREE.
The only difference between this and the $995 version of Resolve is that Lite is limited to "only" HD resolution, two color correction nodes, a single GPU and a single RED Rocket card, but THAT'S IT. Otherwise, it's DaVinci Resolve, and it's FREE.
I am convinced that they may, in fact, be crazy. I have already mentioned the HyperDeck HD-SDI recorders that start at $345, and the DeckLink Quad for $995. But now for the ultimate in craziness: their new ATEM switcher line.
The ATEM 1 M/E Broadcast Panel has eight HD-SDI inputs, 14 outs, seven keyers, DVE, clip player, multi-viewer, built in UltraScopes for waveform-vector display, and much more, for only $4995. Add $14,995 for the optional monster 2 M/E control panel -- 16 in/19 out, six Aux busses, two 10-input multi-viewers, 13 keyers, 20 direct cross points, redundant power and on and on -- and you get a world class, blown-out video production switcher, with every option, and no excuses for under $20,000 retail.
Blackmagic Design introduced the ATEM 1 M/E Broadcast Switcher.
This is insane!
If you have no money, you can do similar work, with a smaller package, the entry-level ATEM Television Studio. It's a full-featured 10-bit switcher with HD-SDI and HDMI inputs, live encoding to H.264 for web out, live keying (four upstream, two downstream), all inputs are frame synced with multi-viewer outputs, and it can be run from a laptop, and it costs $995! HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE???
The Blackmagic ATEM switcher line of products does so much that there needs to be a separate article just for it.
The rest of what Blackmagic brought to NAB this year also deserves its own article. Once again, it appears that they introduced more new stuff at the NAB Show than any other company.
WHAT I HOPED TO SEE, BUT DIDN'T
I knew it! I knew that things were going to get worse! It's a complete nightmare.
There was a time when the entire world was little more than PAL, NTSC and SECAM. Heaven help us if we had to figure out 44.1 or 48kHz audio, because that seemed complicated. But really, that was about it.
Then came HD, with more and more variations. Then came tapeless, with even more variations. And now, you have to send files to networks, servers, and everywhere else, and the variations are nearly infinite. So at this year's NAB Show, I was hoping to find out exactly how to create a truly workable MPEG transport stream for digital delivery. I foolishly thought that I could find something "plug and play" -- click on certain presets for a particular brand of playout server, and you are done. I was wrong.
I hoped to find the answer in the Telestream booth. Telestream is an amazing company, and are making the best file transcoding program in the world -- Telestream Episode Pro, a program we will all wind up owning now that FCPX doesn't come with Compressor.
After driving their demo guy crazy, what I ultimately learned is that creating MPEG transport streams is not easy. You don't just click on "Avid Airplay" and get the correct file for this type of playout server. There are zillions of settings, and you just can't make a digital delivery file for a playout server for a TV station without a lot of work, starting with analyzing the MPEG transport stream of a sample clip from the TV station.
There was a time when the entire world was little more than PAL, NTSC and SECAM. Heaven help us if we to see what they are doing, and how they have their system set up.
My search for useful presets for creating MPEG transport streams for broadcast continues.
This shouldn't be so hard. It happened years ago for editing. You used to have to know every tiny detail about your footage for your NLE or for After Effects, but not anymore. For example, who knows anything about field order anymore? More important, WHO CARES? You pick a pop-up preset for your footage, end of story. The software takes care of the rest, which is exactly as it should be.
The company that gets this right is going to become synonymous with compression and format wrangling the same way that Sony has been synonymous with tape machines.
There's your question: who wants to own this thing? Here's how you win: make it easy. Start with presets. Include expert settings for the experts, but know that more and more of this work is being done by people who will never be experts, who will never want to be experts because they have too many other jobs already.
As for digital delivery, the word "cloud" was everywhere, but after speaking with Aspera, Signiant, and Level 3 (who Media Silo suggested I speak with), I am left with the conclusion that high-speed connections are still EXPENSIVE. Digital delivery "for the masses" does not appear to be around the corner.
YOU AIN'T SEEN EVERYTHING YET
This review only covered one corner of the show, the South Lower Hall. There was tons of stuff in the South Upper Hall, the Central Hall and the North Hall. It was just too much.
People often say to me "Boy, how you do know all of this stuff?" I just smile, because I know very well that I barely understand what is going on these days, and it's a miracle for me to be able to keep up with just a little of of it.
I came away with a couple of conclusions.
There is more progress in our industry than ever before, and the cost of entry into the business is lower than ever. It's an exciting time. And it ain't getting any easier to keep up.