There’s a whole big world out there in post-production-land, and most of it is pretty awesome.
When I headed to the NAB Show last week(ish), part of my (personal) mission was to learn a little more about companies I didn’t know much about. Not just ask someone or read some Wikipedia stuff, but actually get to know what their missions are in post-production right now. I found that if I just went up to an industry peer and asked about Grass Valley, they’d give me a bit of “oh, they’re still around?” I mentioned to someone that I had just been to a Quantel press conference and they quipped something about how the six people that use their stuff will be happy to see the updates.
Clearly this isn’t the case. At NAB, these two companies have two of the biggest, most prominent booths. They’re doing big business at the show but more importantly for the world of post overall, one way or another. And there are others too, like Vizrt and NewTek (who are working together on some pretty cool graphics stuff that you’ve probably seen in use) — prominently standing out on the exhibit floor that is entirely dedicated to post-production. But beyond the NAB bubble, these kinds of companies are the ones that run the backbone of post-production facilities and broadcast and live production and all sorts of other unsexy-on-the-surface stuff.
Beyond the surface, they’re doing some awesome stuff and they have been for a while. I know a lot of us don’t deal with these areas of post because we’re editors and cinematographers and freelancers. But it’s all in the same universe, and that means that these technologies can trickle down into our neck of the woods someday and solve some of our problems. And having a broader scope of the world is only a good thing for all of us.
Covering a lot of ground at NAB requires maximum comfort: dresses and sneakers.
For example, most of us are looking at NLEs and some cameras — 2K, UHD, HDR, 4K, all that stuff. We’ve been introduced to the idea of collaborative timelines in Resolve, cloud-based editing in Avid, 4K GPU debayering in Premiere. This is some of the top-billed stuff in these releases, and rightfully so. It’s freakin’ awesome stuff and it’s exciting for us to get our hands on it. It changes our every day right now.
But look a little further and see what’s already been happening. Grass Valley is providing Japan’s KTV with a full 4K editing system right now (with support for 8K later, 8 flipping K.) That means the news station is using EDIUS for real time 4K editing with Grass Valley's HQX codec, which allows for super high resolution video with dramatically improved editing response time. And if you didn't hear, Japan plans to actually be broadcasting 4K this summer, two years earlier than expected. And 8K broadcast is even being pushed forward, with NHK demonstrating their 8K playout at NAB and other trade shows. So while we're discussing the validity of having 4K in the home at all, Japan is doing its thing -- its thing being trying really hard to beat South Korea at technological advancements.
Maybe we need a "friendly" rival again.
Grass Valley also had an interesting booth at NAB. If you're gonna have live models on display, may as well make 'em fight.
Quantel’s Genetic Engineering 2 allows editors to open any project in any room (or multiple rooms) to work. And that’s a “2" meaning it’s the second version because Genetic Engineering was first introduced in 2007. With GE2, a bunch of Pablo, eQ and/or iQ stations share a "GenePool" -- shared storage -- and that allows real time sharing of projects and guaranteed playback of multiple high resolution media streams, as well as other non-creative tasks at the same time. I don't mean project sharing so much as having multiple editors working on the same clip in different rooms. The first version supported stereoscopic 3D and 4K, and did I mention this was in 2007? I was still editing mostly standard definition stuff in 2007. The updates at NAB added some new stuff, including 6K playback from disk to 4K outputs. Light Iron has finished at least 4 6K DI sessions with this stuff. That is bananas to me.
Post-production and technology consulting companies like Digital Film Tree are building their own proprietary cloud-based editing systems that are in use on television and film today, and not in an experimental way. Five years ago (yeah, in 2009), they partnered with Rackspace to work toward realistic cloud-based collaboration and sharing because the old Hollywood ways of looking at dailies were getting super inefficient and way costly, especially when you consider a show might be shooting 50TB of stuff a day. Instead of pushing around a bajillion terabytes of content through a bigger, more expensive pipe or grabbing more storage, they're designing private clouds for studios powered by OpenStack to manage content sharing and collaboration. "Cloud" was a buzzword at NAB this year and lots of people are adding it to their products (or at least their product marketing), but Digital Film Tree has already been improving their own actual clouds all this time.
And I mentioned how NewTek and Vizrt are working together on some cool stuff. Vizrt makes tools to create the real-time 3D graphics and maps you see on CNN, CBS, NBC, pretty much all major US broadcasters -- you probably watch football, yeah? The graphics are from Vizrt tools. Not football? How about the last presidential election? NewTek's TriCaster (for live multicamera productions) can now integrate with Vizrt, meaning all those complex graphics can now be managed by one person and used on mobile production trucks, along with NewTek's replay system (3Play). This means a lot more scalability for different live productions. Like, your next college football game might have a significant jump in production value.
From A to B, all the way to V..izrt.
Even though I’m not going to be using Pablo anytime soon and I’m not managing dailies on a 6K studio feature (yet), these are all fascinating updates. These are global workflows that are touching a lot of people in some way, and as they get to be old news, my NLE seems to inherit them. Some stuff changes my every day right now, but the bigger picture gives a glimpse of what my future looks like — either my current NLE or maybe a jump into something new.
I think this is especially important to mix up the usual conversation about post. So much of the discussion is dominated with regurgitating old debates or evaluating a product based on the old, trusted ways. The trusted is becoming obsolete, if it isn’t already. While some are going in circles, looking for anything in a press release to confirm their bias, the rest of the world of post has moved on to bigger and better things.
I found a lot of cool stuff at NAB this year, but I think the most important discovery wasn’t an anecdote about 8K broadcast, but rather the world beyond the companies that start with A (or B). It doesn’t change what I do in my edit room tomorrow, but it makes me optimistic for the future of my career: longevity, security, and a whole bunch of flippin’ sweet technology to play with.
With the show wrapping up and my body shutting down, I've been thinking about the stuff I've seen and people I've talked to at this year's show. This is the first year I've been covering the show in a full on press capacity (meaning sitting down with a number of vendors to get the story straight from them) and it's been great fun. It's also offered another perspective to me as a show attendee, maybe the clearest one about the industry overall I've had so far.
This is my third NAB. My first year was a learning experience where I did educational classes. Last year I blogged a bit and worked as an exhibitor. This year's press interviews meant I was covering a lot of ground and talking to a lot of people about a lot of things. And I'll be posting a lot more about what I've found over the next couple of weeks, by the way.
A common theme I found this year was that everyone was excited but not really about anything in particular. When I spoke to companies one on one, I asked if they had heard about anything cool I should check out. They are admittedly focused on their own products and business and are obviously excited about those things, but besides the camera offerings from Blackmagic and AJA, there wasn't much else to the conversation.
Same with attendees. No big news beyond the few Monday announcements. A lot of people I talked to felt that traffic in general was light in general. I have no idea if that's true, but it didn't seem quite so crowded on Monday morning to me either. By Wednesday, however, I couldn't tell if the south hall was friggin' hot or if I had a fever. Who thinks to pack a thermometer in their bag to Vegas?
One small company I spoke to said he realized that having a booth presence at NAB meant he was investing a lot of time and money into a week where he got limited exposure to a lot of people who didn't really need his service. Instead of wrapping the year around the artificial deadline of releasing new stuff for NAB, he's invested in web advertising and releases new stuff whenever he feels like it or whenever his customers ask for it -- and he claims many other small companies are starting to follow the lead.
On the other side, I talked with another vendor who probably won't be ditching their booth presence anytime soon. They also mentioned they've seen the value in not letting NAB dictate their product releases. The industry calls for changes to be made and updates to be sent out on a flexible basis and the Internet makes all that easier all the time. There is a far greater value in delivering things throughout the year than making a smash at NAB because responsiveness is valued over showmanship.
Judging by the booth traffic in the major vendor booths near the front of the south hall -- Grass Valley, Adobe, Blackmagic -- NAB certainly isn't dying off. This is not a sky is falling NAB is dying article. That's not my jam. There's still relevance to a trade show. People like to shake hands, one on one training is valuable, and plenty of business is done in Vegas this week. But companies of all sizes are seeing the value of letting their product cycles be flexible instead of fighting the other thousand press releases hitting this week, or the other hundred booths around them for attention.
I learned a lot this week, but most of what I learned came from bigger companies in the front half of the south hall. There's a lot going on besides cameras and NLEs, a whole side of post and production technology that barely touches my world. The deeper infrastructure that makes the world go 'round seems mostly unaffected by anything other than a push to be smaller and more efficient, which has been the main goal of technology for only about a hundred years or so.
So here's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna go home, determine if I've been afflicted with the rhinovirus or something that needs heavy artillery, get my $&%^ together, and tell you more about the awesome stuff I found and talked about -- collaboration near and far, stories of people I met, and yeah, I found some ladies at NAB I'd like to tell you about.
The running gag on the show floor yesterday was a punchline to the effect of "AND we're releasing a camera!" If that kind of humor isn't your thing, then I can't really recommend you come to NAB for real.
But even with all all the hooplah about new cameras and such, a couple things that stuck out to me today are throwbacks. The last few years in particular, I feel like there's been a push toward the nontraditional -- NLEs doing weird stuff that grumpy dudes hate, cameras turning into little boxes you can't actually handle, that kind of stuff. And today we saw AJA's new camera (WTF, what a weird phrase) and Blackmagic Design's new cameras both with more classic camera design features. Of course the camera
companies have always had a mix because they have so many cameras to choose from. But companies that aren't traditionally linked to cameras experimenting with designs in their limited product pool is an interesting way to see what's happening in the industry. DSLRs started some kind of trend a few years ago, and it seems like maybe camera designs are coming back around.
Then again, I'm an editor.
Speaking of throwbacks, I think Blackmagic Design's new Cintel Film Scanner is awesome. In all the innovations within the show moving digital media forward, it's nice to see that film has a place front and center.
Interestingly, most of the excitement on the floor has been in discussing the future and what's possible very soon rather than specific products, large or small. It's kind of nice to see people thinking more about the big picture, a kind of joy for the industry that was sort of lacking last year. To me, at least.
Oh, and to update you on the superficial aspects of the show: it's loud, crowded, and hot. Everything is too far apart. Lines are long, food's expensive, and actually I'm having a great week thanks for asking.
I've also decided to put together a new art exhibit of images I'm collecting this week. It's called Human Props Sitting Sadly in Booths.
So yeah, if you haven't guessed by the articles you might have seen with my name on them or the NAB show guide and all that, I'm here in Vegas for my third NAB. My brain hasn't really caught up to the idea yet, so I've spent much of the weekend walking around in a daze. I think it's starting to settle in though, and just in time. No matter what tomorrow brings, I'll be on my feet a lot -- my poor feet that already have a blister. Damn you, shoes.
I was at the convention center and other press events all day, and some social events like #postchat all night, so I made sure I asked mostly everyone I saw what they're interested in seeing this year. Is there a product? A company? A general idea of a thing? A problem that needs solved? Some kind of something?
The response I got was mostly a half-hearted shrug. A canned answer, if I'm lucky.
My last two shows, I didn't ask quite so many people about what they were interested in seeing, but I've never really had so many people give me a blank stare. It seems like there's not a lot of buzz over any one thing, people are 4K'd out before the week begins, and many of the rumored items so far haven't done much to excite my circles -- not even the giant Resolve 11 screenshot plastered over the south hall. Maybe it's just the people I asked, but my sample size was large: random press, friends and acquaintances, a stranger I shared a cab with. I'm just sayin'.
So this year, rather than going into the show with unbridled anticipation, the real enthusiasm will have to start around 9AM tomorrow morning. Maybe. Guess we'll find out, eh?
I'll tell you this, though: I used a cupcake ATM today and it was everything I ever dreamed it could be. If you're looking for an excuse to come to NAB, let it be that.