The Best of... For the Rest of Us: NAB 2008 and the Event Videographer
This year I made my annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for NAB, where a lot of questions were being asked: What would NAB be like without the cross-aisle rivalry between Avid and Apple, both of which have withdrawn their traditional massive show-floor presence? Would Sony be showing a PMW-EX2 to succeed the popular EX1, which was announced at NAB 2007 and shipped late last year? Was this the year tape would be declared dead? Would the latest flash media announcements show significant price reductions? We will get to all these issues, but there was a whole lot more to NAB besides these questions.
This year’s NAB saw a few introductions of new products, but many of the products that made this year’s list are improvements of older products. There were, however, a few brand new products (which are most likely not being shipped yet) to take note of. For easier reading, I’ll divide the list into three parts: cameras, production support, and postproduction.
Before I get the hate emails from various PR people for not listing their clients’ great products, remember, while I met several people who work at TV networks who read EventDV, until Stephen Nathans-Kelly changes the name of this magazine to Event and Broadcast DV, this list is aimed at event videographers. So if you were showing a really cool 1080p camera that records to $4,000 64GB flash drives for "only" $70,000, you won’t find it listed here—it’s not really for most event videographers. If, however, you knock a zero off the price, you may make the list next year!
I have also included some honorable mentions as items that are really cool but that may be a stretch to use in event videography or that represent an interesting concept but are not a real functioning prototype yet.
This category is pretty self-explanatory; it’s also populated, for the most part, with welcome incremental upgrades to the HD cameras many of us have been shooting with for the last 2–3 years. The big breakthroughs in the bunch are the Panasonic HMC150, which takes advantage of the potential of the AVCHD spec better than any AVCHD model we’ve seen yet, and of course the "3k under $3k" RED SCARLET, although its impact is more potential than real at this point.
JVC’s new HD200B (Figure 1) is an update of the HD200. JVC made a couple of big changes here. The main improvement is the option of sending a 1080i signal out the i.LINK port to the JVC ProHD DRHD100 hard disk recorder (which can wrap the signal into a .mov native QuickTime file), a portable 1080i HDV tape recorder, or any external DDR or deck. This will be important to freelancers or other people who want to be able to shoot 720p or 1080i tape for client production companies. You can simply hook up a small HDV camcorder or deck to the i.LINK and sync record. It includes a 16x Fujinon lens, an Anton Bauer battery system, and a new low MSRP of $5,995.
This year Panasonic showed a trio of flash media-based, professional, handheld cameras: the AG-HMC150 (Figure 2), AG-HPX170, and the updated AG-HVX200a. Although, personally, I am not convinced that flash media alone will work for event videography, this camera is starting to make it feasible and affordable.
The HMC150 uses the AVCHD codec at 6, 13, 17, or 21Mbps (it’s nice to see a camera that’s inching up toward the full 24Mbps supported by the AVCHD spec). That gives you 180 (6Mbps) to 45 (21Mbps) minutes of recording time in a readily available 8GB SDHC card. You can record 1080i, 1080p, and 720p at frame rates of 60, 30, or 24 frames per second.
With 8GB cards going for $40 and 16GB going for $90, this is much more affordable than the HPX170 or the HVX200a, which use more expensive P2 cards (16GB cards sell for around $885 online) and only get 1–2 minutes per GB because of the higher data rate of the DVCPRO HD codec. The HMC150 ($4,500 MSRP) shares the same 13x Leica lens, new 1/3" CCDs, XLR audio inputs, and many other features with its big brothers.
Sony HVR-S270U and HVR-Z7U
The thing that most event videographers will like best about these too cameras is that Sony—specifically, its VP of camera systems Bob Ott—has been listening to what users tell him they want. In December 2006 I met him at a press event introducing the V1 camcorder, and I explained to him why the V1 just wasn’t exciting me or others. He then took out a pen and paper and asked what he needed to do to make camcorders that videographers would buy without reservations. I told him low-light capability, real (interchangeable) lenses, shouldermount with full-size transport, an LCD suited to shoulder-mount use, 1080p with true 24p capability (not 24F), and the option to record to flash memory while recording to tape.
At last year’s NAB, a mock-up was displayed under glass with a vague description of what became the HVR-S270U. It was officially announced at IBC last September, but NAB 2008 marked the first time the cameras were shown as a shipping reality. I’m not sure if my conversation with Ott had any impact, but with these two cameras, Sony had added all the features on my must-have list and even a few of my "it would also be nice ifs" requests too. Both camcorders offer 1080 HDV recording, a lux rating equal to the DSR-PD150, simultaneous or chained flash recording to inexpensive compact flash cards, XLR audio connectors, and a removable lens. The HVR-Z7U ($6,700, Figure 3) has a compact design, records to MiniDV, uses the same L series batteries you probably already own, and has HDMI out. The HVR-S270U ($9,900) has a shoulder-mount design, up to 4.5 hrs of recording on a full-size tape, four independently controllable XLR audio inputs, a flip-up LCD on the viewfinder, and HD-SDI out with embedded audio and timecode.
Sony PMW-EX3: Following on the heels of last year’s EX1 (but what happened to the EX2?), the forthcoming EX3 sports a removable Fujinon 14x lens. With 1/2" CMOS sensors, the EX3 ($13,000) records full-raster 1920x1080 in the 35M (Mbps) mode like the EX1. In the 25M recording mode, it records 1440x1080 HDV to the SxS cards, and if you attach a portable HDV recorder to the FireWire/i.LINKport, you can also record HDV to tape.
RED SCARLET: The new entry from the makers of the much-in-demand RED ONE, the forthcoming RED SCARLET (Figure 4) was shown in a nonfunctional mock-up under glass, and it was touted as the first "3K under $3K" camera (RED ONE is 4K). It had a built-in 4.8" LCD, microphone, and two compact flash slots. It looked like my mom’s old meat grinder. If you’ve been following the RED saga, you know the drill; they’re not taking orders for the SCARLET yet, so it’s too early even to get on the waiting list for this one. We’ll see what it looks like when it’s released in the summer of 2009.
This category includes anything having to do with shooting outside the actual camera/camcorder.
Wanting to get into the flash game, JVC introduced the (still-concept-under-glass) MR-HD200U (Figure 5), an SDHC flash and hard drive recorder ($2,995) that will go between the ProHD 200 Series camcorders and the battery plate. A 16GB SDHC memory card can record 1.6 hours in MPEG-2 720p mode and about 1.2 hours in MPEG-2 1080i mode. The unit also features a built-in 100GB hard disk drive (HDD) for extended recording times of up to 10 hours. At press time there were no details on if there was a chaining and/or copying function between the drives. The HD200B is scheduled to ship in 4Q 2008 with an MSRP undert $3,000.
Roland/EDIROL F-1 Video Field Recorder
Just having a 120GB hard drive recorder that connects to a camcorder isn’t enough to get you on the list any more; you need to do something really different. EDIROL’s new F-1 Video Field Recorder ($2,995, Figure 6) not only sports an easily removable hard drive in a caddy, but it also has 2 XLR inputs that allow you to record two additional uncompressed channels of audio to the normal two that come over the 1394 cable. The additional channels show up as an additional stereo WAV that is easily synced in your NLE. Who couldn’t use an extra couple of audio channels?
The unit includes a built-in RGB output that enables connection of a VGA monitor for quick thumbnail previewing without the need to connect a computer. The USB port enables connection of a mouse or touchscreen when using an external monitor. Also available via free download is the F-1 utility software, enabling more advanced previewing and file management. In addition, the built-in network port enables remote control ability of one or multiple units using a simple Ethernet switch and a computer.
Sachtler SOOM Tripod System
The Sachtler SOOM (Figure 7) is probably the most flexible tripod system I have ever seen. It can be a "standard" carbon fiber tripod, and it can become a monopod, a short 18" tripod, or an 8' tripod. It’s easy to configure as needed, lightweight, and strong, and it comes with a Petrol-made carrying case. It can take cameras 2 to 13.5 lbs. It lists for $3,570 with the FSB6 fluid head; without the head, the MSRP is $2,490. For more detail on the SOOM, see Shawn Lam’s June In the Field.
Litepanels Micro LED Light
Although the Litepanels Micro LED (Figure 8) officially shipped in April, I got a prototype back in December when I was at a Band Pro event and mentioned to the Litepanels rep that I didn’t think an LED light—let alone one that can power off of four AA batteries—could replace a belt and my Cool-Lux U3 Tri-light. But I discovered when I tested the Micro LED that I was wrong. In all but really long throws, this little on-camera light can replace your standard light.
In addition to the four AAs (disposable or rechargeable), it can power off any source from 5–12 V DC. It is so small and light that you can put it on any camera (note that they display it on a palmcorder in the press image) and easily pack it along with plenty of power in a carry-on bag. As we all eventually switch to 16:9 aspect ratio cameras, our lights need to also; otherwise you’ll notice a sharp drop-off in light on the sides of your wide-angle shots. This small wonder, which lists for $349, is 16:9 ready.
Shining Technology CitiDISK SSD Flash Recorder
Shining Technology was one of the first companies to put out a compact hard drive recorder. Now it is the first to deliver a 32GB flash drive that holds more than 2 hours of DV or HDV. The big advantages to the recorder are its weight and its power consumption.
The CitiDISK SSD Flash Recorder weighs only 6 ounces and is 80% more power-efficient than the company’s hard drive-based models. These are worth the MSRP of $1,799 if you shoot industrials or anywhere else where you are subject to rough vibrations; it is much more reliable than a tape transport or spinning disk.
Azden 305/325 Series Wireless Microphones
After getting a few complaints on its previous UHF microphone systems, Azden finally did a total redesign and re-engineer of its product line. The new 305/325 series includes frequencies in the 500–600 MHz range (you can use them in Los Angeles!) and also runs on less expensive AA batteries.
You have a choice of systems with a single- or dual-channel (for using two separate mics at once) receiver packages. Systems start at MSRP $399 and ship in June.
While there was only one major NLE announcement at NAB (not a big surprise, since two of the key NLE vendors, Apple and Avid, weren’t even there), there was plenty of action in the postproduction space.
Matrox seems to really like to think out of the box when it comes to its Mac-based products. Following up on the popular MXO output box that took a DVI signal and gave you HD-SDI and analog component out for Mac-based editing apps, the MXO2 (Figure 9) builds on the original and adds a full complement of inputs.
It features two XLR inputs, four XLR outputs, six RCA outputs for surround sound monitoring, HDMI in and out, and pretty much any other I/O you can think of for capturing and playing out of Final Cut Pro or Adobe’s Premiere Pro CS3 for Mac. It has built-in monitor calibration tools and real-time SD/HD scaling tools. Cable connectors are on the left and right sides of the unit—inputs on one side, and outputs on the other—and power in back.
The MXO2 can look messy when fully connected, but the versatility should be worth it. It can also run off battery power.
Matrox RT.X2 LE
Matrox' new RT.X2 LE (Figure 10) is a smaller, 3/4-length PCIe card version of the RT.X2. It has all of the same functionality as the RT.X2 in accelerating Premiere Pro CS3, minus the DVI connector on the back. Its reduced length and lower power consumption make it easier to install into smaller (approved) PCs and even a Mac Pro running Windows—all without special cabling.
It comes in at a much lower MSRP of $1,095 for hardware only.
ADS Tech Pyro Kompressor HD
This nifty card from ADS can speed up your MainConcept HD-MPEG-2 and HD-H.264 encoding by up to eight times. It has 336 on-chip CPUs to help your workstation speed up your encoding. The Ambric chip is programmable for future codecs, future-proofing your investment. Integrated with Adobe’s Premiere Pro CS3 and After Effects CS3, the compressed output works seamlessly with Adobe’s Encore CS3. With Magma’s ExpressBox, you can even use it with a laptop. On a network you can make the computer with the Pyro Kompressor HD card a "Render Island" (Pyro’s term), where you just drop compression jobs into Pyro Kompressor HD’s queue, and it will render them in order. Its list price is $3,995.
Blackmagic Design Video Recorder
This is Blackmagic Design’s first foray into the consumer side of the market, but this should be a hit with professionals too. About 75% of my productions involve putting something on YouTube or other sites. Blackmagic Design’s new Video Recorder (Figure 11) makes it easy to do this: Take any video master of any tape format, play it in through this little USB device, and you are ready to go.
It supports composite, YC, component video inputs, and RCA stereo audio inputs. It records the H.264 file format, ready for any video site, iPod, or Apple TV. Install the capture software, plug it into your USB port on your PC or MAC, and capture away. With an MSRP of $119, you should make back your investment with one job.
The SDI version of the Blackmagic Video Recorder ($299) has the same features as the Video Recorder, but it is for those with higher-end, SDI-equipped gear. Will an event videographer need SDI? Probably not, but now for less than $300, you can say you have it and sound "really high end." It also features deck control for unattended operation.
Samson StudioDock Series Active USB Monitors
Every so often a product makes the list because it is simply an improvement of an old idea. We all have speakers on our editing systems. Some are expensive, some are not. I bet a number of you have clients who come in with their favorite music on their iPod for the montage. In most cases you’ll need to pull the speaker wire from the editing system and put it into the iPod. This is not the case with Samson’s Studio Dock Monitors. These babies have an iPod dock built in. Just plug it in on top and play. And that’s not all. These speakers can connect digitally via USB to avoid any extra D-to-A conversions.
If you have other personal music devices or applications, they also have standard RCA in back and 3.5 mm auxiliary in front. The sound quality and power are amazing for speakers this size and price. MSRPs range from $149 to $199.
Sony Creative Software DVD Architect 5 and Vegas Pro 8.1 64-bit Edition
While Sony announced the 64-bit version of Vegas at last year’s NAB, it’s finally scheduled for a September release after a year of waiting. To be known as Vegas Pro 8.1, the release will be a free upgrade to all Vegas 8.0 (32-bit) owners (Figure 12). The 64-bit architecture will allow for use of more than the 4GB of RAM limit currently on Windows 32-bit systems. All of this will add up to much faster render times, and it will run on the Vista 64-bit OS. We will look forward to trying this out!
Sony’s other big announcement in our space was Blu-ray Disc support in DVD Architect 5 (a free upgrade for existing Vegas and DVD Architect users), which is welcome news to Vegas editors who may be looking for a seamless BD production option to go with their NLE of choice.
So there you have it: The Best of ... For the Rest of Us--highlights of the broadcast video industry's annual tradeshow extravaganza for video professionals who do little or no work in the broadcast arena. For those of you who were at NAB or followed the announcements of the show: See anything we missed? Write in and tell us what it was and why. We'll all have a chance to see the impact these and other new products make between now and next April, when it starts all over again.
Marc Franklin (marcfvp at yahoo.com) has been shooting video since 1982, and has run Franklin Video Productions since 1992. He has been featured in the Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, and TV Technology; has written for WEVA, Studio Monthly, and Student Filmmakers; served as technical advisor to The 4EVER Group; and is currently VP of Technology for the American Videographers Association near Los Angeles.