Winners' Circle: The Best of NAB 2011
Posted Jun 10, 2011

Another NAB has come and gone. While the published attendance was up from 88,000 last year to more than 92,000 this year, there seemed to be a lot more elbow room. There weren’t as many earth-shattering new products as in other years, but there were some that stood out. Before I get to the winners, I want to talk a little about what I’m seeing as “over-product burnout” in a couple of areas, especially for our industry. One recurring theme in my discussions with other attendees was that most people were sick of 3D. While almost everyone has an HDTV set, most consumers aren’t signed up for HD content yet. Even fewer end users are prepared for 3D. Most attendees I spoke to see 3D as becoming more popular in theaters, but they think most people won’t invest in 3D technology for the home, either because they don’t want the expense or because they simply prefer 2D. In terms of how we shoot and what we’re able to deliver as a result, in order to do a wedding in 3D, you lose the “run and gun” capability. Although I reported on some 3D breakthroughs in the last couple of years’ Winner’s Circle articles, I’m not going to waste anyone’s time with 3D products this year. The other category I’m not going to dive into is DSLR rigs. Every other booth had one, and they all look the same to me. Granted, my perspective on this issue is different from that of EventDV readers who have taken the DSLR plunge; for the type of work I do, for various reasons, DSLRs don’t match my workflow. I do plan to purchase a Micro 4/3 or Super 35mm model this year but most likely in a traditional camcorder configuration. If, for some reason, I do need a rig, I may make one in my garage.

It is interesting to note that as many are migrating to a tapeless workflow (or did so some time ago), there are many of us who are still shooting to tape, as tape remains the preferred archival format, and archiving after you shoot is just extra time spent running raw footage to a deck. To that end, there were several high-end LTO tape backup systems being shown for production houses. Amid so many people declaring tape dead, I found it interesting that Fujifilm launched a new line of Pro Grade HDV/DV tapes, the DV171HD line. As one who shoots with a Sony HVR-S270u and makes use of both the flash recorder and the tape drive on all my shoots, it’s nice to know there is still a strong enough tape market to launch a new line.

Now, here is my annual disclaimer. I roamed the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center for 4 days searching for new and exciting products to improve our creativity and workflow. If I missed one of the 1,100 exhibits, that goes with the territory. What’s more, these are brief descriptions, not reviews or endorsements. In some cases the product is a concept or prototype. If a product doesn’t make it on the list, I’m not casting aspersions on it; either I missed it, despite my best efforts, or I saw it but didn’t see its applicability for event videographers/filmmakers. The list is broken down into two categories: Production and Postproduction.

PRODUCTION
While Panasonic had the AG-HPX250 update of the AG-HVX200 and similar updates to other models, and JVC was showing the GY-HD750, a GY-HD790 without the studio connections, there were not a whole lot of new cameras that I saw as significant new entries for our industry, so here are the ones that I expect to matter for us—all two of them. That said, there were some interesting production accessories.

Sony NEX-FS100 (MSRP $5,800 body only; $6,300 with lens)
Sony NEX-FS100
This is the one you’ve been hearing about, the new sub-$6,000 interchangeable-lens Sony camera with the Super 35mm Exmor CMOS Sensor that many say might hit the sweet spot for shooters in our industry who want the DSLR look without the DSLR. It records to Memory Stick or SDHC cards. You can use many types of lenses, some requiring adapters. The form factor is a big box with a flat form factor and a flip-up LCD screen. It comes with the same short shotgun mic found on the Sony Z7 and S270. From my limited testing of the low-light capability in the booth, I can say it appears to be incredible. Even with 18 db of gain on a large monitor I could see no grain. The picture quality is phenomenal. It records the AVCHD format to Memory Stick Pro or SDHC/SDXC cards. The NEX-FS100 should ship in June.

GoPro HERO 960 (MSRP $179.99; with LCD Screen, $259.99)
GoPro HERO 960
There was a lot of buzz about this “place anywhere” camera. Without the optional LCD, this tiny 1080p camera is about the size of a three-pack of miniDV tapes. The camera records to internal flash memory. The cameras all come in a waterproof case. This same camera is used to capture underwater shots in the hit show Deadliest Catch.

There are several places the HERO would come in handy for event shooters. I could see placing them in chuppahs, altars, or venues where you have restricted access. The only downside is that the HERO isn’t a low-light performer. If you keep that in mind and use it accordingly, you’ll be able to get amazing results.

Blackmagic Design ATEM Television Studio (MSRP $995)
Blackmagic Design ATEM
Last year, Blackmagic Design bought Echolab, a company that made production switchers. This year, it is introducing ATEM, a low-cost production switcher that uses a Mac or PC for the control interface. The computer is just the interface. All of the processing is done in the rack-mountable switcher. There are six video inputs that can be SDI/HD-SDI or HDMI. The switcher hardware is also capable of recording H.264 for streaming. The outputs are 2x 10-bit SD/HD switchable and 1x HDMI 1.4a 10-bit, SD/HD switchable.

This can be very useful to live event producers. It’s hard to believe that I paid almost the same as ATEM’s $995 MSRP for an S-Video/Composite Videonics MX-1 switcher 15 years ago. This model will be available in July and could give NewTek’s TriCaster a run for its money, even if you need to add some HDMI-to-HD-SDI converters.

K-Tek Shoe Department (multiple products; prices vary)
K-Tek Shoe
While K-Tek is best known for its assorted boom poles for audio, this year the company has come out with a number of low-cost hot-shoe adapters of various sizes, some articulated, so you can mount additional mics, receivers, monitors, and the like on any camera or K-Tek’s own Norbert or Norbert Sport, which have dozens of cold-shoe mounts.

I like finding inexpensive ways of tricking out my cameras, so I can fit on it what I need. The list pricing runs $22–$85 depending on the complexity of the unit. They are all made in K-Tek’s factory in Southern California.

Azden SMX-20 Stereo Mic (MSRP $200)
Azden SMX-20
Azden came out with this new high-performance compact stereo mic to add to DSLRs in order to get better sound. The SMX-20 will also work with any camcorder used in the event business with an 1/8" stereo mic input. It uses an LR-44 “button” battery for power.

Kata Pro-V-410/610 Backpacks (MSRP $467)
Kata Pro-V-410
At this year’s NAB, Kata introduced a series of new backpacks for small to mid-size cameras that are incredibly lightweight—as much as 20% lighter than the previous generation. They’re also more comfortable to wear than anything I’ve experienced before, plus they’re extremely strong. The 410 can also carry up to a 15.4" laptop, and the 610 can carry up to a 17" laptop. Both can carry a tripod externally and be connected to an optional “trolly” if you want to wheel it around.

Kata Fly-By-74PL/76PL Organizer Bags (MSRP $239.99/$329.99)
Kata Fly-By-74PL
These bags are similar to the new Kata backpacks but hold a bit more and are even more protective of the equipment inside. Kata’s Bellina Israel, who was showing off the products, stood her 100 lb. self on the top of the backpack, and it held her! The bags have an aluminum frame and a steel spine guard. These new equipment bags offer more crush resistance than I have ever seen. They can be carried by the handles, the shoulder strap, or the included trolley.

Manfrotto 509HD Tripod Head (pricing starts at $899)
Manfrotto 509HD
The 509HD is the big brother to the recently reviewed 504HD. The 509HD can hold up to 29 lbs. (compared to 6.5 lbs. for the 504), but what makes it unique is its Advance Balancing Recorder (ABR) feature, which can electronically record the perfect balanced position for your camera equipment so that the position can be recalled later on. That can save a lot of time if you usually use the same camera on the tripod.

POSTPRODUCTION
This year’s NAB delivered a number of new things to see in the software arena. The biggest announcement at the show was Adobe’s CS5.5 Production Premium. The biggest announcement that happened off the show floor was Apple’s new Final Cut Pro X, unveiled during the SuperMeet, presented annually by the Los Angeles Final Cut Pro (FCP) User Group and commandeered a few weeks before this year’s event by Apple to make its FCP announcement. (There was a lot of drama surrounding this announcement, as Apple demanded that all other speakers and paid sponsors be dropped. If you want to find out more about the drama, Google away. Remaining true to Winner’s Circle tradition, we’ll stick to NAB-specific announcements in this article.)

Elsewhere in the postproduction world, Tascam (to the best of my knowledge) put out its first video product, a Blu-ray Disc recording deck called the BD-R2000. It looks like it may be a JVC OEM; it’s nearly identical to JVC’s Blu-ray deck. In other news, Avid is continuing its “play nice with others” philosophy and is now working with the AJA Io Express Hardware.

Adobe CS5.5 Production Premium (MSRP $1699/Upgrade $399 for registered CS5 users)
Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5
Although Adobe terms CS5.5 a “point” release rather than a full-step upgrade, there are a number of enhancements to Production Premium in this new release, which you can read about in detail in Shawn Lam’s CS5.5 review in the May issue. As a whole, there is better integration among Premiere Pro, After Effects, and Audition. The Adobe Media Encoder has a more extensive list of output formats and codecs and is supposed to be faster also. Soundbooth is gone, and a newly retooled Audition retakes its place in the Creative Suite, now available for the first time in the Mac version of the suite. Adobe has also announced a subscription-based option for the Creative Suite. You can buy it as you normally would, or if you can’t justify purchasing it outright, you can pay a monthly subscription between $85 and $129, depending on the subscription plan you choose.

Back from its temporary off-suite hiatus, Audition CS5.5 has many enhancements. It can import entire Premiere Pro sequences, and it allows you to apply effects, open multiple sequences, and handle many other tasks in parallel. It is a huge timesaver compared to opening and closing dialog boxes. Now that Audition is back in the Creative Suite, CS5.5 users can take advantage of an incredible tool for audio production and postproduction that no edit suite should be without.

BorisFX RED 5 ($995)
BorisFX
I looked at RED 4 a few years ago but found the interface too confusing. RED 5 has been retooled, and the interface looks a lot less baffling—and it is 64-bit. It also includes most of the Boris Continuum Complete 7 and Final Effects Complete 6 filters and adds more than 50 new transition effects.

It can operate as a stand-alone application or as a plug-in for Premiere Pro, After Effects, FCP, Avid, or Sony’s Vegas Pro. If you want to add some pizazz to your current NLE, RED 5 may be the key.

Zaxwerks ProAnimator 5 (MSRP $499)
ZaxWerks ProAnimator 5
ProAnimator 5 is used every day for 3D animated graphics on TV and the internet. This new version features a workspace-based interface, warps for bending and twisting your 3D objects, and enhanced materials and texturing. Most importantly, it no longer requires you to start your project with an Adobe Illustrator file. You can do it all right in ProAnimator. It runs on Windows and Mac and works as a stand-alone product or as a plug-in for After Effects.

HP EliteBook Mobile Workstations (pricing varies based on configuration)
HP EliteBook Mobile Workstation
At this year’s NAB, HP introduced three new EliteBook mobile workstation models that have dual- and quad-core Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, video memory options from 1GB to 4GB, with AMD and NVIDIA graphics for the 8760w and 8560w models and AMD graphics for the 8460w. The new mobile workstations support up to 32GB of RAM, and the EliteBook 8760w can be configured with up to three hard drives. The units’ various I/O options include FireWire 400, USB 2.0, and the new USB 3.0. An HP DreamColor LCD panel is available as an add-on option for precise color correction on the 8760w and 8560w. It’s all housed in a MIL STD 810G-tested shell.

HP’s most powerful mobile workstation, the HP EliteBook 8760w, offers a 17.3" diagonal, high-definition (HD) screen, a choice of high-performing AMD FirePro or NVIDIA Quadro professional graphics, and up to 4GB of video memory. The EliteBook 8760w also can be configured with three hard drives and RAID 5 support—a first for HP Mobile Workstations.

The HP EliteBook 8560w features a 15.6" diagonal HD display and supports AMD FirePro graphics for 1GB of video memory or NVIDIA Quadro graphics for 2GB of video memory. The optional HP DreamColor display on the EliteBook 8560w and 8760w also allows for more than 1 billion active color possibilities. HP’s smallest and lightest mobile workstation, the HP EliteBook 8460w, starts at only 4.9 lbs. and includes a 14" diagonal HD panel, in addition to an AMD FirePro 1GB video memory professional graphics card for true on-the-road video performance.

Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve Lite
In perhaps its boldest move since acquiring DaVinci and its Resolve color grading system last year, Blackmagic Design surprised everyone at NAB 2011 by releasing a free version of DaVinci Resolve, the postproduction industry’s leading stand-alone color corrector. This free version only allows for “nodes” (areas of correction at a time), but wow—what a great way to get into DaVinci Resolve! The only downside is that it is available for Intel Macs only. The full versions are available for Mac and Linux (Centos) only. Windows users are out of luck here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS
Manfrotto DADO Mount ($60; Evo kit $80): Probably one of the oddest-looking things at NAB, the Dado is a type of mount used to mount multiple things at almost any angle. It looks like a cross between an armored matzo ball and a Tinkertoy. This red ball of aluminum has 18 threaded holes (3/8") and comes in packages with three tubes with both female 3/8" threadings and male 5/8" attachments (three in the kit version) and six threaded pins (six in the Evo kit version).

Azden 4316 and 4316L Shotgun Mics (MSRP $700/$800): Azden is releasing two new high-end, phantom-powered shotgun mics to compete in Sennheiser’s neighborhood. The 4316 barrel length is 7" long; the 4316L is 9.75" long. The 4316L is more directional, and both mics have the same great sound. It might interest your customers to know that both microphones come in a deluxe carrying case that includes a dead cat windshield and shock mount holder. At $700–$800 these mics may be pricey for some event work, but if you need a shotgun of this quality for certain jobs, this could save you hundreds of dollars compared to mics of similar quality.

Tascam DR-05 (MSRP $99): This new high-quality, low-cost digital recorder delivers a lot of bang for the buck. It features stereo condenser mics, outputs linear PCM 96 kHz/24-bit WAV or MP3 up to 320Kbps files, includes a Peak Reduction function to set the optimum recording level, offers automatic or manual level setting, includes a 1/8" stereo mic/line input, records to microSD/microSDHC cards, and ships with one 2GB card. Two AA batteries should run the unit for 17.5 hours. It may not have all of the features of the DR-100 that I reviewed last year (http://bit.ly/tascam-edv) for recording dialogue from a shotgun mic on your next feature, but it would be great for recording music at a reception or as a backup recorder for someone speaking from a podium. For $99, it’s worth putting in the camera bag for emergencies.

Atomos Ninja and Samurai (MSRP $995/$1,495): These are not the first external recording devices to hook up to your camcorder, but they are the first to have a large 4:3 monitor built in. The two units are functionally identical except for two features: the Ninja uses HDMI input and has a low-resolution 480x272 monitor; the Samurai uses HD-SDI and boasts a higher-resolution 800x480, 5" monitor. Both come with a system case, a camera mount, a charger, two Sony L-type batteries, and two enclosures for the hard drive or SSD of your choosing. No recording media is included. They record most known HD and SD formats. The only possible downside is that right now they record only Apple’s ProRes codecs. Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 and CS5.5 will play back the ProRes codec on a Windows system as well the Mac. This is a great deal, as you can spend close to $1,000 just for a small on-camera monitor without the recording capability. The Ninja is available now; the Samurai will not be available until late summer.

Samson Airline Micro Lavaliere Mic System (MSRP $299): Samson introduced a new lav system where both the transmitter and receiver are about the size of a miniDV tape. This is a great size for travel or if you need to put a lav where there’s not much clothing to attach it to. The only issue relates to the size: You get only one channel, so if there is interference, you’re out of luck. The Airline system features internal lithium-ion rechargeable batteries that will last up to 8 hours and come with a charging dock. Both the transmitter and receiver can charge from a USB connection if the dock is not handy. The receiver can also be used while in the dock.

Shining Technology, Inc. Mneme ExC Series ExpressCard: Last year, the makers of the CitiDISK on-camera recorders introduced the CitiDISK CFR, which used CF cards as recording media. This year the company decided to venture into the flash memory business, making CF and ExpressCards. The ExpressCard is designed to be compatible with Sony’s EX1 and other SxS media camcorders. What makes it unique is that each card has a built-in USB 2.0 port. This allows you to attach a USB minicable to the card without needing the camera or a reader to transfer files. This could save you time and money. Shining also announced CitiDISK xDR, tapeless video recorders with removable, high-capacity SATA drives (HDD and SSD).

Matrox MXO2 Thunderbolt Adapter (MSRP $299): This year Matrox is set to take advantage of the new 10Gbps transfer speed of Intel’s Thunderbolt connector on the new Apple MacBook Pros, allowing more layers of real-time HD playback. (No one is sure when Thunderbolt will be available or work on Windows yet.) The nice thing is if you are already using an MXO2 product, you don’t need to buy a new MXO2 unit; only a new adapter for $299. New units with the Thunderbolt adapter will be priced at a $200 premium over the current PCIe and ExpressCard versions.

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 and has written for Studio Monthly, Student Filmmakers, and WEVA.