For many videographers, as well as professional and prosumer video producers in various other walks of life, 2005 was the Year of HDV. What started as a "niche" or "bridge" technology, and seemed as late as mid-2004 to be mostly unfulfilled hype, charged into the mainstream in early 2005 with the success of Sony's $3,500 HDR-FX1. The FX1 didn't have everything an event shooter could want in a primary camera—particularly in the audio department—but it proved a reputable three-chipper with a price tag that made HD acquisition a realistic option for videographers who couldn't have even considered it before. And some of its feature-set deficiencies were quickly addressed by Sony's pro model, the HVR-Z1U, an even more capable camera that will soon be (or has recently begun) competing with comparably priced offerings from JVC, Panasonic, and Canon.
Of course, not every videographer adopted HDV this year—not by a long shot. And many of those who did found themselves in for a bumpy ride. Ingesting and editing HDV on today's Macs and PCs and in popular editing environments isn't as smooth as you might imagine, as Jan Ozer's September article, Battle of the Software NLEs, Part 2: Editing HDV, attested. Avid didn't even debut HDV support in Xpress Pro until October, although when it did, it came through with the same sort of fluid, multiple-formats-in-the-same-timeline support that Xpress Pro's new stablemate, Liquid Edition, has been offering since January. And even though Apple offered solid HDV support in Final Cut Pro 5—unveiled at NAB 2005—and a wonderfully implemented multicam feature, FCP remained rigid on format-mixing. Since few event shooters who number among HDV's early adopters went out and replaced their entire camera arsenal with a three-pack of FX1s or Z1Us, this was surely disappointing. Nearly all videographers doing both HDV and multicamera shoots found themselves struggling to commingle the footage in a multi-format-phobic NLE.
HDV also made inroads in the digital disk recorder (DDR) world this year with the mid-year upgrade to FOCUS Enhancements' FireStore FS-4—a compact, cost-effective, and time-efficient direct-to-edit, tapeless storage wonder that's one of the standout products of this or any year in event video production. In the January 2006 installment of Gear & Now, Lee Rickwood will offer up a closer examination of another wave of HDV-centric production essentials with a look at lenses and filters designed specifically for HDV cameras from the current crop of HDV camcorder manufacturers.
But there was much more to 2005 than HDV. We saw scads of exciting products released that had nothing to do with HDV and of course, event and corporate videographers the world over continuing to do dazzling, innovative, and effective everyday work with or without HDV. Our readers spoke their piece in April with the Reader's Choice Awards that picked favorites in 18 categories, and will do so again when the polls open in January for the 2006 EventDV Reader's Choice Awards (watch for an official announcement in the next issue). In the meantime, to provide readers with a highly subjective "Year in Review" report, we asked EventDV's many esteemed and opinionated columnists and contributing editors to reflect on the new products they saw in 2005 and tell us what struck them as the most exciting, and the biggest boon to their own work. Here's what they came up with. No surprise, the first response that came in—from none other than HD Today columnist Anthony Burokas—heralded Sony's HDR-FX1 and HVR-Z1U as the products of the year for 2005.
Sony HDR-FX1 & HVR-Z1U
Sony first shipped HDV in 2004, but I'll hazard a guess that most adopters waited a bit, maybe rented one a couple of times, tried someone else's, and then made their purchase in 2005. It is the reincarnation of the VX-1000, which revolutionized videography and introduced the world to a solid DV performer. Sony's FX1 and Z1U are here. They are solid. They perform.
This is in direct contrast to the other low-cost HD solutions that were poor performers, aren't yet shipping, are in limited supply, or try to reinvent the production workflow. Sony's camcorders use the same exact Infolithium-L batteries introduced a decade ago for the VX-1000. They use the same tape. They use FireWire. The lens is still limited to 10x, which is a shame, but it's proved to be adequate for a decade, and still gets the job done. I highlighted my personal peeves with these camcorders in the November HD Today, but that doesn't discount the fact that Sony's cameras are solid machines. In our business, we buy stuff that works and works and works. Sony's prosumer HDV cameras work.
Media 100 sw
Media 100 sw is my pick for Best New Product in 2005. Since 1996 I have been a loyal user of Media 100 for its intuitive interface, ease of use, and highest quality in a nonlinear editing system. This software-only version of Media 100 HD released in 2005 is a companion to other Media 100 i or Media 100 HD systems using media captured by them to edit, composite, mix, and export to DVD or Web. While it currently does not capture or output to tape, all other functionality of Media 100 HD is included. This means existing Media 100 users can add an affordable software-only NLE to their current workflow (priced at $395). A future version will add support for FireWire capture and output from a range of DV and HDV decks. This is the most intuitive and easy-to-learn interface of any professional nonlinear editor now available. You won't need to attend a three-day course to learn this software. You will be up and editing projects the same day you buy it.
NewTek TriCaster & Grizzly Pro
I was lucky enough to scan the horizon for new products this year at NAB and a few really caught my eye. One worth mentioning is the NewTek TriCaster, which combines a live video-production suite and a powerful encoder in a single portable package. I've played with one, seen numerous demos, and have found it an impressive and reasonably priced box (roughly $5,000). Unfortunately, my business plan doesn't allow me to buy one . . . yet.
The other product that I strongly recommend—and that I did purchase—is the Grizzly Pro r-Three remote control camera system. Not only does it allow the control of up to three cameras from a single control, but a new plug-in allows you to switch those three cameras with either a cut or dissolve. All this via one CAT-5 cable to each camera . . . with distances up to 600 feet! For event video, this could be just the thing to up your productions from a single camera to multicam and increase your income. You'll start to see return on your investment in as little as two or three productions. Grizzly Pro r-Three is priced from $995 for a single-camera starter system to $2,850 for a three-camera system with the live-switch option.
Photo-Quality Inkjet-Printable DVDs
For turning out eye-catching photographs with an inkjet printer, it's obviously essential to use photo-quality paper. It's the same when labeling DVDs. Printing to most inkjet-compatible discs is about the same as printing to plain paper, and this is a shortcoming of DVD printing products that has hamstrung small-studio DVD producers for years. But a new generation of premium "photo quality" disc surfaces now produces stunning results unrivaled by any direct-labeling technology. The potential for these new discs in professional event video and other image-conscious circles is considerable to say the least. However, for reasons beyond me, media manufacturers are slow on the uptake in terms of bringing the discs to market. Thus far, these discs are, regrettably, a well-kept secret and hard to come by. Hopefully, this will change in the coming months as word gets out and other producers come online. Currently, only TDK's PrintOn DVD Photo Quality discs are available in North America, but Maxell and "a href="http://www.primera.com"target="new">Primera Technology expect to get in the game soon.
Premiere Pro 1.5, Power Spec Pentium 4, iRiver 895
Early in the year, I updated my NLE system by purchasing Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5 and a Power Spec Pentium IV PC with DVD burning capability. This has reduced my editing time tremendously! One of the least expensive updates I've done is replaced my MiniDisc recorders with the iRivers. I bought the 895 model ($99 on sale) which I use on the officiant and/or near the music (I still prefer wireless microphones on the groom and podium so I can monitor the audio). I can quickly upload the audio into the computer from the iRiver (loading the MiniDiscs was done real-time via the analog connection). While I did have a few problems with the iRivers in the beginning (the manual is of no help), I think I finally have the correct settings. I also purchased the Panasonic three-chip PV-GS150 camcorder for home use, but figure it can be used at weddings as a discreet altar-cam, for one example. It easily fits into a small purse and can take 2.3 mega-pixel pictures as well (though I prefer my Samsung 7.0 MP digital camera for photos). I now use my old single-chip camcorder as a wedding day add-on. I have an option that allows someone in the bridal party to use the camcorder to shoot footage inside the limo and/or at the photo shoot, and I edit it to a song. It's great when you can make additional revenue from an older piece of equipment.
Apple Mac mini
As someone who has edited everything from broadcast TV to weddings to commercials on a regular basis for more than a decade, I've used many different systems, from 3/4" to Beta to nonlinear. My latest upgrade was from a dual G4 tower with five internal hard drives to something quieter, smaller, cooler, and cheaper: the Mac mini. While it may not be the perfect solution for everyone, this little wonder is faster than the machine it replaced, came with a litany of software pre-installed (iLife 05, iWork, OS X.4), and has been rock-solid from day one. With my multitasking nature, having a couple of little machines works better for me than having one Dual-G5 tower, so I can render a DVD on one machine and edit video on a second machine without any performance hit at all. Now, if someone would come out with NAS I could use with two Mac mini computers, I'd be set!
GraVT Momentum Series RT.X100 Xtreme Pro Workstation
Without question, my pick for the best new product in 2005 is the GraVT Momentum Series RT.X100 Xtreme Pro Workstation that I got from the DV Shop in Norcross, Georgia. I've had it only a short time, but it's already making my work easier and faster—and better. It came loaded with the Matrox RTX100 Extreme Pro Suite, which includes Premiere Pro, Encore DVD, Audition, and After Effects. Tony Hale and the team at the DVShop have been great to work with. They put together a complete digital video production environment for me that's made it easy to realize my most creative ideas. The GraVT workstation has been a dream machine so far, surpassing all my expectations. I'd recommend this system—and this team—to anyone who's serious about their craft and anyone who's interested in seeing their creations come to life.
iRiver 700 & 800, m-Audio MicroTrack 24/96
There were an awful lot of good products and product upgrades for us event videographers this year. But for my money, the winner is the iRiver MP3 player. Although intended for the consumer music market, this device was a big hit with event videographers because of its hidden ability to accept an input from a lavaliere microphone. At a street price of around $100, it became a cheap alternative to $500 wireless microphones and $200 MiniDisc recorders. Unfortunately, iRiver is replacing the 700 and 800 series models with newer units which don't have the external microphone feature. The next device in line to take the crown from the iRiver is the M-Audio Microtrack 24/96. It's easier to use and has more professional features than the iRiver—but comes with a $500 price tag. My advice is to buy a few iRivers while you still can. It's the cheapest backup audio capture solution available to the event videographer.
LitePanels 1'x1' & RingLite
Since their introduction, LitePanels lighting systems have received a number of honors and awards—including the 2005 Emmy Engineering Plaque—and with good reason. Valued in TV series, feature films, documentary work, and DV production, LitePanel Minis use high-output LEDs to produce a wonderfully soft, even, and bright light. They can be easily mounted on a camera, stand, or other support. To the original Mini has been added a Spot Mini, with a tighter and longer throw. There's the clever Infrared unit, handy in low- or next-to-no light situations. There's also the LitePanels 1'x1', which can be stacked or chained together to meet various lighting requirements. Then there's the RingLite, which literally rings a camera lens with LEDs, putting out a nice soft light. Even better, the RingLite has three separate circuits, so you can use all or part of its output. Some people put different gels on each circuit, a neat way to add creativity and increase control. LitePanels can be used with A/C or battery power (the Ring draws only 7.2 amps at 12 V DC). They feature an integrated dimmer, which from 0 to 100% output shows very little color shift.
DVD Studio Pro 4: Render Farms for the Masses!
Reflecting back on 2005, I have been impressed by a handful of new technology that subsequently has made my Top 10 list for 2005. My #1 pick for 2005 is a small added feature to a top-notch application, Apple's DVD Studio Pro 4. It's not the new HD features, better interface, or newer encoder—although these are all enticing. DVD Studio Pro 4 is my #1 choice for 2005 because of the new "distributed encoding" within is compressor. Unlike before, it is now possible for anyone to group a bunch of Macs together and render faster than previously thought possible with off-the-shelf software. This may not be significant to a person who only owns and utilizes one Mac at a time, but for those small-to-medium post houses with a handful of Macs at their disposal, it means they now can render like much bigger outfits. Up until now, render farming—also known as cluster-node encoding—was a very sophisticated process. It usually required a dedicated IT person just to maintain the framework. Now with Apple's "distributed encoding," anyone can create clusters of computers to render blazing-fast encoding. Since the bulk of our productions are finished for MPEG-2 distribution (DVDs and MPEG servers) this one feature can reduce postproduction time by a third!
[Note: In an early-2006 issue of EventDV, we'll look at the leading network rendering option for Windows-based NLE users, which changes the stakes in a similar way on the PC side: Sony's Vegas 6.—Ed.]
Final Cut Studio/Final Cut Pro 5
Apple's marketing machine always amazes me. I regularly help judge a few of those post-convention magazine awards (you know, pick the best products that appeared at a given trade show), and without fail, Apple's newest release is right there in the mix—whatever it is. Sometimes the consideration is absolutely valid, but sometimes it's like you can't see the mirrors through the smoke. This year I think Apple's Final Cut Studio was one of the most overrated announcements at NAB, an effective me-too to similar "Studio/Suite" combos from Adobe, Avid, and Canopus, with mostly modest upgrades and a long-overdue audio editing application. But here's the thing: while I still believe in more traditional postproduction workflows, Apple's Final Cut Studio—particularly the multicam editing feature and that long-overdue Soundtrack Pro audio editor—is ideal for event editing. Oh sure, there's a whole lot of superfluous eye candy amid the smoke and mirrors, but also some hot advances that mean burning less of your time.
Adobe Systems www.adobe.com
Apple Computer www.apple.com
The DV Shop www.thedvshop.com
FOCUS Enhancements www.focusinfo.com
Grizzly Systems www.grizzlypro.com
Media 100 www.media100.com
Micro Electronics www.powerspec.com
Sony Electronics www.sonystyle.com
TDK Electronics www.tdk.com
SIDEBAR: Blu-ray vs. HD DVD--Worst of 2005?
When I contacted our contributing editors and columnists about this special "Best of 2005" report, I also suggested that if they had a strong—and legitimate—candidate for Worst of 2005, our readers might want to hear about that too. Here's what Anthony Burokas had to say on that score:
In what has to be worse than the VHS and Beta war of the early 1980s, this new format war is being waged behind closed doors around the world. We are constantly teased with announcements, or decks appearing at technology shows. But after several years of promises and promotions, there is still no interactive, DVD-like solution for us to deliver our HDV or HD in its native resolution on a viable, consumer optical media format. I'd rather have two competing formats on the market, so we can deliver HDV now, than sit here waiting like this. In 2004, Hewlett-Packard announced that their desktop machines would have Blu-ray drives installed in them. In January 2005, Steve Jobs had the president of Sony on Apple's stage at Macworld to talk about the "Year of HD" and how he looked forward to including Blu-ray burners in Apple computers. So where are they? Like a large explosion from a very distant war, we catch glimpses of various alliance movements with a press release, but after years of announcements, there is still nothing available for us to use. A few players have popped up that deliver HDTV using DivX or Windows Media files. But the lack of professional authoring tools and very limited availability hamper the usefulness of these solutions. So 2005 may have been the year of HDV, but unless you're delivering a broadcast TV show, there is still no DVD-like solution for us to deliver our HDV.