Thoughts and Highlights From the 2017 NAB Show

Posted on by Larry

NAB is a show filled with new announcements. Virtually every company there – and there were more than 1,700 of them – announced new products or services. Many, such as new broadcast transmitters, television towers or cable headends, don’t apply to us.

Sigh… Though I DO think that the Digital Production Buzz needs its own 44-foot, 16-camera mobile television truck for all its outside broadcasts. I’ll see if I can add that to our budget…

I hosted the Digital Production Buzz coverage during NAB. During the four days of the show, we originated 27 hours of programming, interviewed almost 100 newsmakers from  the leading industries involved in production and post-production. As those interviews progressed, I started to see a number of significant announcements and trends that will directly affect us during the coming year. Here’s what struck me.

NOTE: To hear all our NAB interviews, please visit: NABShowBuzz.com.

ADOBE, APPLE, AVID and BLACKMAGIC DESIGN

Blackmagic Design continues to challenge the traditional editing software of Avid, Apple and Adobe with DaVinci Resolve 14. This new version, in addition to beefing up its editing capability, now adds Fairlight audio mixing into Resolve. The impact of Fairlight on the audio industry can not be overstated. (Here’s a Wikipedia link to bring you up to speed.)

The challenge for Blackmagic is that the more features you add to a product, the clunkier the interface becomes. Resolve now handles three major tasks: editing, color grading and audio mixing. As Dan May, president of Blackmagic Design/US, told me during our interview, BMD is very aware of the problems of “feature-creep” and has created modules for Resolve so that when, for example, audio work is being done, the other portions of the application are “turned off.”

In the days leading up to NAB, Adobe announced and released major updates to all their Creative Cloud applications (here’s a link to my summary of what they released). The key theme in the release was collaboration – better file and media sharing between applications and and better collaboration between the editorial team.

Adobe first made waves in collaboration with its Adobe Anywhere product. But the server hardware requirements were really steep and unaffordable to most editorial work groups. The new Adobe for Teams shows a lot of promise in simplifying the process of having multiple team members work together on the same project.

While it is true that many of the newer features from Adobe simply emulate features that Apple has had in Final Cut Pro X for a while, there is increasing divergence between the two applications.

While Apple released a minor bug-fix update two weeks before NAB, the more interesting news came from an announcement and two employment “leaks.” The announcement, occurring during NAB, was that Apple Final Cut Pro X now has more than 2 million users. This equals the number of Final Cut users during they heyday of Final Cut Pro 6/7. This is a significant number and not to be minimized.

From my perspective, both Adobe and Apple provide professional-grade editing applications. However, Adobe’s updates are designed to appeal to current professional editors, while Apple seeks to broaden the tent and include editors that had not considered using professional tools before.

Both these approaches have value and I’m really enjoying watching the competition between the two platforms.

Avid, for the first time in years, seems to finally be focused and moving in a positive direction. The announcement of Avid Media Composer First, a free version of Media Composer, to accompany ProTools First, is an active acknowledgement that Avid must start attracting new users in order to survive as a platform. Avid has always owned the high-end professional editing space – Adobe and Apple notwithstanding. But, until recently, Avid has not been able to figure out how to attract new users to their platform equal to the enthusiastic supporter of Premiere and Final Cut. This NAB, it looks like Avid has finally found a voice.

But, to me, the really exciting news from Apple wasn’t an announcement, it was a “leak.” As NAB started it was discovered that the Final Cut team had added Wes Plate and Tim Dashwood to their ranks.

It is impossible to overstate the impact these two people could have on FCP X. Wes Plate ran Automatic Duck for years, specializing in moving projects between applications. A few years ago, he was hired by Adobe for the Premiere team, where he helped redesign how Premiere imports media; basically integrating most of the features of Prelude into Premiere. Now that he is working with Final Cut, my expectation is that the application will start to improve how it moves media and projects between applications. FCP X has always been weak on this score, relying on a host of third-party plugins.

Tim Dashwood also ran his own development company – Dashwood Cinema Solutions – for a long while. I first became aware of him with his utilities to allow Final Cut Pro X to sync and edit Stereoscopic 3D video. Since then, he’s been working with virtual reality and related media.

While Stereo 3D is still relevant, my guess is that Tim will be looking at how to improve Final Cut’s ability to handle 360-VR, ambisonic audio and extend that into AR (Augmented Reality). Especially since, when it comes to VR, Final Cut is running a distant third behind Adobe and Avid.

It is now a four horse race: Adobe, Apple, Avid and Blackmagic Design. Each is a powerful application in its own right and each is gearing up for the next phase in their competition. Personally, I wish them all success – because as they grow, each of us will be able to expand our services to do more and attract more business.

HDR, VR and AR

Important as the NLEs are to each of us, they are not the main focus of NAB. Most of the exhibitors at NAB – especially those in the larger booths – are targeting broadcasters, studios and the enterprise. With price tags in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, the emphasis was on moving files faster between locations, moving more and more data into The Cloud, and providing greater and greater storage.

Near-real-time speech to text transcription, provided by Digital Heaven and a new product from Digital Anarchy and powered by online access to IBM Watson, are starting to percolate into other products.

Some form of HDR (High Dynamic Range) media was in many booths. For example, storage vendors were talking about the increased storage capacity and bandwidth HDR media requires, monitor and camera manufacturers were talking the increased color saturation and increased brightness required, and everyone was talking about how the shift to HDR was similar in magnitude to that from SD to HD fifteen years ago.

The problem holding things up currently – and this won’t surprise you – was the number of competing HDR standards; there are currently more than ten. Until companies are willing to compromise and settle on just a few standards, HDR will be more promise than reality.

Worse, the HDR spec (Rec. 2100) has a brightness level that no monitor can match at present. This means that achieving true HDR compliance will take several iterations of gear, which means that whatever you buy now won’t last more than a couple of years. We need to factor that instant obsolescence into our gear budget.

Drones and VR continued to garner attention. But I think drones will ultimately become like jib arms, a valued piece of production equipment, but not everyone will own one. Principally because the regulations regarding flying a drone are becoming much more strict. Personally, I think this is a good idea. I don’t want drones interfering with police or fire operations and I certainly don’t want drones flying over my property.

VR, like Stereoscopic 3D, will also be a part of the production toolbox, but I think both are limited in scope. Yes, VR is exciting and highly useful in games and other simulated environments, but story-telling requires focus, which is the exact opposite of what VR provides.

Also, while a number of small VR glasses and headwear were demoed at the show, as long as you need to wear something to see VR, its appeal will be limited. AR, on the other hand, which can appear instantly on your phone, holds much more promise – though perhaps not as much for story-tellers as marketers.

LENSES AND CAMERAS

Sigma announced new lenses, as did Cooke, but for me, the exciting camera news came from JVC. They announced 11 new cameras and nine of them were IP connected. This means that we no longer need to use wires to send or receive signals. In fact, several can be controlled directly from a mobile device.

The potential of a remote camera live streaming without wires to a control room, or the web, opens up lots of new possibilities for programming.

LIVE STREAMING

Streaming, whether on FaceBook, YouTube, Twitter, or your local website, had a big presence. I was especially impressed with the work BoxCast is doing at providing an end-to-end solution for streaming.

In thinking about this, streaming is the ultimate democratization of the traditional broadcast model. It used to require massive gear, staff and money to broadcast live. Now, it can be done from a cell phone. Personally, I think that the interest in streaming will peak relatively soon, then settle into it share of the entertainment/information pie. Just as not everyone is an artist, not everyone can be an on-air talent. But the ability streaming provides of giving anyone with a voice access to the world is an amazing thing.

Telestream is moving its focus to the enterprise. With Episode now being end-of-lifed, Telestream is focusing on its Vantage engine and its ability to compress, move and share files within the organization. I was interested that they did not mention WireCast at all during their interview, instead, concentrating on software for the enterprise.

STORAGE

A number of storage companies announced new storage with Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1 Gen 2 interfaces. These will simplify connecting to the 2016 MacBook Pro laptop and future desktop systems coming from Apple. The new USB-C interface is likely to prove very popular.

However, keep in mind that while the speed of the protocol is one thing, the actual speed of your storage depends upon the number of hard drives it contains. In general, assume that a single spinning media hard drive can transfer data at 120 MB/sec. (Though G-Technology introduced a drive that runs at 240 MB/sec.) A single SSD can transfer data around 400 MB/sec. This will help you better estimate the speed of any storage you buy.

Faster protocols are good, but not the sole determination of how fast that storage will run.

Single hard drives of up to 12 TB are now shipping – which is just a ridiculous amount of storage on a single drive! – and flash drives are increasing in capacity and decreasing in price. At NAB, both these trends were in full-swing. No breakthrough technology was introduced, but the existing technology continued to get bigger, faster and cheaper.

SUMMARY

During this year’s NAB, I spoke with almost 100 companies about their products and vision for the future. While most of those companies are significant to those of us in production and post-production, that is only about 8% of the total companies showcasing their products at NAB.

It is impossible for one person to see everything. But these are the ideas that caught my attention. As always, I’m interested in your comments. What did you feel was significant at the show? Feel free to share your thoughts below.


3 Responses to Thoughts and Highlights From the 2017 NAB Show

  1. stu says:

    Again such a yearly, overwhelming avalanche of Tech – and my thanks for you getting out in front of it on our behalf Larry!
    Always look forward to your takeaway on what “is” and what is Coming.
    Thanks!

    Stu A
    Alaska

  2. James says:

    You’ll look back at these remarks in a few years and cringe at how off base they were …… “VR, like Stereoscopic 3D, will also be a part of the production toolbox, but I think both are limited in scope. Yes, VR is exciting and highly useful in games and other simulated environments, but story-telling requires focus, which is the exact opposite of what VR provides.

    Also, while a number of small VR glasses and headwear were demoed at the show, as long as you need to wear something to see VR, its appeal will be limited. AR, on the other hand, which can appear instantly on your phone, holds much more promise – though perhaps not as much for story-tellers as marketers.”

    • Larry says:

      James:

      Well, half the fun in writing these predictions is discovering how they turn out. But I haven’t seen anything that changes my opinion … yet.

      Larry

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