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Tech Mecca: Essential Takeaways From NAB Show 2016

Tech Mecca: Essential Takeaways From NAB Show 2016

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Are there tools that would make my moviemaking more efficient or streamlined?

Are there methods that will improve my end product, and the process I take to get there? Simply put, is there a better way?

If you ask those questions often, get thee to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show. From April 16 to 21, more than 100,000 media creators of all types made the pilgrimage to the 1,000,000+ square feet of the Las Vegas Convention Center to gawk at, test and purchase new products from 1,700 industry exhibitors. If you weren’t one of them, here are the highlights.

The Virtual Explosion

This year at NAB, “immersive experiences” took center stage. In fact, it was impossible to grab a coffee, dodge a drone, or walk past a camera demo without overhearing someone saying those words. The Virtual and Augmented Reality Pavilion was a popular nexus of interest, and more exhibitors than ever before were showing off VR- and AR-related products—“an exponential increase,” said David Marlett, founder of Cinemersia, an organization that focuses on the art of immersive cinema. “I think immersive experiences are here to stay.”

GoPro’s Omni rig uses six GoPro cameras to shoot 360 degrees. Courtesy of GoPro

A large section of the show floor was reserved for attendees who wanted to witness the hype for themselves. Viewers could sit in chairs or sequester themselves in 8-by-8-foot cubicles to test various VR headsets and hand control systems.

Sphericam announced its new Sphericam 2, the first VR camera to offer self-stitching and 4K live streaming capabilities. It shoots in full 360 degrees and comes in relatively affordably at under $3,000.

GoPro pushed its products further into the world of VR with the introduction of the Omni spherical rig, which takes six GoPro cameras and turns them into one 360-degree VR rig. The rig is available by itself, or with the six cameras at a higher price point. As with most VR cameras on the market, you’ll still need third-party software to stitch and edit your images together.

If you’ve been following the VR revolution, you’ve seen Nokia’s name a lot lately. This year, they unveiled their much-buzzed-about OZO, the first VR camera designed specifically for professional productions. It not only shoots 360 degrees, it also captures images in 3-D and records spatial audio. That said, the $60,000 price tag will keep it out of reach for most independent VR makers.

Cream of the Cameras, Lenses and Video Assist Crop

OK, back to traditional moviemaking materials. NAB is, of course, ground zero for announcements of new cameras, higher resolutions and better sensors, but for the most part this year’s camera announcements were relatively soft. There were rumblings about 8K, with promises from various companies about future products, but outside of Canon’s working 8K camera prototype, the format won’t make a splash yet in 2016.

No shockers, then, but there were still a few announcements that the DIY set should pay attention to.

Sony revealed its new HDC-4800 camera, which can shoot up to 480 fps in 4K. The company was quick to note that it had designed the HDC-4800 with sporting events in mind. However, the camera’s ability to overcrank at 4K should make it appealing to moviemakers and music video directors, as well.

Sony’s HDC-4800, the company’s newest 4K camera. Courtesy of Sony

Back in 2002, Panasonic introduced the AG-DVX100, the first reasonably priced 24p SD camcorder to the market. This year, Panasonic continued that tradition of affordability by announcing two new 4K cameras, the AG-UX180 and the AG-UX90. The AG-UX180 has a 1-type MOS sensor; the AG-UX90 a 15x/20x optical zoom lens. If you’re currently using Panasonic’s 4K AG-DVX200, there’s no need to transition to the new line just yet. But if you’re a guerilla moviemaker or a documentarian shopping for a new 4K camera, either one of these options will do the trick. Both cameras will retail under $4,000 and start shipping this fall.

Panavision worked with top cinematographers to create and showcase its new line of Primo 70 lenses, designed specifically with large sensors in mind. Last year’s Spectre and the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, for example, were shot with these new lenses.

“With large formats, you’re basically using at least twice the negative size of a traditional 35 and a longer focal length,” said Dan Sasaki, Panavision’s V.P. of Optical Engineering and Lens Strategy. “With a longer focal length, our natural perspective skews. That’s where these lenses evolved from. We said, ‘Let’s take a lens that’s geometrically sound, that has the ergonomics that people are used to, and give it optical variation.’”

Blackmagic Design released its Video Assist 4K recorder, which can record and monitor any SDI or HDMI signal. Its 7” touchscreen monitor records Ultra HD while the camera captures its own native format. The product will appeal to cinematographers who want to monitor 4K from a portable device, and to DITs who need to create backups or proxies for their films. Two mini XLR ports allow users to record high quality audio as well.

“The original Video Assist had a 5” touchscreen and could only record HD. This is the bigger brother in 4K that people were looking for. We’ve got three mounting points on the bottom and three on the top, which gives greater options,” said Bob Caniglia, a senior regional manager at Blackmagic.

The Light Brigade

One of the largest exhibitions at the show was by Vitec Group, which houses multiple brand names like Sachtler, OConnor, Anton/Bauer, Vinten, Litepanels, Paralinx and Autocue under one roof. Most of Vitec’s offerings at NAB were designed with broadcast studios in mind, but Litepanels stood out for the independent sphere.

Take Litepanels’ new ASTRA Soft Bi-Color 1×1 line of production lights, for instance. Much softer than the original Astra line and with a wider degree of throw (up to 90 degrees), the lights have front-face diffusion and run on battery power. Gaffers can control the color temperature and intensity of these lights from across the set by using the Litepanels SmartLite app on any Apple device.

Litepanels also showcased their full array of Sola Fresnels, which run off AC power. Some units can run up to 1.5 hours at full intensity on an Anton/Bauer battery source. Another debut was the new Brick Bi-Color. Unlike the well-known MiniPlus lighting unit, users of the Brick can now adjust the color temperature. The Brick also has a dedicated on/off switch—which presents a real upgrade from the Mini, with which users couldn’t maintain consistent light levels when turning the unit on and off.

“We’re giving a much wider illumination with these new lights, which allows you to shape the light more and provide a nice soft wrap-around quality of light with less spill,” said Alan Ipakchian, product marketing manager for Vitec.

The gear geek’s wonderland: a crowded central hall at NAB Show 2016. Courtesy of Robb Cohen Photography and Video

Post with the Most

Something else that got better this year? Digital cinema packages (DCPs). Glitchy freeware and unpredictable third party plugins are a thing of the past with the latest releases from German-based Fraunhofer IIS, which showcased a new DCP creation software, easyDCP.

“Creating a DCP, for a long time, was very complex. We needed an image tool that everyone could use,” said Dr. Heiko Sparenberg, Fraunhofer’s group manager for digital cinema.

EasyDCP offers the ability to play back and verify your DCP—a key feature long missing from the market. The software is available in a standalone version or bundled as a set of plug-ins for post-production tools like Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve. While it costs around $5,000, it should be an option for indie film distributors.

Fraunhofer IIS also introduced the Light-field Multi-Camera Post-Production Plug-In-Suite. The software ingests a single shot that’s been recorded from several different, slightly varied camera angles—imagine bullet time photography, but instead of still cameras, Light-field uses images captured from an array of video cameras. Based on these various views, users can extrude depth maps, add virtual camera movements, and rack focus, all in post-production.

Good news for moviemakers on tight schedules: Adobe updated Premiere Pro to feature a new proxy workflow, which allows users to transcode, ingest and generate proxies all at the same time. Your proxies can be uploaded to Creative Cloud via CreativeSync, and editors can start working immediately. This latest Premiere Pro also makes way for higher resolution imagery like 8K.

So there you have it—the stars of NAB class of ’16. Of course, products are simply tools; it’s the creativity that storytellers bring to these tools that truly determines their success. The media we create over the next year will be the true measure of NAB 2016. MM

This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Summer 2016 issue.

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