This was my 17th trip to Las Vegas to see what once was one of the world’s largest trade shows. Back in 1995, NAB was clearly focused on broadcasting, mostly the digital kind. The ATSC Grand Alliance had a major presence back in ’95 as the United States began its tentative steps towards an all-digital broadcasting system, and there was no question that terrestrial (over-the-air) television was the king of the hill.
Today, that’s all changed. The digital transition has come and gone. Cable TV has supplanted traditional broadcasting on the throne, with Internet-delivered ‘over the top’ video sitting next in line. Broadcasters are under fire from (of all people) the FCC, who wants to take back more UHF TV spectrum to solve a mostly imaginary wireless broadband crisis.
Gone for the most part are the NAB ‘megabooths’ once erected and staffed by Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Ikegami, Hitachi, and Toshiba. Back in 1995, Sony had exhibits both in the Las Vegas Convention Center and Bally’s Hotel and a multi-million dollar budget to support them. Most of these companies have more modest representation these days as the center of gravity in the electronics world shifts to Korea and China.
The profound influence of the consumer electronics world can clearly be seen as you walk the aisles at NAB. Smaller, compact, and higher-resolution camcorders have replaced the $50,000 – $100,000 behemoths of 17 years ago. iPads abound, both in individual booths and attendees’ backpacks. Videotape recorders (VTRs) have all but vanished, replaced by solid-state media recorders and ultraportable hard drives.
The south hall of the Las Vegas Convention center, which didn’t exist except on a blueprint in 1995, now dominates the action at the show. Hundreds of small, ‘who dat?’ companies are set up in small stands and hawk their storage area network products, cloud workflows, MPEG encoders, fiber optic connectivity systems, and umpteen-million Mac-based edit, color correction, and audio mixing products.
The old names are still there, though. Some have even beefed up their presence, like Canon. Panasonic once occupied the entire mezzanine level of the central hall, but has ceded half that space to other companies. Sony still occupies a big chunk of the rear central; hall, but is also slowly retrenching over time.
Here’s why: Back in the middle of the ‘90s, the typical broadcast/production camcorder shot standard definition to tape and cost anywhere from $10K to $50K, depending on bells and whistles. A good reference CRT video monitor would set you back at least $25,000, and tripods, fluid heads, gyroscopic mounts, robotic platforms, and teleprompter heads were all priced accordingly.
Today? I have a Nikon CoolPix 8200 that can shoot 1080p/30 movies, 16 megapixel stills, offers multi-zone focus and image stabilization, comes with a 10x optical zoom lens, and records everything to a 32 GB flash drive. The price? All of $220.
And there you have it. Products that once cost in the tens of thousands of dollars now are available with far greater performance for hundreds of dollars, or at least a couple thousand. Want to buy a 4K JVC camera? It will set you back about $5,000. How about a reference plasma monitor? Try $4,000.
You can do teleprompting on an iPad now, and pick up a remote-controlled helicopter rig for your Canon digital SLR (which also shoots 1080p video) for about $500 – $700. Or grab a compact cinema camera with 13 steps of dynamic range and 2.5K image resolution for $3,000.
Of course, most of this stuff is available on the Internet. There barely was an Internet back in 1995 (remember the dial-up days?), and you had to go to a dealer to buy any of this gear. B&H wasn’t the national powerhouse it is now (yes, they had a big, long booth at NAB, right behind Sony) and production companies often had to take out loans to get the newest, latest goodies.
Nowadays, your gear can pay for itself in a few productions. And the barriers to creating and distributing content have largely disappeared, limited only by the speed of Internet connections. ‘Content management’ was a popular expression this year, as was ‘cross-platform delivery.’ Conventional TV broadcasting is still around and trying to re-invent itself, but there are clearly many ways to package and deliver video content that don’t involve traditional media distribution.
Will NAB survive? Sure, because it has a sweet spot on the trade show calendar and has successfully changed with the times. Those incredible shrinking booths have been replaced by the likes of Ericsson, Avid, Black Magic, Grass Valley, Harris, Evertz, Ross Video, and a host of other manufacturers whose offerings are platform-agnostic. (Can’t say that about the TV and radio transmitter folks, though…)
After wandering the floors for three days and delivering a presentation on the management and distribution of HDMI signals (wait – you can actually manage HDMI?) at the Broadcast Engineering Conference, I managed to find a few interesting products here and there. To the list!
RED, the makers of those cool video production cameras, apparently had some extra time and money on their hands and decided to roll out a laser-powered digital cinema projector. The design is based on a 4K LCoS light engine developed by HDI (High Definition Integration) back in 2009. Apparently RED acquired the company a year or so ago, and now wants to get into the projection space. No brightness specification was given, but the signage indicated it could light up a 15’ screen and would retail for less than $10,000. The demo showed some promise, but there are lots of things that still need attention (high black levels, low contrast, color accuracy, etc).
It sems Black Magic Design has gotten bored with developing interface boxes. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for their new digital cinema camera, which offers 13 stops of dynamic range, a 2.5K pixel sensor, SSD recording, and support for EF lenses. It’s also compatible with the Thunderbolt display/data interface, and the suggested retail price is $3,000. Quite a crowd gathered around this demo!
You had to crawl all the way to the back of the south hall lower to find them, but Epson made the trip worthwhile with a demonstration of their Moverio augmented realty (AR) eyewear. These glasses contain two small full-color LCD panels in the middle of semi-transparent goggles, allowing you to see normally and watch projected images at the same time. (Kind of a ‘Watchman’ effect.) I’ll be curious to see if these take off, given the adverse physiological reactions that have occurred with earlier attempts at AR (Google Sony’s Glasstron spectacles).
Tired of running heavy-duty HD-SDI cables to your otherwise-lightweight 1080p camcorder? Amimon showed a better way to hook up with their demo of a wireless 5.8 GHz HD-SDI transmission system, based on their clever wireless HDMI chipsets. The latter can already move 1080p/60 video and multi-channel audio over a 40 MHz bandwidth, so adapting it to 3G HD-SDI was a piece of cake. Their tests in the South Hall pushed a signal out to at least 300 feet before dropout.
Around the corner, Intel made up for their lack of Thunderbolt products at CES by unveiling a suite of Thunderbolt connectivity ‘solutions,’ including a 4K mobile editing package that used a Lenovo notebook PC, a pair of Samsung and Apple LCD monitors, two compact Promise four-bay RAID drives, and an AJA iOXT interface box that breaks out USB, HD-SDI, and HDMI ports.
Other companies featured in the Thunderbolt ‘goodies’ showcase included Black Magic Design (UltraStudio video I/O box, Thunderbolt to bi-directional HD-SDI and HDMI), MOTU (analog and digital video recorder with Thunderbolt interface), LaCie (compact portable hard drives), Rocstor (KROC 2M desktop RAID storage with Thunderbolt), Seagate (GoFlex portable Thunderbolt adapter), and Sumimoto (optical fiber Thunderbolt cables). Think Thunderbolt is catching on? (Duhhhh!)
Samsung KBS figured out a clever way to transmit 3D content over ATSC digital TV channels: Send the left eye images as usual, and transmit the right eye images over a standard broadband connection, encoded as MPEG4. All that’s needed is a constant data rate of 6 Mb/s to make it work, something that may be a piece of cake in Asia but is still uncertain even with normal broadband connections on this side of the pond. But the concept does work nicely.
Panasonic has swallowed up Sanyo and their enormous projector line (now, that will give anyone indigestion), but their big news at the show – besides a 4k camera system – was a 20,000 lumens projector that weighs all of 95 pounds. By way of comparison, my old Sony 7” CRT projector could barely crank out 200 lumens and tipped the scales at 140 pounds. The PT-DZ21K uses a three-chip DLP engine and its native resolution is 1920×1200 pixels (WUXGA).
Around the corner, Canon showed its REALiS WUX5000 5000-lumens LCoS projector. This is the brightest Canon projector yet and offers WUXGA (1920×1200) resolution. No 4K version is in the immediate future, but just around the corner, Canon showed a prototype 4K 30-inch LCD monitor using IPS technology. It certainly had lots of image detail, but needed some help with black levels. Given the company’s strong commitment to full-frame CMOS video sensors and 4K cameras, neither product was surprising.
It wasn’t a shipping product, but the National Institute of Communications and Technology (NICT) in Japan showed a prototype 200-inch autostereo rear-projection display. This demonstration used 200 individual JVC D-ILA projection engines, each with full 2K resolution, to light up 200 different 2K resolution views in narrow vertical bands. A special Fresnel lens integrated the views and the barrier crossings weren’t as apparent as I would have expected.
Next door was a demonstration by NICT of a ‘virtual’ balloon to show the possibilities of haptic (touchscreen) technology. Using a special stylus, you tapped an image of a balloon to enlarge it, and then stroked the balloon to make it squeak and feel the rubbery texture through the stylus. You could even pop the balloon and smell a perfume contained inside. Way cool!
ATTO was one of many companies supporting the Thunderbolt interface with SAS/SATA RAID drives, not to mention Fibre Channel and 10 Gigabit Ethernet connections. Their Desklink products are compact and provide plenty of storage capacity. The company’s ThunderStream interface can even supported embedded storage.
Adtec rolled out a few new MPEG encoders. The EN-91P is a 1080p AVC (H.264 MPEG4) encoder that can be used for 3D and has an optical fiber input, while the EN-20 is a dual-input MPEG2 encoder with Dolby AC3 encode, DD5.1 passthrough, ASI output, and an up-converted QAM output for RF-modulated transmission systems.
Dolby showed an autostereo 3D LCD monitor that uses lenticular parallax barrier and was developed jointly with Philips. This monitor was used to show clips from Hugo and the 3D effect was clearly visible, although not as intense for off-axis viewers and not as punchy as active shutter or even passive shutter 3D. No word on pricing or delivery.
JVC’s 4K camcorder ($5,500) may be one of the best deals out there. The GY-HMQ10 uses a ½-inch CMOS sensor with 8.3 million pixels (3840×2160) at 24, 50, or 60 frames per second. It comes with a 10x zoom lens and optical image stabilization. Believe it or not, the GY-HMQ10 comes with four HDMI output terminals, which can also be used to drive four discrete monitors at 1920x1080p resolution.
Last but not least, goHDR demonstrated high dynamic range video on a SIM2 HDR47E LCD monitor, similarly equipped for HDR signals. (The technology is owned and licensed by Dolby Labs.) goHDR is a spin-off of the University of Warwick in England and has produced a few HDR short films using a camera manufactured by SpheronVR, a competitor to ARRI who is also shipping HDR cameras.
High dynamic range video, also demonstrated by Dolby with its PRM4200 42-inch reference monitor, is quite something to see after watching garden-variety BT.709 video on a steady basis. The range of tonal values from deep black to pure white approaches what we see in everyday life, particularly in deep shadows where detail usually vanishes on a video screen.
It’s not practical yet to broadcast HDR – the data rates would require enormous bandwidth – but you may soon see it in movie theaters, along with high frame rate (48 Hz and up) content. Eventually, there will be a way to get it into the home, assuming HDR technology gains any traction in a world that seems otherwise obsessed with watching video on laptops, iPads, and even phones.
Hmmm….a high dynamic range iPad. Now, there’s a concept! Listening, Apple?
Posted by Pete Putman, April 20, 2012 7:27 PM
About Pete PutmanPeter Putman is the president of ROAM Consulting L.L.C. His company provides training, marketing communications, and product testing/development services to manufacturers, dealers, and end-users of displays, display interfaces, and related products.
Pete edits and publishes HDTVexpert.com, a Web blog focused on digital TV, HDTV, and display technologies. He is also a columnist for Pro AV magazine, the leading trade publication for commercial AV systems integrators.