PRODUCTION: NAB 2001; The Digital Stigma Has Vanished
by Tara Veneruso
(indieWIRE/ 05.08.01) -- The National Association of Broadcasters' annual convention (April 21-26) brought out 1,500 exhibitors to showcase the newest cameras, editing systems, and software for the television, radio, film, and streaming media industry. The turnout at NAB 2001 was noticeably smaller due to cutbacks and a shift in the dot.com world.
Traveling with Team Next Wave's Peter Broderick and Mark Stolaroff, we sought out the most useful tools to give ultra-low budget filmmakers the power to make movies on limited resources. Many of the products displayed this year will facilitate a transition towards digital cinema and provide filmmakers the financial benefit of driving down the cost of production. We saw many new tools that were only talked about last year as hopeful concepts. One day we may look back at the number of different formats in the marketplace and wonder how we ever made it through this analog to digital transition. I admit I was sad when I did not find Steenbeck editing systems or even Kodak represented this year.
Discussions of "MPEG-4 encoding" and "uncompressed HD editing solutions" were commonplace while products like Hitachi's DVDCam give us a glimpse of the future. Technology companies also displayed 24P equipment such as Sony's 24P HD camera, which is helping to realize digital cinema. The focus of many exhibitors was on improving workflow and allowing products to offer multiple formats to capture and output footage.
Although I would have preferred to hang around the Comax booth as they were teaching attendees to play Roulette, guilt came over me when I spotted the Res Magazine crew and decided to begin investigating the wide assortment of digital cameras. An essential starting point was B&H Photo, who were on-hand with a comprehensive display of prosumer cameras ranging from the Sony PD150 to Panasonic's new Proline cameras.
Panasonic featured their new DVCPro HD variable frame rate 24P camera, which enables you to achieve an over and undercranked look. Panasonic also displayed their Proline DVC200, which includes a FireWire interface and other professional features ($4,995 without lens).
Sony held several presentations for their well-known HD 24P camera. Larry Thorpe, vice president of acquisition systems for Sony, expressed that HD 24P is not meant to replace film, but rather it is to bring digital video on par with the standard of the motion picture industry. Filmmakers using HD 24P include director James Cameron who gave a taped interview for the presentation, expressing his excitement to experiment with digital video. Many of the clips shown in the presentation were seen at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, but at NAB they were not shown in the best possible way. Each of the five screens showing the clips appeared completely different, which demonstrated the hurdles ahead for digital cinema. For low budget filmmakers, the HD 24P camera still does not seem an affordable solution.
Other companies included JVC with their Cineline camera, but they do not yet have an HD camcorder. Canon displayed their line-up of the often seen XL1 and GL1. They presented numerous third-party products including Century Precision Optics' new line of very useful lenses and adaptors designed for each camera.
This was a big year for affordable desktop editing tools with improved performance and media management. Similar to last year, the focus on independent filmmakers was most obvious at the Apple booth. Apple demonstrated how Final Cut Pro 2.0 ($999) was being used by companies worldwide, including Showtime and Oxygen, to edit television programs and feature films.
From running my own Final Cut Pro edit studio, I immediately noticed 2.0's seriously improved media management, audio OMF file exporting, and faster speeds on a dual-processor G4. The RTMac ($1000) PCI card developed by Matrox allows filmmakers 3 tracks of real-time editing and effects. A great bonus feature of the Matrox card is it allows a second monitor to be driven from the same PCI slot. Another third-party hardware product that will blow you away includes Digital Voodoo's line of D1 desktop Quicktime capture cards, which allow you to connect to any external equipment, including HD (D1 Desktop 128HD, $9995).
Apple presented the Cinewave card developed by Pinnacle that provides uncompressed SD (Standard Definition) and HD (High Definition) editing. A core system will for run around $22,000, but when you add the necessary hard drive space needed to accommodate HD (one hour of HD uses 360GB while one hour of DV footage uses 13.5 GB) and an HD deck, you could easily spend over $150,000. This is still an incredible breakthrough for post-production when the cost is put in perspective. This will turn the entire high-end post-production industry over on its head.
Other additions at the Apple booth included an array of DVD authoring tools. Apple DVD Studio Pro ($1000) creates an exciting prospect for alternative distribution: you can export a project from Final Cut Pro into the DVD Studio Pro to create DVD copies of your feature.
AVID had numerous high-end uncompressed products, but within our price range, AVID's DV Xpress 2.0 ($1699) department was full of activity (designed for the PC platform). I was also impressed with the Media Composer 9000XL ($105,200 for a turnkey system) with version 10.5 software, which is also available for the G4. Although I am a fan of the financial implications of using Final Cut Pro, AVID is still at the top of its game, particularly with its customizable interface and its easy 24 frame editing. AVID also announced Pro-Net Review which allows you to send your cut online to invited reviewers to make comments which import into the AVID timeline ($24.95/per reviewer). This feature is practical for commercials and music videos to eliminate costly shipping or satellite fees, but not viable for feature filmmakers -- though there could be interesting future implications with this technology.
Media 100's main theme was "media workflow" and each of their products such as Media 100i, iFinish 4, and Cleaner include the concept of creating content for web delivery and streaming media. They have teamed up with Packet Video and Diamond Back Vision to develop an MPEG-4 encoding capability to enable streaming for wireless devices like your handheld PDA.
Many other companies aside from Apple have modified their software to enable native DV for the Macintosh. Adobe was there with After Effects 5.0 and Premiere 6.0. Premiere has made some necessary updates by giving us some essentials for desktop editing including 16:9 support and FireWire capture and output. Premiere now works with the Matrox RT card for real-time editing for the Macintosh. In addition, Discreet announced the NT-based Edit 6.0 and also demonstrated Jobnet Producer, similar to AVID's Pro-Net Review.
Intelligent Media and Promax displayed all these new desktop editing systems and accessories including Post-Op Video's EZ Keyboard and the ShuttlePro multimedia controller by Contour design. Personally, I could not run my edit system without the Final Cut Pro keyboard, but the ShuttlePro may be more useful to editors converting from linear to digital editing. Other important software releases include Pinnacle System's Commotion 4 for creating superb visual effects on the desktop. Promax also displayed the Sony DSR-11 ($2600) DVCam and MiniDV deck that began selling in 2000 and has PAL and NTSC capabilities.
Barco, Digital Projection Inc., Christie, and Panasonic all featured large-venue projectors. Theaters started announcing alliances with technology companies to begin installing digital projection into multiplexes. For example, Panasonic announced that it is working with inTheater Entertainment to install their large-venue DLP projector in select multiplexes to bring them "into the digital world." They are also working to utilize satellite dishes to download the content, and face encoding and encrypting issues.
Theater owners continue to discuss alternative sources of programming as a way of installing the infrastructure and financing this expensive conversion. Panasonic mentioned they are excited about the possibilities of advertisements and other programming in digital cinemas.
Last year I reported that major funding of the dot.com world allowed for enormous booths at NAB2000. I wrote, "Last year many of these companies did not exist." As we all know, most of these companies are now defunct one year later. NAB2001 seemed far more practical than last year and streaming companies demonstrated their codecs and streaming speeds. Their speeches would have you believe that showing features on the Web is already possible today. Perhaps they forgot that the hype of last year wouldn't work on the more savvy 2001 crowd. After watching "Pearl Harbor" smaller than a postage stamp and being told, "It looks great when no one moves," it was easy to go back to learning Roulette. Regardless of the current state of technology, filmmakers are creating incredibly original movies for the Web and I am hopeful that these issues will be resolved over the next few years.
NAB2001 felt like a reality check from last year's explosion of new products and dot.com stardom. In many ways, this year showcased the tools we have embraced as DV filmmakers that are quickly becoming essential for the entire broadcast industry. As Harry Barrial said after shooting his 2001 Sundance selection "Some Body," on the Canon XL1, "The stigma is going away about shooting digitally. I like the creative freedom of it and I'll do it again."
[Filmmaker/director Tara Veneruso, a graduate of NYU, is a consultant for Next Wave Films (http://www.nextwavefilms.com), a company of The Independent Film Channel. She has written articles for Filmmaker Magazine, indieWIRE, and contributed to Scientific American.]