Wednesday, April 17, 2013

NAB 2013: The Wrap-up

I only had a day to spend at NAB last week, so I couldn't get to every booth, and undoubtedly missed some "gems" hidden around the show floor. However, I did get to see much of the South and Central Halls. Here's a summary of the products that impressed me (I've already written about Blackmagic Design's two new Cinema Cameras,) along with what wasn't there, and some thoughts about the future of the business:

The New
  • Canon's XA20 and XA25: Canon's new small, light and low-cost ENG camcorders are the company's first models with 1080/60p capability. Both models have 20x zoom lenses, dual-band WiFi and dual SDHC/SDXC-compatible memory card slots. The XA25 adds dual XLR audio inputs and an HD-SDI output. The list price of the XA20 is $2,499 (US,) while the XA25 is priced at $2,999; street prices are $2,199 for the XA20 and $2,699 for the XA25. Both camcorders are expected to ship in late June.
  • JVC's GY-HM650U ENG camcorder (street price $5,695) was launched at last year's NAB, and it's recently scored a number of high-profile, big-quantity sales to customers including the BBC. The 2.0 model introduced at this year's NAB (a firmware upgrade for camcorders already in use) adds a number of new features. The HM650U has three 1/3-inch CMOS sensors and a 23x zoom lens. It can simultaneously record to dual SDHC/SDXC-compatible memory cards, output video through its HD-SDI or HDMI connectors, and stream a webcast-appropriate version of the video over its built-in WiFi interface or a 4G LTE adapter.
  • Perhaps the biggest hit of the show was Freefly System's Movi M10 camera stabilizer. Unlike stabilizers built around the Steadicam model, which uses a system of springs and joints (and requires a vest on larger models to handle the combined weight of the stabilizer and camera,) the Movi is an active hand-held design using direct-drive motors and accelerometers to keep the camera stable. The Movi weighs 3.5 pounds and is built using carbon fiber in order to keep its weight down. It can be operated in two modes: In "Monarch" mode, the cinematographer uses his or her movements to control the Movi, while in dual operator mode, one person holds and moves the Movi while another person wirelessly controls the camera's position using a tablet and RC control.

    Before NAB, a number of observers said that the Movi would be too heavy for long use. The maximum weight of camera, lens and accessories that the Movi can handle is 10 pounds, making the total maximum system weight 13.5 pounds or less. I saw men and women of various sizes handling the rig without problems. The Movi M10 model is priced at $15,000 and is expected to ship in Q3; the company plans to add a M5 model priced at $7,500 that can handle a maximum camera weight of 5 pounds. $15,000 is out of the range of most independent filmmakers, but the Movi will undoubtedly be available for rent.
  • The low-cost UAV business got a big boost from the DJI Phantom, a fully-assembled quadricopter that includes a RC control, GPS navigation and camera mount for a GoPro camera, for under $700. The Phantom's maximum flight time is 10 to 15 minutes, and it has a maximum flight control range of 300 meters. DJI showed a prototype of a new Phantom model with a built-in video camera that can be remotely tilted. Neither the price nor the availability of the new model were announced at the show.

    The Phantom is about as foolproof as a radio-controlled quadricopter can get:
    • It has a built-in autopilot that enables navigation to a specific latitude and longitude.
    • The manual controls can be set to allow steering to be correct relative to the operator's position, no matter what position the Phantom is in.
    • It can return to the operator automatically.
    • If it flies beyond the range of the RC controller, the Phantom goes into hover mode, and if a good GPS signal is available, it will automatically return home.
  • Matrox's new $995 Monarch HD live video encoder accepts video input from HDMI and outputs H.264 video at up to 20 Mbps in both RTMP and RTSP protocols, which means that it supports virtually any streaming server or service. It can simultaneously save the video in MP4 format at up to 30 Mbps on a removable SD card, USB hard disk or flash memory, or on network-attached storage. It has a simple web-based user interface, and can control up to three additional slave encoders for feeding to multiple streaming servers, services or CDNs. 
The Missing
  • One thing that surprised me was the lack of new products from some of the leading broadcast equipment companies, especially Panasonic. For many years, Panasonic could be counted on to introduce new and exciting cameras, but this year, there was nothing really new. For example:
    • The AG-AF100A, which pioneered the big-sensor low-cost cinema camera market, has only been lightly upgraded since it was announced in December 2010. Panasonic hasn't introduced any new cameras into this market (excluding the GH3, the follow-on to the company's "accidentally successful" GH2 digital camera that's gotten a wide following from budget-sensitive cinematographers.)
    • Last year's "camera under glass," a professional 4K camcorder with an Android interface, disappeared this year and was replaced with a generic, consumer-looking 4K camcorder mockup that was first shown at CES in January.
  • Sony, JVC and Canon didn't announce many new products. JVC's biggest news was a firmware upgrade, and Canon didn't announce anything new on the Cinema Camera front. It's possible that the companies are "catching their breath" after the last 18 months' explosion of new product introductions, but it's still disappointing to come to NAB and not see much new from the market leaders.
The Trends
  • Video hardware and software pricing is looking more and more like computer pricing, where prices go down and capabilities go up each year. Here's a few examples:
    • Adobe's Creative Cloud offers users everything in Creative Suite 6 for about $50 per month per user, and they can use the software on two PCs. That, combined with improvements in Adobe's software, is enabling Adobe to pick up lots of market share in video editing and post-production. In response, Avid has priced its new Media Composer 7 at $999, with the additional Symphony features priced at $1,499. $999 used to be the price of a competitive upgrade from Final Cut Pro or Premiere Pro to Media Composer, and only for limited periods; now, it's the list price of the software.
    • Blackmagic Design has driven down prices in every market that it's entered, and competitors have had no choice but to respond. Prices for professional color correction systems have tumbled since Blackmagic acquired Da Vinci Systems, as have prices for video production switchers (except the very top-of-the-line models) since it acquired Echolab. The market for high-end video processing systems has always been small because of their high cost, but Blackmagic's acquisition of Teranex and subsequent rock-bottom pricing will dramatically increase the size of the market. The cinema camera market is already highly competitive, but Blackmagic is increasing options and decreasing prices for buyers.
    • Canon, JVC, Panasonic and Sony are using their top-of-the-line consumer camcorders as the basis of their entry-level prosumer/professional camcorder lines, which increases production volumes, decreases costs and allows manufacturers to lower prices. In most cases, if you don't need XLR inputs or HD-SDI outputs, you can save a fair amount of money by buying the consumer models. However, even the prosumer/professional models are less expensive and more capable than comparable models from even a couple of years ago.
    • DSLRs have dramatically decreased the cost of cinema cameras, and an entire ecosystem of lenses, rigs and accessories that are fairly priced in relation to DSLRs has emerged.
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