Every April, the trucks rumble into Las Vegas carrying the tools of our trade. Cameras, monitors, external GPUs, mass shared storage devices and anything else necessary to make pro video settles into about a million square feet of the Las Vegas Convention Center for the world’s largest event for video producers, the NAB Show.
What is NAB?
To start from the beginning, according to Wikipedia “The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is a trade association and lobby group representing the interests of commercial and non-commercial over-the-air radio and television broadcasters in the United States. The NAB represents more than 8,300 terrestrial radio and television stations as well as broadcast networks."
What that translates to for us gear heads is this: NAB Show is those guys’ annual conference, and it features 1700 exhibitors showing off the very latest audio and video technology to somewhere north of a hundred thousand attendees.
It is the land of new product announcements, live demos, (mostly) cheesy booth swag, hands-on exhibits and fun after parties.
And why should we care?
For those of us in video production, the event is the world’s largest candy shop. Are you into shooting video? Lay your hands on every camera Canon, Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Blackmagic Design and ARRI make. Interested in external recorders? Atomos has a booth the size of most camera stores. Editing and post? Visit Adobe, Autodesk, AVID, Grass Valley, and — well, you get the idea. Every major company comes to NAB Show to show off the very best they have to offer.
What was the focus this year?
Each year at NAB Show, there’s an unofficial focus for those of us in video production. There was the year of the drones, last year was big on 360 video and virtual reality (VR), and this year felt like something different altogether: It felt as though video production at all levels has reached a place of maturity.
Video producers at any level and nearly any budget had myriad options of suitable gear. Major camera companies augmented the launch of new models with iterative releases of existing and successful models. The focus felt much more like “we’re still in a really good place and now we have some real options for consumers and professionals alike” instead of “buy this and it’ll be great until we release a WAY better version next year.”
Video producers at any level and nearly any budget had myriad options of suitable gear.
Examples were evident all over the show floor. Bi-color LED light panels weren’t the new thing — they’ve graduated to seriously innovative new shapes and designs, priced for any market instead of only the very highest and lowest end of the industry.
2018 also felt like a exciting year for gender parity in the industry. Not only did the demographic at the show and industry events outside of the convention center feel closer to balanced, but there were groups such as Women in Media walking the show floor en masse and participating in panel discussions as they continue their mission to improve the gender imbalance in the entertainment industry. Additionally, 3D software makers, MAXON, featured a “Women in Motion Graphics” table discussion at their off-site press luncheon moderated by multi-award winning creative director/director Tuesday McGowan.
This year, the fascination with VR and 360 degree filmmaking continued, with new cameras, better 360 footage integration in editing software and more experts on-hand than ever before.
Generally, the show felt more harmonious than in past years. Companies seemed more at ease and comfortable in their offerings. Those of us perusing the gear felt more comfortable having another year of 4K workflows. According to multiple executives around the show, their perception was that the show “felt a bit less populous but the crowd seemed extremely engaged” and that it was a “very high quality” attendee population.
Workshops, classes and discussions!
NAB Show had plenty to show off for the entire video industry, from acquisition and production to display systems, to distribution and delivery, to management, to online video and more. Making sure attendees came away with a richer experience also meant educating and integrating.
In addition to the impressive show floor, NAB Show offered plenty of events, discussions and learning sessions to help attendees get the most out of their experience. These included a breakfast workshop about the reality of VR video, on-floor programs about maximizing the value of content across platforms, discussions about future tech and its impact on filmmaking and viewer interaction, a session on making content data-rich, and much more. It seemed like everywhere you looked there was some sort of demo, learning session or open discussion.
The potential to come away from NAB Show with new knowledge is truly vast.
What was the coolest new stuff?
So we know the show was great, included plenty of neat stuff, taught us lots, occasionally served us breakfast if we were willing to listen and provided a platform for industry groups to speak up and be heard.
But what about the goods? For many attendees the show is simply the world’s largest hands-on showroom, and NAB Show 2018 did not disappoint. While it would take a thousand of these articles to cover everything interesting, innovative or amazing, here are a few of the standouts for video pros.
Blackmagic Design dazzled as usual with a couple of intriguing new offerings. The first is the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K. It may require a larger pocket, but they put that extra space to good use; the PCC4K features a 4/3 size sensor, 13 stops of dynamic range and dual native ISO up to 25,600, and it can capture in RAW or in ProRes at up to 120 frames per second. The new camera also sports a mini XLR input and a USB-C expansion port which enables, among other things, external recording to a USB-C drive. Tack on a massive 5-inch touchscreen, and it starts getting tough to wait until fall to get our hands on one.
Also from the folks at Blackmagic was DaVinci Resolve 15, their latest iteration of the industry standard colorist-turned-do-anything tool. In addition to professional editing, color and Farlight audio tools, Resolve now includes fully built-in Fusion — Blackmagic’s visual effect and motion graphic application.
Adobe has added improvements to their lineup of video tools, including some powerful new color features in Premiere Pro like one-click color grade matching and side-by-side shot comparisons. They’ve also improved the graphics workflow and added powerful audio features. After Effects also received some updates such as Master Properties, which allows users to create multiple variations of a single comp and adjust properties such as text, position and color, in context, meaning there isn’t the need to open a precomp to make changes. Also updated is a more advanced puppet tool, improvements to data-driven animations and deeply integrated 360/VR tools to allow for an immersive VR editing experience.
Canon’s showstopper this year was the EOS C700 FF, a full-frame version of their 4K powerhouse camera. The first-ever full-frame camera to join the ranks of EOS Cinema Cameras, the C700 FF has a 5.9K sensor that is larger than its competition at ARRI and Sony.
Sony rolled out a handful of new additions to their XDCAM series, as well as the highly anticipated a7R III mirrorless camera, but our favorite camera at this booth — and the entire show, for that matter — was the FS5 II. The successor to the popular FS5 adds new frame rate options and VENICE color science as well as an Instant HDR Workflow on top of S-Log2/3.
Litepanels introduced a beautiful new 2×1 Gemini softpanel light. The panel can dial in any color from its 360 degree color wheel and allows for true daylight and tungsten lighting with green and magenta fine-tuning to match ambient color temperatures. It features battery or AC power, as well as on-board or remote controls. Oh, it’s also been tested totally flicker free at any frame rate, shutter angle or with the light set at any intensity — serious flexibility.
Other amazing devices on the show floor included Samson’s Go Mic Mobile Wireless Lavalier set and optional handheld wireless mic. This kit turns any smartphone into a highly capable capture device, from an audio standpoint.
Show favorites SmallHD launched a handful of new monitors, including multiple daylight viewable devices like the Focus OLED. To accentuate their point, this year’s booth was out in the blazing Las Vegas sun with displays showing off crystal clear images, even under direct light.
Also dazzling this year was edelkrone’s lineup of motorized devices. Beyond the always cool SliderPlus, the SliderOne Pro is a backpack sized motorized slider with app controls to control slide movements and motion time-lapses. Other motion control devices included the motion control and time-lapse capable Motion Box and the Surface One, a tiny two-axis motion control device.
Storage company Glyph Production Technologies had a bevy of cool storage solutions, but their new mobile options were truly awesome. The Atom SSD is a 1 or 2 terabyte (TB) USB-C solid state drive that is about half the size of your wallet. Slightly larger is the Atom Raid SSD, which is a 1, 2 or 4 TB SSD RAID drive with transfer speeds up to 860 megabytes per second (MB/s).
Along with our pick for Best Field Monitor/Recorder, the Ninja V, Atomos showed off the Shogun Inferno recorder and Sumo 19 studio monitor, both having bleeding edge ProRes RAW capabilities. They also win the award for noisiest — and most enjoyable — raffle of all time.
When the Lights Go Down in Vegas
All of this talk about the feel and vibe at the show might make one think that the show is the only highlight of this trip to Sin City. Such is definitely not the case. Off-site events, both NAB-sanctioned and independent, added incredible value to time spent this year at NAB Show.
There were events for video pros, regardless of their specialty, including parties for colorists, editors and motion graphic designers. Go-karting, pinball parties and mixers abounded.
While most of us tried to squeeze in every event the show had to offer, one definite standout was the IMUG’s MediaMotion Ball. Now in its 21st year, the MMB is the longest running not for profit, all volunteer organized user event at NAB. At its heart, it is a 400-person sit-down dinner where the who’s who of motion graphics merges to network, learn, win prizes, eat, drink and enjoy a few hours off of their tired feet. It’s one of the few opportunities to rub elbows with Andrew Kramer and Harry Frank outside of the frenetic pace of the NAB Show. Their raffle is becoming pretty legendary as well.
Also not to be missed was the 17th Annual Las Vegas SuperMeet. Founded and hosted by the Creative Pro User Group Network, the SuperMeet isn’t your average evening event. Take a user group meeting with about a thousand attendees, add a handful of top industry expert speakers and a 110,000 dollar raffle, and you have an idea of what this inspired night is all about.
To wrap up, NAB was, in many ways, what it always was — loud, tiring, busy, frenetic, exciting, bombastic — but what it really felt like this year more than other years, was refined. The products weren’t playing catch-up. They were refining. Getting more comfortable in their own skin. The camera lineups, whether cinema, camcorder, mirrorless or other, felt full and capable from top to bottom. Mobile solutions, such as external GPU boxes and capture devices, made working with massive footage from a laptop a reality. Monitors, recorders, tripods, gimbals, drones and stabilizers all appeared to be meaningfully updated from past models. Nothing felt beta.
The industry seemed healthy, as well. Booths were constantly engaged with potential consumers, groups within the industry had a platform and were celebrated, and the fellowship at events before, during and after the show was warm and positive.
If one had to step back from this year’s show and take a state of the industry, it has to be said that our future looks bright.
Sidebar: Dare to Dream
Every car magazine augments their practical family car reviews and minivan comparisons with articles about supercars so incredible that they ignite our childhood dreams. Most of us still can’t walk past a Lamborghini dealership without glancing through the window at the incredible machines that lie beyond our reach. This feeling, that excitement that big dream items conjure, is stirred up regularly at NAB. Sony had an LED display that was as big as the side of a house. Giant drones, massive satellite dishes and other monster production tools littered the show floor.
For some of us, this is daily use equipment. For some of us, perhaps it’s the dream for a next phase. For a lot of us, it’s pie-in-the-sky stuff of dreams.
Perhaps a little closer to earth, but probably larger and more expensive than the average freelance video pro needs, is the drool-worthy FSI XM650U professional reference monitor. It’s a 65-inch Ultra HD monitor designed for color critical work. It supports 4K, UHD and HD signals and offers up those signals on a beautiful large format OLED panel.
The XM650U has incredible black levels and picture performance, being fully capable of SDR content mastering as well as PQ and HLG HDR monitoring. Like other FSI monitors, this beauty ships pre-calibrated from the factory, and if you’re willing to part with your monitor for a few days, they’ll happily recalibrate it for you in the future.
Also like other FSI monitors, the XM650U features waveform and vectorscope video scopes. It also has marker overlays with selectable colors that can be shown as lines, translucent overlays or solid overlays.
It also has professional 12Gbps SDI connections, supports advanced 12-bit 4:4:4 YCbCr, RGB and XYZ signals, and can provide a real-time downscaled HD resolution output along with clean 12Bbps SDI loop outs. This allows users to feed UHD signals into the XM650U while pushing out an HD signal to scopes or monitors without having to rely on a standalone downconverter.
The image on this thing is like nothing I’ve seen before. Plenty of brilliant 4K footage was playing on a trio of these 12,995-dollar beauties in the FSI booth, and plenty of us stood in front of them, unable to remove our jaws from the carpeted floor.
Russ Fairley is a writer, video producer and motion graphic designer.