What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, right? Well, not when it comes to the annual National Association of Broadcasters Convention. There is no other trade show that brings together industry pros from the biggest manufacturers and network executives to the smallest start-ups and one-man production companies. No where else will you find software engineers from Japan talking with low power station owners from Joplin, MO or documentary filmmakers from Uruguay and government officials from Uganda eyeing the latest cameras. The world comes to the Las Vegas Convention Center every April for the NAB show.
The organization was founded in the 1920’s as radio broadcasting was in its infancy. They originally began to create broadcasting standards to learn from one another how to best serve the public.Today their membership is global, diverse and represents radio, television, streaming media and practically every facet of the industry. The annual gathering includes awards, large advocacy meetings and small breakout sessions with topics ranging from drone regulations to cinematography and special effects. But the big draw is the exhibitors that completely cover the three massive halls of the convention center. As you walk the floor — and you will walk a lot — you’ll see everything you need for video production including the newest mics, monitors, lights, lenses and more.
As you walk the floor — and you will walk a lot — you’ll see everything you need for video production including the newest mics, monitors, lights, lenses and more.
The official theme of the 2017 show was “The M.E.T Effect”, which stand for Media, Entertainment and Technology all coming together. Another theme for the exhibit floor could have been, “It’s About Time”, because there were many types of technology on display that enhance the production and distribution of video.
For example, sound mixers have been able to control their boards with an app for a few years now. Ikegami was showing a Beta version of an app that allows broadcast engineers to shade cameras remotely. A relatively new company K-Tek displayed a harness for field audio guys that better distributes the weight of a heavy audio mixer. LeCie introduced a new RAID that works on Apple’s Thunderbolt plug and gives you tons of storage plus all the external plug-ins you need, like USB 3 ports. Several companies featured ways to tether a camera drone for longer flying and continuous video feeds. These, and many other displays, made you think, “It’s about time someone thought of that.”
Because of the sheer size and scope of the show, it’s impossible to see everything in the four days by yourself. Videomaker sent a team to hit the press conferences, roam the floor and, of course, play with the gear to bring you the highlights.
For many years, the NAB Show was where all the major companies introduce their newest cameras and imaging technology. NAB is where the world first saw HDTV, Action Cameras and 4K. This year there was not a new standard but lots of enhancements to be seen.
Blackmagic’s Design booth, located in the North Hall, gets larger each year and is always a must see. This year they showcased the URSA Mini Pro 4.6K as the latest addition to their camera line. The URSA Mini Pro gives you more control in an ENG style camera. It even has controls for a servo zoom lens. It will have Bluetooth connectivity and apps will be coming soon.
Another must-see booth is always Sony. They were tucked far to the back of the main hall but it was worth the hike to catch a glimpse of the new Alpha 9 mirrorless. What makes this exciting is that it has the form of a DSLR but takes advantage of an electronic shutter. Sony says this gives you high-speed and distortion free imaging. They also had on display their new UMCS3C/P 4K. This tiny camera is designed to go in small spaces and on small rigs, but gives high level image quality with a full-frame Exmor CMOS Sensor.
If you’re looking for a new spherical camera, Panasonic announced their new AW-360C10. It’s designed to be paired with the AW-360B10 base unit and provide live uncompressed 360 video with 4K output. What made it unique is that you can record a standard 1080 image and choose which part of the spherical image to output with a touch screen. In other words this camera could be placed in the center of some action, say on the sidelines of a football game, and switch from shot to shot by touching on the image. You could get shots of the game end-to-end and crowd reaction with just a touch.
Putting on the Glasses
Of course, a great camera is really only as good as the glass in front of it. There were lots of new lenses on display.
Last year Canon introduced their first servo zoom lens at NAB. This year, they took a step up from that 18-80mm zoom to their new 70-200mm zoom. It’s designed to fit the range of their DSLR and cinema cameras. A feature that sets it apart is a zoom handle that will detach. The control can be put on a tripod arm or a rig for optimal zoom control.
Schneider-Kreuznach is a German company that has built a reputation in the still photography market but may not be as well know to the video production market. That may change with the introduction of their Cine-Tilt lenses. If you are familiar with the tilt-shift effect that is used in architectural photography, this is the same principal on the horizontal plane. What it means is that there is an additional ring of control on the lens that will adjust the focus on your background. Turn one way for a blurred depth of field. Turn the other way for a sharper focus. The aperture remains the same. This will totally change the concept of the “rack focus” shot.
Another name that’s becoming even more familiar to video producers is Sigma. They announced at NAB a whole range of Cine Lenses. These are rugged, durable prime lenses that are made for all the major DSLR cameras. They boasted that one of these new lenses recently was used on an expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro with no failure.
Interconnectivity and streaming distribution, were some of the big subjects of discussion. NewTek was featuring a new switcher step up from their TriCaster line, the TC1. They call it “the most complete camera production system on the planet.” It allows for the marriage of different types of cameras and graphics sources and even Internet sources like Skype for switching, streaming and recording. Blackmagic Design introduced a more afford solution with the ATEM Television Studio HD that comes in at just under $1000, but you’ll need different converters if you want to mix formats. Similar units were seen from Grass Valley with their Korona K-Frame V-series and Ross’s Graphite Switcher.
From the lighting world, LED’s were all the rage. Zylight announced their new Rayzr 7, an LED fresnel. New-comer Outsource Lighting had a fully weather proof LED light on display, the Creamsource Mini+. Right across the aisle, BBS Lighting had a really unique solution: a tiny magnetic ball light called the K7 Twist. They come in a set of six balls that are about the size of a golf ball, but will magnetize to any metal surface for a quick spot of light.
For audio, the trend seems to be smaller and more portable. DPL announced a bridge for their high quality mics to a lighting plug device like an iPhone or iPad. They said that studio-level recording is possible on an iOS device. Shure was featuring their new Axient Digital wireless system. It is not designed for a field environment, but has the smallest bodypack receiver available. How about a tiny lavaliere mic that actually has two receivers built into the same size head? Point Source audio was displaying their CO2-8WL that is the same size as most lavs but Y’s at the end to connect to receivers or recording devices.
There is definitely a trend toward better reference monitors in the field. One of the biggest booths in the main hall was for Atomos. They had a setup that looked like a complete movie set, to introduce their new Sumo 19-inch monitor recorder. It allows for up to four inputs that can be independently recorded in up to 4K 12bit Raw resolution. The rugged monitor has great reference functions and you can even switch between cameras on a single recorder. The SmallHD people went outside to demonstrate their super bright monitors in the desert sun. They claim that their 702 Bright HDMI + SDI monitor has the sharpest daylight viewable screen.
Finally, NAB is a two-way street. The manufacturers often have engineers in their booths to listen to industry insiders. They took notes and heard the feedback. Perhaps the newest gear and latest updates were being born on the hall floor. One thing is clear, next year there will be more innovation and more new gadgets to see at the NAB Show.
Sidebar: The Drone Wars
For a number of years now, drones have drawn huge crowds at NAB. This year the crowds weren’t quite as big surrounding the booths that feature the buzz of the tiny helicopters in flight.
The one exception was the DJI both right at the front entrance to the main hall. DJI always introduces something notable for NAB. This year the buzz was coming from the attendees who saw a drone that was touted as the best available image quality.
Back in January at CES, in the same convention center, DJI announced that they had acquired a majority holding in Hasselblad. The camera company, which for years has produced high-end photography gear. The partnership was in the spotlight with a DJI M600 pro drone that held a 100 Megapixel H6D-100c. The six-rotor helicopter was also outfitted with the Ronin-MX gimbal mount and the Lightbridge 2 transmission system.
It wasn't clear if this was going to be something that DJI was offering as a package, but more of an example what could be done. This could be a signal of a new direction or new division for the drone company.
This rig would give you 4K video with it’s 53.4 x 40mm sensor and photos with 15 stops of dynamic range. However, the camera alone retails for over $30,000 and the drone without the accessories goes for $5,000. Would anyone else feel a bit uneasy sending up a up rig that costs more than some cars?
Jeff Chaves is the Chief Creative Officer of Grace Pictures Inc., which he co-owns with his wife, Peggy. He got his start as an Army Broadcaster in the 1980s and spent 12 plus years working on broadcasting. Jeff left broadcast television to pursue full-time ministry.