Bob Zelin's NAB Show, Take 2017
Every year, I write about the new cool toys at the NAB Show in Las Vegas. Because my background is video engineering, I realized that the NAB show is no longer a video trade show, but a computer products show (at least in the lower South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center where I spent most of my time). I decided to try to observe general trends in what is happening in our business, rather than to focus on every little new product that comes out.
As an overview, it’s a bunch of generic computers, running different software applications, connected to a bunch of storage arrays. That’s modern post production – not routers, scopes, distribution amplifiers, converters, and all the “old stuff” that I had been brought up with.
This overview was most noticeable from looking at monitors being used for demonstrations. I think back on recent shows, where everyone was raving about OLED monitors, or how they really needed CRTs to really see an accurate image.
Well, those days are over. I was shocked to see that almost NO BOOTHS (other than the manufactures of broadcast monitors) had a broadcast monitor in their booth. There were overwhelming amounts of computer monitors with HDMI or Display port inputs being used at EVERY booth from companies like Dell, HP, or Eizo. And if a large 4K monitor was shown, it was a good quality consumer monitor from LG or Samsung.
HP DreamColor Z31x Studio display
What happened to Sony, Panasonic, JVC, TV Logic, Flanders Scientific, Boland, etc.? What happened to the Tektronix and Leader and Blackmagic scopes? Yes, all these companies were there, and they all showed their products, but no one was using them. ALL OF THEM were just using computer displays, or consumer 4K monitors.
And no scopes. To me, this is a big deal. It’s a big sign of a change in our industry, which I guess has been coming for a long time.
One of the most impressive booths to observe this change was the StudioXperience booth (near Blackmagic, at the front of the lower South Hall) that showed all the innovations by Intel and HP.
While I enjoyed seeing all the new Thunderbolt 3 products that featured Intel Thunderbolt 3 chips being shown all in one place, the most staggering display was a very simply one by HP. It was a “bare bones” HP Z840 Windows 10 PC, hooked up to the new HP Z31X 4K 31” monitor, with a display port cable. Inside the HP Z840 was a single NVIDIA GTX-1080 GPU card, which was the connection to the HP monitor.
The demo was given by a rep from Adobe, using Adobe Premiere. They were playing back uncompressed 8K media. The image was amazing, and the playback was amazing – no stuttering from playing back these huge files. So this is a bare bones off the shelf computer with a nice graphics card, and a generic “good quality” computer monitor, doing all this amazing work.
But it’s JUST a computer! No cards from AJA, Blackmagic, or Matrox. No insanely priced broadcast monitors. Just off the shelf stuff. And it just works.
I asked “how are we seeing an 8K image on this monitor – it’s not an 8K monitor” and the Adobe rep said “it’s easy – I just play it back in quarter resolution”. Full screen video playback with no special cards, by simply selecting it with the Preferences> Playback menu in Premiere.
The drive with the media on it was not a drive at all – it was one of these newfangled NVMe SSD PCIe cards that plug right into the computer. These are much faster than any external array, and appear to work flawlessly.
JMR SiloStor NVMe Solid State Drive Plug-in Card
NOT MUCH MAC
Going into the Adobe booth, one of the most crowed of all the booths in the Lower South Hall, I observed that there were hardly any Apple products. There was one Mac Pro, and one iMac. The rest of the numerous computers being used by Adobe for demonstration were either Dell or HP Windows PCs.
While I know that there were great demos being given by an FCPX group across the street at the Courtyard by Marriott using all Apple products, there was a surprising changeover to Windows PCs by many of the companies at the show.
This was most noticeable at the companies showing Thunderbolt 3 products. The only Thunderbolt 3 computer from Apple is the new MacBook Pro. As a result, many of the companies that innovate with new Thunderbolt 3 products, like Sonnet and AKiTio, were showing products that featured Window PCs with thunderbolt 3 connection.
Both Sonnet and AKiTio showed their Thunderbolt 3 expansion chassis (AKiTio’s product is the Node (which is only $299!) and Sonnet’s product is the eGFX Breakaway Box) with NVidia GPU cards in them for acceleration and faster rendering.
Where was the Mac version? Why doesn’t Apple cooperate with this, and understand that Apple users want to add additional GPUs to their computers when running software like Maxon Cinema 4D and Adobe After Effects? I understand that there is a “hack” to get a Mac to work, but why should there have to be a hack to make this work?
Another interesting trend that I have noticed is companies giving stuff away for free – particularly editing software. There is now Avid Media Composer First – FREE! Just before NAB, Boris FX announced that Media 100 is now FREE! Editshare Lightworks – FREE!
And of course Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve – FREE, which, like Lightworks, has been available for free for years of course, but now, Resolve does much more for FREE than it did before.
DaVinci Resolve 14. The Fairlight console is, admittedly, not free. But the amazingly powerful video and audio software powering it certainly is.
Is it possible to have a price reduction on FREE? Apparently so, since Resolve for FREE now also includes the massive, Pro Tools-class digital audio workstation software, Fairlight, for FREE.
And if you want the fully paid version of Resolve, Blackmagic has slashed the price from $1000 to $299, AND includes Fairlight, for FREE!
CHEAPER THAN EVER
This is another trend that I have been observing, and it’s getting crazier every year. The items that you need to be in our business – if they are not free, they are getting cheaper than ever.
Of course, the most famous of these companies making great cheap products is Blackmagic Design, qne not just for software. Soon after they acquired Teranex, they dropped prices from $80,000 to under $2000 (neither of those is a typo), while adding formats, reducing size, and reducing fan noise.
They continue to release amazing new products at unheard of low prices. The new Blackmagic ATEM Television Studio Pro HD video switcher is about $2300 for an 8 input HD switcher. Yes, this includes the control panel. (The Blackmagic ATEM 1 M/E control panel is more than twice the price of this!).
Blackmagic Design Web Presenter, shown with optional Teranex Mini Smart Panel
And streaming in the last 2 years has been revolutionary as well. The Blackmagic Web Presenter, AJA U-TAP and HELO, and the , all can instantly do web streaming for very little money, and no special knowledge or software.
The AJA U-TAP (above) and the Blackmagic Web Presenter emulate a web cam, so you can stick your professional video product (camera, switcher, or editing system) into them, stick the USB port into a computer, and get the signal up to YouTube Live, or Facebook Live or Twitter Periscope, or Skype or so many other services. And if you can’t figure out how to use this, go ask a 14 year old, because “everyone” is doing it, and now you can too, for almost no money.
Even specialty products are becoming dirt cheap. I had to borrow a Thunderbolt 3 to 10G adapter for a demonstration I was doing from a new MacBook Pro to a QNAP shared storage system, so I asked to borrow the new Promise SANLink3 box.
To my amazement, this new converter is half the price of the old Promise SanLink2 (now $299). And the performance was amazing -- 1100 MB/sec from computer to shared storage on the Mac.
And Akitio is making the same type of converter for pretty much the same price.
When it came to storage, all the usual players were there, and of course, the big change was interface to Thunderbolt 3. Companies like G-Tech and Lacie were showing their large, super fast external storage products.
There were unique Thunderbolt 3 products as well, like the Maxx Digital ThunderRaid2. This chassis is not only Thunderbolt 3, but comes standard with a 12G miniSAS connector on it, so you can daisy chain your existing miniSAS RAID arrays onto modern Thunderbolt 3 storage, to keep your investment going.
SHARED STORAGE: AVID NEXIS FOR EVERYONE AND QNAP's UNBELIEVABLY CHEAP NAS
When it came to shared storage, the choices were overwhelming, and all of them excellent.
Facilis Terrablock, EditShare, Apace Systems, Studio Network Solutions, Dynamic Drive Pool, GB Labs, Archion were all there.
But the big shockers in this area to me were Avid and QNAP. For the first time, Avid is selling the Avid Nexis Pro for under $10,000! (I am looking at a Videoguys web page right now, and the 20TB model is $7500! I can’t believe it!
This is for a shared storage system that works with everything you use (Apple Final Cut Pro and Final Cut Pro X, Adobe Premiere Pro, DaVinci Resolve, and Avid Media Composer among many others), supports up to 24 clients, and includes 2 seats of axle Starter media management software. This is a radical change in price for AVID.
Between that, and the release of Avid Media Composer First for free, you can really see that AVID is trying to aggressively compete in this very competitive market.
The other shocker was QNAP. QNAP is a company that I used to make fun of, for making unusable Network Attached Storage products. Well, QNAP has not only learned their lesson, their new products are not only incredibly fast and expandable, but they are DIRT CHEAP.
The most shocking of their product line is the new QNAP TVS-1685, which is a 12 bay Network Attached Storage system. This comes standard with 16 Gig of RAM, 12 drive slots, 4 SSD slots for Cache Acceleration (just like the big boys), six M.2 SSD slots, two free built in 10G Ethernet ports, and four 1G Ethernet ports.
This unit is expandable to 128 Gig of RAM, and four external RAID expander chassis (40 more drives can be added to the base 12 drives). It even can take an optional Mellanox 40 Gig Ethernet card. And this box is retailing (starting price) at $2899!
How is this even possible? I see QNAP as the Blackmagic Design of the storage industry, making complete shared storage systems at a price cheaper than an empty RAID chassis.
I had one of these units at the Maxx Digital booth, running three separate demos at the same time – one to demonstrate Thunderbolt 3 with the Promise SanLink3 and a new Mac Pro, one to run the Firefly Color Grading Demo, and one to demonstrate Avid Bin Locking Software.
AVID + INDIESTOR
Let me mention this AVID software a little bit. There is a little company in London called Indiestor. I have seen them post on Creative COW many times, but never really paid attention to them. They make an amazing software plugin called Mimiq, that you load onto your Avid Media Composer workstation. Once you do this, you can attach your Avid Media Composer to ANY shared storage system, and you will instantly have Avid shared storage working, with full bin locking capability, and no “spinning beach balls”.
I had these running on several laptops, all connected to the cheap QNAP, and it worked great. Indiestor was not at NAB but I was glad to demonstrate this amazing, innovative product.
I regret not being able to get over to the Courtyard by Marriott across the street where all the FCPX presentations were going on. This was among the places where Lumaforge was demonstrating their Jellyfish shared storage product line (available in portable, standing, and rackmount configurations), which has shot out of nowhere, and has become one of the most talked about shared storage products on the market today.
Lumaforge Jellyfish Rack
A GROWING PET PEEVE WITH BLACKMAGIC BROADCAST CAMERAS
I usually praise Blackmagic Design products, and I install their hardware all the time. But I have a pet peeve which is growing every year, as I observe the incredible development of their studio production systems and integration with their cameras.
There is no question that the URSA Mini Pro is an amazing camera, and for the single user, it’s an unbeatable value, with incredible flexibility. They have answered almost every request that their users have asked for. BUT! I am in utter shock and disbelief that in a studio production environment, with all the amazing products they offer (the ATEM switcher, the routers, the multiviewers, built-in intercom, built-in tally, built-in DaVinci Color Correction) that Blackmagic STILL has almost no selection for automated lenses for a professional studio environment!
The choices remain that you either take your chances on eBay to get a used B4 lens, or spend $20-$30,000 for a new Fujinon or Canon B4 Lens, only to be able to shoot in HD and not 4K, or choose ONE SINGLE LENS that is controlled by the Blackmagic system.
And that lens is the Canon CN-E 18-80mm -- a T4.4 lens, which means in real life, that if you don’t have a lot of light, you are not doing your production. For most mid and low budget productions, using a T4.4 lens is simply too slow.
When I go to the Blackmagic page for the URSA Mini Pro, and I see the Ursa Mini Pro with the Sigma T2.0 18 – 35, I get excited, making the false assumption that this lens is completely controlled by the ATEM system, but alas, it is not. It’s completely manual.
I look forward to comments from anyone that has found controllable lenses for Blackmagic cameras used in broadcast studio environments.
My other complaint, which I got clarified at NAB, was about the intercom for the ATEM system. In real life when you do a production, your camera people are all on headphones (the Ursa Mini uses an iPhone type headphone, and I found that the Plantronics C225 dual muff headset with on off switch for the mic works great), but on the other side you have the production crew that also needs headphones – you know, the Technical Director, the Director, the client, etc.
Well, that can’t happen with the ATEM system. The ATEM Talkback Converter 4K has a single headphone jack for aircraft style headsets. No expansion. I assumed that the ATEM Camera Converter could be purchased to give additional staff the ability to have headsets in the control room. But the connection on these will not see a 4K signal from the coax cable that is used to transmit the intercom audio, and so they cannot be used.
How do you get a Director AND a Technical Director on intercom with a system like this? It appears that you can’t do it.
THAT SAID, BLACKMAGIC CONTINUES TO ASTONISH
With all of this said, everyone including myself is always astonished with the innovation and low price that Blackmagic continues to offer every year. Davinci Resolve 14 is amazing. The switchers are amazing. The routers are amazing. The entire Teranex Mini series of converters is amazing.
Blackmagic ATEM Television Studio HD
And of course all the new products, like the Web Presenter, ATEM Television Studio HD, the new HyperDeck Studio Mini, the new Resolve Mini and Micro Panels -- all incredible products, at shocking low prices.
One booth I kept going back to over and over was AJA. While the AJA RovoCam is not a new product in 2017, the development and demand for this complete, inexpensive system is really quite amazing.
The RovoCam is a 4K UltraHD camera, complete with a 12x optical zoom lens, for under $2500. It sends its Ultra HD signal, camera control for the zoom and iris, and power, all down a single Cat 6 cable. This connects to the RovoRx box, which turns this into a SDI UltraHD signal that can then be put into a switcher (like the Blackmagic ATEM).
AJA put out the effort to show a full working system with Pan and Tilt function as well. (That is, AJA RovoControl software for Mac and Windows allows an HD pan and zoom within an Ultra HD frame. I am referring here to moving the camera itself.) They were working with a company I never heard of or paid attention to: Rushworks, who manufacturers the Pan/Tilt assembly for the RovoCam. I went to Rushworks to see the details of how this is done and how much it costs.
The Pan/Tilt assemble that the RovoCam was mounted on is the Rushworks PTX Model 1, which is $1500. This is all controlled by a Windows PC (no Mac) using Rushworks Control R software (about $995). To get the PC to actually move the PTX Model 1 Pan/Tilt assembly, you need a Rushworks RS422 Mux Box (about $80) to convert USB to RS422 over Cat 6 that connects to the Rushworks PTX Model 1 head.
Shown here is also the Rushworks PTX Model 2, which supports full-size cameras including ARRI ALEXA, Blackmagic Design Ursa, RED Digital Cinema Cameras, and more.
This offers a complete working solution to an environment that wants excellent quality 4K, but does not want to require the need for camera operator (concerts, house of worship, internal corporate video facilities, etc.). And of course, at a very low price.
AS ALWAYS, THERE’S MORE
As always, there were so many amazing booths, and so many companies were showing prices at unheard of low prices. A new company, Atech Flash Technology showed a line of new Blackbird Thunderbolt 3 devices that allowed for fast ingest of every media card on the market (CFast, SSD, CF, etc.). Even their most elaborate rack mounted product was under $500.
All the new mounting solutions for Macs and drives shown by JMR and Sonnet were amazing. Being fascinated by NVMe SSD PCIe drives at the HP booth, I spent a lot of time looking at these at both the JMR booth (SiloStor, pictured at the top of this article) and Highpoint RocketRaid 3800 Series.
I feel that the evolution of computers completely taking over the video industry is upon us. Those that embrace this fact will flourish. Those that try to fight it will be pushed aside. NAB 2017 was another overwhelming show with incredible innovation.