The main buzz at NAB 2010 (April 12-15 in Las Vegas) was stereoscopic 3D production, workflows and displays.
by Wayne Cole
It almost overshadowed other advances that are bringing once-futuristic technologies into the hands of more and more users. Here are a few of more exciting developments shown at NAB—JVC introduced the IF-2D3D1 Stereoscopic Image Processor, performing real-time 2D-to-3D video conversion. The IF-2D3D1 is expected to list around $30,000 and is targeted at broadcast and higher-end content producers who want to create 3D content from legacy content or live feeds. While not perfect, the conversion was impressive, and like high-end MPEG encoding may create 3D content that needs minor z-axis (depth) corrections for some objects across a limited number of frames.
Finding the "fix-up" frames can be aided by 3D diagnostic tools introduced by Hamlet and Tektronix. Hamlet's software VidScope 3D can aid in setting up two cameras as a stereo pair, including compensation for dual-camera rigs that have slight errors in their mechanical alignments. It can also display left and right eye scope data in side-by-side displays or combined into a 3D display.
The new disparity (z-axis differences) display will help producers avoid those jarring "whiplash" cuts between scenes of radically different depths of background and/or foreground. Tektronix demonstrated technology for 3D monitoring with SyncVu (synchronized left-right eye views in a four-tile display) via dual-link SDI on their WFM8300 waveform monitor that also provided disparity monitoring. They also showed an add-on to the VQS1000 video quality software application that provides a superimposed Perceived Depth Distribution histogram for both eye views over the picture.
Panasonic's AG-3DA1, a dual-lens single unit 3D AVCHD camcorder, will retail for $21,000. 3D LCD/LED displays abounded. For most, viewing 3D content required either active shutter glasses or polarized glasses. Alioscopy, however, demonstrated auto-stereo (glasses-free) 3D displays in 24-inch and 47-inch sizes, as well as an eight-camera rig and compatibility with Maxon Cinema 4D, Autodesk 3D Studio Max, Maya and SoftImage software. While currently used mostly for digital signage, future development of auto-stereo could find the technology applied to medical, industrial and defense applications.
On the production end, many camera support and grip gear suppliers showed their latest dual-camera rigs for stereoscopic 3D production for everything from ARRI film cameras and Red digital film cameras to consumer video cameras. Panasonic's dual-lens AVCHD camcorder, the AG-3DA1, caught the lion's share of the "stereographer" attention. It looks like an HVX-200 with the lens permanently replaced by a pair of binoculars. Inside two separate imaging blocks feed the DSP (digital signal processor), which produces an AVCHD stream containing left- and right-eye views. The AG-3DA1 will appear in late 2010 with an MSRP of $21,000.
LIGHTING AND POWER
Several years ago, Litepanels introduced LED lighting to the video industry using tightly arrayed small LED bulbs. Last year Nila introduced its JNH series lights based on larger LED bulbs.
This year, large LED bulb lights appeared in abundance. Not only did Nila show three new series based on these bulbs, but Litepanels also used them in its new, focusable Sola series designed to replace Fresnels. The smallest, the SolaENG, a camera mountable unit, draws 30 watts but produces a 250 watt tungsten equivalent light output. LEDZ Mini Par and Brute series lights also use the larger bulbs.
Litepanels Sola series provides low-power, low-heat replacement for Fresnel lights. Mole-Richardson introduced the Mole LED light family, which one observer described as "built like a Soviet tank." Hefty and designed to be powered by AC/DC converters or heavy-duty DC sources, these lights appear nearly indestructible. The Kelvin Tile, an LED panel with unlimited variable color temperature control presented in prototype last year by ElementLabs (recently acquired by Barco) is now available through Kino Flo Rentals.
Zylight's IS3 variable color unit was also on prominent display. But what caught more eyes was Zylight's active diffusion filter. This is a sheet of LCD material with a dimmer attached that can vary the opacity of the filter from 0 to nearly 100 percent. Amazingly, the light loss remains very close to 1/2 f-stop across the entire range of diffusion. And, you can roll the material up for easy packing and transport.
Anton/Bauer introduced the Tandem 150 modular power system that can charge a Gold Mount battery at the same time it supplies DC power for a camera, lights or other production gear. If needed, the 75 watts dedicated to the battery charger of the Tandem 150 will shift power from charging to make its full 150 watts available to the production gear.
IDX introduced its Pro series 7.4 batteries in two variants: one for the Panasonic AG-HMC150 and AG-HMC70 series camcorders and one for the AGHPX170, AG-DVX100 and AG-HVX200 series. These 5000 mAh / 37 Wh batteries provide a "secured interface" so that accurate battery level indicators and power management are available with their designated camcorders. They also sport a 3-LED, push-button activated charge capacity indicator on the battery itself. IDX also has one of the most comprehensive Web-based references for travelling by air with your Lithium Ion batteries, so check out their Web site before you fly.
Aside from its single-unit 3D camcorder, and its latest low-cost AVC-Intra AG-HPX370 series, Panasonic also showed a preliminary design for a camcorder that will shake up the DSLR-for-HD video market.
The AG-AF100 uses the same Micro Four Thirds imager found in its high-end Lumix GH1 DSLR. The AF100 supports interchangeable DSLR lenses with the Micro Four Thirds mount, and has adaptors for 35mm film lenses and prime lenses for cinema productions.
What differentiates this unit from a DSLR is its HD-SDI output, XLR connectors for audio, time code recording support, and multiple HD formats and frame-rates. It has all the picture controls available in Panasonic's standard camcorders and records AVCHD to two hot-swappable SDXC memory cards. Though not finalized, the MSPR is rumored to be about $8,000 for the body-only package. Zeiss introduced the Compact Prime CP.2 lens series in 18mm through 100mm focal lengths. The exciting news for DSLR video shooters is that, with purpose-built adaptor rings, these lenses can be used with PL-, AF- or F-mount cameras.
Rather than embracing the AVCHD craze, Canon introduced the XF300 and XF305 compact fixed lens camcorders with Canon XF CODEC. This is a long-GOP MPEG-2 compressed A/V stream wrapped in MXF. This CODEC supports 50 Mbps 4:2:2 constant bitrate (CBR) encoding as well as 35 Mbps variable bit-rate (VBR) encoding in full 1080i or 720p HD at 60, 30, and 24 fps. At 25 Mbps CBR these camcorders record HDV-compatible 1440x1080 video from the native 3-chip 1920x1080 CMOS sensors. Video is captured to inexpensive CF cards for 160-310 minutes of recording time on a 64 GB card depending on the selected recording bit-rate.
All the expected Canon picture controls appear in each unit as well as waveform-vectorscope displays, HD/SD-SDI and HDMI output, analog A/V I/O, USB 2.0 and LANC. The only difference between the units is that the XF305 has full time code control support including genlock and time code I/O connections.
High-speed cameras also saw some innovation. Originally designed for industrial or scientific applications, outputs and interfaces (like CamLink) were not something broadcast or video professionals could work with easily.
Photron's FastCam BC2 brings higher levels of compatibility with broadcast production workflows and equipment to high-speed HD and film quality video acquisition. Photron's new Fastcam BC2 HD is compatible with the Sony HDV-C30WR viewfinder, RS-422 remote control, provides dual HD-SDI outputs and an Ethernet connection for downloading the video capture buffer and camera set-up using Photron FASTCAM Viewer software. The BC2 HD supports PL, B4 and Nikon F-mount lenses. It can record full frame from its 2Kx2K sensor at 1,000 fps, in 1080p at 2,000 fps, or in SD at 86,000 fps.
If you need less speed and greater economy, FORA introduced its VFC variable frame rate camera line. At the low end, the VFC-1000 will shoot up to 250 fps at VGA resolution, while the top model VFC-7000 will shoot 720p HD at speeds between 125 fps and 700 fps. Like the FastCam, the VFC-7000 has dual HD-SDI outputs and Ethernet connectivity for video download. Other models support IEEE-1394, USB 2.0 I/O or video output via analog composite or Y/C connections. Showing their industrial routs the VFC cameras use either F- or Cmount lenses, and support for "frame splitting" in order to gain higher frame rates.
RED was absent from the show floor, but for digital cinema production folks, ARRI picked up the slack with the Alexa Digital Camera system. While recording Apple ProRes to SxS cards, it can also output full resolution HD or ARRIRAW format in either 3 Gbps or 1.5 Gbps. The Alexa supports frame rates from 0.65 to 60 fps and a 54 mm PL lens mount. This could make a very nice platform for highly mobile documentary shooting that needs to post in HD or film resolution.
STREAMING AND FILE-BASED PRODUCTION
IPTV, live streaming, and file-based production products took up large swaths of floor space. NewTek unveiled an HD-enabled TriCaster TCXD850 with a 22-channel switcher. Analog, component and HD-SDI outputs abound on this unit in addition to numerous SD connections along with analog and digital audio I/O connections. This top-of-the-line TriCaster supports 32-bit 4:4:4:4 processing internally with up to eight simultaneous inputs. The DVR and render outputs support an impressive array of CODECs and file formats. Of course, the virtual set feature received some attention with enhanced pan/zoom and talent positioning features. One interesting use of the TriCaster that NewTek does not advertise is that it can double as a point-to-point conferencing or presentation tool using the Ethernet connection and Skype.
Fast Forward Video's HD3 portable field production DVR and review station sports a highquality JPEG2000.mov file format and removable hard drives to aid in direct-to-edit production flows. Blackmagic Design introduced the H.264 Pro Recorder, a Mini Converter sized box with HD/SDSDI, HDMI, analog component, Y/C or composite SD or HD inputs. The unit transfers encoded H.264 (MPEG-4 AVC) A/V stream to a computer via USB 2.0 connection which also powers the Pro Recorder. It also has an RS-422 port for deck control. The H.264 Pro Recorder comes with Blackmagic's Media Express software for capture with deck control. The captured H.264 files are compatible with Web, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and other mobile devices.
Apple's QuickTime ProRes CODEC support was added to AJA's Ki Pro digital recorder, while Avid Media Composer 5 software, and Adobe Creative Suite 5 applications improved or added support for more file-based acquisition formats like RED raw, XDCAM EX / HD, HDCAM SR, AVCHD and AVC-Intra. Motu's V4HD added ProRes to its existing DVCProHD capture capability, and delivers converted HD or SD video to the computer via either FireWire 400 or 800.
Fast Forward Video's HD3 field recorder is worth a look for anyone seeking a portable record/ review DVR with direct-to-disk recording. The unit captures video to JPEG2000.mov files in either HD or SD, 10-bit 4:2:2 sampling at 100 Mbps. It can also handle up to eight embedded audio tracks in an HD stream, or 4 in an SD stream. This genlockable unit contains DVR control, an LCD monitor, and 2.5-inch removable drives for media storage all within a durable compact hard case.