What went on in Vegas didn’t stay there

As my Facebook and Twitter feed morphs from the obligatory “here we go again” and “look out Vegas, I’m coming to get you” status updates to the more subdued “Broken” and “BA, you’re rubbish” posts, I see that another NAB has come and gone. 

The industry marketing machine was in full flow, and I feel that I got most of the kit announcements that were relevant to my customers, and therefore to me too. And I don’t see any of them as game-changers; more incremental workflow benefits rather than any must-have new toys. 

Sony announced a new studio / OB camera which looks interesting…The  HDC-5500 seems to sit squarely in the currently ubiquitous HDC-4300 space, so I’m not clear what purpose this serves, other than to frustrate the market which has invested so heavily in the HDC-4300’s and are now expecting a reasonable lifespan to generate their ROI. I spoke with a friend of mine from the other side of the Sony fence, and I’m not sure I’m any the wiser. I gather that the new model is “only” UHD, whilst the former is true 4K. I’d challenge even the keenest engineer’s eye to tell the difference in the MCR of a studio or an OB truck, let alone when the image has been squirted down fibre and up and down from a satellite and in to the front room of the viewer’s home who still can’t tell the difference between SD and HD. 

The new 5500 also has a global shutter which is a new development, and the UHD and High Frame Rate upgrade licenses are portable i.e. if you’re a hire company, you can make any of your cameras 4K with HFR. This is a nice touch, if somewhat frustrating for those who have already invested in a fleet of 4300’s. 

It’s not a new or unique mantra in business to strive to make your own product obsolete, the theory being that if you don’t, then someone else will. The 4300 hasn’t suddenly become a bad camera, far from it, and I don’t see there being a stampede from customers to swap their 4300’s for the newer model, but this new camera might be a bitter-ish pill for the OB rental companies to swallow. And to watch this amazing footage from whatever your choice of camera, you obviously need a brand new reference monitor, so Sony has launched the  BVM-HX310 31” screen too. 

The full Sony NAB presentation can be viewed here.

Sony also announced the V4.0 Venice firmware which allows High Frame Rate up to 120 fps @ 4K or 60 fps @ 6K. The Venice is proving extremely popular in the top-end digital cinematography space that Arri and RED have dominated. With its more accessible price tag than the Arri Alexa LF, the Venice has been selling faster than demand can keep up with. So it was perhaps the worst kept secret in broadcast that the Arri Alexa LF Mini would be announced to combat this threat. The Alexa Mini has been such a runaway success and Arri is clearly hoping that the LF Mini will follow in its formidable footsteps. I gather it’ll start shipping mid-summer but, with units likely to leak out rather than in a flood, it seems that this camera might miss the traditional summer shooting season. It would be a brave DoP who takes serial number 00001 out on a shoot before it’s had a good test. Arri seems to be making a big fuss over the viewfinder for the Mini LF, which does look really clever. It’s water-resistant, and the viewfinder cable can run for 10 metres and can be used to operate the camera remotely, which could be a handy feature. 

Here’s a short Red Shark News YouTube clip of the Arri Alexa LF Mini

The AVID marketing jungle drums were banging loud and proud, with the key point  being their re-engineered and expanded Media Composer. The 2019 re-incarnation is pitched as a complete finishing tool, being able to access editing, effects, colour, audio and finishing tools all within the Media Composer domain. They also announced their “Cloudspaces” cloud-based storage solution. Designed to work alongside their more traditional NEXIS hardware storage solution, it offers great flexibility for scaling-up for individual projects, which I imagine might be really useful if it’s as seemless as they claim. 

Vizrt’s purchase of Newtek is pretty big news. Newtek pioneered NDI technology and their products have been well received even if they have lost their way a little, in the UK at least, in recent times. 

On a generic technology front, 8K seemed to be making noise, most notably from manufacturers who don’t have a long broadcast equipment legacy to protect. Z-Cam and Sharp spring to mind, but one company that didn’t quite make it to NAB was Cinemartin, who have been busy trying to develop their “Fran” 8K camera before the money ran out just before NAB. Maybe a salutary lesson to make something because people might want it, rather than just because you can. “Cheapest” is the worst of USP’s, and often leads to ruin. 

Canon launched their first set of PL mount prime lenses. There are 7 Sumire lenses in the set, and seem priced to attract the rental houses rather than owner-operators, in what is a fairly crowded sector. That said, we’ve funded a good number of expensive camera and/or lens purchases recently for operators and they are making a success of their investment. And for those less keen on changing lenses, or preferring the run-and-gun operation, Fujinon’s new Premista 28-100mm T2.9 PL mount prime lens is likely to be popular, although again, it’s a crowded market. 

NAB is the biggest draw on the Trade Show merry-go-round, and without doubt the most expensive for a UK business to attend. If I was selling equipment globally, then I think that it’s a must-attend event because the opportunity to bump in to new potential customers on neutral territory and build experiences and friendships is always the best start to any relationship. But I gather, anecdotally, that attendee numbers from the UK were well down on previous years, and the majority of those UK visitors were from manufacturers or the larger kit resellers. How many rental companies/ OB companies / post production companies actually made the trip across? The macro-economic issues here in the UK may be making business owners think once or twice about spending money on non-essentials. I have since heard that a major and long-established UK reseller has closed its doors, and that’s sad to hear. 

If you went, what did you think? What was your highlight? Always keen to hear the views of others. I’ve seen the social media rants about the BA flights home, and the treatment of some of my friends was dreadful. I remember being “stuck” in Vegas for a week in 2010 after the ash cloud. It was a tough sell to friends back home that it was not quite as they imagined being stuck in Vegas would be. For anyone familiar with the Fun scale, it was definitely type 2 fun. If you were delayed this time, how was it for you? Type 1 or 2? Hopefully not type 3.