The Sunday of NAB is traditionally laid out in a fairly consistent way: Panasonic first, then Sony, then Avid. All of these are guaranteed to be dull, because big, weighty companies (even those that aren't actually doing that well) really don't seem to know what's actually interesting to the media tech people who attend NAB. What follows is therefore picked out of a sea of corporate blasting-on about unremarkable monitors and new variants on h.264.
Panasonic's most impressive news, though a sideline really, is that they've produced a firmware update for the AF100 that provides 1080 50p and 60p modes. They want money for it - $300 - but it's pretty unusual to have a complete new ability added to a camera after the fact like that and if I were an AF100 owner I'd be feeling pretty well-looked-after. There have always been rumours that the sensor on the GH2 stills camera, which is suspected to be the same as that in the AF100, runs at 50p or 60p when producing 25 or 30-frame interlaced modes, so there was scuttlebut about that this was technically possible - but it's nice to see that Panasonic haven't kept it back for an AF200.
They also hinted - and barely more than that - at a "4K varicam". It seemed chunky, although I hesitate to complain about bulk on the basis that it had room for real, full-size XLR connectors, not those tiny things that occasionally cause grief for other manufacturers. They also pushed, among other things, an "AVC Ultra" codec, which is to be available in versions subtitled 100, 200 and 444, for progressively higher end work. I find cynicism slipping in here: this is really just another set of variations on h.264, which Panasonic did not invent, and trying to productise it and make it exclusive just causes a bunch more compatibility work for post people.
Actually the most interesting part of the day was a conversation I had with the president (CEO? Boss, anyway) of Avid. Until a few years ago, Avid was like Pro Tools: a bunch of features stuck on with crazy glue and duct tape, idiosyncratic and wilful, and only popular because the people who used it believed that learning anything else would be just as unnecessarily tricky. Pro Tools is still like that; Avid has for a while been less so, given Media Exchange and greater ability to throw a mixture of stuff on a timeline. Senior management are very rarely technical, but I managed to have a halfway-coherent conversation with the boss about the irritation caused by codec-o-the-month camera engineering, and the tendency of people just like Panasonic to slap a new label on a new variant of h.264 and make everyone write new ingest code for it. As a standardisation, technical and ultimately business and political issue, this needs to stop. The situation has been crazy for years.
This morning, we were treated to breakfast by AJA. I wasn't expecting much, since they've been banging on about the same Kona hardware for years, although it does now have 4K (as four HDSDI connectors) both in and out, as part of a free firmware update. Much more significantly, they've produced a 4K version of the Ki Pro mini recorder, with significant integration with the new Canon C500 - about both of which which more later, once I've had a much more intimate poke about with it.
Oh, and PS - Grass Valley are current winners of the NAB Best Canape Awards 2012, judged by me, with avid coming a close second.
NAB: Panasonic and Sony
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