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NAB 2007

Jun 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By D. W. Leitner, Jan Ozer, Dan Ochiva, and Jeff Sauer

Impressive new offerings at reasonable prices.

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Digital Nation
Editing and Output
Store and Forward
High-impact LCDs

Matrox Axio Family

Editing and Output

By Jan Ozer

At NAB 2007, the lower level of the South Hall was dominated by computer-related technologies. This article first describes video editing-related announcements, then announcements relating to streaming media encoding. (Editor's note: For Ozer's take on announcements from Avid and Apple, click here.)

Before NAB, Adobe announced that the company would ship the next version of what was previously known as Production Studio on both the Windows and Intel-based Mac platforms. At the show, Adobe fleshed out the new features and integration advances of the new suite, now known as Creative Suite 3 Production Premium. (Creative Suite 3 Design, which includes Photoshop CS3 Extended, began shipping during the show. Creative Suite 3 Production Premium, which includes new versions of Premiere Pro and After Effects, will ship in July.)

For example, Adobe Photoshop CS3 Extended supports video layers, for video painting and cloning over multiple frames. New features in After Effects include Shape layers, a puppet tool, and per-character 3D text animation. Premiere Pro boasts new speed controls for variable speed changes. Both After Effects and Premiere Pro can work with Adobe Device Central, allowing new preview capabilities for producing content for mobile devices. As I discovered while working on the beta, Premiere Pro can no longer author DVDs with menus, a feature I'll sorely miss for simple productions.

Adobe's late-2006 acquisition of Serious Magic yielded two additions to the suite: OnLocation and Ultra. OnLocation (formerly HDV Rack and DV Rack) is a killer product that adds tools such as a waveform monitor and audio spectrum analyzer so you can fine-tune exposure and audio settings before capturing. It's also got digital disk recorder functionality. Ultra supplies very high-quality chromakeying capabilities and virtual sets, although I'd prefer to key directly from within Premiere Pro and After Effects. Note that neither OnLocation nor Ultra will run on the Mac. They'll be in the box, but you'll need a Windows computer to run them (or Boot Camp).

Adobe added Blu-ray support to Adobe Encore, which can now also export your DVD project as a SWF, which sounds very intriguing. Speaking of sound, Adobe removed Audition from the bundle and substituted Soundbooth, which has a narrower, video-oriented feature set that doesn't include multitrack editing. Soundbooth looks good, but I've become a big fan of Audition, and I'm sorry to see it go.

Suite pricing is extremely aggressive. Although the new Production Premium suite retails for $1,699, if you own any single component such as Photoshop, After Effects, or Illustrator, you can upgrade to the new version for Windows or Macintosh for $1,199. If you're a Mac producer, and you add up the upgrades you'll probably have to make anyway — such as Photoshop and After Effects — and throw in the $500 or so you'll need for Blu-ray authoring (Sonic DVDit HD, which runs only on Windows), you're close to the upgrade price for the entire suite. With After Effects and Photoshop as anchor tenants — and because DVD Studio 4 lacks Blu-ray authoring — the CS3 suite has the potential to be an absolute blockbuster on the Macintosh platform.

Autodesk launched multiple “extensions” for its 2007 visual effects, editing/finishing, and color-grading products. Notably, Extension 1 for Inferno, Flame, Flint, Fire, and Smoke includes QuickTime support for the Linux platform, simplifying cross-platform production and workflow. Also new is Incinerator 2007 clustering technology for the Lustre digital color-grading system and Lustre Color Management, which enables greater color consistency among Autodesk products. Notable new features in Toxik include Retimer (enabling speed changes) and Grain Management.

Matrox announced that Release 3.0 of the Axio family of HD and SD editing platforms would support both Adobe CS3 Production Premium and Microsoft Windows Vista. The upgrade also incorporates new formats, including Sony HDV 1080p (HVR-V1 cameras); Canon 24f and 30f; Sony XDCAM HD 1080p (29.97fps); XDCAM HD export; 486p (29.97fps); and 576p (25fps). New realtime filters include color correction using RGB curves, Adobe garbage masks, and a sphere effect.

Matrox also upgraded its MXO to version 2, adding DVI calibration functions, super black and super white monitoring, and controls for hue, chroma, contrast, brightness, and blue-only. Also new is pixel-to-pixel mapping in SD, 720p, and 1080i. Matrox demonstrated the MXO side by side with a Sony broadcast monitor, and the test images and real-world videos were virtually identical. Note that the unit works on Intel-based and PowerPC-based Macs, and it should work with Premiere Pro when it's released for Intel-based Macs.

Media 100 demonstrated version 11.6 of its namesake editor, which is a universal binary release of Media 100's systems for Mac OS X. Also new is the Media 100 Producer, a software-only editing solution designed for mobile editing. The new system allows users to record via FireWire or Panasonic P2, assemble projects in the field, and then transfer their projects to full Media 100 systems for HD upconversion or faster processing of projects such as DVD creations.

NewTek announced a free upgrade to its SpeedEdit program that enables DVCPRO HD (MXF) file support, mixed-resolution editing on the timeline, VST filter plug-in support, CG Post animated titling, and WMVHD, VC1, and Windows Media Format 11 output. The upgrade should be available by the end of Q2 2007.

Sony Creative Software announced and demonstrated a 64-bit version of video editor Sony Vegas, although it's not scheduled to ship before the end of 2007. During the demonstration, Vegas ran on a 64-bit AMD computer running 64-bit Windows Vista and previewed four HDV clips simultaneously. According to Sony, 64-bit mode lets the software address more memory, so it can cache video clips in RAM or on disk, and it enables more efficient multi-threaded operation. Also new is Soundforge 9, which includes the company's vaunted noise-reduction software and several plug-ins from Izotope, plus sorely needed multi-channel capabilities.

Finally, Thomson's Grass Valley Edius editor moved up to version 4.5 at the show, with a “sleek new user interface,” according to the company. There's support for JPEG2000 for HD recording in the Grass Valley Infinity digital media camcorder, Panasonic AVC-Intra and DVCPRO HD 720p, Sony HDV 1080 24p/25p/30p, and JVC HDV 720 50p/60p. Edius 4.5 is a free upgrade, so Edius 4 owners should definitely check it out.

The first wave of computer companies to appear at NAB related to nonlinear editing systems on computer platforms and supporting technologies. The next wave relates to compression for streaming, and multiple such companies were at NAB in force.

The new Adobe Media Player was one of the most important announcements at the show. Briefly, it's a standalone Flash player for the Windows, Mac, and (down the road) Linux desktops. It's significant because it eliminates two big negatives of the Flash format: the lack of digital rights management (DRM) capabilities, and the inability to easily store a Flash file for later playback. As you would expect, the player is highly customizable for branding and advertising purposes.

Interestingly, one notable gap in Flash functionality is the inability to play on portable devices such as the Zune and Apple iPod. I spoke with product manager Craig Barberich about this, who reported that Adobe was watching viewing statistics for portable devices and may take steps to address this in the future — but certainly not the short-term future. For the present, it appears that MPEG-4 is king in the portable space.

Speaking of that, French company Ateme announced the Kyrion family of HD products. The rack-based (1RU) unit that the company demonstrated accepted MPEG-2 input, and it output scalable MPEG-4 ranging from HD resolutions (at about 6Mbps) down to 300kbps playing on a cell phone. Remarkably, the HD MPEG-4 video, playing side by side with the original MPEG-2, actually seemed to look better than the source, courtesy of proprietary de-blocking algorithms deployed in the MPEG-4 stream.

Digital Rapids launched a new version of its Stream Transcode Manager media transcoding program, as well as the Studio AVC Encoder, an MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 encoder for the VOD and IPTV platforms. Kulabyte demonstrated its TimeSlice encoding solution, three years in the making, which uses time slicing to efficiently distribute encoding among multiple processor cores. Kulabyte claims it has the “world's fastest” encoder; we'll find out this month, when the first product ships. The Professional Flash Encoding Suite is a highly optimized solution for VP6 Flash encoding. In addition, Grass Valley showed the latest version of its software-based batch-encoding tool, ProCoder 3, which adds new acquisition formats and outputs for mobile video (including the Apple iPod), and improved support for multi-CPU and multiple-core PCs, as well as inverse telecine.

Microsoft revealed Silverlight, previously called Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere (WPF/E), a plug-in designed to compete with Flash. The efficacy of this solution is already heating up the message boards, and it should be interesting grist for the discussion mill over the next few months. Microsoft also announced the Expression Media Encoder, and its booth was filled with VC-1 encoding partners, including Intel, Digital Rapids, Winnov, ViewCast, and Tarari.

In its booth, Rhozet showed Carbon Coder 2.5 with support for SD and HD versions of Panasonic P2, Sony XDCAM, and Avid MediaStream formats, as well as Dolby Digital (AC-3) audio support. While interviewing company president David Trescott, I got to meet two members of the ESPN digital media services group, who regaled me with gossip about their anchors and praise for Carbon Coder. It was a fun moment.

Finally, Telestream announced direct integration of its Episode series of compression applications with Apple's Compressor 3, expanding format support to include Flash 8, Windows Media, and VC-1.

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