Content Comes to Live in Las Vegas
A Report from NAB 2016
By Mel Lambert
The annual NAB Show, held April 16-21 in Las Vegas, provided a unique opportunity for post-production professionals to explore emergent sound and image technologies within the seminar programs, in addition to reviewing the latest system offerings in a companion exhibition, which attracted a reported 1,870 exhibitors with an attendance of more than 103,000. Adopting a core theme this year of “Where Content Comes to Life,” it was obvious from the type of sessions and workshops being offered — together with the hardware on display — that this show is now more about the creation, post-production and delivery of a wide range of content via over-the-air, broadband and related to-the-consumer channels, and less about RF transmission, as was the case a decade ago. For the post community, our tools for producing 4K, UHD, high dynamic range, high frame rate and wide color gamut images are becoming sharper and more powerful, while the possibilities for collaboration across multiple disciplines is enhancing our creativity and efficiency.
In addition, virtual and augmented reality is starting to impact various aspects of storytelling, and creating new immersive AV experiences for consumers. The NAB Show’s Virtual & Augmented Reality Pavilion, sponsored by Technicolor and G-Technology, showcased new immersive developments from such companies as Façade TV, KonceptVR, Nokia and VokeVR. Fraunhofer demonstrated applications of its MPEG-H/Cingo audio codec to deliver object-based immersive audio to VR-enabled smartphones. Jaunt also presented a Kaleidoscope VR Showcase that featured innovative narrative, environmental and interactive content.
Standout sessions during the “The Future of Cinema Conference: The Immortal Movie” conference, produced in partnership with SMPTE, came from seasoned filmmaker Ang Lee, who committed to high frame rate and high dynamic range imagery for his new in-progress offering, and the remarkable Light Field camera systems from Lytro Cinema. During his standing room-only conference keynote, Lee described how his upcoming offering, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, will be the first major motion picture to be captured in 120 fps in 3D at 4K and HDR resolutions. An 11-minute segment from the planned Sony TriStar film, which currently is scheduled for a mid-November release, also was shown in a separate area using a pair of Christie 4K Mirage laser projectors that delivered via high-speed data servers at a full 120 fps 4K resolution per eye. The result was nothing short of breathtaking, with long lines of NAB delegates eager to view this breakthrough technology.
Picture editor Tim Squyers, left, director Ang Lee and production supervisor Ben Gervais.
Recall that in 2012 Peter Jackson shot The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at 48 fps, while director James Cameron reportedly has been testing 60 fps for possible Avatar sequels, and director/VFX guru Douglas Trumbull is investigating 72 fps technologies. It's still unclear how many theatres will be equipped to show Lee’s new film in his preferred format. Dolby Vision — which uses two Christie 4K laser projectors and the firm’s proprietary HDR technology — can show 3D in 2K at 120 fps per eye, while late-generation Christie and Barco projectors reportedly can replay Billy Lynn in 2D at 60 fps.
The Oscar- and BAFTA-winning director of Life of Pi, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain detailed how his new format choice “has been a long journey, but we are discovering what digital cinema can be. The 120 fps image has more depth, even in 2D.” As picture editor Tim Squyres, ACE, explained, “We cut the film at 60 fps on Avid Media Composer,” and then conformed the 120 fps master using EDL markers. “We installed a 12-foot screen and dual Christie projectors in the cutting room so that we could view the results at 120 fps. While shooting Life of Pi, we noticed we had a lot of motion blur on the faces during the water scenes, which we corrected using artificial sharpening. With 120 fps we can now see everything.”
During a subsequent panel discussion entitled “Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk – Technical Deep Dive,” and moderated by Variety’s David Cohen, Lee stressed that innovation should serve the filmmaker’s goals, not restrict choices. “I am still making human stories,” he stated. “We do not work for the technology; technology must work for us. I’m not saying that 120 fps is better than 24 fps – [that choice] depends upon the film scene and its artistic intent.”
Lytro Light Field Cinema Camera.
The other major breakthrough showcased during the NAB Show, with obvious implications for the post community, was the Lytro light field camera, described during the “Will the Future of VR and 3D Capture a Light Field?” session by company head Jules Karafin, and subsequently during a standing-room-only product demonstration and playback of Life, a short film shot by director Robert Stromberg with light field technology and edited using The Foundry Nuke Studio VFX/editing application. While the prototype Lytro Cinema Camera on show at the NAB Show was eight-feet long and weighed several hundred pounds, more compact versions are expected to be developed in the near future.
Although the science behind light waves dates back to 1846, it was only very recently that practical hardware has become available that allows every color nuance of a scene to be captured and then manipulated on the set or in post with full control over focus, perspective, aperture and shutter angle. Reportedly, the light field camera captures 755 Mpixels of raw image data per second from the 400-microlens sensor array at frame rates up 300 fps with 16 stops of available dynamic range. Rendering options include IMAX, RealD, Dolby Vision, ACES and HFR formats.
In essence, each Lytro light-wave pixel captures color properties, directional properties and its exact placement in space. Powerful new capabilities include post-capture refocus and extended depth of field, to reset the camera focus near or far, with aperture control to recreate a shot during editorial as if that same decision had been made on set. In addition, every Lytro frame in a live action shot becomes a 3D environment, a function that is said to simplify the integration of CGI with real-world footage, while composite foregrounds and backgrounds can be created in post using depth information and hence reduce the need for on-set green screens. The Lytro Cinema Camera should be available in Q3 2016 on a subscription basis, with package prices starting at around $125,000, which would include sufficient processing and storage for some 100 shots.
MPSE Creative Master Series panel: James Clyne, visual effects art director at ILM, left; Matthew Wood, supervising sound editor at Skywalker Sound; MPSE Treasurer Paul Rodriguez; and Pat Tubach, visual effects supervisor at ILM.
MPSE Sound Panel on Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
“We used a number of iconic sounds created by [sound designer] Ben Burtt from early episodes of the Star Wars series,” explained supervising sound editor Matthew Wood during an MPSE Sound Panel moderated by Byron Bishop from The Verve, and produced in partnership with the Motion Picture Sound Editors. “For the film’s opening five-minute chase sequence, we secured fresh transfers of Ben’s original sound effects. But the TIE Fighters sounds were very short, so I went back to the original files and lengthened them, as necessary, and added new elements — including the sound of cars moving on wet pavement.”
For the Millennium Falcon weapons featured in the film, Wood recalled that his base element was “a 50-cal [long gun], and the original Star War lasers. For the chair sounds [of the weapon operator], I recorded motion of the real seat used on the set.” The light sable brandished by Kylo Ren “had to sound like it was broken; that it might blow up in your hand. I used two low-frequency tones that sounded dark and dangerous, slowed down and extended…together with a cat purr,” Wood told the attentive audience.
For the scene in which Finn is witnessing the TIE Fighters being drawn into quicksand, “I used a sucking sound of dog food being pulled out of a can, and a long low-frequency burp,” Wood continued. “For added drama, I also added a rolling-thunder sound effect into the surrounds after the subsequent explosion.”
Voice of the new BB-8 android, Wood reported, was provided by actors Ben Schwartz and Bill Hader using English dialogue provided by the film’s director, J .J. Abrams, “who knew what he wanted. We also used an oscillator on the set to provide continuity and then replaced that during editorial with Ben and Bill reading the lines in character,” Wood explained. Reportedly, Abrams wanted to place BB-8 in long scenes with the film’s female lead character Rey, where BB-8 could seem both funny yet exhibit feelings of warmth. “We fed the sound through a Talk Box,” he recalled, referring to the effect used to good effect by musician Peter Frampton on several songs. “Bill Hader used his mouth to shape the sound.”
New Technology Offerings for the Post Community
Starting with non-linear editing systems, The Foundry unveiled new features for Studio, including the Smart Vector toolset plus a new chroma keyer, improved audio scrubbing tools and a range of new timeline-based effects, while Adobe demonstrated new features for Premiere Pro CC, including editing while importing video and audio files in background; proxy workflows to streamline sessions with heavy 8K, HDR and HFR media, allowing editors to freely switch between native and proxy formats, even on less-powerful platforms; and enhanced Lumetri color tools that add HSL secondary controls for simplified color correction and adjustments. Audition CC now includes an Essential Sound panel that is said to streamline audio mixing for Premier Pro users.
Screenlight app fro Premiere Pro.
Designed to allow picture editors to directly import comments and annotations as markers into Premiere Pro CC, a new app from Screenlight provides video content creators with frame-accurate feedback, for a faster pathway to final delivery. Other features include vector-based drawing tools to capture visual cues, comment export in multiple print and NLE-compatible formats, sign-ins that offer enhanced security, plus expanded audio and RAW image support.
In addition to spotlighting additions to its Avid Everywhere functions, with new tools for creating, managing and distributing content more efficiently, Avid showed an expanded Connectivity Partner Program to provide prospective developers with a single resource. The new NEXIS software-defined media-storage platform powered by Avid’s MediaCentral platform is said to deliver dynamic virtualization, adaptive protection and media-savvy collaboration, with fully virtualized storage functions that adjust storage capacity mid-project, without disrupting workflows. Also to be seen: an Audio Post Mixing demo of theatrical and TV workflows, using a 32-fader S6 console with Dolby Atmos object-based panning/assignment, a Pro Tools|HDX system and a JBL Professional monitoring system.
Blackmagic Design unveiled DaVinci Resolve 12.5, which includes additions to its editing toolset and enhanced color features, including improved HDR support, as well as ResolveFX, a new framework for native GPU- and CPU-accelerated effects. For more advanced visual effects work, a new FusionConnect feature allows customers to send clips to AudioCodes Fusion. Featuring 40 Gbps Thunderbolt 3-based I/O, the firm’s UltraStudio 4K Extreme 3 offers high-speed video capture and playback; DeckLink Duo 2 is a new high performance capture/playback solution with four independent channels.
Cinedeck showed CineXinsert, a stand-alone Macintosh-compatible application for the firm’s file-based technology that allows users to frame-accurately insert new segments of video, audio or closed captioning into closed flat files without re-exporting or re-rendering entire programs. Like its hardware counterparts, CineXinsert supports multiple codecs, including Pro Res, DNxHD, XDCAM and AVC-Intra in Quick Time and MXF file wrappers. In this way, the company says, small changes — such as replacing a title or fixing an audio pop — that normally would take hours can be completed in just a few minutes.
Sonnet Technologies showcased its first products featuring Thunderbolt 3 I/O, including the new Fusion Thunderbolt 3 PCIe Flash Drive, a rugged, pocket-sized SSD device capable of transferring data at speeds of over 2 Gbps, and equipped with 512 GB of flash storage. An ultra-fast alternative to portable SATA-based hard disk drives, SSD storage and USB drives, the new unit measures just 2.8x4.1x1.25 inches. Also to be seen: xMac series of Thunderbolt 2-to-PCIe card expanders and enclosures that are Avid-qualified.
G-Technology unveiled G Rack 12, a high-performance, network-attached storage array with 12 bays of drives to provide between 48 TB and 120 TB of storage; a second chassis adds up to another 120 TB. Four 10GbE network ports are featured for transfer rates of up to 2 Gbps. Also to be seen: G Speed Shuttle XL, available in both six and eight bay RAID versions with Thunderbolt 2 I/O; and Studio XL, which features the same choice of set ups, without a rugged case.
With ATSC 3.0, the next-generation broadcast standard, just around the technology corner, and with new object-based immersive-audio capabilities, in addition to UHD and other video enhancements, several companies were demonstrating new media-creation tools. While North America looks to be heading towards implementing Dolby AC-4 multichannel audio codecs in transmission and consumer hardware, South Korea is opting for MPEG-H Audio, the other approved codec format being promoted by Technicolor, Fraunhofer IIS and Qualcomm, in anticipation of the 2020 Summer Olympics to be held in Tokyo. Samsung, for example, will be shipping select AC-4-enabled TVs next year, capable of decoding alternate-language soundtracks, plus services for hearing- and visually-impaired audiences.
Kona IP PCIe card.
Turning to connectivity products, AJA updated its line-up of Kona PCIe video capture/playback cards with the new Kona IP, an eight-lane PCIe 2.0 card designed for post facilities transitioning from SDI to IP video. An HDMI v1.4 output is provided for monitoring, with two SFP+ cages for use with third-party transceiver modules using 10 GigeE I/O connections to a network switcher. Also to be seen: a “technology preview” of the new IPR-1G-HDMI mini-converter, which supports JPEG-2000 decoding and 1 GigE LAN connectivity, with an HDMI for monitor output.
Thinklogical introduces the new TLX Series of CATx matrix switches and accessories, which includes video and KVM extenders plus switches from 12 to 640 ports. A 10 Gbps hybrid signal transmission architecture is said to support both standard CATx copper network cabling and fiber links that carry uncompressed signals with low latency and pixel-for-pixel transmission of 4K DCI/UHD resolution video (up to 4096 x 2160 resolution, 60 Hz frame rate, 4:4:4 color depth) with no visual artifacts, jitter or lost frames.
RTW Loundess Tool.
RTW showed its new APRO-CLC01 audio processor, which provides continuous loudness and dynamic control. The unit’s processing algorithm allows users to constantly control and regulate to a given program-loudness value, along with a definable loudness range in real-time. The CLC algorithm is said to “learn” the signal’s dynamic structure and intention, and then constantly predict what will come next. The unit is compatible with EBU-R128 and other loudness standards.
Waves Audio WLM Plus Plug-in.
Waves Audio unveiled the new Waves Loudness Meter Plus (WLM Plus), a DAW plug-in that features enhanced correction and adjustment tools that are said to be fully compliant with all current ITU, EBU and ATSC specifications, including new, dedicated presets that meet ARIB TR-B32, OP-59 and the current Discovery Channel requirements. WLM Plus also includes two presets useful for gaming content creators, when working on the Sony ASWG loudness scanner.
Minnetonka Audio unveiled the new AudioTools Server for file-based workflows based on linear PCM, Dolby E, Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus content, as well as the audio essence in MXF and QuickTime clips. The system provides loudness measurement and correction to ITU, EBU & ATSC standards and practices, including dialog anchoring with Dialog Intelligence, plus encoding and decoding using SurCode for industry-standard compression codecs.
Studio Technologies showed the new Model 5205 Interface that allows two mic- or line-level signals to connect with Audinate Dante-compatible networking systems. The unit features adjustable gain and 48V phantom power for condenser, dynamic and ribbon microphones. Front-panel switches enable gain to be selected from zero to 60 dB; LEDs display gain status and phantom-power functions.
Focusrite showed several audio-network products, including RedNet A8R, which provides eight channels of Audinate Dante-based I/O with A-D and D-A conversion; RedNet A16R, which offers 16 channels of conversion with Dante networking; and Red 4Pre, a 58-in/64-out Thunderbolt 2- and Avid Pro Tools HD-compatible audio ports, with Dante networking. Also to be seen: the RedNet PCIeR Card, a PCI Express card with network redundancy, enabling ultra-low latency audio and full track count via Dante audio over IP networks.
Staying with audio-over-IP, the new Genelec 8430A SAM Studio Monitor is described as the first system to enable direct monitoring of such data IP streams, with support of AES67 and Ravenna formats. One of the firm’s Smart Active Monitoring (SAM) Series, the 8430 features a flow-optimized reflex port, high SPL and a wide bandwidth. Control is via Genelec Loudspeaker Manager V2.0 software, which is said to enable adjustments of all monitor settings.
Primeview and TBC Consoles staged a joint exhibit of display technology and workstation furniture that is said to offer turnkey solutions for post end-users and system integrators. Founded in 1997, Primeview specializes in advanced display solutions that can be found at Disney, Fox, MTV, Yahoo, Time Warner Sports and NBC Broadcast.
Killer Tracks unveiled Sound Pocket Music, a series of music CDs created by a team of British music supervisors and writers, featuring indie, TV and cinema sounds. Contributors include producers Aaron Wheeler and Louise Dowd, indie and TV soundtrack writers Sam Hooper, Ben Parsons and Lennert Busch, and score specialists Sam Sim and Stephen McKeon. Also to be heard: BLOCK CDs that feature urban music.
GPL Technologies showcased various virtualization and visualization technologies that use NVIDIA GRID and Quadr GPUs, plus the Quadro Visual Computing Appliance, which now includes several new VCA rendering plug-ins. An Elite NVIDIA partner, GPL has been assisting VFX companies, design studios and others to implement virtual desktop infrastructures.
MTI Film showed the latest version of its Cortex dailies and media management software, which boasts new features for IMF delivery, dead pixel correction, editing and 4K up-sampling. Originally conceived to streamline dailies processing, the application reportedly has developed into an end-to-end solution for managing media from the set through delivery — with tools for color, synchronization, transcoding, editing and deliverables.
Tiger Technology unveiled Project Serve, an application that is said to streamline the management of production pipelines, and accelerate post workflows, with simple creation of workspaces and users, control of access and permissions, and management of media usage. Project Serve repackages the firm’s intelligent storage workflow engine as a stand-alone workflow manager for network-attached storage.
Symply unveiled its first products: SymplyStor RAID servers and SymplyShare drives for Thunderbolt- and IP-connected workgroups. Depending upon performance needs, SymplyStor supports configurations in a choice of SSD or hard drives in capacities up to 64 TB. SymplyStor supports Thunderbolt 2 at 20 Gbps, and Thunderbolt 3 for throughput at 40 Gbps. Docked in a SymplyShare base, SymplyStor is managed as a single RAID, up to a 120 TB capacity.
Mel Lambert has been intimately involved with production industries on both sides of the Atlantic for more years than he cares to remember. He is principal of Content Creators, a Los Angeles-based copywriting and editorial service. He is also a 30-year member of the UK’s National Union of Journalists, and can be reached at email@example.com