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Opening headlines from NAB Las Vegas

19 April 2007

The NAB show is traditionally opened by press conferences from the major industry suppliers including among others Apple, Avid, GVG, Panasonic, and Sony. Industry analyst John Ive provides a flavour of the major themes emanating from this year’s show.

This year high definition is only mentioned in passing at NAB; it’s taken for granted and well on the way to becoming the new standard definition. The discussion is moving on the new higher levels of imagery such as ‘Full HD’ (1080p50) and full resolution RGB (4:4:4) processing. This requires either higher speed interconnectivity (3Gb/s) or greater levels of compression. Both avenues are being touted at the show.

But HD and beyond HD are not the only games in town. Alternative delivery channels are very much on the agenda as well, with all the majors positioning themselves and their products for multiformat delivery.

‘Video everywhere’ was the opening theme of the Thomson/GVG press conference, a coverall statement for managing and delivering video within the IP domain with a particular emphasis on distribution to mobiles. Jeff Rosica also highlighted the evolution of GVG’s traditional switcher products and once again introduced the long-awaited Infinity line-up.

Panasonic demonstrated growing confidence in its solid state storage strategy with a show theme of ‘When it Counts’. Claiming 25,000 customers worldwide for P2 HD, Panasonic introduced yet another compression strategy (AVCHD) to be available in August. With memory card capacities growing and costs reducing, useful recording times are now available in HD. New camcorders were announced and one came away with the impression that Panasonic (and also to a certain extent Sony) are concentrating on what they do best and partnering with the likes of Apple to achieve complete systems.

The Sony press conference as usual was a slick affair with lots of high quality video to view including a short NBA basketball sequence in 3D. Announcing a partnership with Omneon, Sony re-launched its SONAPS networked news environment. This announcement included an ongoing commitment to MPEG-2 based compression for production applications. Sony has enjoyed success with HD cameras and a lower cost version of the 1500 series was announced. Additionally Sony has launched a new range of professional LCD monitors which it claims compare well with the traditional tube-based Grade 1 devices.

Finally the company threw its hat in the ring with the announcement of a solid state storage camcorder which is perhaps a significant endorsement of the technology and its viability. Very few details were given but the announcement alone is significant. In usual Sony style this new line-up complements, and does not replace, the XDCAM HD range of products.

Apple hosted more than 2000 attendees at its ‘Media Event’ which at times seemed more like a religious experience than a new product showcase. Nevertheless, what was presented was indeed impressive with Final Cut Pro and Final Cut Studio both getting a major work-over to versions 6.0 and 2.0 respectively. Operational demonstrations clearly showed why Apple continues to gain in popularity, with usability and workflow being much more than a slogan but real deliverables. The high-end also received attention with a new HD compression format, Pro-RES 422, promising ‘uncompressed HD quality at SD file sizes’. Finally a new software-based server product is targeting the small workgroup at a small price!

Avid celebrated 20 years in the industry with a rather conceptual set of presentations. Perhaps responding to preconceived perceptions, one of the its show themes is ‘An open platform for a total solution’ at the same time declaring it has 270 partners. New or upgraded servers were on offer including an all new Mediastream playout server. Upgrades to existing products and a new all-in-one low cost editor, Liquid Chrome Xe, were announced. An interesting new development was ScriptSync, which appears to be a move to speed up editor and shot selection by syncing video to the text of the script. This has been tried before unsuccessfully, but perhaps with increased computing power its time has come.

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