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NAB Diaries Day Two: Of lights, LED volumes, and the persistence of LCDs

Neon nights:
4 minute read
Neon nights: Shutterstock

Phil Rhodes continues his peregrination around the booths of NAB 2023 and finds less AI than expected but plenty of lighting.

Quite a lot of people seemed to want NAB 2023 to turn out to be the year of AI, much as the production-centric parts of last year’s show were heavily influenced by virtual production. And sure, it’s hard to overlook the huge leaps recently made by artificial intelligence researchers, many of which seem likely to make significant impacts on at least some fairly specific parts of the average human’s life. Even so, the idea that this year’s NAB show is overrun by products which seem likely to put large numbers of people out of business is wishful thinking. There are no legions of sinister, blank-faced robots stomping over the hilltop with murder on their simulated minds, cool as it’d be.

Although the giant-screen presentations of huge LED coves on vast booth areas we saw last year are less in evidence this year, there’s certainly still some significant representation of virtual production. One major and very visible demo - whose blushes we’ll spare - seemed determined to showcase some very dubious technique, with visible synchronisation problems and inexpert placement of interactive lighting. Those sorts of public mistakes don’t really help anyone, and it’s a relief to see mostly much better work elsewhere on the show floor.

Chief amongst that good work are some brand new advances in the colour quality of LED video wall panels. Historic designs have relied exclusively on red, white and blue-emitting LEDs, with the result that light which appears white actually has (among other problems) no yellow or turquoise in it at all. The result is that oranges look red and teals look blue, and people look blotchy and unflattering. That limits the application of interactive lighting produced by the LED wall, which is one of the most oft-quoted benefits of virtual production in the first place.

White emitters

As a solution to this, processor manufacturer Brompton and panel fabricator Roe have collaborated on a new system which includes white emitters. In comparison to the sort of technology which is often seen in film and television production lighting that might seem a little elementary, given the latest LED light may include two different shades of white or even amber, cyan and lime emitters in conjunction with the red, green and blue. While we haven’t been able to put a colour meter on the resulting light under controlled circumstances, a comparison between the old and the new colour solutions reveals exactly the sort of improvement we’d expect from a higher colour quality light source. Reds which went neon, and oranges which went red under poorer-quality light are much more properly rendered with the new design.

It bears comparison to Kino-Flo’s Mimik VR panel, which made a brief appearance at the BSC show. There’s some offset in price, performance and intent between the two, though, so it’ll be interesting to see what applications both of them find. While we’re over in the lighting-and-camera area of central hall looking at Kino-Flo, we might also notice some effective new offerings from Core SWX, which is showing its Renegade range of toolbox-sized batteries. Designed to run high-power lighting such as Aputure’s 600- and 1200-watt open-faced COBs, there are a couple of versions which offer different combinations of output connectors and voltages.

And yes, one of them does offer two 48V outputs sufficient to run the Aputure LS 1200d at full power. Battery life will be less than all day, but the speed and convenience is huge, even if we then choose to run in mains later. It’s easy to overlook batteries, but as lights get bigger and bigger the stress on power becomes necessarily higher, and the ability to produce this much light with gear that can be carried (if by two people) is a big help especially on smaller shoots.

While we’re on the subject, it’s fairly common knowledge that Aputure has launched its Infinibar system at NAB 2023. The word “system” is carefully chosen here, given that Infinibars are intended to mount end-to-end with a minimally visible gap. The intent here is clearly effects rather than illumination - the company’s existing pixel tubes are probably better at that - but it’s a tidy system and the square profile probably makes more sense than a round tube in any case. Did anyone ever really consider why we were aping the form factor of a fluorescent in the first place?

OLED shortages

There’s been some unfortunate news from SmallHD, which has suffered from the (very) recent failure of OLED manufacturer JOLED. SmallHD had planned to release a 32-inch OLED display with high, 700-plus-nit brightness based on a 32-inch panel from the company which might have been very highly competitive, but on March 28 this year, JOLED filed for bankruptcy. To have lost a critical supplier that close to the launch of a product has led to some grim faces around the SmallHD exhibit, but there’s nothing whatsoever anyone there could have done about it. OLED manufacturing is notoriously difficult and even Sony was eventually forced to exit the business, hence the replacement of its highly respected BVM-X300 mastering display with the LCD-based BVM-HX310.

The good news is that SmallHD also has some displays intended for precision grading which are based around LCDs with matrix backlight technology, with some clever tricks employed to minimise ghosting. It speaks volumes that SmallHD has created some absolutely brutal torture tests for its matrix backlight displays, showing moving dots and rotating bars in full white against a black background, intended to reveal any tendency for the backlight to create a pixelated glow around bright highlights. It’s impossible to avoid the reality that the company’s 22-inch OLED display still looks better, but while the world seems doomed to struggle in the production of big, bright OLEDs, it’ll be crucial for quality LCD options to exist.

As we stroll into the last full day of the show, our attention turns away from the brightest lights and the biggest exhibits of the show floor. First, there’s the conference tracks, which today feature speakers on the subject of running small crews and working as an independent cinematographer, things which accrue more and more importance as the equipment becomes, frankly, more and more commoditised. Between seminars, we’ll have a scout around the smaller, less trafficked areas of Central Hall and see what hits might still sleep on the smaller booths, and report back here tomorrow.

Tags: Production Virtual Production NAB Show