22 Jan 2018

A tech wishlist for the rest of 2018

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Leaving jetpacks and holidays on the Moon aside, now that CES 2018 is over what technology are we still waiting to come down the pipe to make the whole business of producing video easier?

Better batteries


Blueshape's batteries include wireless monitoring and control

Battery technology is a leader in the field of spurious news stories that seem to only very rarely lead to actual products. There have been a good few of these recently, from hilariously impractical (but cool-sounding) hydrogen fuel cells to entirely new rechargeable battery technology based on golden nanowires (from UC Irvine), graphene, supercapacitors, sodium ions and many other technologies. None of them is yet available in a form you can slap on a camera.

Or on a light, which is possibly a more crucial application for battery power. The surge in battery-powered lighting has brought with it something of a lack of understanding about power density. Many people haven't quite realised that a 500-watt LED is just as hard to power as a 500-watt HMI, and probably outputs a similar amount of raw photons. Ultimately, to light a scene we may still need big lights and those big lights may need lots of power, whether that means large batteries or larger numbers of small batteries. With full-size camera batteries at the prices they are, it's very plausible for even a quite high-quality light to need a battery system worth more than it is in order to run for half a day.

More capacity, ideally without increasing price more than slightly, is crucial. It's been a while since we saw a big improvement.

Better storage

LTO 5 is an older generation now storing 1.5TB per tape but drives still go for 500

LTO 5 is an older generation now, storing 1.5TB per tape, but drives still go for £500

It's harder to criticise hard disk technology in the same way. There have been developments (perpendicular recording, shingled recording, now heat and microwave-assisted recording) and they have all been commercialised to some degree, not to mention the entire field of solid-state storage which has made essentially all modern cameras practical by dramatically – dramatically - reducing the cost of really high-quality recordings. Recording tech had been holding very good cameras back for decades and this was genuinely a sea change.

Three problems remain. The first is that despite much good work, disk capacity has still not kept up with demand for storage. UHD or 4K acquisition consumes essentially four times the disk space of HD and 8K cameras, such as those recently announced by Sharp, are becoming more common. This is, as ever, subject to the reality check that most of the world is still more than happy to shoot and finish in HD and 4K is only required by a tiny minority of clients, but even if 8K is retained only for special-purpose work, more storage is required for a potentially generalised 4K uptake. The work is being done, but more, sooner, is needed. Pedal faster, guys.

The second storage issue is that there still isn't really an obvious solution to long-term backup. LTO is functional but really a bit too expensive for most of the applications which actually need it. These are often one-man-band post operations or shoot-and-edit people who need to back up their clients' rushes. Desktop LTO drives perpetually sit at £1500-£2000 plus the required SAS PCIe interface card, for a drive of the latest generation or one back. It's highly capable, with LTO7 offering a capacity of 6TB per tape – overlooking the compression that largely won't work for video data – but we need something at perhaps two thirds that price point to make it more available. Various esoteric technologies for holographic or other three-dimensional laser recording techniques have been suggested, but none are anywhere near being marketed.

The third is that flash storage isn't getting big enough fast enough. Improvements in the rate of change here are more of a hope than an expectation, though: it's a huge market, a vast market, and we benefit as ever from the work done to serve a far larger sector than just media production. Everyone wants bigger flash chips.

Nobody actually wants spinning metal anymore, but it seems likely we'll be seeing it at the forefront of storage tech for years yet.

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Phil Rhodes

Phil Rhodes is a Cinematographer, Technologist, Writer and above all Communicator. Never afraid to speak his mind, and always worth listening to, he's a frequent contributor to RedShark.

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