Without even a pause for breath and a chance to massage aching limbs, here are the winners.
Awards for excellence
These are given to products that are not just good, but transformative. We used to give awards in specific categories (Best Cinema Camera, Best audio product, etc) and we still do keep this in mind, but in order to be even more flexible in the unpredictable world of NAB product announcements, we’ve decided that we’ll have only one category, which is for excellent products. That way, we’re not artificially boxing ourselves in if there’s a product that would have fallen outside our categories.
There is, of course, one special award, which is for Best in Show, which we’ll come to later.
So, in no particular order:
Newtek and NDI 4.0
Newtek is, of course, no longer just NewTek. It’s VizRT NewTek, or whatever the combined company settles on for a name in the future.
NDI is an exceptionally important technology, invented by NewTek, that makes video over IP manageable and accessible. While other network systems struggle to standardise, NDI works beautifully now. With the introduction of NDI 4.0 there’s a slew of improvements, including one that really stands out.
With the new software, you can use almost any drive attached to a computer as a recorder. It’s a truly distributed, virtualised technology, This is incredibly useful for both large and small production companies. It’s virtual recording, and it’s going to make a whole bunch of things possible.
NewTek - Kiki Stockhammer, Technology Evangelist
This one’s in there for a very good reason: loads of people told us we should give the company an award. We did check Z-Cam out, and, indeed, the products are small, light and have friendly pricing. We’re in touch with the company and we’ll review some of its products soon, but it seems to have come out of nowhere with some astonishingly good cameras. This is one to watch.
Z Cam - Alan Chen, Product Marketing Director
SSL SiX mixer
Audio is unjustifiably the poor relation of video, and yet a good sound track can transform a video production.
For individuals and smaller companies it’s not always easy or affordable to work with high-end audio gear. It’s not that there’s a lack of cheap equipment around - it’s more that budget audio gear lacks much of the finesse and sheer accomplishment of the pricier products.
Digital audio has transformed the pro audio industry and it happened around 25 years ago. But analogue never went away, with good reason. While you can do a lot with digital, there are some things that almost always sound better when they’re done well in analogue - like EQ and Compression, for example.
And that’s what the SSL Six brings to the masses. Priced at only £1,000 / $1,500 this UK-designed desk is a flexible and incredibly powerful device. Quite simply, if you put your audio through this desk, a lot of the time it will come out sounding better. There’s classic SSL compression both on the channels and the output bus. It means you can plug in a microphone and it will sound like you’re on the radio. Put music through it and the subtle compression will tighten it up and make it more listenable.
It’s hard to think of a case where one of these wouldn’t be useful, and at this price point, it’s a remarkable achievement. Full scale SSL desks can cost big money, but you can get the essence of SSL in this little desk.
Solid State Logic - George Horton, Vice President, Western Region
This one is a bit left field but it impressed us. LiveU has an AI-driven system that can identify the content of a video clip. Show it a small yellow toy bus and it will say “Hand holding a yellow toy bus”. If the demo’s also happening at NAB, it will also add “Crowds of people in the background, looking happy”. Well, that may need a bit of adjustment but as a demonstration, it’s very impressive. However, when I stood in front of the camera, it failed to say “handsome bald guy” so there’s obviously some work needed.
An impressive demo, though, and the award is richly deserved.
LiveU - Ronen Artman, VP of Marketing
Adobe Content Aware video
This was definitely a highlight of the show. With Content Aware Video, you can quickly remove unwanted objects form your video, without rotoscoping. Just draw an oval around the object, key frame it roughly if it moves, and then select “Content Aware Video”.
What happens then is something that seems miraculous. The object is cleanly removed from the video, and the hole that would otherwise have appeared is somehow filled with content that totally matches its surroundings.
How is this possible. It’s clearly a development of the previous incarnation which only worked with video. But this somehow manages not only to skilfully patch over the missing area of the image, but it tracks its movement as well, making a new and appropriate replacement for every frame. This is especially difficult because it must take into account that the new content in each frame has to match content in the previous and following frames too.
This is part of Adobe’s in house AI technology called Sensei. And it’s magical. It may not be perfect, but it’s so incredibly good that video editors will feel that they’re getting an important part of their lives back. Imagine the alternative: rotoscoping. But even that painstaking process won’t automatically conjure up content to fill in the gaps left by removed objects.
A worthy winner.
Teradek 4K Bolt
Teradek seems to be in a golden era where it is branching into new areas like wireless focus control and add-on control panels for RED cameras, while continuing to develop its “traditional” lines too. And the big news from the company at NAB is a new zero latency wireless video system that works in 4K and HDR. This is a big deal. With increasing resolutions, and the need to check exposure and the overall quality of the image on set, this is going to be incredible. The RF range has been increased too. It’s obviously a brand new generation of product and and exciting one for anyone involved with image quality on set.
Teradek - Timothy Malooly, VP Customer Experience
Aputure 300 Mk 2
LED lights are still evolving, and necessarily so, because the early examples weren’t great. But now they are becoming very good indeed. This new version of Aputure’s popular light has improvements everywhere you look, and thoughtful touches like a carrying case that doubles up as a seat. It’s very controllable and - unlike so many other lights - it doesn’t get hot anywhere on its surface. So it’s easier to attache accessories without worrying about them spontaneously combusting. This is a very good thing.
There was no shortage of very good lights at the show. But this stood out because of its quality and thoroughness of design.
Aputure - Ted Sim
Canon Sumire Full Frame Primes
Rumour has it that Canon knows a bit about lenses. It’s rather good with cameras, too (in our view, the C700 FF is right up there with the big names in cinematography). So it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of interest in the company’s new Sumire full frame primes.
It seems the idea behind these lenses as to make them without the clinical, technical sharpness that they could easily have had, but instead to give them a softer look, with very nice looking Bokeh.
We were only able to see the results monitors on Canon’s booth, and the pictures were very good. But there is an air of greatness about these lenses, and if they’re consistent with Canon’s latest work, they will be very good indeed.
Canon - Alan Lewis, Sr. Product Marketing Specialist
Frame.io API and integration with other NLEs and Apps
We were blown away by this. Frame.io is totally familiar to a huge number of users now. And the development of the product has been relentless. In fact, so deep has the work been on the Frame.io ecosystem that it has totally taken us by surprise with a new feature: a comprehensive API.
Now, if you’re not a developer, this might not be so easy to understand. But it simply means that the developers of other products can grab hold of the hooks that the API presents to them and deeply integrate it into their own products, as if it were there natively.
But that’s only part of it. At the risk of sounding like a dodgy clickbait headline: what happened next shocked us.
We were shown an example of the API integration with Resolve. We imagined that it might allow an editor to select a sequence from a media folder or even from the timeline, and export it to Frame.io for review by interested parties. You can obviously do this, but - get this - all of your content uploaded to Frame.io’s cloud, appears in your media list as an actual drive. You can browse it just like you can with local media, and then drag content from it directly onto the timeline.
At first, what you get is a proxy file. This happens almost instantly and is perfectly good enough for most editing tasks. But then, in the background, without any manual intervention, Frame.io uploads the full resolution original media. Meanwhile, you just carry on editing.
And then it sunk in: it’s like a Trojan Horse. Almost without noticing it, Frame.io becomes your media store. Upload your video to it and you can edit with Resolve (and other NLEs) as if you had a local drive. Anywhere in the world.
This is a masterstroke by Frame.io and when you see it, you wonder how you lived without it, which seems to sum up Frame.io’s business plan all along.
Frame.io- Emery Wells, CEO
Best in Show
Finally we come to the best thing we saw at NAB this year. It’s Resolve 16. We haven’t had time to review it (we’re doing exactly that right now - with the public Beta). There’s a lot to write about but we’re going to focus on one new feature: the Cut Page.
DaVinci Resolve is one of the most awesome applications ever available to buy. Except you don’t have to buy it. It’s free, and the full Studio version is so cheap that it’s almost free. Even though it’s a single piece of software, it’s really a dynamically linked confederation of applications, including audio, colour grading, editing and 3D compositing. Update something anywhere in the application, and it will appear dynamically in all the other pages.
And that’s the key to the new Cut Page: it’s a streamlined, completely redesigned editing page that’s had some impressive thinking behind it. Blackmagic has made a compelling case for a faster, more efficient editor that has the clutter stripped away, to reveal a lightning fast and - I think - intuitive interface. If you need more precision for a piece that you’re editing, go back into the original edit page and you’ll have all the tools there, unchanged. Because they’re dynamically linked, you can switch as often as you like - there’s absolutely no penalty to it.
A new, dedicated edit keyboard with a multi-function jog-shuttle wheel adds to the sense of purpose. You have to see this in action to realise what a giant leap this is. It’s made me want to do more editing, precisely for the reason that existing NLEs, while extremely capable across the board, are, for most things, too complicated, and too fiddly.
Well done to Blackmagic for winning the RedShark Best In Show award for NAB 2019. We live in exciting times.