BVE2013 – Did the dead cat just bounce?

Accountants have a lovely phrase – even a dead cat will bounce if it’s dropped from high enough. The world of video has been feeling the pinch for a few years now, but today – wandering the halls of the Broadcast Video Expo now in its new home – maybe it bounced back. People were smiling, feeling a little more confident. A real tonic to the system.

On the negative side, there was talk of how video clients were acutely aware of the cheapening of tools and how budgets were so squeezed. On the other hand, there was a genuine feeling of ‘democratisation’ in the markets I’ve frequented. On one hand ‘clients don’t feel comfortable with work-at-home editors’ but big names will now admit to ‘colour correcting on an iMac’. Clients may raise an eyebrow to DaVinci – ‘that’s the free software, right?’ but Grading and Colorists are back in the game. Just need to get our audio back in the limelight too. Broadcast is making it all very tricky again.

The big 800lb gorillas of the broadcast industry are not quite so dominant (!!) – but then, maybe it’s more telling that the show is now far more indie/corporate-friendly. I remember the BVE show was almost hostile to the corporate market. The visitors I met seemed to be 90% indie/corporate. Maybe birds of a feather stick together, but I definitely felt ‘amongst friends’ here.

Maybe that’s the grass roots poking through. Now that we’re hearing the parables of Netflix commissioning their own series, Google investing in content, these are a new round of broadcasters that the Web Generation of videographers and the avant garde of broadcast are taking to heart.

So are there new releases and excellent toys? Yes. The DJI Phantom stand – quadcopters with GoPros and NEX-7s on gimbal heads – was astonishingly busy. Queues to touch and feel the Sony F5 and Black Magic Cine Camera, Nikon out in force with a nod to ebullient Atomos, the Rode SmartLav (snark!) is in demo (tip – the Rode Lav is actually more interesting) and there’s a litany of distractions and shiny things…

Speaking of which, got to see some lovely lamps. Dedo has a booth where you can play with the new line of LED fittings – the 20W ‘son of LEDzilla’ particularly caught my eye. Small, neat, flexible, and can chuck light long distances. Only trouble is, so Teutonic is this company that ‘they’re not quite ready yet’ and have been so for a while. LEDs can be odd beasties, and the broadcast industry have said how LEDs ‘should’ work, but having worked with lesser LEDs and suffered challenges in skin tones, will be looking forward to lamps with true and fair rendition of skin tone.

Sad to find that there were a few companies I wanted to meet that weren’t here. But conversely, good to visit a show that can’t be swallowed in a day, let alone an afternoon.

3D isn’t here really. This year has a decidedly British take on 4K (jolly nice! Isn’t it doing well! Now, about HD…). If you need it, it’s here. If you think you need it, plenty of people to give you both sides. There’s a whole 4K pavilion, but it’s a separate side show. Another area which I felt sorry for was DVD duplication and its ilk. Vimeo and YouTube have their faults, they drive me nuts, but the concept of burning DVDs seems a little ‘Standard Def’ – and even BluRay seems a little difficult to justify.

If you can get along (this is a self-selecting audience, I know) do try the seminars. You’ll have to queue a bit, or suffer the standing, but unlike other years I’ve not been left out in the cold and there are some great presentations. Hopefully some will make it onto the web (a few are up already).

I have my take-aways from today, some I want to keep for myself, some I’m not sure make sense until I go again, but the biggest take home was the positive sleeves-rolled-up attitude of the people here.Just when many thought of upping stumps and retreating to the pavilion, there are clients out there who need video professionals who get great results because they’re good at what they do (whether on free software or high end systems).

So whilst I don’t feel we’re in recovery mode, maybe the bottom was scraped a while back and the bounce has happened. I’ll learn more on Thursday. If you can make the time to drop in on BVE, it should cheer you up if nothing else.

Advertisements

And another thing…

Just back from the Broadcast show (BVE2010?), where I participated on a panel hosted by Rick Young about the future of video, alongside luminaries Larry Jordan, Christina and David Fox. We debated various topics and I hope it will be up on MacVideo.TV soon.

But as always in these situations, I’ve come out of the room and had a little time to reflect on what we said, and now I’m spending the evening slapping my forehead and muttering ‘Should have said that’, ‘should have mentioned this’ and ‘why did I open my stupid gob about the other?’ and so to end this circle of grumblings of ‘Oh and another thing’, here’s what I wanted to add now that I’ve thought about it properly.

CODEC CHOICE:

So we were talking about what should we be shooting on and editing with over time? Generally, shooting formats do not make good editing formats, editing formats do not make good delivery formats. So choose the right codec for the job, and think about things like NanoFlash which separate your codec choice from your camera choice. Weigh up the time taken to do a ‘virtual telecine’ of footage to an editable format versus the instant gratification but sometimes long term toil of editing in your shooting format. Flash was once king of web delivery but – shock, horror – not supported by iPhone and iPad. Be ready to convert assets to H.264, or even Ogg at this rate. Or Dirac. Or maybe even Microsoft’s VC1, the codec almost, but not entirely, unlike MPEG4.

Above all, codecs are like vegetables – they come in and go out of season. Keep an eye on this and keep high quality masters of stuff you want to keep. If you want to keep them for decades, consider lossless or near lossless (like PhotoJPEG) and be prepared to transcode in the future.

LIVE TV:

There seemed to be a bit of apathy about live events coming to internet video. Which I find odd.

If we’re to roll over and say that the idea of tuning in at 8PM to watch a show is ‘over’ and everyone is using PVRs, then surely the concept of Broadcaster is dead?

Of course not, and don’t forget the big things Broadcast does well: Live. Leaving aside whether it’s good or not, live broadcast TV does things like News, Sport, Spectacle and Entertainment unlike anything else. It has to be live, it has to be big and of course it’s hard to ignore the ads.

Has anyone tried to use the web during a big news event? It grinds to a halt, no video works, everything is clogged up. So if the internet is to perform the same trick, it needs to know how to do broadcast: video on the web using a broadcast protocol. Yes, yes, this is already possible in closed Microsoft networks, but not on the internet. Not yet, anyway.

Serendipity: a post on a BBC blog with an interesting point of view.

WEB VIDEO ON YOUR BIG SCREEN:

Web video will probably be people’s first taste of ‘High Definition’, now that YouTube, Vimeo and the rest are firmly ensconced in 720p land. Better than broadcast (well, okay, not really, but stick with me for a while), on demand, wide range of stuff. So why is it so hard to watch on your lovely expensive living room TV?

Sure, Apple TV was supposed to fix that but somehow never got there. Storage manufacturers are having a go, but of course you have to crack your DRM to use it. But for Pete’s sake, check out how quickly any desire to watch stuff – originally on your computer – on your big plasma, rapidly turns into a High School Engineering project.

HDMI has been hobbled to prevent you using a computer to play DVDs and BluRay discs, or you find the sound is missing, or it’s the wrong resolution or shape, or we’re scaling when it’s not necessary. Then there’s the dumbness over HD – buy a movie from iTunes and you get something of lower resolution and lower functionality than if one purchased the DVD, and often it costs more than Amazon. Like that’s going to build an industry.

THE LACK OF BANDWIDTH

Don’t get me started. Fibre is as fast as the boxes at either end. Peer to peer (even if within the ISP level) could be the next intelligent proxy service for large files, but because P2P = piracy = end of the world, your bandwidth is being shaped. Oh no, not up… Down. Throttles occur. Want those throttles lifted? Pay. This is divisive. Companies are rationing out, not implementing more. Growth builds business, but growth doesn’t mean dividing the cake into ever smaller units. But really, I am ranting now.

DSLRs, 3d, GARTNER HYPE CYCLE

Technology suffers greatly from hype. The Cheap DV Revolution had a huge dose of hype, everyone got bored of it and suddenly DVCAM ousted BetaSP whilst nobody was looking.

The same thing happened with HD – Changing the world as we knew it, fell a bit flat and nothing more was said in the consumer world. Suddenly there’s a million HD subscribers (though we’re still talking the test phase).

This big initial hit of enthusiasm, followed by a rapid tailing off of interest until there’s a trough of disillusionment then hides a slow and steady growth of that technology until it reaches ubiquity and invisibility as it delivers the promises once made at the peak of the hype cycle.

So we’ve started that slow climb out of disillusionment with HD, I predict the plunge of DSLRs into that trough sometime soon, and 3d is climbing up that cycle.

We’ve done digital, gone tapeless. Still a lot of work to do on HD. We’re nowhere near done on that. DSLRs will have a brief moment in the sun like their DoF Adaptors before them, but will they remain indie film maker tools once Scarlet and a new Hybrid hit the market?

3D is in its infancy. Will it come? Sure, along with VHD, but unless you have big big bucks, I’d still shoot long-life material in good HD rather than half-finished 3D formats. But we need to play and to test – how will motion graphics or even simple tummy tags work in 3D?

And these are just three of my little rumblings from the afternoon’s panel – I’ll probably chew it over for ages.

I hope, at least, the audience got a basketful of things to think about.

Bookmark and Share

Seeing Red again

What on earth will the cinema industry do with a camera like the Red Epic 617?

This is a camera that, if it were to shoot onto the equivalent film, would be using negatives over 180mm wide – that’s beyond IMAX by quite a big percentage. And film wouldn’t be able to capture the dynamic range that this camera can. Projection technology can only barely cope with such a source, and that’s with the help of esoteric multi-screen technology such as Spyder & WatchOut.

But will it bring people together to witness the magic of a movie? Will it enhance the stories? Will it drop an audience further into a created world? Is Ultra-HD cinema going to be a source of inspiration and action? Of course not.

Over the last seven years or so, my love of visiting the cinema has gurgled noisily down the plug hole. My peer group is in agreement that going to a cinema to watch a movie is a chore: poor sound, scratchy prints, badly behaved audiences, and the rest. Seeing Madagascar digitally projected from a hard disk a couple of years ago provided a lovely pristine print and a lovely clarity. But that technology hasn’t made it into the provincial cinemas yet, and I’m not holding my breath.

The Hollywood system isn’t exactly churning out movies for my age group anyway. Adolescents and teens must be catered for – this group hasn’t got the dosh to buy big screens and 5.1 audio systems that keep us at home thumbing through the Criterion Collection and prevent us old fogeys from crossing the cinema threshold.

But let’s look on the optimistic side: Scarlet and Epic will enable a raft of new Producers to make films that could not be made before. It could blow apart the Hollywood system that pushes film budgets ever skyward. But where are these films going to be viewed? Sure we have our computers and our TVs. Maybe cinemas will finally get a chance to find a digital projection system that will last enough time for them to make a return on their investment. Maybe (let’s be really optimistic) they get hip to recent innovations such as flexible screening and ‘quiet’ auditoriums like some did with the Saturday Screamers.

Or there’ll be a perpetuation of the system that keeps innovation out, spread betting a portfolio of film treatments, micro-managed to appeal to immature target audiences fed on a diet of star-lead convenience food for the eyes.

But the nurse says I must rest now.

It’s just that I sense an undertow of ‘Spectacle’ when reeling over the extreme resolutions of these cameras. That shooting in Epic proportions will make a dull safe story with familiar faces a little more appetising. That resolution is being applied like Monosodium Glutamate to enhance our appreciation of the movie.

I hope Red will be the catalyst for some amazing cinema to come. Small cameras that go places a cinematographic camera can’t usually go or be where cinematographic cameras can’t usually be. And I hope that the dinkiest little Scarlet will be cheap enough to be the Bolex H16 of a whole new generation of film makers.

Meanwhile, can we please just get 1080p50 right first?

Once more into recession, dear friends

This has absolutely nothing to do with editing, or shooting, or script writing. But it is something we’re all going to deal with: Discounts.

Now that our Darling Chancellor has admitted it, times are getting tough. When you do your shopping, you cruise the isles, you dig amongst the vegetables, and maybe spot those short dated items that will sit well in your freezers. You’re looking for value for money. Well, all of us are doing that. In every walk of life and every business.

My work is based on daily rates. Kit, people, time spent gazing at the ceiling, sitting on planes, wallowing in baths, hacking through HTML, in fact spending time doing things that don’t involve family and relaxation. Yes, wallowing in baths does not count as relaxation because that’s where great ideas form. Even waking up at 0400 with a fantastic solution to routing video through three venues in real time counts as billable time in my book.

That time you spend in baths, or cruising the web, or chewing the fat with colleagues, or stir-frying garlic, or painting the bannisters, it’s all research. Werner von Braun (the original Rocket Scientist) sagely stated that ‘”research” is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing’. Research is vital in these times: are you doing what you need to do? Is there a better way of doing what you do? Is ‘what you do’ actually doing what your clients need you do to do?

We’re knowledge workers. We know things. We are, dare I say, Mentats. We are not grocers. We don’t go down to a Soho pub and gather round a bunch of geeks and bid on their Web 2.0 ideas as if they were the catch of the day. We are not farmers. We don’t plant a million identical idea seeds and harvest those that grow beyond knee height. We are not hunters. We don’t chase after Entrepreneurs and snare them to be a trophy on our walls.

Intellectual property and research isn’t something that one can ‘discount’… but I’m getting more questions from new business that dangle on ‘and how much of that quote are you going to discount?’. That tempts many to load the original quote, and that tends to over-inflate things as more jobs drop away because they seem too expensive.

Thank you, Mister Darling. Another fine mess you’ve left us.