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CineForm, Serious Magic Impress NAB Crowds

Final day of NAB 2004 brings innovation and useful products to the fore By Charlie White

The figurative smoke is clearing over the Nevada desert as Las Vegas gets back to normal, heaving a sigh of relief after the onslaught of over 100,000 broadcasters and their hangers-on from all over the world. That's right, another NAB has come and gone, where your humble storyteller spent countless hours looking for that big story to bring home to you, dear readers. What did I find? Well, as we all suspected, it was HDTV. Here are highlights of the final day of my relentless quest, with HD taking center stage, along with lots of other great products, too.

A fascinating stop on the NAB tour was with three key companies who ganged up to create a fine new way of producing high definition masters. CineForm, that company that brought us Aspect HD, the first HD editing protocol that could be previewed in real time using a notebook PC, has partnered with industry innovators Adobe and BOXX, adding its own software expertise to create its next new product, a turnkey editing system called HD [pro] RT ($22,995). BOXX supplies the workstation, a dual Opteron 248 machine with 9 hours worth of storage, which for now will be the only way to obtain this excellent turnkey system. Inside the BOXX there's an AJA card handling the input and output duties via HD SDI. Installed is a copy of Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5 with its innards taught how to handle 10-bit HD footage by the CineForm software wizards. What this gives you is the ability to preview two or three HD streams along with a graphic keyed on top in real time. But keep in mind, when you want to output this back to HD via the SDI output, you'll have to render those effects, something CineForm engineers called "flattening." Hmm, Apple called it "exporting," now these guys say it's "flattening," Quantel calls it "processing" -- face it, guys, it's all rendering. Be that as it may, this rendering is relatively painless, where I timed a one-second dissolve rendering on the BOXX machine in 6 seconds. So figure out how may seconds your effects last in a 30-minute show and multiply that by 6. But keep in mind, too, that it's only the effects that have to render, and not all of them, either. Many of these effects don't have to render at all, like color correction or titles. However, you can't get that kind of real-time response for the effects and transitions provided by Premiere, either -- just the CineForm ones know how to play this game. The software has clever ways to enhance the workflow, too, like showing your video to you in half-rez while you're scrubbing on the timeline, a technique that I noticed made the scrubbing feel positively sprightly to my hands. The compression used here, a kind of Wavelet algorithm akin to the way the NewTek Flyer's video was compressed years ago, looks excellent although it's still technically slightly lossy. The CineForm dudes tell me they're now working on a "mathematically lossless" kind of compression that we'll be seeing soon. This is a great way to create HD stuff, and best of all it's not using any video cards to crunch all these pixels. Expect to see multiple processors thrown at this daunting task of rendering and outputting HD soon for even faster response. These guys are a group to watch as they continue their big plans to bring HD to the rest of us. Before NAB they had already announced an excellent bundle that edits HDV footage and eliminates that post-processing I noticed when I first reviewed Aspect HD a few months back, and now this 10-bit system that goes far beyond that. Cant wait to see what's next.

Speaking of NewTek, that was our next stop on our NAB tour. Riding the elevator to a luxo-sport whisper suite, I was hoping to see the next version of the Toaster, oops, I mean VT [4]. Alas, it was nowhere to be seen, but instead NewTek reps were talking about how they are looking at a new direction for the VT line and have made a decision to stay with standard definition for now. Calling it a "shift in VT marketing," NewTek said it's now focusing on live production, educational, and religious broadcasting and in-house video, producers of which NewTek says aren't interested in HD production. (They aren't? Really?) The company told me it sees competition with applications like Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, and Avid Xpress as "difficult". The company also said its customers have lots of interest in the image magnification, or "I-Mag" market, where stadiums and such use its systems to put video up on giant screens for fans to get a more close-up view. Interesting to see a company that's found an anachronistic niche and is going after it, but it's quite unusual that at such an HD-centric NAB -- where so many companies are showing HD products, or if not, are officially announcing a path to HD for its customers -- that NewTek would decide to sit this one out. This cant be a good sign for the Toaster or for NewTek, in my opinion.

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Related Keywords:NAB 2004, Charlie White, CineForm, BOXX, Adobe Premiere 1.5, Serious Magic DV Rack, NewTek VT [4], HDTV, HDV, Quantel, Las Vegas, broadcasters, products

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