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NAB Notables, Episode 2

Apple correctly calls this "The Year of HD" By Charlie White

(4/22/05) As the smoke clears from NAB 2005, its time to reflect on what has happened in this the liveliest NAB convention in recent memory. Perhaps the highlights of the show were the introduction of competing HDV camcorders, along with editing systems to go with them. The pervasive mission throughout the convention, on every floor and in countless display areas seemed to be connected in one way or another to high definition television.

Apple called 2005 ?The year of HD, saying that besides just feeling it in their bones, they pointed out there are 16 million households with HDTV sets driving the exodus from the confines of standard definition. Also fanning the flames is the new HDV format, which is arguably the most popular HD format ever introduced?Apple supported this assertion with the fact that 37,000 HDV products have been sold as of March, 2005. Enabling the HDV format from Apple is its native HDV support in Final Cut Pro 5.0, which works with long-gop MPEG2 and supports both 1080i/60 and 720p/30 formats. In the evangelical demo, Apples hyper-enthusiastic demo artists showed Final Cut Pro 5.0 previewing all kinds of HDV effects and transitions in real time. Chanting the slogan ?edit anything, wait for nothing, later in the backroom reporters noticed that there is rendering involved if you want to actually play out all these wonderful edits, effects and filters to HDV tape or anything else, for that matter. So just like it was a decade ago, real time means different things to different people. Even so, Apples Dynamic RT Extreme technology was able to play back all kinds of effects, while smartly dropping the frame rate and image quality for previews as the layers got thicker.

Final Cut Pro 5.0 also supports the P2 format from Panasonic, and perhaps the softwares best new feature is its multicam capability, where its able to play back 16 sources on-the-fly and allowing users to edit during playback. Beyond that, it's possible to group up to 128 sources with this multicam software enhancement. Certainly this will be even more impressive when the new G5 workstations with dual core processors find their way to the surface. Even though rumors swirled about the show floor that perhaps Steve Jobs would be at Apples NAB revival tent to introduce the new Mac hardware, alas, it was not to be. Also introduced to much fanfare at the event was Motion 2.0, the compositing and effects application that showed itself to be even more refined. You can find detailed accounts of this application elsewhere on these Digital Media Net Web sites, but for the purposes of this article, most notable was the ability to drag-and-drop Motion projects into Adobe After Effects. Another groundbreaking gimmick of Motion 2.0 is the ability to control motion effects via MIDI. This way, music and video merge into performance art. Neat idea. 

Avid was at NAB in full force, with an enormous ?booth which was bigger than the biggest house in a really nice neighborhood. The stupendous structure must have cost well in excess of $3 million. Inside that booth Avid was talking about its newest addition to the DNA family, the now industry-standard Avid Symphony which is now called Avid Symphony Nitris. And what does Nitris mean, anyway? It means that all those fine-tuning features that were formerly available in Symphony are now supercharged with Avid DNA hardware, which makes uncompressed HD footage as editable as DV. Beyond that, Symphony Nitris can bat around footage compressed with Avids excellent DNxHD codec as if it were light is a feather. In one courageous demo in the booth, Avid put up a split screen of uncompressed, 10-bit HD alongside DNxHD 10-bit footage, and even on the high-rez monitor up close it was impossible to tell the difference between the two.

In a close-up one-on-one demo, Avid Symphony Nitris showed that even in its pre-alpha state, its destined to fulfill the promise written on its display area wall, ?The Ultimate HD Conform and Finishing System. With the help of the Nitris DNA hardware, Symphony Nitris can now handle two streams of uncompressed HD, each with real time color correction, blurs, and a key on top. Even more mind-boggling is the prospect that dual core processors are just weeks away, and some engineers have seen up to an 80% improvement with prerelease versions of this new chip technology from Intel and AMD. The way Avid DNA hardware is designed, it will be able to take advantage of at least some of this new power.

In the demo, the Symphony Nitris seemed a little shaky because of its pre-alpha position in its development cycle. After all, this software/hardware combination isnt due to hit the market for another few months yet?Avid promised a Q3 release, which could mean any time from the beginning of July all the way to the end of September. Even though it crashed a few times in the demo, at least its significantly higher performance is very close to completion. Most noticeable was the responsiveness of the scrubbing even when there were three picture-in-picture effects on screen with color correction added to each one. Sure, this couldnt play back smoothly in real time, but it was easily and responsively scrubbable. Compared to the old Symphony, you wouldnt be able to scrub an effect like this at all. Also new in Symphony Nitris is the ability to mix standard definition, MPEG, and uncompressed or compressed HD clips on the same timeline.

During an extended test of Symphonys new Nitris hardware, the system was able to stack an HD picture-in-picture effect with color correction on top of another color-corrected DNxHD clip, and then even when a blur was added to the overlying shot it was still able to play back smoothly. Alas, these were very short (two-second) clips, because when the clips were extended beyond about five seconds, the system crashed. Having reached the limits of its real-time capabilities, rendering was necessary, but that was also noticeably faster than in previous Symphony versions. Two channels of DVE along with blur rendered quickly?it only took 20 seconds for 6-second clip to finish rendering. Another appealing aspect of Avid Symphony Nitris is its pricing, coming in at $89,000 including storage consisting of a high-speed array of eight 170GB drives. Even though it includes the powerful new Avid DNA hardware, that amounts to a price similar to the $72,000 of its Symphony predecessor, which was sold without storage. And as some Avid officials and customers alike mentioned privately, these prices are all extremely negotiable. 

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Related Keywords:NAB 2005, HDV camcorders, editing systems, high definition television, assimilate scratch, apple Final Cut Pro 5, Motion, Avid Symphony Nitris, iNews Instinct, Charlie White, Leitch


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