Trends to watch at NAB 2017
Next week is the annual National Association of Broadcasters show, or NAB, in Las Vegas, Nevada. NAB is primarily an industry conference, and isn’t generally focused on consumer products, but we go to NAB because it often gives us a window into the future. Tools and technologies created for Hollywood or the broadcast industry have a funny way of tricking down to everyman products over the next few years, and that’s usually a good thing (3D television being a notable exception, in my opinion).
So, let’s take a look at a few of the product categories we’ll be watching at NAB next week that have the potential to impact us not-named-Spielberg types in the coming years.
Tools for Emerging Filmmakers
The filmmaking industry has changed a lot in the past few years: technology has become better, costs have come down, and tools suitable for serious content creation are now accessible to anyone with a dream of producing films and the passion to make it happen. This transformation has ushered in an explosion of what are often referred to as ’emerging filmmakers.’
These are people who often started making films with DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, but have grown their skills or businesses to the point where they need better, dedicated tools. They include independent filmmakers, small businesses working for commercial clients, or any number of other filmmaking roles. Some things they have in common are that they care about creating high quality content, have high expectations for production value, and they don’t have upwards of $20,000 to buy a single cinema lens.
This category has grown large enough that we’re seeing more companies which have historically catered to the high end cinema market now looking to meet emerging filmmakers’ needs. Whether it’s to drive revenue or create brand loyalists, we’re seeing more tools designed and priced for these users. By way of example, in the past year we’ve seen cinema lenses such as Cookes and Fujinons with sub-$5,000 price points. We expect to see even more products aimed at emerging filmmakers at NAB.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual reality is a technology that everyone, from manufacturers to content creators, seems to want to succeed, but which hasn’t quite managed to do so. There’s clearly a lot of unrealized promise, and even Hollywood executives will tell you they’re spending a lot of money trying to figure out how to make it work. Will this be the year VR makes the leap?
NAB will once again feature a dedicated Virtual and Augmented Reality Pavillion where the VR community can show off its latest technology. And there are clearly a lot of businesses betting big money on it, ranging from consumer-focused companies like Yi Technologies, which plans to announce VR capture devices at the show, to the likes of 360 Designs, whose Flying EYE drone system will livestream 360º 6K content from miles away for a cool $75,000.
The big question is whether any of the VR products or technologies we see at NAB this year will be enough to get significant traction in the market, or collectively move the needle toward wider adoption of VR by consumers, but the industry isn’t giving up on this one yet.
We actually saw 8K display technology for the first time at NAB a couple years ago. And yes, it’s good bleeping amazing. Last year, Canon had an 8K reference display in its booth with a magnifying glass next to it, teasing you to try to see the pixels. After all, with 8K you’re collecting about the same number of pixels as a Nikon D810. In bursts of 24 or 30 frames. Every second. Think of the memory cards you’re going to need… but I digress…
What does 8K mean for photographers, videographers, and emerging filmmakers? Right now, not a lot. In fact, it’s unlikely we’ll even see 8K TVs being widely marketed to consumers for a number of years. But on the content creation side, there’s a lot to be said for 8K. With 4K quickly moving in the direction of becoming a standard for viewing content, 8K will give content creators the same advantages that 4K acquisition has for creating 1080p content. Right now we’re still talking about very expensive, high end pro cinema and broadcast equipment, but what we see at NAB is often a preview to what we’ll see in less expensive gear a few years down the road.
And 8K technology may come faster than we expect. We’ve seen 4K gain fairly wide adoption very quickly, and most of the industry seems hell-bent on a collision course between full 8K broadcast and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (having already demonstrated it at London 2012 and run test broadcasts from Rio 2016). Some of this 8K goodness (or massive data storage overhead, if you’re the glass-half-empty type) may start filtering its way into our cameras in the next few years.
HDR video is pretty much what it sounds like: high dynamic range video that lets us see brighter brights, darker darks, and more shades in between. It’s like HDR photos, but with motion, and done well it can look pretty amazing. From a consumer perspective, most talk about HDR video these days relates to TVs, but the market is still sorting itself out. As the old adage goes, ‘The great thing about standards is that we have so many to choose from.’ Between HDR10, Dolby Vision, and Hybrid Log-Gamma, there’s plenty of room for the marketers to fight it out and educate consumers on the jargon.
But what we’re most interested in is content creation, or HDR video capture. Admittedly, there’s not a lot here for the enthusiast or prosumer at the moment. But… (and you know there’s always a ‘but’) Panasonic has already told us to expect Hybrid Log-Gamma to be included in the mother of all firmware updates – or, as we affectionately know it, MOAFU (really rolls off your tongue, doesn’t it) – that’s coming for the Panasonic GH5 in summer 2017. We look forward to testing it. Once we figure out how to test it.
Love ’em or hate ’em, people are going to use drones for all kinds of things. (At least until Skynet, and we all know how that ends.) Of course, what we care about at DPReview is aerial imaging, whether it’s still photography or video. The drone industry has exploded in the past few years, with tools ranging from octocopters that nonchalantly ferry around RED and Arri cameras to consumer products you can buy off the shelf and use to make your own movies.
As with other video categories, what started out as technology available only to well-funded production studios has quickly started to filter down to the emerging filmmaker or prosumer level. In fact, less than six months ago DJI introduced the Inspire 2 drone and Zenmuse X5S camera. That combo uses a Micro Four Thirds camera to shoot 5.2K CinemaDNG Raw video with a bit rate of 4.2Gbps. All for the price of a Canon 1D X II. This is Hollywood-level stuff. They even got cinematographer Claudio Miranda, ASC (Life of Pi) to make a film with it, though he had to carry it around in his hands for some shots.
Why do I bring up a product that was announced a few months ago? First, because it’s an indication of where the technology is going, and competitors will need to find a way to respond. We’ll be watching to see if that happens at NAB. And second, because for the love of God, DJI, can you please put this combination of tech into a regular camera? I don’t care if it’s a Micro Four Thirds camera the size of a Canon 1D X II, I will write you a check tomorrow.
Such is my plea.
It used to be that we recorded home movies which we then forced our friends and family to watch over Thanksgiving. Later came the internet, so we could just send aunt Mabel a Vimeo link, or start a YouTube channel about cats with millions of followers.
Today that’s no longer adequate. Things must be on the internet, and they must be on now! Whether it’s Vloggers broadcasting live from a tradeshow floor using their iPhones, or sites like DPReview doing live webcasts from a studio, live streaming has gained a lot of momentum, and viewers are demanding higher quality live streams as time goes on.
We’ve already seen products to meet this need at a consumer level, whether it’s a DJI Osmo that uses your phone to broadcast on Facebook Live, or the Blackmagic Web Presenter, which allows you to turn virtually any high quality camera into a streaming broadcast camera. We’ll be on the watch for other products and technologies that will fuel our live streaming future. Though we can’t promise to stream them to you live.