By Mike McCarthy
There are always a slew of new product announcements during the week of NAB, and this year was no different. As a Premiere editor, the developments from Adobe are usually the ones most relevant to my work and life. Similar to last year, Adobe was able to get their software updates released a week before NAB, instead of for eventual release months later.
The biggest new feature in the Adobe Creative Cloud apps is After Effects’ new “Content Aware Fill” for video. This will use AI to generate image data to automatically replace a masked area of video, based on surrounding pixels and surrounding frames. This functionality has been available in Photoshop for a while, but the challenge of bringing that to video is not just processing lots of frames but keeping the replaced area looking consistent across the changing frames so it doesn’t stand out over time.
The other key part to this process is mask tracking, since masking the desired area is the first step in that process. Certain advances have been made here, but based on tech demos I saw at Adobe Max, more is still to come, and that is what will truly unlock the power of AI that they are trying to tap here. To be honest, I have been a bit skeptical of how much AI will impact film production workflows, since AI-powered editing has been terrible, but AI-powered VFX work seems much more promising.
Adobe’s other apps got new features as well, with Premiere Pro adding Free-Form bins for visually sorting through assets in the project panel. This affects me less, as I do more polishing than initial assembly when I’m using Premiere. They also improved playback performance for Red files, acceleration with multiple GPUs and certain 10-bit codecs. Character Animator got a better puppet rigging system, and Audition got AI-powered auto-ducking tools for automated track mixing.
Elsewhere, Blackmagic announced a new version of Resolve, as expected. Blackmagic RAW is supported on a number of new products, but I am not holding my breath to use it in Adobe apps anytime soon, similar to ProRes RAW. (I am just happy to have regular ProRes output available on my PC now.) They also announced a new 8K Hyperdeck product that records quad 12G SDI to HEVC files. While I don’t think that 8K will replace 4K television or cinema delivery anytime soon, there are legitimate markets that need 8K resolution assets. Surround video and VR would be one, as would live background screening instead of greenscreening for composite shots. No image replacement in post, as it is capturing in-camera, and your foreground objects are accurately “lit” by the screens. I expect my next major feature will be produced with that method, but the resolution wasn’t there for the director to use that technology for the one I am working on now (enter 8K…).
AJA was showing off the new Ki Pro Go, which records up to four separate HD inputs to H.264 on USB drives. I assume this is intended for dedicated ISO recording of every channel of a live-switched event or any other multicam shoot. Each channel can record up to 1080p60 at 10-bit color to H264 files in MP4 or MOV and up to 25Mb.
HP had one of their existing Z8 workstations on display, demonstrating the possibilities that will be available once Intel releases their upcoming DIMM-based Optane persistent memory technology to the market. I have loosely followed the Optane story for quite a while, but had not envisioned this impacting my workflow at all in the near future due to software limitations. But HP claims that there will be options to treat Optane just like system memory (increasing capacity at the expense of speed) or as SSD drive space (with DIMM slots having much lower latency to the CPU than any other option). So I will be looking forward to testing it out once it becomes available.
Dell was showing off their relatively new 49-inch double-wide curved display. The 4919DW has a resolution of 5120×1440, making it equivalent to two 27-inch QHD displays side by side. I find that 32:9 aspect ratio to be a bit much for my tastes, with 21:9 being my preference, but I am sure there are many users who will want the extra width.
I also had a chat with the people at Digital Anarchy about their Premiere Pro-integrated Transcriptive audio transcription engine. Having spent the last three months editing a movie that is split between English and Mandarin dialogue, needing to be fully subtitled in both directions, I can see the value in their tool-set. It harnesses the power of AI-powered transcription engines online and integrates the results back into your Premiere sequence, creating an accurate script as you edit the processed clips. In my case, I would still have to handle the translations separately once I had the Mandarin text, but this would allow our non-Mandarin speaking team members to edit the Mandarin assets in the movie. And it will be even more useful when it comes to creating explicit closed captioning and subtitles, which we have been doing manually on our current project. I may post further info on that product once I have had a chance to test it out myself.
There were three halls of other products to look through and check out, but overall, I was a bit underwhelmed at the lack of true innovation I found at the show this year.
Full disclosure, I was only able to attend for the first two days of the exhibition, so I may have overlooked something significant. But based on what I did see, there isn’t much else that I am excited to try out or that I expect to have much of a serious impact on how I do my various jobs.
It feels like most of the new things we are seeing are merely commoditized versions of products that may originally have been truly innovative when they were initially released, but now are just slightly more fleshed out versions over time.
There seems to be much less pioneering of truly new technology and more repackaging of existing technologies into other products. I used to come to NAB to see all the flashy new technologies and products, but now it feels like the main thing I am doing there is a series of annual face-to-face meetings, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Until next year…
Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with over 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been involved in pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.