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NAB 2019: An engineer’s perspective

By John Ferder

Last week I attended my 22nd NAB, and I’ve got the Ross lapel pin to prove it! This was a unique NAB for me. I attended my first 20 NABs with my former employer, and most of those had me setting up the booth visits for the entire contingent of my co-workers and making sure that the vendors knew we were at each booth and were ready to go. Thursday was my “free day” to go wandering and looking at the equipment, cables, connectors, test gear, etc., that I was looking for.

This year, I’m part of a new project, so I went with a shopping list and a rough schedule with the vendors we needed to see. While I didn’t get everywhere I wanted to go, the three days were very full and very rewarding.

Beck Video IP panel

Sessions and Panels
I also got the opportunity to attend the technical sessions on Saturday and Sunday. I spent my time at the BEITC in the North Hall and the SMPTE Future of Cinema Conference in the South Hall. Beck TV gave an interesting presentation on constructing IP-based facilities of the future. While SMPTE ST2110 has been completed and issued, there are still implementation issues, as NMOS is still being developed. Today’s systems are and will for the time being be hybrid facilities. The decision to be made is whether the facility will be built on an IP routing switcher core with gateways to SDI, or on an SDI routing switcher core with gateways to IP.

Although more expensive, building around an IP core would be more efficient and future-proof. Fiber infrastructure design, test equipment and finding engineers who are proficient in both IP and broadcast (the “Purple Squirrels”) are large challenges as well.

A lot of attention was also paid to cloud production and distribution, both in the BEITC and the FoCC. One such presentation, at the FoCC, was on VFX in the cloud with an eye toward the development of 5G. Nathaniel Bonini of BeBop Technology reported that BeBop has a new virtual studio partnership with Avid, and that the cloud allows tasks to be performed in a “massively parallel” way. He expects that 5G mobile technology will facilitate virtualization of the network.

VFX in the Cloud panel

Ralf Schaefer, of the Fraunhofer Heinrich-Hertz Institute, expressed his belief that all devices will be attached to the cloud via 5G, resulting in no cables and no mobile storage media. 5G for AR/VR distribution will render the scene in the network and transmit it directly to the viewer. Denise Muyco of StratusCore provided a link to a virtual workplace: https://bit.ly/2RW2Vxz. She felt that 5G would assist in the speed of the collaboration process between artist and client, making it nearly “friction-free.” While there are always security concerns, 5G would also help the prosumer creators to provide more content.

Chris Healer of The Molecule stated that 5G should help to compress VFX and production workflows, enable cloud computing to work better and perhaps provide realtime feedback for more perfect scene shots, showing line composites of VR renders to production crews in remote locations.

The Floor
I was very impressed with a number of manufacturers this year. Ross Video demonstrated new capabilities of Inception and OverDrive. Ross also showed its new Furio SkyDolly three-wheel rail camera system. In addition, 12G single-link capability was announced for Acuity, Ultrix and other products.

ARRI AMIRA (Photo by Cotch Diaz)

ARRI showed a cinematic multicam system built using the AMIRA camera with a DTS FCA fiber camera adapter back and a base station controllable by Sony RCP1500 or Skaarhoj RCP. The Sony panel will make broadcast-centric people comfortable, but I was very impressed with the versatility of the Skaarhoj RCP. The system is available using either EF, PL, or B4 mount lenses.

During the show, I learned from one of the manufacturers that one of my favorite OLED evaluation monitors is going to be discontinued. This was bad news for the new project I’ve embarked on. Then we came across the Plura booth in the North Hall. Plura as showing a new OLED monitor, the PRM-224-3G. It is a 24.5-inch diagonal OLED, featuring two 3G/HD/SD-SDI and three analog inputs, built-in waveform monitors and vectorscopes, LKFS audio measurement, PQ and HLG, 10-bit color depth, 608/708 closed caption monitoring, and more for a very attractive price.

Sony showed the new HDC-3100/3500 3xCMOS HD cameras with global shutter. These have an upgrade program to UHD/HDR with and optional processor board and signal format software, and a 12G-SDI extension kit as well. There is an optional single-mode fiber connector kit to extend the maximum distance between camera and CCU to 10 kilometers. The CCUs work with the established 1000/1500 series of remote control panels and master setup units.

Sony’s HDC-3100/3500 3xCMOS HD camera

Canon showed its new line of 4K UHD lenses. One of my favorite lenses has been the HJ14ex4.3B HD wide-angle portable lens, which I have installed in many of the studios I’ve worked in. They showed the CJ14ex4.3B at NAB, and I even more impressed with it. The 96.3-degree horizontal angle of view is stunning, and the minimization of chromatic aberration is carried over and perhaps improved from the HJ version. It features correction data that support the BT.2020 wide color gamut. It works with the existing zoom and focus demand controllers for earlier lenses, so it’s  easily integrated into existing facilities.

Foot Traffic
The official total of registered attendees was 91,460, down from 92,912 in 2018. The Evertz booth was actually easy to walk through at 10a.m. on Monday, which I found surprising given the breadth of new interesting products and technologies. Evertz had to show this year. The South Hall had the big crowds, but Wednesday seemed emptier than usual, almost like a Thursday.

The NAB announced that next year’s exhibition will begin on Sunday and end on Wednesday. That change might boost overall attendance, but I wonder how adversely it will affect the attendance at the conference sessions themselves.

I still enjoy attending NAB every year, seeing the new technologies and meeting with colleagues and former co-workers and clients. I hope that next year’s NAB will be even better than this year’s.

Main Image: Barbie Leung.


John Ferder is the principal engineer at John Ferder Engineer, currently Secretary/Treasurer of SMPTE, an SMPTE Fellow, and a member of IEEE. Contact him at john@johnferderengineer.com.


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