Mario Orazio /
The 2004 Mario Award Winners ...
You may not have noticed that nine normally comes between eight and ten. Now would someone kindly mention that to the NAB?
Yeesh! It's tough enough covering 100 square miles of exhibits in four days and wading through 100,000 Applets hogging the Apple booth without having to deal with NAB's booth numbers.
You think I jest? Here, in order, leaving nothing out, are the booth numbers you would have passed walking east to west in the South Hall: SU9117, SU9019, SU9122, SU9123, SU9025, SU9036, SU9029, SU9031, SU8834, SU9139...
The SU part of each number is to ensure that it's unreadable on the gigantic NAB-supplied maps. Methinks putting 9019 between 9117 and 9112 or 8834 between 9031 and 9139 is to get one in the mood for figuring out what's going on in the minds of ... Well, here's an award-winning example:
Most folks seem more interested in the latest cameras than in what they sit on. Not me. I don't know how you can use Panavision's 300x7 lens without a very stable, very supportive mount. Chapman and Vinten both came out with base-shrunken versions of their pedestals. That's pretty handy in a crowded studio, but it ain't going to help with that humongous heavy new lens, and I'd be concerned about even Fujinon's new precision focus version of their 101x on it.
The precision focus lens is hot stuff, but it costs more and ain't as sensitive as the pre-precision version. The smaller-base peds are great ideas, but they don't have the same payload as the bigger-base ones. That makes sense. But then there's Vinten's Vector 900, quite possibly the best pan head ever.
It's got a bigger payload than the Vector 700. It's smaller and lighter. It's got a greater tilt range (an astounding +/- 90 degrees!). It costs less. In every possible way, it is better than the already terrific Vector 700. But Vinten is continuing to sell the bigger, heavier, less-capable Vector 700, for more than the Vector 900. And booth SU8834 comes between SU9031 and SU9139. Now do you understand? Me, neither. But I love the Vector 900 regardless.
APPLE OF NELLIE'S EYE
Okay, so you buy a Vector 900 and stick it on a tripod and discover that it and the camera operator are both too low. Since roughly Day One of moving-image photography (and probably even before that) the solution has involved apple boxes.
A cinematographer told me once how an improved apple box (with the carry hole moved closer to the edge so two could be picked up with one hand) was rejected by moviemakers for being too scary, adding something about a set being the most expensive place to do R&D. You don't want your production to fail because you brought the wrong kind of apple box.
Well, sure! What if the closer-to-the-edge hole made the wood break? I'd be scared, too. But not of the Valise Pro from Fuji Television in Japan, the first completely redesigned apple box.
Yes, it's exactly the right size, but it folds, so it takes up less room in a grip truck. It's made of aluminum, so it weighs less. It's got non-skid, quiet rubber on top. It's got leveling legs and a built-in level. It's got dents for those legs on top for safer stacking and locks on each side for safer (rock-solid) platforming. It's even got strap slots for tying down tripods (or talent).
Wow! The ideal apple box! Who knew?
SKY'S THE LIMIT
So maybe you need to light the talent sitting on a stool on the high platform made from Valise Pro apple boxes. There surely were a lot of fluorescent lamps at the show. There was a 150-LED camera-mounted array from LitePanels. And there were still a bunch of incandescent and discharge lights. But ARRI's Sky Panel 21 is something else.
It uses an Osram Planon lamp, which is, methinks, something originally made to be an LCD panel backlight. The bulb is roughly 19x15 inches and almost as thin as this magazine. By the time ARRI puts it in a frame with a ballast and supports, it's still only two inches thick. It lights instantly with full output. Methinks it works kind of like a bright, single-pixel plasma display-beautiful soft light without melting the talent.
"But, Mario, hasn't this been around already?"
Yes, indeed it has. You could see something similar at the Licht-Technik booth. But there it was just 5600K. Maybe there's an application or two for an outdoor softlight like this, but I'd sure rather use it in a studio setting, and there we like to be 3200K, which is what ARRI offered this year-with a CRI better than 90! Yes!
SEEING IS BELIEVING
Did I just mention shooting outdoors? I can't see much use for a 3200K ARRI Sky Panel there, but there surely is a lighting-related problem.
Sony is justifiably proud of the LCD screens on some of their notebook computers, but have you ever tried to look at them in direct sunlight? Yeesh! Methinks Panasonic has a better computer display for that purpose, but I ain't being paid to discuss laptops.
I'm being paid (please!) to talk about TV technology, and it uses LCDs, too. They've had motion-rendition issues (which are getting better) and contrast issues (which are getting better). There are viewing-angle issues, which Sony's new Luma series seems to have licked completely. But then there are those sunbeams.
Sony's Luma monitors looked good in their booth. They'd probably look good in a control room. Out in the Las Vegas noonday sun? Hah!
Then there's IMP Electronics. Their Hummingbird LCD monitors have good motion, contrast, and viewing angles. They looked great in their booth and in direct noonday sunlight, right on the screen.
I don't expect you to believe me. I had a hard time believing my own eyes. But if you think you'd like a portable, multistandard LCD monitor (6.5-, 10.4, or 15-inch) if only it looked good in direct sunlight, all I can say is that you'd better bring your checkbook to the demo. Wow!
Let me see. I've done mounts, platforms, lights, and viewfinders (or at least monitors), and I've mentioned lenses. I guess I've danced around it about as much as I can. It's time to get to cameras.
They surely did run the gamut at NAB 2004, from Discreet Surveillance Technology's wireless color camera built into a pen (the pen writes, too) to Luma's HD lipstick to Kinetta's digital cinematography camera that uses a hand crank for overcranking and undercranking. I am not making this up.
In the spirit of NAB's crazy booth numbers, Sony announced publicly that they were showing a 1080/60p camera secretly. 1080/60p makes some sense to me; a public announcement of a secret doesn't, but then, I couldn't figure out NAB's booth-numbering scheme.
Anyhow, Grass Valley said they've finally provided the missing link in HDTV: an HD slo-mo camera. That probably came as a surprise to Ikegami, which was also showing an HD slo-mo camera. Both of them do what they can from shooting at 120 images a second.
Over at BandPro, the Cine SpeedCam was grabbing 1024-line pix at a thousand frames per second. And at Miranda's booth, Vision Research was grabbing full HD at a thousand frames per second (SD at up to 6,000).
My eyes don't work that fast, but the pictures played back at normal speed from the Vision Research Phantom v9.0 were just drop-dead gorgeous. But, when you record a thousand fps, you'd better be danged sure about when you press RECORD.
WHEN PIXELS GO BAD
The Vision Research cameras use imaging chips. So do the Cine SpeedCam, Ikegami, and Grass Valley.
This much is certain about imaging chips: They have defective pixels. These days, that's no big deal. The cameras have "defective pixel repair" circuitry-basically memories that note where the bad pixels are and substitute averages of the surrounding pixels.
That is to say, it's no big deal when you pull a new camera out of the box. But, over time, more pixels go bad. Now it's a little bigger deal as you identify the bad pixels and stick them into the memory. And then more pixels go bad.
In a two-megapixel three-chip HD camera, there are six million pixels that can go bad, and the memory ain't that big. At some point, you have to choose between a lit pixel in the upper right or a lit pixel in the lower left. Or you can go to Lucke's Camera Service.
Their Pixel Repair Service is about as simple as can be. They add more memory and, thereby, "fix" the newer bad pixels. It's one whole heck of a lot cheaper than buying a new camera or even a new optical block. Hooray for American ingenuity!
IN THE CITI
Hooray, too, for the inscrutable (who wants to be scruted?) folks in Taiwan at Shining Technology. Panasonic's big hit at the show-this year and last-is/was P2. P2 lets you record DV-quality signals on a PCMCIA card for instant editing in a computer.
Well, Shining Technology's CitiDISK DV lets you record DV-quality signals for instant editing in a computer, too, and you don't need to use a P2 camera (but you can, if you want to). As a matter of fact, despite the name, CitiDISK DV supports not just DV but also AVI and MOV files.
P2 captures up to 18 minutes on a 4 GB card; CitiDISK captures up to 80 GB-that's 20 P2 cards worth-a full six hours! P2 cards pop into a PCMCIA slot. CitiDISK DV pops into a FireWire connection.
P2 allows pre-scene loop recording; so does CitiDISK DV. The latter also automatically detects signal format and offers last-scene quick review in viewfinders.
I value the subsistence wages that my editor doles out to me, so I ain't going to mention the cost of a P2 card. Ninety minutes worth of CitiDISK DV (the same capacity as five 4-GB P2 cards) goes for $599 to $649, depending on the features you want.
P2 does have no moving parts. I don't think I'll be breaking any confidences in revealing that CitiDISK DV has a rotating disk drive. You pick.
HD GRAPHICS FOR A SONG
CitiDISK DV surely wasn't the only camera disk recorder at the show. Sony, of course, showed its XDCAM with blue-laser optical-disk recording.
Sony's theme was "Ride the HD Wave." But XDCAM, like DVCAM, and a bunch of other Sony products, was SD-only; maybe Sony's SD products like to ride the HD wave, too.
Anyhow, it wasn't big news to hear that some station was upgrading from SD to HD. On the other hand, Chyron announced that WRAL, the pioneering digital station, was trading in its HD graphics gear for SD.
They're doing it on account of the SD gear being more flexible than the HD. And they can get away with it thanks to Chyron's C-Mix HD.
C-Mix HD is a four-pair (video and key) plus background-layer mixer allowing compositing and blending. It works great with Chyron's Lyric software, but it'll live with anyone's XML app. And here's the key (so to speak): it's got a built-in HD upconverter.
Shoot HD. Record HD. But do your graphics in SD and upconvert. It surely saves money and trouble. And it's under $20k.
Now, then, two awardees ago, I was proclaiming something with only three figures in its price tag, and I just said something with five figures was a money saver. It's tough to say what's inexpensive: $20,000 is pretty low for a house; $599 is an awful lot for a copy of a newspaper. But, when it comes to cheap, there's one thing everyone can agree on. Free is as inexpensive as you can get.
So, let me see, what could you get for free at NAB2004? Las Vegas water from a water fountain, rum-cordial chocolates from B&H Photo. Assorted pens, candies, the occasional light-up ball.
Then there was Snell & Wilcox. Some folks called 2004 the year of HDTV. To me, it looked more like the year of MXF.
What's MXF? How do you use it? How will yourcomputer deal with it? How much is this going to cost?
The last one's pretty easy, thanks to Snell & Wilcox. Their MXF Desktop player and MXF Express software toolkit were (and are) free! That's gratis. Complimentary. No charge. And (be still my heart!) they actually support these giveaways!
To the grand tradition of Tektronix chroma-resolution charts, Fujinon backfocus charts, and Panasonic's Varicam training, please welcome Snell & Wilcox's free MXF software! Wahoo!
KEEPING IT CLEAN
Note to Our Beloved Commish: The last word in the previous paragraph is not, nor was intended to be, obscene, indecent, prurient, or anything else that a devout minister wouldn't be willing to say to a mixed audence in church. You've got to be careful these days. Or is it just business?
Transmitter sales slowed down? Our Beloved Commish creates digital TV broadcasting. Camera purchases lagging? Michael Powell comes up with his "voluntary" plan for HDTV. Video delays in a slump? Raise the indecency fines!
It seemed to work. Leitch was touting its "SafeFeed" Janet-Jackson delay at the show. Evertz, Pixelworks, and others had their own versions of "wardrobe malfunction" equipment. But there's a problem: What if someone forgets to hit the Dump button? It happened to a commentator at a non-commercial station who submitted her remarks in advance, and she got fired.
So Enco's Guardien does it for you. It listens to what's being said, compares it to a dictionary of no-nos, and bloops what's offensive. Really! It learns as it goes and is context sensitive, so Nick at Nite's TV Land doesn't have to worry about emitting "The BLOOP Van BLOOP Show, co-starring Mary Tyler Moore." What's it cost? Less than the current fine for one incident, that's for sure.
I could go on, but Roman Moronie, a character in the 1984 family movie "Johnny Dangerously," did it so eloquently that I'll give him the last word. Giving credit where it's due, this was lifted from the Internet Movie Database, which lifted it from the movie.
"I would like to direct this to the distinguished members of the panel: You lousy corksuckers. You have violated my farging rights. Dis somanumbatching country was founded so that the liberties of common patriotic citizens like me could not be taken away by a bunch of fargin iceholes like yourselves."