The Future of Digital Post

Quo Vadis, NLE? Let's face it, after years of watching nonlinear digital post production develop, it's finally risen to a mature technology.
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Quo Vadis, NLE? Let's face it, after years of watching nonlinear digital post production develop, it's finally risen to a mature technology. We cut with full-frame video, have several choices of I/O, and even our home desktop computers can offer real-time effects. So as IBC counterbalances the carousel set spinning by NAB, this is a great time to survey some industry insiders on the shape of digital post to come.

You can track the potential power at editors' fingertips through the growth of software-only editing offerings available to a desktop digicutter. These were once considered for the low-end market, but just this August Adobe Systems released Premiere 6.5 for both PC and Macintosh platforms, offering unheard of editing power.

"We envision video editing becoming a commercial commodity akin to the desktop publishing revolution," says Richard Townhill, Group Product Manager for Adobe Premiere. "The advent of FireWire (IEEE-1394) has removed connectivity hindrances from the picture so that these days anyone who can buy a computer has ready access to digital NLE technology. All we are waiting for is processing power to catch up to our video manipulation capabilities."

Townhill predicts the major result of this will be to free post-production pros from capital-intensive facilities or a single manufacturer's proprietary technologies. Townhill also prognosticates that, although videotape will remain ubiquitous, disk-based release formats like DVD will increasingly come into their own thanks, in part, to some of the new capabilities of software like Premiere 6.5.

Adobe has already demonstrated editing HDTV material using Adobe Premiere and exporting the result as a stream with a data rate of under 8 Mbps. Not only could this boost the feasibility of high-quality Web streaming, but when recorded to disk it could give you much greater playback quality than the conventional DVD.

"Now you'll be able to shoot with an HD camera, feed its output into a Premiere-equipped PC, edit the material and give it to anyone with a DVD player to get HD playback with Dolby Surround Sound, " Townhill tells us. "Since Premiere is resolution-independent, that means editors will no longer have limitations in determining their delivery format, even out of a home desktop system."

POST HOUSE POTENTIAL

Although he welcomes the freedom this entrepreneurial promise of future post will bode, Laurin Herr, vice president, Content Creation Broadcast Professional Division at Pinnacle Systems does see a continuing role for post houses containing a pool of talent in two areas. "First is the ability to aggregate human talent such as editing specialists, integration experts or experienced bid estimators," he tells us. "And there will always be expensive specialty pieces of the chain that only established facilities can afford, including such things as telecines, cutting-edge graphics generators and color correction units. There will continue to be tension across the post-production continuum between a concentration of talent and the dispersion of individual creative workstations. After all, even in the second decade of desktop publishing there are many print shops still thriving."


A Jacuzzi in Every Post Facility?From across the Great Pond, Quantel's Marketing Development Manager, Mark Horton looked into his crystal ball with tongue planted firmly in cheek and proposed a whimsical timeline for the future of digital post:



Five Years Out: Offline largely disappears for standard def and we all go back to choosing shots at home over coffee. Big post houses follow trend to install gyms in their suites to attract clients (there are unfortunate accidents). NAB2007 gets even bigger and takes up all convention space in Las Vegas. A new company enters the market: HiSoPanShita. Five new tape formats launched.

Ten Years Out: Intelligent A.I.-based editing software arrives. HiSoPanShita launches a new advertising concept, the "Annoy-O-Tron," an airship blimp with integrated QXGA display for shopping malls. Big post houses follow trend to install Jacuzzis in their suites to attract clients (there are unfortunate accidents). NAB2012 gets even bigger and opens new halls in Baker and Barstow. Squidlike aliens from the nearest inhabited planet make first contact. They have monitored our TV transmissions and are incensed that we have stolen the "Weakest Link" format. A bitter lawsuit against the BBC and U.S. Networks begins. Five new tape formats launched.

Fifteen Years Out: Intelligent A.I.-based painting software arrives. In a bizarre Siggraph incident, Quantel's "Jackson Pollock Box" is involved in a messy barroom brawl. A new concept in videoconferencing, the HiSoPanShita "Smell-E-conference" is a big hit. Not only is it ultra high-res, you can smell the fear too. Big post houses follow trend to install assault courses in their suites to attract clients (there are unfortunate accidents). NAB2017 gets even bigger and opens new halls in Reno. Five new tape formats launched.

Twenty Years Out: HiSoPanShita launches the NanoEdit; its technology is brilliant but no one can read the manual. Big post houses follow trend to install sensory deprivation tanks in their suites to attract clients (there are unfortunate accidents). NAB and IBC close and '"Virtual Tradeshow" is introduced. Realistic in the extreme, Virtual NAB is found to produce side effect of mysterious loss of money. Virtual IBC side effects include mysterious loss of short-term memory. Horselike aliens make first contact. They have monitored our TV transmissions and demand to meet Mr. Ed. Five new tape formats launched.

It all comes down to the bottom line. "Production budgets have to go down as advertising revenues shrink even while the number of channels of distribution goes up," Herr says. "The result is the cost-per-minute that can be invested in creative content will have to be reduced, and we have to survive that as an industry. After all, if the real cost of everything sinks to zero, none of us can make a living."

At the high end of dedicated turnkey post systems, Phil Bennett, executive vice president of technology for Accom, Inc. sees a plethora of pixels in digital post's future. "None of our Hollywood customers are doing anything that is not HD anymore," he says. "In fact, many of them are planning to go strictly 2K so we see the future of standard-definition video being pretty much relegated to offline use."

Bennett looks to the day when a standard 2K x 1556 master will be the medium for most post work, to facilitate delivery in any format. "This will result in a real blurring between the film and video world at the high end," he describes. "Thanks to the current slump in revenues, many facilities have had to pause their equipment purchasing. This may be a good thing for digital post because once the economy revives, investments in technology will look beyond the capabilities they had before. When that comes about, high definition will become a viable revenue generator for all the new bandwidth."

SERVING UP NEWS

One digital post domain that is just starting to erupt is in newsroom editing. "The efficiency of a nonlinear newsroom is just beginning to attract worldwide attention," says Jeff Rosica, vice president of strategic marketing for Thomson Grass Valley. "Current goals include developing open SAN (Storage Area Network) architecture in a server-based environment across multiple platforms. But over the next few years we will see a drive toward creating enhanced asset management systems for archived material that includes access to the metadata associated with that footage. Further down the road we'll be looking toward increased resolutions, even the implementation of HD in the newsroom."

In the next generation, Rosica foresees optical disk-based acquisition becoming the norm for news operations. "This will let us bring nonlinear editing into online applications for news, including all the repurposing required for subsequent newscasts and their associated promos, bumpers, etc. News editing will always remain time-sensitive, and the use of disk recording on remotes will only help facilitate this."

But perhaps the greatest influence digital technology will have on newsroom procedures will be to streamline the overall work flow. "It's all about 'time to air' and we will see the lines between pre-production and post production disappear in the newsroom faster than anywhere else," Rosica tells us. "Already, laptop edit systems are letting journalists cut their own stories in the field, and we'll always need to remember the added value good editing skills can give to a news story."