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Mario Recognizes 'Best & the Brightest'

You may not have noticed, but I’m a pretty spiritual character. And I’ve just returned from a retreat.

Like the mystics of old, we go to the desert once a year to rejuvenate… to re-commit. We put aside our daily routines, and avoid contact with the things that normally distract us. We seek to learn new truths, and to exchange our learned wisdom with other humble pilgrims like ourselves.

But when we get to the desert, it’s usually loud, tacky and expensive, and our tent is mostly full of the same ol’ crap that we saw last time through.

This year was different. The NAB Show spoon-fed us large doses of so-called 3D (it’s actually stereoscopy) which, I’m told, Mister and Missus America are going to be demanding from us any day now, and in bulk volume. I’m not convinced.

But, hey, nobody asked me; and besides, over the years, I’ve followed every trend they’ve thrown my way. Want shaky-cam? I’m the shakiest. Quadraphonic sound? I’ve got four mics in my backpack. Widescreen and HD? I’m know, as a wide kinda guy, and my def is of the highest order. I imagine I’ll survive 3D, too.

But, as you all seem to know, I’m not out lookin’ for the trendiest and glitziest. When I cruise the show, I want to see the best and the brightest… the wackier the better. So hop aboard my camel, fellow pilgrim, for a quick tour of the stuff that made my list for 2010.

Michael Bravin, vp of product market development for ARRI digital camera products accepts the Mario for the ARRI Alexa.ARRI ALEXA

You can whine about your sombreros, rickshaws and kossacks, but when it comes to ethnic stereotypes, the Germans have taken it on the chin for years… especially the implications of a certain rigidity of thought. Inflexible? Rubbish! Look no further than the Arri Alexa, and you’ll see flexible thinking incarnate… a real electronic cinematography (EC) camera, not a modded TV camera, that does everything you can think of—plus a few things you never thought of. Quickly configurable with a big onboard menu, it’s fast (that means sensitive) and responsive (that means pretty); and because it’s from ARRI, it’s got access to every cinema lens, viewfinder and accessory ever made. It’s well-engineered, well-built, and just oozing practicality; so maybe some of those German stereotypes ring true after all.

Sage Nishimure from Sony accepts the Mario Award for the Sony HXRNX5U NXCAM Camera.SONY NXCAM HXR-NX5U CAMERA

Sometimes, when the planets align, even the mightiest of companies stops and listens to that little voice from below... the voice of the customer. Sony’s been getting pretty good at it lately, and to prove it, here’s the most useful little format to come down the pike in a long time. Seems our friends noticed that every shooter, great and small, seemed to have a tiny, inexpensive consumer AVCHD camera in their kit bag, despite the consumer-ish drawbacks of the format, like AC3-encoded audio. The light bulb goes on over somebody’s head, and a pro-formatted AVC platform is born – NXCAM, with full-bore PCM audio. And the NX5U, built on the bones of the Z5, is a competent, practical way to launch it.

Setsuko Watanabe, staff engineer (L), and Jan Crittenden, Panasonic Broadcast & TV Systems product manager, accept the Mario for the Panasonic AG-AF100 cameraPANASONIC AF-100 4/3" CAMERA

The smokin’ trend of the moment—the DSLR as cinema camera—shines a big ‘ole spotlight on a dark and unexplainable fact: TV camera imagers are small, too small to gather the kind of light that delivers that oh-so-sexy short depth of field we all seem to drool over. Panasonic runs to the rescue, though, with the AF-100 and its big honkin’ 4/3-inch chip; it’s ready to accept photo lenses, has AVCCAM on-board recording to SDXHC cards, and all the usual goodies. Plus, an extravagant new feature: audio, the track the DSLR’s forgot—just like an old-fashioned TV camera.

Bob Frye (L), senior product manager, Pro Monitor Solutions, and Trevor Davies, senior director, Dolby Broadcast & Imaging Products, accept the Mario for the Dolby PRM-4200 Monitor.DOLBY PRM-4200 REFERENCE MONITOR

Frankly, my darling, I’m less interested in who’s-watching-the-watcher, than in what’s-the-watcher-watching… and how does he have any idea whether the colors are right? And here’s yer answer—the watcher (or colorist, timer, grading supervisor or whatever) had better be watching this reference-grade beauty from, of course, Dolby Labs. Finally, it’s the LCD reference monitor we’ve been promised for so long, by so many; calibrated to a multitude of colorimetric standards, it even replicates the grunge of an overset, bargain-basement home flat screen, so you can see what your stuff is really gonna look like. Responsible for the best one-liner of NAB 2010: Mario: “Okay, turn the monitor on.” Dolby engineer: “It is on.” Now that’s what I call black.

(L-R) Toby Sali and Fred Holmes with Mojo Pro Audio, accept the Mario for the Uncompressed Digital Wireless Microphone System from Joey Gill, TV Technology correspondent.MOJO PRO AUDIO DIGITAL WIRELESS MIC TRANSMITTER/RECEIVER

I’m not one for draggin’ out the “I” word—“ingenious”—too often. So let’s just say that the Mojo wireless “made my brain chuckle”. Everybody hates wireless for its tendency to… fail. Imagine a multichannel, unlicensed, spread spectrum RF signal path, digital from end-to-end… say, what do they call that? Wi-fi? Bingo… and using 802.11G for wireless mics has got to be the idea of the century. No analog hybrids here; and there’s enough bandwidth left over to run an IFB back down in the opposite direction. And with a flip of a switch, that transmitter becomes a receiver. Still chuckling.

Blackmagic Design CEO and Founder Grant Petty receives the Mario Award for the UltraStudioBLACKMAGIC DESIGN ULTRASTUDIO PRO USB-3

File this one under “promise fulfilled”: They told us that someday, there’d be a USB so fast and robust that you could, well, actually do things with it. Other than run mice and printers. One of the first, at least by my reckonin’, to cash in on the potential of USB3 is Blackmagic Design, who brought a couple of goodies to the NAB show that you don’t need a Philips-head to install. My favorite: the latest version of Grant Petty’s iconic video-audio I/O, in a sleek desktop package. Now it’s time for the rest of the world to catch up. Again.

Dan Marshall (L), vice president of sales, and Sam Blackman, CEO & Chairman of Elemental Technologies, accept the Mario for the Elemental Live Streaming Processor.ELEMENTAL TECHNOLOGIES LIVE STREAMING PROCESSOR

Speaking of technological promise foretold: Our friends at the chip farms have told us for years that, kinda like using a coathanger as an 8-VSB antenna, the general-purpose processors on their graphics cards could be harnessed for other tasks. I dare ya – name three you’ve heard of. Stumped, eh? Well, you can start with the high-performing Elemental Live Streaming processor, which farms out compression tasks among not just the microprocessor cores, but the graphics processors as well. Just like you thought, it’s pretty fast, what with all them processors a-pumpin’, but the best part is that when a stream goes down, the whole kit-‘n’-kaboodle doesn’t have to be restarted; built-in traffic cop software redistributes jobs and keeps on streamin’.

Jim Tierney, chief executive anarchist, Digital Anarchy, accepts the Mario for Beauty BoxPro USB-3.DIGITAL ANARCHY BEAUTY BOX

Sometimes, innovation is bold-faced obvious: How come my hot new camera can apply all sorts of flesh-tone filtering… fixin’ zits and shrinkin’ pores… but my super-dee-duper compositing software can’t? Digital Anarchy has taken that cosmetician code and bottled it, so you, too, can plug it into your image processing platform, restoring youth and beauty, even if you didn’t spring for the good camera like you should have.

Bruce Sharpe, president/CEO of Singular Software, accepts the Mario for Dualeyes.SINGULAR SOFTWARE DUALEYES

So here’s where I gotta confess that ol’ love-hate thing: I love the pictures those DSLR movie shooters can get… amazing depth of field, gorgeous colors. What I hate is all the rigmarole and work-arounds that go into using equipment for the wrong purpose. Audio guys, with your separate sound recorder—are you listening? The notion of regressing toward dual-system audio, in this day and age… man, it sends a chill down the spine. But if that’s the path you’ve chosen, well… might as well do a good job gluing the sound back onto the pix; and that means Singular’s DualEyes. Don’t ask me how, but it restores sync without making a hundred test edits like I always used to. I call that “pain relief”.

Jim Collias (L) Zylight director of engineering and Charlie Collias, sales director, accept the Mario for Zylight Active Diffusion.ZYLITE ACTIVE DIFFUSION

Wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen the gaffer atop the ladder, barkin’ his nonsensical jargon at the lowly grip: “Get me a piece of shower curtain. No, wait, a piece of spun. No… hold on…” The guy can’t figure out how much diffusion media to mount on the light, and some poor so-and-so is gonna climb that ladder over and over until he figures it out. Now, a workday miracle—continuously variable diffusion! Zylite, makers of best-in-class LED panels, showed an electrically-adjustable sheet of liquid crystal that might mean the end of scissors and clothespins. And if they build that DMX-controllable version they talked about, that gaffer may never get up on the ladder again… or even out of the chair, for that matter.