The 2006 Mario Awards

Ah, Las Vegas. Where else would you find a woman's near-naked derriere blown up to about two stories high on the side of a hotel in what's now promoting itself as a family-friendly city?
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LAS VEGAS


(click thumbnail) Ah, Las Vegas. Where else would you find a woman's near-naked derriere blown up to about two stories high on the side of a hotel in what's now promoting itself as a family-friendly city?

Ah, NAB. Where else would you find Panasonic, the company that told us tape was dead back in 2004, introducing not just one but two new tape-based camcorders, as well as a new VTR, in 2006?

I don't mean to pick on Panasonic. I like their stuff (and they introduced a P2-based camcorder, too).

I also like the Infinity camcorder, and I thought the demo of its Rev Pro disk pack playing immediately after being removed from a hot oven, a freezer, the inside of a dust-filled vacuum cleaner, a snow bank, and under a tire that just ran it over was danged spiffy. But "non-proprietary" media? There is exactly one source in the world for Rev Pro disks, and that's Grass Valley. What's "proprietary" media--videocassettes chained to their manufacturers?

UNDER THE RADAR

So, when it comes to picking a camcorder this year, I decided to skip Infinity and P2 and even Sony's 4:4:4 digital-cinematography mockup (which is also supposed to record on videotape). I also skipped the vapors of the Red tent. I picked Silicon Imaging's SI-1920 HDVR.

If you ain't heard of them, that ain't their fault. Their client list for HD cameras includes Dalsa, IBM, Kodak, and Sarnoff. The new camcorder uses a 2/3-inch imager fed from a film lens. With a 35mm lens you use only the central (best) part. Add a touch-screen, over- and under-cranking from a frame a minute to 72 fps, four-hour recording on hot-swappable drives, wavelet compression of raw RGB data to 96 Mbps, and a price closer to an HDV camcorder than to HDCAM, and it's a winner, I do declare.

CHEAPER IS BETTER

Now, then, it'll probably take a while before everyone's using Silicon Imaging camcorders. Meantime, Sony, alone, has sold a quarter-million 1/3-inch HDV versions. P+S Technik's Mini35 has allowed 35mm lenses to be used on 1/3-inch camcorders for years, but it usually costs more than the camcorder (and I'm including even Panasonic's HD P2 model). Enter Redrock Microsystems. There ain't a single HD camcorder (and I'm counting the $800 consumer Sanyo) that costs less than their basic M2 Cinema Lens Adapter.

Add all the accessories, and you're still below Sony's lowest price. And I can't swear to have done extensive testing in the five seconds I spent looking at it, but it seems to me this just might be a case of cheaper-is-better. It's another winner, I do declare.

COMPUTER PROMPTING

So you're going on a shoot with either a Redrock-equipped small camcorder or an SI-1920 HDVR, and you need a prompter. There have been plenty of prompters for small camcorders before, including one with a paper roll, but they've all got a small drawback for a one-person shooting rig--a second person to run the prompter and a wire between the two of you.

Enter Portaprompt's Nano-Prompt. Like other small prompters, it mounts to the front of a camera, adding around four pounds. It doesn't need a connection to a computer because it is a computer, complete with wireless link to a tiny transmitter the talent can use unobtrusively to advance the text. And you can use the computer for anything else you want, too. I do declare another winner.

GOOD THINGS IN SMALL PACKAGES

The Nano-Prompt transmitter is about the size of the lock/unlock transmitter on a set of car keys. The Ricsonix Blue wireless-mic transmitter is smaller, but it's easier to replace the battery.

This is the latest product from the same guy who came up with last year's winner, the Pin-Mic, so you can expect a version soon where the Pin-Mic plugs right into the transmitter, and you can't see a thing. How does he get it so small? It uses Bluetooth, and it's a winner, I do declare.

3-D PAPER

This wasn't the year of HD. This wasn't the year of digital TV. If I had to make NAB2006 the year of something, I'd say 3-D--everything from NHK's 3-D HD LCDs to the two 3-D sessions in the four-session Digital Cinema Summit. My favorite was ChromaDepth 3D from American Paper Optics.

Most 3-D involves complicated dual images and convergence and stuff like that. ChromaDepth just involves keeping bluish stuff in the background and reddish stuff up front. The glasses are cheap, and it works as well for on-air promotions as for mailings and Web sites. I do declare another winner.

SIZE MATTERS

If you use some 3-D process other than ChromaDepth, you might get some color fringing. Heck, if you shoot HD with a 1/3-inch camcorder you might get some color fringing. It's called chromatic aberration, and it's tough to get rid of in the best of lenses, never mind the one that comes built into an $800 camcorder. But camcorders ain't getting bigger and more expensive; they're getting smaller and cheaper.

In NHK's Ultra Hi-Def system (16 times more pixels than 1920x1080), size and money weren't a problem, and they still had chromatic aberration. So Astrodesign came up with the VP-8400 processor to eliminate it. Electronics get smaller & cheaper. Maybe we can expect lens-fixing chips in future camcorders. It started here, and it's a winner, I do declare.

ONE-MAN NEWS

So you shoot your story with your corrected-lens camcorder, and you bring it back to the station. In New York, L.A., Chicago, or Philadelphia, someone's going to edit it, someone else will introduce it, and a crew will shoot the introducer and cue up the edited clip. But in Mzuzu, Malawi, where the gross domestic product was $600 per person last year, maybe a one-person TV station would be a good idea.

Rushworks, which has previously introduced complete master-control facilities (including playback systems) built into an inexpensive keyboard, now has Newsrush. It lets the same one-person shooter and editor add all the necessary cues for news-studio automation at an affordable price. It's another winner, I do declare.

BETACAM UPGADE

Such television as there is in Malawi is 625-line. Television in the U.S. is 525-line. Grass Valley's Infinity will record in both, but Sony's Digital Betacam won't. Or will it?

Multi-Speed Engineering will "upgrade" Digital Betacam decks to handle either standard or even 24-frame. Settings are stored in non-volatile memory, so switching between standards is instantaneous. It's neat, and it's a winner, I do declare.

FLASH MEMORY

So, yes, there was a lot of videotape at NAB2006. There were also a lot of disks, from the tiny drives used in the SI-1920 HDVR to Omneon's giant Mediagrid. But just about the only flash memories you could find mentioned outside the thumb drives that some manufacturers offered with their press releases on them were in a few camcorders from folks like Grass Valley, Hitachi, Ikegami, Panasonic, and, if the vapors didn't get to you, Red. And then there was Toshiba's On-Air Max.

It looks like a video server. It works like a video server. Heck, it is a video server, with up to eight inputs and 15 outputs. It uses flash memories instead of disks, but that doesn't make it too expensive, and Toshiba says it's the best selling video server series in Japan. I do declare it's a winner.

ALMOST THERE

So you capture. You record. You play. And you look at it on what? The CRT ain't dead yet, but if you're trying to buy high-end CRT monitors, you have my condolences. I really, really liked the JVC/Teranex 46-inch D-ILA product, but 46 inches is a bit much for most of the places where I use monitors.

eCinema Systems and Cine-Tal had some good looking LCDs as regards color and contrast, but when it came to motion rendition, FrontNICHE's LCD versions (six-inch up to 57) blew me away. Okay, they ain't quite up to CRT, but they're being made and sold, which is almost more than I can say for that other technology. They're a winner, I do declare.

Say, I just thought of something. If the NAB show is so technologically advanced, how come we walk around it with bags of paper? Come to think of it, if we're in this high-bandwidth, instant-access business, how come over 100,000 of us fly to Las Vegas to walk through dozens of miles of aisles?

Here's my recommendation. Let's have NAB2007 via broadband connection. Or maybe a thumb drive.