NAB in Review: Postproduction Sector Breaks Down Walls

The show floor at last month’s NAB Show in Las Vegas was chock-full of postproduction tools that promise to change the way features and highlights editors function in the field and at home. Established NLE (non-linear editing) vendors like Adobe and Avid highlighted new cloud-based workflows that would allow remote-production teams to more easily collaborate and share content with their home bases, and an army of upstarts (Aframe, Epoch, and many others) showcased potentially game-changing cloud-based solutions of their own.

Whether called Anywhere (Adobe) or Everywhere (Avid), the message at NAB 2013 was clear: live-sports-production teams are no longer bound by the four walls of a broadcast center or the fences of a truck compound. Today’s editors and producers want access to as much content as possible, regardless of whether that media is stored locally or in the cloud. And, judging by the offerings on the show floor, postproduction vendors are ready to cater to those demands.

“What is happening in live production — especially sports — with the workflows necessary to facilitate remote collaboration with [broadcast centers] is very intriguing,” says Jeff Rosica, who joined Avid as SVP of worldwide field operations in January. “How we can all strive to create very powerful file-based workflows at remote locations is going to be key. ”

Major broadcasters —ESPN (X Games), NBC Sports (London 2012 Olympics), Fox Sports (NFL on Fox), and many others — have begun using file-based workflows to push content back and forth between productions in the field and their broadcast center at home. File-based editing platforms like Adobe Anywhere and Avid Interplay Sphere promise to eliminate location and connectivity barriers, cutting costs and increasing creative freedom for content producers.

Avid Everywhere Takes Interplay Sphere to Next Level
At NAB 2012, Avid introduced its cloud-based Interplay Sphere platform, which promised to break down the walls for journalists and video editors by allowing them to acquire, access, edit, and finish stories from anywhere. This year, the company took it a step further, unveiling its “Avid Everywhere” strategy, which aims to allow producers to work in any production environment using a variety of Avid tools.

Most notably at NAB 2013, Avid announced release of Media Composer 7 and its new $999 price point ($1,499 with Interplay). The new NLE software features accelerated and simplified file-based workflows, including optimized HD delivery from hi-res source material and automated media operations. As part of its Avid Everywhere concept, the release offers Interplay Sphere for Mac support for the first time.

“Interplay Sphere allows for collaborative creation at a very low cost,” says newly minted Avid President/CEO Louis Hernandez Jr. “The Avid Everywhere component is all about allowing more-distributed creation and collaboration. You can imagine as these pieces all come together — with Composer and ProTools available on Interplay, then Sphere remote access from anywhere — that this is going to become very important for both post and live sports production.”

Although Avid had plenty of good news and exciting new products at its press conference the day before the show opened, there was trepidation regarding Avid and its recent financial struggles. During discussions on the show floor, three pro editors who often work in the sports field expressed their concerns regarding Avid’s current situation.

“I’m not sure what is happening over there right now, but it’s a bit disconcerting,” one editor told SVG. “I hope they can get back on their feet sooner than later. I’m not so sure you can commit to them long-term right now.”

Adobe Anywhere Finally Ready To Hit the Market
After an initial preview at IBC 2012 in Amsterdam, Adobe used the NAB 2013 floor for the official unveiling of its Anywhere cloud-based collaboration platform. Adobe Anywhere promises to allow producers and editors using Adobe video tools (primarily Premiere Pro and Prelude) to access, manage, and edit centralized media across virtually any network, even standard Ethernet or WiFi.

“If you think about huge sporting events like the Olympics and World Cup, Anywhere is very exciting,” says Adobe Premier Pro Product Manager Al Mooney. “We are certainly talking to some very interesting sports people about how it could be integrated into their workflows. Why do you need to send 100 editors out to Brazil to see the World Cup when you could actually leave them all in their edit suites at home, cutting the media that is being streamed by the brains of Anywhere.”

Anywhere does not require heavy file transfers and does not rely on proxy files, enabling producers and editors to stream full-res video using Adobe’s GPU-powered Mercury streaming engine, rather than downloading entire files.

“Anywhere has no proxies — that is the biggest thing by far,” Mooney explains. “It is always full-res media on the server. Anywhere is like going from file-based to file-less. You don’t have to think about where the media is or what it’s doing. You don’t have to cut proxies and relink. And you don’t have to learn a new product because the Anywhere [user interface] is just the Premier Pro UI.”

Adobe expects Anywhere to be available for sale this month. Pricing has not been announced.

Adobe also announced the next version of its Premier Pro NLE software, which includes a variety of new features. For look at those features, click here.

The X Word: Final Cut X Looks To Rebound
Despite Apple’s insistence that it remains committed to the professional market, many editors at the show remained skeptical about Final Cut Pro X. The entirely revamped NLE software has seen seven updates since its much derided release in June 2011, and Apple even launched a new marketing campaign coinciding with NAB 2013 in an effort to win over the pro community. Nonetheless, several major networks and post houses have already made the move to Adobe Premier or Avid Media Composer, and the Final Cut ship has already sailed for many in the industry.

Says Mitch Jacobson, a multicam editing specialist and owner of Category-5 Studios, “I was not aware of any buzz around [Final Cut X at NAB 2013]. The only buzz I heard was for Adobe Premiere. None of my broadcast clients are considering [Final Cut X]. I believe that Apple is committed to the pro market for X; the real question is whether pros are committed to X. Not in my world of broadcast. No one is considering it so far.”

Another veteran editor offers a similar opinion: “[Apple] makes way too much on iPhones and iPads to put up that much effort [in the pro-editing community].”

Quantel Leads 4K Train
Of course, the biggest buzz at NAB 2013 surrounded 4K technology, and the postproduction sector was no exception. Many vendors highlighted their products’ ability to work with 4K material both in today’s live HD production environment and potentially in an end-to-end 4K production. Among them, Quantel announced that its Pablo Rio high-end color/finishing system can now support 4K at 60 fps. Pablo Rio is the only such system on the market capable of 4K60, thanks to its support for AJA’s Corvid Ultra video card.

“If there’s one single interesting trend I see at this year’s show, it’s the 4K 60-fps instant replay. That is where it’s all going,” says David Thompson, global account manager, Quantel. “We are all looking very hard at building models that are capable of that level of throughput functionality, and it’s not easy. But we are on our way. At some point in the somewhat near future, I would expect to have a Pablo Rio right there in an OB truck to enable this kind of 4K60 functionality.”

Smoke Where There’s Fire: Autodesk Looks for Growth in Sports
After making a major splash at NAB 2012 with the total redesign of its Smoke pro video-editing platform, Autodesk opted to take a more low-key approach in 2013. Focusing on incremental tech advances, customer feedback, and new partners for its flagship software, Autodesk hopes to continue its push into the pro market.

With its focus on 3D effects, color correction, and motion graphics, Smoke has traditionally been a tool more useful in postproduction than in live remote production. But it’s gradually making inroads into sports as it becomes more a laptop-based tool than a software reserved solely for high-end production houses.

“What is interesting with Smoke is, we are seeing people who had never thought about using it in the past,” says Marc Hamaker, senior product marketing manager, creative finishing, Autodesk. “The fact that Smoke is portable and can run pretty easily on a simple laptop has really changed the game for us. [Sports producers] can actually bring it into the trucks and use it in their environment.

“We have seen sports folks doing things like shooting video of the city and tracking images onto the sides of buildings,” he continues. “Traditionally, that has been a pretty postproduction-intensive process, but many [remote productions] can now do it themselves on a laptop with Smoke. That is new for us, and we have a lot to learn in terms of those workflows, but we are certainly looking at it closely as a valuable tool for sports.”

Grass Valley All About Nonlinear Production
Meanwhile, Grass Valley highlighted its new Nonlinear Production platform, which is designed for creating once to publish everywhere using new collaborative workflows. Centered on the latest releases of GV Stratus, the platform includes automated, rules-based file operations and new proxy-editing workflows.

The workflow features the new EDIUS XS nonlinear low-resolution–proxy editor, which opens the door to production workflows that previously required more-expensive full-res editors. GV Stratus can also work in conjunction with the higher-end EDIUS Elite for full-resolution broadcast applications, opening up new possibilities for workgroup collaboration and eliminating the need for conversions, processes, and extra components for quick-turn productions.

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