michael naimark




NAB, Las Vegas

Michael Naimark


First, the NAB is no longer dominated by broadcasters. Ten years ago, NAB split the A/V equipment debut with the annual SMPTE conference (whose niche is now more in papers and less in exhibits) as well as several smaller specialty conferences. Back then, NAB meant broadcasters. Today it's clearly a lively mix. Perhaps the largest contingent next to broadcasters are video production and post-production facilities. Their clients traditionally make tv ads and "industrials" (video made for in-house viewing). If one believes what one saw at NAB, one would also conclude that multimedia is the next big thing.

Around 1987 I took a casual poll to determine what percent of videotape whirling through decks anywhere in the US was for anything interactive, and the consensus was under 1%. My guess is that it's grown to be around under 5% today.

But the NAB multimedia exhibit seemed to get more attention than anything except perhaps digital betacam. SGI ruled. Apple and IBM demonstrated that neither had a strong vision of multimedia by showing a hodgepodge of tools and demos. Actually the whole room was a hodgepodge: 3D video, video projection, film transfer, several nonlinear editing systems (though others chose to show on the main floor), a 3D input device, lenticular photos, and of course, the Video Toaster.

If I were a longtime linear video producer and walked around the multimedia exhibit, I think I would be confused what multimedia is. Except I'd be watching SGI pretty carefully.

While multimedia is on the up-side of the pop curve, HDTV is over the hill. It first hit around 1982 with a bang. HDTV; Panavision's entry into cinema-like video cameras; and Editdroid and Montage both premiering first-generation nonlinear editing hailed the birth of "electronic cinema." The HDTV exhibits grew and grew at NAB; this was where all the cool people hung out. The big issues were: "Is this enough resolution?" "Does it look as good as film?" and (most important) "Is this the right aspect ratio?" After much fuss, the A.R. was changed from 5:3 to 16:9.

The Panacam lasted less than three years, Editdroid and Montage have each died and reborn several times (praise the lawyers!), and all the cool people are now hanging around multimedia. Meanwhile, the HDTV folks were there but out of the limelight. The big issues now are the right issues - going digital, compression, scalability, extensibility - ones dealing with maximizing control at the user end.

Flame off.

Other things: nonlinear editing systems were everywhere. The big change this year is enough memory to maintain delivery-quality resolution (arguably). This changes the whole game. The original idea of nonlinear editing was fast access to one's raw material to make editing decisions offline, then to conform the original material online, more-or-less automatically. Given that the offline image was a "workprint," image quality was less of an issue than interface design. Now the talk has turned to whether the new systems can download in online quality and less discussion about the interface. I'm not sure this is good. (FYI, my opinion is that they don't deliver "broadcast quality" and that the interfaces still suck.)

Cameras and spacecode. Schwem has a new image stabilizer camera system, built around their older external stabilizer. These correct for pan and tilt but not rotation (since they use a gimballed mirror rather than a rotater prism). Wescam and Aerial Films (a new system) were slugging it out with their six-figure triple gimballed camera stabilizer pod, both large, heavy, and hardwired to do nothing but stabilize. Ultimatte showed their motion-control camera head, capable of recording and repeating moves. Nowhere on the floor did I find cameras with position sensors but without motors.

Immersion - (in addition to a group screening of IMAX's first Academy Award nomination, The Fires of Kuwait, in the not-perfect Omnimax theater) the newly opened "mall" attached to Caeser's Palace was a most effective artificial environment: city streets lined with 3/4-scale 2 and 3 storey buildings (actual commercial use on the first floor, top floors shrunk in forced-perspective) and a 40 foot high curved ceiling painted blue with clouds, high enough to fool the eye to accomodate to infinity. The sky lighting changed from dawn to day to dusk on cycles around an hour. It wasn't perfect - the sky and clouds should have been projected, along with moon and stars - but with all the environment building in progress in Las Vegas . . . just you wait.