Hands-On with the RED RAY 4K Playback System for Independent and Home Theaters
I’ll have more to come on RED’s NAB announcements (or strange lack thereof) in the coming days, but after a few visits to their booth, I thought the product that was being underreported was the RED RAY 4K playback system(s). The RED RAY Pro — announced long ago — was running flawlessly in a corner, and the RED RAY consumer version was on display as a mock-up. After spending some time with RED engineer Stuart English, the devices looked a lot more disruptive — especially for independent theatrical distribution.
Digital multiplexes the world around comply with DCP, a JPEG 2000-based standard that is very inexpensive to deploy. As you can imagine, it’s focused on copy protection, and the format require seriously expensive hardware. In an era of $13 movie tickets (without getting into IMAX and 3D ticket prices), it’s easy to forget that, fundamentally, digital cinema should lower the cost of theatrical exhibition. Yet DCP is too expensive for most independent cinemas to deploy. That’s one place I think RED RAY Pro might find a home: independent cinemas who don’t have to comply with DCP because they’re not showing Harry Potter, but who still want top-quality visuals and sound. Once all theaters are digital, the potential exists to eliminate the crappy art-house screens of yore. But it’s going to take a good playback system, and RED RAY is one possibility (and not just the pro version, but the consumer version as well).
The other place RED RAY Pro will find a use is on sets. RED RAY was originally announced as a DVD-based distribution scheme, but similarly to Apple, RED has since abandoned optical media. The RED RAY players on display at NAB did away with DVD drives in favor of standard data ports like SSD, CF, USB, and Ethernet. One can easily imagine a RED RAY Pro sitting with video village, where camera-fresh SSD and CF cards can be inserted and shots viewed immediately in full resolution. Here’s what I remember from my booth visit, either from what Stuart told me or from what I noticed in person:
RED RAY Pro
- SSD and CF slots in the front
- Plays .R3D media natively
- DVI-D, HD-SDI, all sorts of other ports around back
- Touch screen front
- Outputs 4K and downsamples 4K to 1080p
- Deliver an entire film on CF or SSD
- 20Mbps data rate (2.5 MB/sec), which means a full feature film is roughly 15 gigs — this is tiny
- “You could put a hundred 4K features on a 2TB drive you buy down the street for $100″
- Shipping in the next eight weeks
RED RAY consumer version
- $1,000 or under
- Several HDMI outputs (can output 4K through multiple HDMI ports at once)
- USB and what looks like a SD slot in front
- Plays h.264 1080p .mp4 files in addition to RED media
- 7.1 optical sound output
- RS-232 remote port around back
- Ethernet port for use as a media server
- “Bring a 4K feature on a USB stick and play it back — the data rate is plenty low”
- Not shipping until 2012
I haven’t been able to find any good video out there of the RED RAY in action, and since I decided not to do any video coverage of NAB, this very brief clip was shot on little my point-and-shoot Sony DSC-TX5. Apologies for the quality — I had no intention of posting it (same goes for the photos above), and will replace it if some better video emerges.
When I choose which clip to view from the list of thumbnails, note the penetrating insight into how the male brain works:
Of course, it doesn’t do an independent (or home) theater any good to have a cheap 4K playback system if they don’t have a 4K projector that costs substantially less than the six-figure 4K projectors currently available. RED is being coy about their plans, but they have plans to release a 4K laser-based projector at what RED’s Ted Schilowitz characterized to me as “consumer level” pricing. He noted the same projector was “also for theaters.”
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