NAB 2012: Final Recap - Was This Really the Year of 4K? (Blackmagic Proves Otherwise)
I’m still trying to catch my breath from this year’s NAB show, but all this week I’ll be posting more videos and a few more thoughts on what I saw there. This had been dubbed the year of 4K by many, but I’m not so sure we can call it that. 4K is still a couple more years from becoming mainstream, but there’s no doubt that manufacturers are pushing their televisions and cameras into the world of 4K2K and QuadHD. Even though there were a few devices capable of shooting in that frame size announced at NAB, none of them are currently shipping (though the FS700 is the closest – even though it won’t technically be shipping as a 4K camera). It was a big year for announcements, but a few companies stood above the rest, while others missed the mark.
Let’s get the big question out of the way, was this really the year of 4K? It depends which part of the industry you work in. In terms of displays, there weren’t as many 4K monitors as I’d hoped. The exhibition and display side of 4K (as well as the storage side) has a much longer way to go than the acquisition side. I’ve said in a couple different places that I think mainstream 4K is about 5 years off, but the biggest obstacle to that will be providers offering content in 4K and regular people being unable to purchase anything but a 4K display in WalMart. Manufacturers will realize that they can’t sell more 1080p displays to people who already have them, so instead of 3D, the next big technology to convince people they need a new TV is 4K. Bitrates actually matter more than resolution, but as a filmmaker, I can’t complain that my work will be seen in higher resolution somewhere other than a theater. For 4K2K and QuadHD, bigger is better, and for me it’s difficult to see much of a difference at normal distances until the screen size is bigger than 50 inches. At the REDUser event, the gigantic Panasonic display was a perfect example of why you might ever think 1080p is not enough. It just wouldn’t have been possible for 1080p to have looked as good as the 4K content that was being shown there.
But back to the NAB show. Sony is the closest of the big manufacturers to shipping a 4K camera, but when it’s released it won’t quite be 4K. You’ll still need an external recorder, and all the details about the actual way it will record 4K have not been finalized yet. Canon is at least a year away from releasing the C500, and the 1D C is going to be released sometime this year (which could mean December, technically). While on the surface it might seem like a lot of 4K cameras were released, in reality, most were merely announced, with shipping dates sometime in the future. RED was criticized for this very same practice some years ago, but it took them quite a bit longer to release working products (over 2 years for Epic and Scarlet).
Panasonic was almost a no-show. Their main attraction was a non-working Super 35mm 4K camera that sat behind a glass case, and may be released sometime in the next 2 years. For a company that seems to have struck gold with their GH2 (thanks to hackers, of course), they are so late to the Super 35mm or bigger club that it might be too late. The AF100 has not sold as well as they’d hoped, mainly because the GH2 produced better results for a 1/4 of the price (and it’s smaller), and if you’re going to spend the money, many would opt for the higher priced FS100, with its better low-light performance and larger sensor. They’re in major trouble if they don’t release a camera in the next year that has better performance than the GH2 (ideally that would be the GH3). There have been rumors that they are going to end the AF100 product line, and if they do that, the GH3 should have a fully recordable and working HDMI output. The sensor will not get bigger, but if they can improve low-light performance, they might have another winner on their hands. Ideally the bitrate should not be so limited internally – but that’s a conversation for another day.
Another big loser was Aaton. The Penelope Delta they’ve been teasing for 2 years was nowhere to be found. They did not have a booth and multiple people at different rental houses had heard absolutely nothing about it. If Aaton wants to stay in business they need to release this camera in the next couple months or the high-end rental market will be completely dominated by the Arri Alexa and RED Epic (and some F65 thrown in). That is unless Aaton can come in at a much lower price point, somewhere around $30-$40K – then the Penelope Delta will be of interest to owner/operators. But we’re not even there yet – they haven’t released working cameras to any productions that I know of, and that’s probably not going to change anytime soon. It’s very possible that they are having software or hardware issues, but my biggest fear is that they’ve seen companies like Sony and Canon stepping on their toes and they aren’t sure where to price the camera to stay competitive. It may seem like I’m favoring them unnecessarily, but I honestly prefer when a product is designed without compromises in mind. The Penelope Delta is the only digital camera made by Aaton, and thus it has all professional features with a professional workflow in mind (at least on paper). Budgetary reasons keep me from using cameras like that most of the time, but when I’m working on higher-end projects I’d much rather have a no-nonsense piece of gear than something that’s been made to be replaced in 2 years or less – plus, I’m partial to the motion produced by CCDs, rather than CMOS sensors.
I wasn’t expecting Canon to be working on a 4K display – but in hindsight it makes perfect sense. 4K displays are useful in medical and industrial applications, not just filmmaking, so from a product line standpoint it can’t hurt to have one. It looked great – much better than one of the Panasonic QuadHD displays at the show – but size is an issue. It would be nice to see them scale that screen to much larger sizes to use for color grading.
4K is coming at the low-end sooner rather than later, and all of these 4K cameras will be released eventually – along with plenty of new recorders to take advantage of the format. The only question that remains is when it will make sense for each person or production company to move into 4K. Some will need it sooner than others (theatrical for example), but on the independent side, 1080p still hasn’t reached its full potential, and costs are still coming down. As an example of that, Blackmagic surprised everyone this year, and announced a beyond-2K camera that has better specs than many 1080p-only cameras – for the low price of $3000. The excitement surrounding this camera is hard to describe, and I heard countless times from people that wanted to buy this camera just because its low price and the fact that it can shoot professional formats right out of the box – DNG, ProRes, and DNxHD. This should be a lesson to Panasonic, Sony, and Canon: that sitting back and crippling lower-end models can only work so long. Competition is good, and finally we’ve gotten a professional camera at a low price point. It will be exciting to see what they can do with the Cinema Camera going forward, but at the top of everyone’s list is a larger sensor (which will be dictated by those companies who actually fabricate sensors).
It’s a little sad that NAB has come to an end, but there will be a few more updates before we move on (and back to our regularly scheduled blog).
Who do you guys think were the winners or losers at this year’s NAB? When do you think 4K will become mainstream?