By far, the focus at this year’s National Association of Broadcasters’ annual trade show (April 17 to 22 in Las Vegas) was on the production and carriage of high definition programming. Virtually every vendor touted new and more price-competitive hd gear, which is good news for independent doc-makers looking to stretch already stretched hd-program budgets.
The plethora of lower-priced hardware and software choices translates into considerable savings for producers, observes NAB attendee and doc-maker Neil Scott, of Calgary, Canada-based The Edge. He says that the intro of professional-grade high definition cameras in
the mid five-figure range means the business barriers associated with entry into hd programming are falling. ‘Those prices put hd in a fairly affordable market, much more so than a few years ago…. Now, producers are looking at cameras that are 40% cheaper [to own or rent],’ he says.
Two hd camcorders launched at nab are JVC’s kh-f870u (list price: US$15,000), a box-style hd camera that can output 1080i or 720p at the flick of a switch, and Sony’s HDW-730s hdcam (list price: $48,000). Sony and Panasonic also displayed prototypes of professional-grade high definition video (HDV) recorders, neither of which have yet (thankfully) received mind-boggling inventory designations. Both are tapeless – Sony’s unit works off the company’s xdcam Professional Disc format; Panasonic’s would play off its new P2 solid-state memory cards. The two units are being developed to compete with jvc’s jy-hd10u, a sub-$5,000 digital HDV camcorder first announced last nab, and now shipping.
On the post side, Apple underscored the affordability factor by rolling out Final Cut Pro HD, the latest version of its non-linear-editor, for the suggested retail of $999 (or the upgrade for $399). Enhancements include the ability to more easily scale dv, hd and film footage, and the inclusion of Motion and Shake, two new Apple graphics and effects applications that are also sold as stand-alone products. Shipping is expected to start in the summer.
Not to be outdone, Apple’s chief nle rival, Avid, unveiled plans to offer a new proprietary 10-bit hd encoding technology (called DNxHD), that allows users to manipulate hd files with no more memory requirements than handling uncompressed sd clips. The add-on/upgrade designed for several of its systems, including Xpress Pro, Media Composer Adrenaline and DS Nitris, will start at approximately $9,995 when it ships in the second half of the year.
In the realm of CGI for HD – long a creative and financial nightmare for doc-makers – new products were launched geared at reducing that pain. Adobe brought to market Premiere Pro 1.5, an editing suite that, among other things, features new controls that will allow editors to incorporate animated sequences that are smoother and look more natural. It will be available in the second half of the year through resellers, starting at approximately $699 (upgrade: $99).
Furthermore, the linking of HD camera and editor is becoming easier and faster, promising shortened production schedules. Panasonic and Apple jointly unveiled the rollout of a codec (a special program) that allows Panasonic’s new aj-hd1200A vtr (list price: $21,000) to link with Final Cut Pro HD via a FireWire (list price: $10-$20) cable. Like a plug-and-play video game hookup, the innovation allows an fcp editor to load and cut Panasonic VariCam hd Cinema footage as fast as it can be carried by the FireWire, at the rate of 100 megabytes per second.
The volume of new hd equipment and systems at NAB reflects the boom in sales of hd-compatible digital televisions in the US – the Consumer Electronics Association projects that more than 5.7 million will be sold in 2004 alone – and broadcasters and producers are responding to that spike in interest.