GV – June 1998

GV Picks for NAB ‘98
By Sheldon Liebman

NAB is definitely on a roll. This year, attendance at the number one show for video products and services was up 4.5% to just under 105,000 people, making NAB one of only three Las Vegas shows to reach that size. The second largest is COMDEX, with approximately 150,000 attendees. The largest show is approaching 200,000 people over two weeks and caters to the shoe industry. Who says technology is everything?

In addition to having more people, NAB also experienced an impressive increase in exhibit space. Last year, the top level of the Sands Convention Center was almost full and NAB used virtually every inch of the Las Vegas Convention Center. This year, in addition to packing the LVCC again, NAB had overflow in the Las Vegas Hilton and used BOTH levels at the Sands. The result was over 825,000 square feet of exhibit space that was used by more than 1300 companies. According to NAB’s post-show press release, they have already sold more space for NAB ’99 than they had this year. The extra space will come in the form of an addition to the Las Vegas Convention Center that will be completed before next year’s show.

The good news is that virtually everything you want or need was somewhere at the show. The bad news is that in many cases, finding everything you want or need was a logistical nightmare. When NAB first expanded into the Sands, that venue was mostly filled with computer graphics and multimedia products. As our industry continues to grow through diversification as well as mergers and acquisitions, it isn’t so easy to place exhibitors into neat categories. As a result, you can’t really find a "computer" section or a "lighting" section at NAB today. Exhibitor locations are almost entirely based on where a company feels it will get the most "impact" and the answer, at least for this year, was the Sands. In some cases, companies actually set up and staffed two completely separate exhibits to make sure they had a presence in both the LVCC and the Sands.

Many of the new products introduced at NAB reflected the continuing shift of the industry toward Microsoft Windows NT as a platform for video applications. With the recent announcement by Silicon Graphics that they will be introducing a line of Windows NT workstations, NT’s position can only get stronger.

However, this year also featured a number of companies that have decided to buck the trend by introducing products that run on proprietary platforms while still offering "open" architectures. A few years ago, Quantel was one of the first companies to move in this direction. At this year’s show, both new and established companies were added to this group. Are we seeing a move back to the "black box" era? Probably not. But we are seeing a reaction to the perceived problems of speed and reliability that are associated with general-purpose computers.

If you were at NAB, you probably left Las Vegas feeling like you had missed something on your list. There just wasn’t enough time to see everything! If you didn’t make it to the show, your feet are probably thanking you as you read this. Fortunately for both groups, Miller Freeman PSN, the publisher of Government Video, was at NAB in force with dozens of Editors and Writers. Our task was to search the show floor for products of significance and we were up to the challenge. Here is what we found, in alphabetical order by company.

AutoMedia AutoMasker AE2.0 for Adobe After Effects
AutoMedia’s AutoMasker is a standalone product used to automate the process of generating masks for video and graphics sequences. At NAB, the company previewed AutoMasker AE2.0, which is a plug-in version of the product for use with Adobe After Effects. AutoMasker AE2.0 can be used with both the Mac and PC versions of After Effects and is the only automated masking tool available as a plug-in. The beta version was demonstrated at NAB; the final version is expected within the next few months.

Avid Technology Marquee, Masquerade and Symphony
Last year, Avid announced a development agreement with Intel that was expected to result in a significant presence for Avid on the PC platform. At NAB, this relationship bore fruit with the introduction of three products running under Windows NT. Avid Marquee is the company’s first product for 3D title animation and is available for both Silicon Graphics and Windows NT workstations. This resolution-independent package features 3D text, true 3D rotation and texture mapping. Avid Masquerade is a paint and 2D animation system built on the strengths of the company’s Matador paint software. Avid Symphony is a new, uncompressed nonlinear finishing system for high-end television programs and commercials. Symphony features three uncompressed streams – two for video and one for graphics and titles. It is expected to ship before the end of 1998.

AVS Graphics Manuscript 2000 Series
AVS Graphics, based in the UK, showcased their enhanced platform for character generation at NAB. Their RISC-based platform is proprietary in nature but is "as open as any PC system," according to the company. For example, the system can import and use TrueType and Postscript fonts as well as many PC graphics formats. The prototype shown at NAB utilized a PC format floppy disk, but AVS is also configuring systems to use Iomega Zip and Jaz drives to exchange information with PCs. Three models of the new CG were announced with prices ranging from $7500 – 11000 (excluding monitors). The Cadet provides composite and Y/C input and output. The next step up, the Graduate, adds support for component video output formats and provides twice as much resolution per line as the Cadet (9 Nanoseconds vs. 18 Ns). The highest end model is the Manuscript 2000 Diplomat, which adds component input and also supports Serial Digital input and output. AVS points to enhanced reliability and a single point of contact as two of the biggest advantages these systems have over their PC-based competitors.

CFE Gallea
Uncompressed digital video input and output is now available on the Macintosh by combining CFE’s Gallea videographics engine with software written by Mipsys. This powerful combination was demonstrated at NAB and provides Macintosh users with most of the same features that have been available to PC users for the past few years. Three levels of software have been developed by Mipsys for use with the Gallea. At the lowest level, images and sequences can be loaded using a drag and drop interface. At the highest level, full QuickTime support is available including an uncompressed QuickTime video CODEC that was developed by Mipsys. Through this CODEC, uncompressed video can be used with QuickTime compatible software products such as Adobe Premiere or other editing and special effects packages.

Draco Casablanca and Casablanca Broadcast
If you are looking for a non-linear editing system that you can just "open the box, plug it in and it works," Draco suggests you strongly consider their Casablanca system. Priced starting at $3995, the Casablanca is a turnkey non-linear editing system that includes everything but a TV monitor. Currently, Casablanca can be used with composite, Y/C and DV video formats, but the company introduced a breakout box at NAB that adds component video output. Draco also previewed a product called the PCLink that is a serial port cable and PC software that can be used to transfer files between a PC and a Casablanca. Using PCLink, dozens of image formats can be moved to the Casablanca and used in editing projects. Later this year, Draco will be shipping the Casablanca Broadcast, which they previewed at NAB. Designed for higher quality, the Casablanca Broadcast includes Serial Digital input and output, machine control and support for compression levels as small as 3:1. Final pricing on Casablanca Broadcast has not been set, but Draco expects it to be under $10000 including 9 GigaBytes (GB) of storage.

NewTek Aura
NewTek introduced a new software tool at NAB that is optimized for animation, video paint and video layering. Priced at $695, Aura was scheduled to start shipping last month. According to NewTek, "Aura understands time, animation and video," which makes it a perfect companion product to NewTek’s LightWave 3D or Inspire 3D products. Aura includes a full range of standard video and image processing tools, natural media brushes and fully animated brush and video brush operations. The software supports unlimited layers and works with many different file formats and resolutions to fit into any production environment. Aura also supports stretching, squeezing and shifting of element timing, so images or sequences can be modified to fit into the proper frame rate of computer, video or film environments.

Play, Inc. Trinity and ElectricImage
Play hit NAB with a powerful one-two punch when the company announced that their Trinity system is finally shipping and that they have purchased ElectricImage, one of the pioneers of 3D animation for the Macintosh platform. For now, ElectricImage will operate separately from its base in Southern California, but we assume the capabilities of this high-end 3D system will eventually be integrated into the Trinity system. After a number of changes to the specifications and pricing Trinity, Play finally settled on a product that includes more standard features than anyone expected at a price lower than the company had ever suggested. The base package doesn’t include a Windows PC or Input and Output modules, but it offers a very impressive list of features. For $4995, it includes an 8 input switcher, 3D digital video effects, non-linear and linear editing, a character generator, animated paint and compositing software, plus a chroma key system that can also be used for virtual sets.

Pluto Technologies AirSpace and HyperSpace
Two new members of the Space family of products were announced and demonstrated at NAB. HyperSpace, scheduled to ship by the time this issue goes to press, supports compressed HDTV formats in a product that is very similar to Pluto’s VideoSpace product. In the future, the company plans to allow four HyperSpace units to be linked together for uncompressed HDTV applications, but Pluto believes the enhanced resolution of HD formats will result in compressed signals that are virtually indistinguishable from uncompressed versions of the same material. The second Pluto product, AirSpace, is a DV native, multi-channel broadcast server that supports up to 10 channels and 20 hours in a single unit. Both DV25 and DV50 formats are supported so the system can be used in broadcast news applications as well as for production quality multi-channel applications.

Strata StudioPro 2.5 and MediaPaint 2.0
Strata started out as a Macintosh oriented software company, but they have put a lot of effort into expanding into the PC arena as well. Unlike previous versions of Strata’s 3D and effects packages, StudioPro 2.5 and MediaPaint 2.0 are being introduced simultaneously on the Windows NT and Mac platforms. A Windows 98 version of StudioPro is also planned. With version 2.5, Strata adds OpenGL support to the Mac version of StudioPro while continuing with support for Apple’s QuickDraw3D. OpenGL allows StudioPro users to bring movies or images directly into the modeling window and provides higher quality, faster rendering of images during that process. For final output, StudioPro 2.5 includes a new scan line renderer that supports soft shadows. The inverse kinematic capabilities of the product have also been enhanced. An early beta of MediaPaint 2.0 was demonstrated at NAB and the final release is expected to ship before the end of the summer. This new version adds new effects and is designed to work more closely with the company’s VideoShop software through a feature called StrataLink.

Tri-Star Computer StudioStation
There are a lot of computer suppliers vying for the attention of animators and editors and Tri-Star is working hard to make sure it offers the configurations that people want most. With the introduction of the StudioStation FX and the StudioStation DVE, Tri-Star has configured turnkey systems that provide the hardware required by even the most demanding video and audio editing applications. For example, the StudioStation FX includes dual 400 MHz processors, dual Matrox Millennium II graphics cards, dual 21" monitors, and four 9 GB UltraSCSI disk drives striped together as a single 36 GB video drive. A separate 4 GB disk drive is included for system files and a Targa2000 RTX provides the capture and output capabilities. For a price of under $27000, this system includes everything but your favorite editing software. For less demanding users, the StudioStation DVE product line provides DPS Spark or DPS Perception capture and output on systems that start at less than $5000 with a single 350 MHz processor.

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