Category: The Front Line

Season Finale of “House” shot with Canon digital SLR

In another example of ‘cross-over’ media acquisition products, Canon announced last week that the season finale of Fox’ ‘House’ (airs Monday, May 17) was shot in its entirety with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

You read that right! Canon’s high-end DSLRs have been able to shoot video for some time now. Cinematographers have been experimenting with this feature for a couple of years, and have recently been pushing the limits by shooting portions of TV shows, such as the opening for this season of ‘Saturday Night Live.’

But this is the first time an entire TV show has been photographed this way.  A special rig was made up for the camera so it could be used with high-end tripods and other stationary and moving camera mounts.  The viewfinder was also connected to a larger electronic (LCD) viewing screen.

Yessir, you can indeed shoot a TV program with one of these!

The CCD and CMOS sensors in most digital SLRs have, until recently, been much smaller than a frame of 35mm film. But the latest Canon and Nikon DSLRs feature full-size sensors, which means the lenses have the same focal length as those used on 35mm motion picture and still cameras. That makes it easier to accomplish such camera tricks as shallow depth of field and follow-focus. Conventional matte boxes can also be used with a wide range of optical filters.

All of the footage recorded went directly to flash cards. The press release doesn’t specify, but I’d guess audio was recorded separately to a digital recorder (double system).  The entire episode was filmed (photographed?) and finished in 10 days.

Does this mean traditional digital camcorders and high-end digital movie cameras are on the endangered list? Not now. But they could be in the near future, at least where TV production is concerned.

Canon originally developed the capability to shoot video on DSLRs in response to requests from the Associated Press and Reuters for ‘all in one’ cameras that could be more easily deployed in the field for reporting the news. DSLRS are less conspicuous than video cameras and easier to travel with.

Now, it appears they’re good enough for Hollywood! How long before we see the first 2D feature film shot with a DSLR? (I’m sure there are a few in production right now!)

tru2way: Who cares?

Do you own a CableCARD TV?

Not many people do. (I have a CableCARD-equipped TiVo HD, but that’s all.) And that’s precisely why I’m writing this commentary.

Many of you are probably scratching your heads right now, wondering where you remember the name “CableCARD” from.

Actually, it goes back almost ten years, when TV manufacturers and cable TV service providers teamed up briefly to ‘ditch the box’ – that is, eliminate the good old set-top cable box and instead build its functionality right into the innards of new TV sets. The belief then was that consumers hated having a separate set-top box, and that CableCARD functionality would make cable-ready TVs truly ‘plug and play,’ not to mention get rid of all that clutter of wiring.

Plasma, LCD, and rear-projection TVs from LG, Panasonic, Sharp, Samsung, Mitsubishi, Toshiba, Philips, and others soon appeared with a PCMCIA card slot on their rear panels. A call to your local cable company brought out a technician with a matching card for that slot. He’d plug it in, and then spend about 30 minutes on the phone ‘pairing’ four different numbers with a customer service representative.

We called it ‘plug and pray’ back then…

Assuming all went well (and it often didn’t!), you’d soon be able to watch digital cable channels box-free, with full electronic program guide information. I tested many of the first CC-equipped TVs when they were introduced, and there was a marked inconsistency in operation from one brand to the next. Some (Mitsubishi and Panasonic) worked beautifully, while others (Sharp) stubbornly refused to recognize valid channel packages even when all conditional access was disabled.

The pairing issues, and reluctance of manufacturers to support more than a handful of CC-compatible models, resulted in a very slow rate of adoption. I stopped tracking the market around 2005, when (as I recall) fewer than 200,000 CableCARD sets had been deployed nationally. Enthusiasm for CC declined sharply after that, and in a few short years, there were no more CC-ready HDTVs on store shelves.

But CableLabs and MSOs hadn’t given up yet. Their ‘next big thing’ would be a bi-directional version of CableCARD, allowing a greater degree of interactivity and the ability to get video-on-demand – something the original CableCARD platform couldn’t do. To differentiate this new feature, they called it ‘tru2way.’

If you attend the Consumer Electronics Show on a regular basis, you may recall big, splashy demonstrations of tru2way HDTV prototypes in the Panasonic and Samsung booths a few years back. According to company representatives, tru2way sets were going to sell like hotcakes.

As usual, a funny thing happened on the way to retail: NeTVs. While tru2way was a proprietary solution for customers who wanted box-free digital cable reception, NeTVs were an open platform that anyone could tie into an Internet connection and access videos from YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, USA Today, Yahoo, and other sources.

It’s telling that not a single TV manufacturer showed a tru2way set this year (or last, for that matter) at CES. The mad rush to 3D had something to do with that. But the realization that broadband-connected TVs were inexpensive to manufacture and could be used by just about anyone with an Internet connection sealed the deal.

Why spend all that money to develop an expensive media delivery platform -–a TV that subscribers to DirecTV, Dish, FiOS, and U-Verse wouldn’t buy? Nahhh, just stick an Ethernet port on there and a few widgets. Now, ANY customer could use that TV to get content on demand, or stream it.

As for that rat’s nest of cable, HDMI has it pretty much under control now. One wire, two plugs, automatic configuration – who could ask for anything more? Even those ugly, big-as-a-dictionary set-top boxes have gotten a lot smaller. My current cable box is about ½ the size of my old Motorola DCT6200.

As it turns out, customers aren’t clamoring at all to get rid of the set-top box. There are still plenty of them out there, most equipped with a hard drive for time-shifting programs. And from a maintenance standpoint, it makes more sense to keep the DVR separate from the TV anyway. (Ask LG sometime about how well their DVR-equipped plasma HDTVs worked out.)

From the looks of things, it appears interest in tru2way has also waned within the cable industry. At the Cable Show last year, there was an entire tru2way Developer’s Conference, run by CableLabs. But this year? According to a show preview in TV Technology magazine, there will be one lone seminar on the topic.

Who cares?

Classic Pete: Contrast, Shmontrast! (2003)

Editor’s note:  The performance of both projectors and direct-view plasma and LCD TVs and monitors has improved by leaps and bounds since this article was written. But the fundamental concept is still important – sequential contrast ratios may look impressive, don’t tell you anything about a TV, monitor, or projector’s grayscale performance.  Enjoy!

************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

We love numbers. The bigger, the better. From horsepower to megabytes, from square feet to miles per hour; we use all kinds numbers to convey superiority of one product or system over another. Sometimes those numbers are based on facts and measured performance. Sometimes they are based on marketing hype.

It should be no surprise that the electronic display industries are subject to the same number-mongering that pervades the automobile, real estate, and computer sectors. Now that projectors are small enough, bright enough (in most cases) and have sufficient resolution for about 90% of their end-users, the latest craze is to play up the contrast. “2000:1!” we hear. “3000:1” we read.

And this sort of creative number-mongering isn’t limited to projectors. For better or worse, the plasma and LCD manufacturers have gotten into the act, too. “3000:1! 4000:1” Where will it all stop?

While there’s no question that contrast is certainly an important display attribute, it can be a very misleading number if used incorrectly. (Remember the ANSI lumens versus white lumens versus peak lumens debates among the projector crowd a few years back?)

The truth is, grayscale is the single most important attribute of any electronic display. Without shades of gray, we don’t have contrast. Without shades of gray, we can’t create wide color palettes. Grayscales are where it all begins when a projector or monitor first comes to life on the drawing board.

YOU WANT COLOR WITH THAT?

Those of us who evaluate and write about projectors and monitors are drawn to those displays that provide the most life-like images. That means the widest possible grayscale with a virtually unlimited number of color combinations created by an equal-energy light source, such as the sun. Anything else represents a compromise, but some of those compromises look pretty darn good!

Short of using a portable nuclear fusion system to power projectors, the next best thing is to employ short-arc lamps that ionize mixtures of gases and metal halides to produce blinding shafts of light. We then force these shafts through condensers and integrators, refract the primary colors out of ’em, use those colors to create red, green, and blue images from monochrome light modulators, and finish up by precisely overlaying the RGB images to create full color pictures.

With flat panel monitors, we can force light from a cold-cathode light source (such as a fluorescent lamp) through a light shutter (AM LCDs) make up of pixels coated with tiny precision filters and get our color images tht way. Or, we can discharge electricity through pixels filled with a rare gas mixture (plasma) and watch as color phosphors are stimulated to produce RGB color imaging.

In the old days, color imaging was accomplished by tickling phosphors with an electron gun. Surprisingly, this system produced (and continues to produce) the most life-like images of all, which is why CRT front projectors are still preferred by a small number of high-end customers for home theater applications.

That’s because CRTs are capable of a wide grayscale and can show images with very low luminance levels (shadow detail) as well as very high luminance levels (highlights) in the same scene. More importantly, when a CRT is idling, it is essentially shut off. I mean REALLY shut off, as in black. Not a deep gray, as you’ll see with LCD, DLP, and LCoS projectors and AM LCD and plasma monitors.

Wile there have been tremendous advances in color imaging with flat panel displays, one stumbling block still remains. And that’s the ability (or inability) to show a grayscale with the widest possible dynamic range. In some systems, the resolution of the imaging device is limited by brightness (CRTs). In others, it’s limited by scattered or refracted light (DLP, LCoS, LCD).

YOU MEAN THERE’S A BASEMENT?

Black levels are also problematic. (The term “black level” is really an oxymoron, for there can only be one level of black, and that’s black or zero luminance. A better choice of words would be “shadow detail” or “low gray levels”.) When viewing content with relatively high luminance levels – say, 20% of white or higher – then we don’t see any problems with the display.

But movies and TV programs show with high-key lighting are a different story. If the monitor or display can’t resolve luminance values below a certain level (say, 10% of white), then any detail in the program content with luminance values at or below that level won’t be visible.

If we raise the black levels (sorry, low gray levels!) by adjusting the brightness control, then we also elevate the luminance levels at the high end and wind up compressing the grayscale at some point. Granted, we see more of the detail in the image, but not as the cinematographer or videographer intended.

And some funky things are now happening with the subtle shades of light that approach 100% gray, or white. They are beginning to blend together or “crush” into the ceiling of 100% gray. Our display no longer has wide dynamic range and we’ve also clipped our grayscale, reducing the number of shades of color that can be rendered.

If the grayscale capability of a CRT-based display could be likened to the number of floors in a house, that house would have a full-sized basement and a walk-around attic. LCD, DLP, and LCoS projectors will reduce that basement to a crawl space or eliminate it altogether, and the attic becomes a tight crawl space, too. We have less floors to work with and less space overall.

MORE FUN WITH NUMBERS

To better understand this concept, I selected a basic 16-step grayscale ramp from the DisplayMate test pattern series for illustration. All 16 steps are clearly seen in Figure 1, and this is how the grayscale would appear on a correctly-calibrated CRT display. Setting the step above black to about 6% of white results in a contrast ratio of about 440:1 on my Princeton CRT monitor. However, with a Samsung 42″ plasma, I measured only 60:1 contrast.

Figure 1. A typical CRT monitor grayscale.


The difference? “Black” on the CRT monitor registered around .2 nits, while on the Samsung plasma “black” registered as 3.6 nits, or 18 times as bright. With a little playing around, I could expand the contrast ratio on the Samsung panel to 107:1, but “black” now measured 1.8 nits. Since my lower black level was limited by not having a ‘basement’ to speak of, the Samsung’s 16-level grayscale resembled that of Figure 2.

 

You can still see the 15th and 16th steps (barely) at the high end of the grayscale, but there’s no difference between steps 1 and 2 at the low end. This is a very typical grayscale rendering for plasma and LCD monitors. Keep in mind plasma and CRT displays have some degree of current limiting to prevent image burn-in and premature phosphor aging, and these circuits will limit contrast with images having high overall luminance values.

In the case of projectors that shutter or reflect light (this also includes LCD monitors), the value of white can be substantially higher than that of the combined steps 1 & 2. That’s because the resolution of the projector is not affected by brightness levels, nor are the stability of the color dichroics as sensitive to luminance values. The result is high contrast levels (great for marketing) but a loss of shadow detail (not great for viewing).

In my November 2002 Projector Round-Up, I measured some projectors with exceptionally high contrast. Several of them exhibited peak contrast ratios much higher than the 440:1 measured on my Princeton CRT. But none could come close to the value of “black” that I measured on the Princeton set, and consequently the grayscale images they displayed didn’t have as wide a dynamic range below about 8% to 10% of white.

Figure 3 shows an approximation of the typical LCD, DLP, and LCoS projector grayscale. Of the plasma panels I have tested, only those made by Panasonic (also used in Fujitsu’s 50″ product) can produce “black” levels that approach that of a CRT, and subsequently display a grayscale with CRT-like shadow detail performance. The Panasonic panels typically produce a black level of .2 nits, equivalent to my Princeton CRT monitor.

 

As a result, these panels create wide grayscales with nice color palettes. But they also do well in the contrast numbers game, although I’ve never measured the 3000:1 contrast that Panasonic has claimed in the past. Instead, my numbers (taken after the panel was calibrated for best grayscale) were in the 600:1 to 800:1 range.

CONCLUSIONS

So – just how much contrast do you need to see in an image? Empirical data suggests the human eye is limited to a dynamic range of 100:1 at any given instant. That means that if you look at a “scene” with objects of different luminance values, you won’t be able to discern more than a 100:1 difference between the darkest and lightest objects. Of course, the instant your eye moves, its built-in auto iris function raises and lowers the grayscale boundaries. That’s what allows you to perceive shadow detail and also pick out a white cat scurrying along in a field of snow.

If you are watching a movie on a plasma or LCD monitor, or with a front LCD/DLP/LCoS projector, you’ll probably be satisfied with the displayed images as long as there is not a preponderance of dark gray and black objects. But switch to a nighttime scene with high contrast lighting, and your eyes will strain to pick out any shadow details.

Obviously there’s a long way to go to improve the rendering of “low gray levels” on projectors and monitors, but there has been progress. In addition to Panasonic’s work with plasma, Texas Instruments has made enhancements to their digital micromirror devices (DMDs) to reduce light scattering and refraction. This in turn is dropping the value of “black” and improving both grayscale rendering and contrast.

Unfortunately, polysilicon LCD technology seems to be limited in this area. While projectors have gotten brighter and contrast has improved, black levels are still higher than those measured on DLP projectors by 100% or more. And LCoS imaging isn’t any improvement – the black levels I measured on a D-ILA projector were equivalent to several polysilicon models in the review.

Remember: Numbers are great for impressing people and can sustain a good argument for several hours. But peak contrast claims don’t tell you everything about performance of a projector or monitor when it comes to rendering images with life-like grayscales, only how much brighter the “whites” can be than the “blacks”. Caveat emptor…..

This article originally appeared in Video Systems magazine.

Ebert gives 3D a “Thumbs Down”

In a recent commentary posted at the Newsweek online Web site, legendary Chicago Sun-Times film critic and historian Roger Ebert has come out against 3D movies “as a way of life.”

Ebert posted nine reasons why “Why I Hate 3-D (And You Should Too),” decrying what he sees as a mad rush to make every new movie in 3D – and charge a hefty premium to ticket buyers along the way.

Read through the article, and you’ll see that some of his points are valid.  Not every movie needs to be released in this format, and there’s certainly no good reason to go back in time and re-master classics to 3D.  And cinematographers and directors have plenty of tricks they can and do use to create the illusion of depth in 2D movies, such as shallow focus and combining lens zooming with camera trucking (the famous ‘vertigo’ effect).

And yes, it is true that a certain percentage of the population cannot see 3D correctly for one reason or another. (I used to be a member of that group, until I had eye muscle surgery in the 1980s.)  And there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence of headaches from eyestrain as viewers tried to reconcile the vergence and focal distance of 3D effects. Think of the out-of-focus floating debris and dust after the Na’vi tree house collapsed in Avatar.)

But I have yet to pay a $5.00 ticket premium to see a 3D movie, let alone the $7.50 figure he quotes. (Where did that come from?) Our local Regal Entertainment multiplex charges $11.50 for a normal 2D release and $14.50 for the 3D version…a premium of $3.00.

Let’s go through his objections one by one.

1. IT’S THE WASTE OF A DIMENSION. I’m not sure what he means by this, but he uses the famous compressed long shot of Peter O-Toole approaching over the desert in Lawrence of Arabia as an example of a shot that wouldn’t be any better in 3D. I’ll rebut that statement with one of the most subtle but masterful 3D effects I’ve seen to date – the slow rack-focusing in the Avatar laboratory as Sam Worthington narrates his video log.

As objects come in and out of focus, they appear to expand into three dimensions, then flatten back into two dimensions. This is an incredibly subtle effect – you may even have missed it – but it is a perfect example of how 3D changes the look of a scene. And it’s my favorite type of 3D effect – low key, and not ‘in your face.’

 

Need something more compelling? How about the flight scenes in How to Train Your Dragon, which show 3D at its best? An exhilarating experience. ‘Nuff said!

 

2. IT ADDS NOTHING TO THE EXPERIENCE. Well, maybe not for My Dinner with Andre, or Claire’s Knee. But Dragon wouldn’t have been nearly the same movie without it. Neither would Avatar.  I will agree, though, that much of Alice in Wonderland benefited little from 3D – the best 3D effects were (ironically) the closing credits.

3. IT CAN BE A DISTRACTION. Yes, if done incorrectly. Cinematographers should understand the basics of human vision and how vergence and focal distances are resolved to create depth perception before attempting to shoot a 3D picture. The best 3D effects are subtle and mimic the human eye’s response to visual stimuli.

 

Rack focusing and shallow focus have long been tools for filmmakers to focus our attention on parts of a scene in a way we’d never seem them in real life. The same tools can be used in 3D (James Cameron really did his homework for Avatar) and they work just as effectively. The key is not to bludgeon the audience with 3D effects.

 

4. IT CAN CREATE NAUSEA AND HEADACHES. Yep, there are certainly people out there who just cannot 3D cues correctly, and as I stated earlier, I used to be one of ‘em. I suffered from a condition known as strabismus, where my eye muscles would not work correctly to converge and provide depth cues. In fact, my depth perception for a good part of my life was minimal and erratic.

After suffering through a double-image 3D film presentation of Captain EO at Disney World in 1984, I decided enough was enough and finally had the eye surgery. Now, I can see 3D effects just fine. But there are other people out there who still can’t handle them, and it appears some of them wear contact lenses (from my informal polling). Maybe prescription passive 3D glasses are the cure? In any event, these folks can enjoy the 2D release and save themselves three bucks.

 

5. HAVE YOU NOTICED THAT 3-D SEEMS A LITTLE DIM? A necessary evil. Projectors must toss half the light away as part of the polarizing process from camera to eyewear. The brightness issue varies from one projection system to another. In general, I’ve seen better results from Christie DLP projectors than the Sony SXRD models. But the theater is dark to begin with (ambient light isn’t an issue) and I can’t say I felt the 3D movies I’ve seen to date were too dark.

 

6. THERE’S MONEY TO BE MADE IN SELLING NEW DIGITAL PROJECTORS. Well, DUH! Of course there is. But the impetus to get rid of film projectors and go digital isn’t being driven solely by 3D.

Wake up, Roger! The world is embracing digital imaging with a flourish. You can buy 10 and 12 megapixel cameras for less than $300 now. That’s more resolution that you could ever get from Kodachrome 25! As a result, the market for photographic film is shrinking at an accelerated rate…and motion picture film is being similarly impacted. (Some analysts have given Kodak maybe another two to three years before declining revenue from film sales forces them to pull the plug entirely on the film manufacturing process. Fuji’s in the same boat)

Ten years ago, there were all kinds of arguments against digital cinema. Most of them were arguments based on opinions (digital cinema would never equal the image quality of projected film), but the most compelling were the economic arguments. And those arguments usually win the day.

Now, Hollywood is figuring out those same economics and embracing digital cinema. And while 3D works just hunky-dory with digital cinema projectors, there’s still at least one option for film-based 3D projection. I’m surprised Roger didn’t mention the Technicolor 3D process for film, announced last September at the 3D Entertainment Summit, which uses a split-prism lens mechanism and a top + bottom delivery format.

Even so, many of today’s movies are finished digitally anyway. A Digital Intermediate (DI) becomes the master file for the finished movie, and is used to strike release prints or make a digital release file. So the move to digital projection makes lots of sense.

 

7. THEATERS SLAP ON A SURCHARGE OF $5 TO $7.50 FOR 3-D. OK, where did those numbers come from? As I mentioned earlier, the most I’ve ever paid for a 3D ticket is $3 over the 2D price. And this was in first-run, stadium seating theaters. Guess I need to get out more?

 

8. I CANNOT IMAGINE A SERIOUS DRAMA, SUCH AS UP IN THE AIR OR THE HURT LOCKER, IN 3-D. OK, I’ll concede his point on Up In The Air. But Hurt Locker could have been even more intense in 3D.

Imagine the feeling when Jeremy Renner pulls on those wire igniters and six artillery shells slowly emerge from the gravel and dirt in 3D? Or he opens the trunk of the sedan parked outside the UN office to find it chock-full of rigged shells? How about those claustrophobic, tight camera close-ups when he’s frantically looking for the ‘dead man’ switch in that same car? You’d be sweating bullets, imaging you’re in the passenger seat and waiting for all hell to break loose any second.

 

9. WHENEVER HOLLYWOOD HAS FELT THREATENED, IT HAS TURNED TO TECHNOLOGY: SOUND, COLOR, WIDESCREEN, CINERAMA, 3-D, STEREOPHONIC SOUND, AND NOW 3-D AGAIN. No argument there. Hollywood has always been about giving moviegoers an experience they can’t have at home, which is one reason so many teenagers hang out at theaters on Friday and Saturday night. (Who wants to stay home and watch TV with mom and dad? Not cool!)

And what, exactly, is wrong with Hollywood trying something new? Look at all the good things that have come out of their efforts, such as surround sound and anamorphic widescreen formats for home viewing? In this way, theaters have become test labs for new entertainment technologies. And that’s always a good thing.

As for 3D, audiences will decide whether the format has legs, or whether it’s destined to become another short-lived fad like Senssuround and Smellavision. So far, audiences are voting with their wallets and saying they like 3D very much, thank you. The market will decide the winners, as it always does.

And I’m not surprised to see Ebert once again drag out his tired argument in favor of MaxiVision 48, a projection system that has been kicking around for more than a decade and for which studios have shown little interest. Theaters and studios haven’t embraced it simply because the momentum is now in favor of digital imaging, and it’s not likely you’d find any labs who’d want to invest in optical printers to master MaxiVision release prints…nor theater owners who’d want to install new film projectors. They can clearly see the writing on the wall.

By the way, Ebert doesn’t seem to have any problem with digital soundtracks, saying that digital audio makes the 48 frames-per-second MaxiVision possible. Well, if theater audio has gone 100% digital, then why stop there? The quality of digital projection has gone up immensely since the first demonstrations in the late 1990s, and I don’t see audiences complaining about a diminished experience from having watched 2D and 3D films digitally.

Times change, and so do entertainment experiences. While I respect Roger’s opinions and enjoy his reviews and articles, his reactionary stance against 3D movies comes as no surprise. He’s still living in 1999…

NAB 2010: A Show in Transition

Some of the big questions facing attendees as their flights landed in Las Vegas were these: Can NAB survive? Will it evolve into something different? Is it even that important to attend NAB anymore?

The answer to all three questions is “yes.” Even though attendance was still down from 2008 (NAB claimed 83,000 ‘officially;’ my guesstimate was more like 55,000 to 60,000), there were plenty of companies in attendance with lots of cool products to check out.

That said, the show is undergoing a rapid transformation away from a traditional ‘broadcasting’ show to a mix of InfoComm and CES – hot new products for professionals. Of course, 3D was all over the place. But so was networked video, which dominated the upper and lower South Hall exhibit areas.

Booths were smaller this year, and that’s not going to change any time soon…not when the typical booth is showing products that have price tags in the hundreds and low thousands. Contrast that with NAB shows 15 years ago, when most of the price tags had three and four zeros in them!

You know attendance was off when this was one of the largest booths in the Central Hall!

On the other hand, the alternative wasn’t too attractive…

The smaller booths and lower number of exhibitors resulted in wider aisles and less traffic – a plus. But it also resulted in NAB placing the main registration area smack in the middle of the Central Hall, something I’ve never seen before.  And there was plenty of wide-open space at the end of that hall, as well in the North and South Halls.

Can NAB be staged in three halls? Absolutely! And can you see everything you need to see in three days? Try two days. (Thursday has become ‘exhibitor bonding day,’ to quote a fellow editor.) I could have covered my beat in two days if necessary.

THE TRENDS

Not surprisingly, 3D was a big topic this year, although not to the same extent as it was at CES. The SMPTE/ETC/EBU Digital Cinema Summit focused entirely on 3D for both days, and I was fortunate enough to deliver one of the papers to a jammed room of 500+ attendees.

Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Canon, Grass Valley, AVID, Doremi, Harris, Evertz, and Ross Video were just some of the companies showing 3D products in Vegas. Those products ranged from 3D monitors and cameras to 3D workflow (acquisition, editing, post, effects, and playout) software and hardware.

Sony’s LM4251TD 42-inch LCD monitor uses micropolarizers for passive 3D viewing.

Other specialized 3D brands were in attendance, too. TD Vision, Miracube, Mistika, and HDlogix had nice exhibits in the South Hall, down the street from Grass Valley. Smaller companies like Cine-tal occupied the 3D Pavilion nearby, while Motorola and Ericsson showcased 3D transport and format recognition products upstairs.

Although the consumer TV market is seeing a big push towards active-shutter 3D TVs and monitors, the emphasis at NAB was on passive 3D viewing (cheaper glasses, more expensive displays). JVC, Hyundai, and LG all manufacture them, and there were plenty of folks standing around with RealD X-pol eyewear watching the demos.

The projector guys were on top of things, too. projectiondesign showed a stacked pair of 3-chip 1080p lightboxes in the Mistika booth, using linear polarized glasses. HDI showed a 100-inch, 1080p LCoS rear-projection TV in the HDlogix booth, also using X-pol glasses. Christie also had suitable 3D projection systems out for inspection.

There were also some demos that left me scratching my head, such as Canon’s dual-projection X-pol 3D demo, using a pair of REALiS WUXGA (1920×1200) LCoS projectors. While it worked well, it requires two separate projectors and outboard 3D filter holders – too klunky! (A Canon rep told me that was because of the 60 Hz frame rate limitation on the internal video processor.)

Well, it IS 3D, but I doubt Canon will sell very many of these rigs…

Broadband video and IPTV were also big this year. This market for MPEG-4 AVC over Ethernet, fiber, or private data networks is exploding, and encoder companies such as Adtec, Vbrick, Harmonic, Ericsson, Harris, Motorola, and Digital Rapids were showing a full range of compatible products.

Sezmi also occupied a booth at the show. This company has a unique selling proposition – a set-top box that receives both terrestrial (read: free) digital TV and selected cable channels carried on secondary terrestrial channels. It also accesses a video-on-demand server through broadband connections (SDTV only) and has a customizable program guide for each user.

While not technically broadband, the nascent MH broadcast format was in abundance at NAB. MH uses MPEG-4 AVC coding in multiple streams with IP headers to send low-resolution video to handheld receivers, such as mobile phones and combo PDA/receiver products. MH is catching on in popularity with broadcasters, who see it as a more sensible alternative to simple multicasting of secondary channels that very few people may be watching.

ATSC MH on an iPhone? Brilliant! (There’s an app for everything!)

MY PICKS

After three days of walking around, I came up with a list of “finds” that I’ll share here. These are all products that represented clever thinking, breakthrough technology, and/or new price points. Some were easy to spot; others required quite a bit of digging. But they all made the trip to Lost Wages worth it (and that’s saying a lot, considering how airlines jam you in like sardines these days!).

TV Logic: This manufacturer of LCD broadcast monitor showed the world’s first active-matrix OLED broadcast monitor (unless you think Sony’s press announcement hit first, which it didn’t.) The LM-150 ($6,200) uses a LG Display 15-inch OLED panel with 1366×768 pixel resolution and come equipped with all the expected niceties including markers, crop marks, caption displays, over/underscan, and HD/SDI, HDMI, and analog video jacks. There’s also a 3D version in the works (TDM-150) that will sell for about $7,700.

This was the coolest product at the show. But will it REALLY last 30,000 hours?

Ericsson: In addition to a host of MPEG-4 and IPTV encoders, the ‘big E’ also showcased an innovative, iPad-like LCD touchscreen remote control/video viewer. Dubbed the IPTV remote, this product can dial up video from broadband, cable, satellite, and even your home network. Not only that, it can monitor weather sensors and your home security system. (Sound much like a Crestron product?) The IPTV remote will not be offered for sale at retail. Rather, it’s intended to be a content provider offering.

Christie: Have you seen their MicroTiles yet on the Colbert Report? These innovative ‘mini’ DLP projection cubes use LED light engines to power 800×600 DMDs (the actual working resolution is 720×540) and measure about 12” x 16.” They can be configured in just about any format you wish, including floor and ceiling projection, and up to 1024 can be driven at one time. The LED light source is specified to last over 60,000 hours. Think of LED-powered LEGOÔ blocks, and you’ve got the concept.

And YOU thought iPads were all the rage…

SmallHD: It wasn’t easy finding these guys behind the Sony booth, but they’d come up with a focus assist monitor for video and still cameras that they claim is the world’s smallest HD video monitor. The actual size is about 5.6 inches and the glass is WXGA (1280×800) LCD. It comes in two flavors – one for digital SLRs ($899) and one with SDI input ($1199). The monitors are an inch thick, weigh 10 ounces, and mount to hot shoes.

Z3 Technology: I found this booth on my last pass through the South Hall, and it was worth the stop. They showed the Z3-MVE-01 MPEG encoder, a compact box that codes HD up to 1920×1080 resolution using H.64 High Profile (up to 30Hz), with Ethernet and ASI outputs. Input compatibility includes composite, component, HDMI, DVI, and HD-SDI video…all for $5,000.

JVC’s 46-inch X-pol monitor always drew a crowd.

Adtec: I didn’t expect to see an HDMI-to-QAM modulator at the show, but that’s exactly what Adtec pulled out for me. The HDMI2QAM is a dual-channel design that encodes anything from the HDMI inputs (yes, they are HDCP-compliant) to a pair of quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) channels, using MPEG-2 encoding. The modulation format is selectable between 64-QAM (SD), 128-QAM (not widely use), and 256-QAM (HD). Bit rates are constant and optimized for each mode (i.e. 38.8 Mb/s for each HD channel).

 

Cydle: This new start-up demonstrated an app for iPods and iPhones that allows viewing of ATSC MH (A/153) video. Along with it comes the i30,  a battery-powered docking station with built-in antenna (UHF). This means that your ‘i-whatever’ has two batteries to draw from, so if you run low on talk power, simply switch to the i30 battery. Both can charge simultaneously. Cool!

Sezmi’s personal program guide rivals TiVo for user-friendliness.

Panasonic: I’ve seen it before at CES, but it now has a model number. The company’s first production camcorder now goes by the moniker AG-3DA1 and is yours for the low, low price of just $21,000. (Well, all things are relative, I guess.) The camera weighs about 6 and a half pounds and uses a pair of 2.l07 MP sensors (full 1920×1080) to record 1080i and 720p HD content to SD memory cards. Convergence and horizontal and vertical displacement are fully adjustable.

Panasonic gets another mention for the AG-AF100, which they claim is the world’s first Micro 4/3-inch (1.33:1) HD camcorder. That’s a big deal because the 4/3” format matches the coverage area of 35mm film frames…which means you can use standard 35mm film camera lenses to get effects like shallow focus, soft focus, and vignettes. The camera records to SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards using the AVCHD format and supports 1080i/p and 720p formats, including 23.98/24/25 Hz.

Sony gets extra credit for announcing the world’s second (or first) AM-OLED professional video monitor. The PVM-750 ($3,850) is a bit smaller than TV Logic’s offering at 7.4 inches (16:9), and is not quite full HD resolution at 960×540 pixels. (Not that you’d notice on such  small screen!)  The PVM-750 has 3G HD-SDI, HDMI, and composite video inputs, the full range of adjustments from tally and markers to blue screen mode and AC/battery power operation. No word on lifespan of the display, but Sony uses small molecule (SM) OLED technology, as does LG Display.

LP Technologies rounds out my list with one of those ‘too good to be true’ products: An LCD-based 9 kHz to 3 GHz spectrum analyzer with USB 2.0 interface, built-in preamp, and Ethernet connectivity for remote monitoring. Sorry, no internal battery pack!) The USB hook-up can be used to save data in the Excel format, while the internal memory can tore 900 different waveforms. The display is a 6.4” 640×480 (VGA) LCD type. And the cost? Just $4,500…

Stick one of these on a Canon 5D MK II, and you can shoot an entire episode of ‘House!’ (No kidding!)