NAB 2018 report: The year of Artificial Intelligence

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SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: This year attendance at NAB 2018 was down on previous years but despite the lower visitor numbers the conference content and exhibition produced the buzz and excitement that NAB is synonymous for.

This year’s show had a little bit of everything, but the main trends seem to revolve around RGB lighting, large format cameras, and a game changing codec, whilst the conference sessions followed some interesting threads under the umbrella of next-generation technologies, namely artificial intelligence (AI), immersive media and cyber security.

From production to distribution, artificial intelligence has taken the broadcast and filmmaking industries by storm. The 2018 edition of NAB dedicated time and space to showcase some of the developments in AI with conference sessions like “Machine Intelligence: The Evolution of Content Production Aided by Machine Learning”, “Optimising Production with Neural Networks”, “How Machine Intelligence is Transforming Editorial”, “New Frontiers in Animation and Computer Graphics”, “From Dailies to Master – Machine Intelligence Comes to Video Workflows” and, finally, “The Future of Content with Machine Intelligence”. The series of sessions looked at machine learning, deep learning and artificial intelligence technologies and at how studios, networks and creative service companies can use them to help produce content.

In the Future of Cinema conference sessions, perhaps the most intriguing was one hosted by Annie Chang, VP of Creative Technologies at Universal Pictures entitled “Do Androids Dream of Making Movies?”. Artificial intelligence still sounds very futuristic to most of us and the main questions asked at the session were: Are machines going to take over the creative process? Will we all lose our jobs? Luckily, it was established that we seem to be safe, in the short term at least!

Another highly attended special NAB conference session was on cyber security. IP connectivity and the cloud means that both the intellectual property and the infrastructure of broadcast and media companies is now at risk of cyber-attack and discussion points were expertly handled by industry leaders from media delivery companies like Aspera and Signiant. In general the overall outcome seemed to indicate that the media industry is having to catch up fast as the presence of cyber-threats constantly challenges data integrity, system resilience and intellectual property theft.

Exhibition – truly industry changing

It’s rare for Apple to show their faces at NAB or IBC, so great excitement was generated when they unveiled a new video acquisition codec called ProRes RAW – a development that will make a huge impact on both the production and post sides of the industry. Apple said that creators will be able to use it right away via updates to DJI’s filmmaking drones and Atomos recorders allowing RAW recording for cameras from Panasonic, Sony, Canon and others. Never before has a codec created such a stir within the industry so watch this space, I think it is going to be a game changer in acquisition circles.

Showcasing a new era of VR content, Fraunhofer HHI, Ericsson, Harmonic and Nokia demonstrated a world first ultra-high resolution, live virtual reality and 360-degree video at the NAB Show. Attracting goggle eyed delegates from all corners of the conference centre, the 10K capture and live rendering for high-resolution VR360 video, used the Fraunhofer HHI Omnicam-360 and tile-based live encoding with the Fraunhofer HHI HEVC encoder to great effect. VR is still considered to be part of the future of broadcast television and the exhibition halls were bursting at the seams with newly developed and prototype VR technology.

One of the big drivers for buyers at NAB was LED lighting. The technology just keeps getting better and there were huge numbers of interesting light fixtures to consider. The trend is definitely moving away from multiple, visible, LED diodes and moving towards creating fixtures that produce a soft, single source of light. One of the most impressive fixtures on display was the current versions of ARRI’s SkyPanels which utilise RGB and LEDs, and can do some pretty impressive things. Canadian manufacturers Westcott wowed filmmakers with a prototype of their new 2×1 Flex LED panel lights with new RGBW LED technology. The RGBW Flex Light uses clusters of red, green, blue and white LEDs to output light that’s much more controllable than a simple Kelvin temperature adjustment. Water resistant and flat packable, there’s nothing quite like being able to gaff tape a light fixture to a ceiling or a wall.

As always Blackmagic Design never fails to disappoint at NAB. Their announcement of the release of their new Pocket 4K Cinema Camera, set Las Vegas and the internet buzzing. The 4K Pocket Cinema Camera uses an all new fibre reinforced polycarbonate based body design, it produces a full 4096×2160 resolution picture and your footage is recorded to CFast 2.0 cards or high speed SD. But the winning feature here is the USB port. If you have a USB-C HDD you can simply plug it right in to the camera body and record directly to it. Your footage is then completely NLE ready by plugging it into your editing computer. The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K will be available later in 2018 with a price tag of $1,295 (What! That price is insane!) from authorised resellers around the world.

It’s no real surprise that Sony decided to update their entry level digital cinema camera with the launch of the Sony FS5 MKII. With new competition in the form of the Canon C200, Panasonic EVA-1, and Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro, Sony thought it wise to give the FS5 a makeover. Most of the FS5 II’s improvements are under the hood. The camera uses the same 4K Super 35 EXMOR sensor that features 14 stops of latitude as the original FS5. What is different is when it comes to the image processing and to try and keep in front, Sony has slightly tinkered with the high frame rate options. The FS5 II can internally record 2K (2048×1080) at 240fps (in 8 second bursts), FHD (1920×1080) continuously at 120fps, and 8 seconds of 480fps and 960fps at lower resolutions through a cache to SDXC media. Price? The same as the old FS5 which will now become a little cheaper once the MKII is released in the market place.

There was a lot of excitement over at the Vimeo stand who took the opportunity to use NAB as their platform to announce and introduce their new Over-The-Top custom streaming apps. One of the great things about Vimeo is that it allows anybody to upload their content and make money from it, either through voluntary donations, or from pay-per-view. The new streaming apps allow anybody to create a Netflix style subscription service for their content. This is potentially a huge thing, opening up the possibility for all sorts of niche subjects to be covered by content creators in a very open and transparent way. The fact that Vimeo can be left to deal with the complexities of actual delivery leaves creators free to focus on the quality of their videos and marketing of their subscription service. I think as time goes on we’ll be hearing a lot more about Vimeo OTT Live.

I love NAB, where ground-breaking technology is unveiled, innovative solutions are displayed and game-changing trends are exposed. 2018 didn’t disappoint and luckily for us not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, I’m off to buy a new camera…and some lights…and…

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