As my plane descended to the desert floor and the Las Vegas Convention Center came into view, I wondered what I would find at the 2009 NAB Show during these hard economic times. Even though this year's official attendance was 83,000, down from 110,000 last year, it was still a major event and once again took over the entire Las Vegas Convention Center.
In my annual hunt for cool and interesting products for videojournalists, my esteemed colleague, Dirck Halstead, and I walked what seemed like 874 miles and found some innovative items guaranteed to get you thinking and maybe buying in the future.
JVC GY-HM100U and GY-HM700U
The highlight for me during the four-day event was the dual release of the JVC GY-HM100U and the JVC GY-HM700U cameras. Both shoot full 1920x1080 24p (and other formats and speeds) with two slots for inexpensive and small SDHC cards. (Hoodman also showed an SxS card adapter that takes SDHC cards – see details below).
The 100 is an ideal VJ camera which is retailing for $3,495. A cross in size between a handycam and EX1, you can easily put two of these in your bag for two-camera shoots, have a backup camera, multicam interviews, etc. It has two XLR connections, comes with a JVC shotgun mic that you can change out for a Sennheiser or whatever shotgun you might use and has fairly easy-to-use manual controls. The camera feels very natural in my hands, with the grip right on the body where is should be. (Yes, Sony – I still think the off-axis grip on the EX1 is painful to use and I still can't push the record button without strain and camera shake.)
I have never been a fan of shoulder-mounted cameras. The GY-HM700U, retailing at $6,995, is the first shoulder-mounted camera that feels good to me. Shown with a Canon video lens, the 700 has all the manual controls right where you expect on the lens. There are even third-party lens adapters that will mount still camera lenses to the 700 for limiting depth of field and telephoto applications. The larger viewfinder was bright, clean and big and the camera has a large 4.3-inch LCD screen. The 700 is relatively small and light for a camera of this configuration.
I can see VJ shooters getting the 700 as their main camera and using the 100 as a backup or second camera in a multicam shoot. The 100 is also great for those times when we must shoot as tourists. Just take the shotgun off, use the internal mic and you too can shoot freely in places the media cannot. Each of these innovative cameras has its place. I'll be testing them both out in the months ahead and will review each in upcoming columns.
Two caveats: both cameras use 1/3" chips, not 1/2" like the EX1, and you cannot crash zoom on the 100 model. Right away I started asking about putting 1" chips in both (why not just go for broke and skip 1/2" or 2/3" chips!) in the next models. I have yet to shoot any footage, so maybe JVC has found some secret algorithm formula that makes the 1/3" chip footage look like 1/2" chip footage. We shall see.
Oh, did I mention one more little thing? Both the 100 and 700 record native FCP .mov files that you can just drag and drop into FCP without transcoding. This is the easiest professional workflow I've seen to date. JVC has addressed our need for workflow speed. You can get an optional SxS media recorder that goes between the camera and battery for recording to SxS cards in the .MP4 XDCAM EX format.
Hoodman SxSxSDHC Memory Adapter and RAW SDHC Cards
Hoodman showed their SxSxSDHC Memory Adapters for the EX1 and EX3 camera along with their heavy-duty RAW SDHC cards. $149.99. The SDHC cards slide into the adapters and into the SxS card slots in the Sony EX models, just like the SxS cards at a fraction of the cost of the SxS cards. $49.99.
Hoodman claims their 16GB (about an hour of shooting time) RAW SDHC is top-of-the-line (SanDisk makes heavy-duty ones too for $195.99) and will not fail, whereas other drugstore types might.
Matrox CompressHD and MXO2 Mini
How many hours, days, weeks, months and years have we wasted while our final edits are compressing? Well, that has now come to an end! Would you like to be able to get this speed in either a desktop or laptop? By using the new Matrox CompressHD card, you get faster than real time encoding when using H264 for Quicktime and Flash output! At this time however, it only works with Compressor for encoding. Maybe future updates would allow CompressHD to be used with another compression program such as Squeeze or Episode.
Your 10-minute video will take about 9 minutes to encode and you get your life back. The card works alone in a MacPro or you can use it in either a MacPro or MacBookPro when bought as part of the Matrox MXO2 Mini with the Matrox Max option. The cost of freedom is $499 for just the card, $849 as part of the Matrox MXO2 Mini. I know it seems like a lot of money, but what is your time worth? Now if they could make rendering (especially orange renders) real time, we'd be set. In addition the MXO Mini turns your HDMI screen into a professional-grade video monitor with color calibration tools and can convert your video to ProRes422 for editing.
Have you ever come back from a shoot with not-perfect audio, only to stare at the audio filters in FCP and not know where to begin? Most of us are not ProTools audio experts and just need to get the job done quickly and easily. Now the folks at iZotope have the answer.
iZotope RX is an easy to use audio restoration program that cleans and repairs audio, removing hiss, buzz, clicks, crackles, repairs gaps in audio and – get this – repairs distortion! That's right – the dreaded clipping can now be brought back to life. It got my attention when I saw the demo online and live at NAB. The interface is straightforward and the presets are pretty good to get you started. You can learn the program in an hour and get results never thought possible. (This program may also open a new discussion in the world of VJ audio ethics!) $399. They also make an RX Advanced for $1,199, but even the iZotope rep said for our needs, it's overkill. Studio Monthly has an excellent, more detailed review by Justin Lassen.
Need a teleprompter for on-air talent? Don't have the bucks to buy one, or need something very compact? How about turning your iPhone or iPod Touch into one? Bodelin Technologies showed a very cool product called The ProPrompter. You buy the holder, get the free app in the iPhone store and then subscribe to their service ($49 per year) where you upload unlimited scripts to a server and then download to your iPhone or iPod touch. The typeface can be made any size and scroll at any speed. The talent looks only at the script and not back at the camera. It will appear as if they are looking directly into the camera. Caveat: you cannot just change the script on the fly using a laptop as you could with a standard teleprompter. But you're not the president changing the State of the Union address in a limo on the way to Capitol Hill either!
Sonic Pro 5
I don't even know where to begin telling you about this. When I saw the online tutorials by Larry Jordan it blew my mind. Sonic Pro 5 by Smart Sound is the most incredible royalty-free music program I can ever seen. It does so much and so easily.
Need your music to fit into a certain time frame with beginning, middle and end? Want to re-mix a song only playing certain instruments and use the full instrumentation for other areas of the video? How about an easy way to hunt down the type of tracks you want? Sonic Pro 5 does it all. Larry Jordan scored an entire surf video in 9.5 minutes while talking about it during the FCPUG meeting at NAB! All I can say is, promise me you'll watch all the tutorials. This is one amazing program. (And no, it doesn't work with other royalty music – just Smart Sound's library.)
For those of you lucky enough to have taken the Platypus Workshop, you know how fast I am in keyframing and working with still images in FCP. In the past, most pan and scan programs had no appeal to me since I could do what they do more quickly and easily using the tools in FCP.
So when I heard about yet another new pan and scan program, this one called Photo Motion by GeeThree, I was skeptical but took a look and had a nice surprise. This is a neat little program that costs only $79 and can save you a lot of time and energy.
I've been using it the past week on an editing job and have really enjoyed it. You can control the acceleration, ease in and out of movement, add flicker removal and can lay down an entire slide show with movement in under 10 seconds! (Not synced to the beat, but laid down on the timeline.) In addition, it compensates for adding dissolves in FCP. I liked the Preview feature, with which I could preview the move and change something, then instantly preview the changes again. The programmers at GeeThree are also open to our suggestions for new features in future updates. At $79, it's a must-have in our FCP plug-in tool kits.
Each year we get to this product that we all can use: a fully outfitted $2.5 million Bell Helicopter complete with HD mounting on the bottom and controls inside the cockpit.
Dirck and I loved it and took out our credit cards – all of them. We thought things over and wanted to stand out in the crowd … so, everyone who signs up for the Platypus Workshop gets a free Bell Helicopter*. I doubt if any other workshop can make that offer.
*While supplies last. Void where prohibited. Pilot's license & batteries not included.
Jeff Greenberg and the crew from Future Media Concepts put on a rousing educational Post-Production Conference at the show. Thanks, Jeff, and to all the instructors for your knowledge and enthusiasm.
Thanks, too, for Michael Horton and all the volunteers from the Los Angeles Final Cut Pro Users Group for yet another wonderful SuperMeet evening. This year's gathering of the FCP tribe was at the Rio Hotel, with great vendors and food. Michael is always the entertaining host for the night and the world-famous end of night raffle was a gas. I had the first four numbers (out of six) for the JVC GY-HM100U camera and then heartbreak! If you have not attended NAB and The SuperMeet, you are missing out on an experience. Mark your calendars and see you next year.