What's New at NAB 2008

Special Report by Dirck Halstead and PF Bentley
May 2008

Just one of the many aisles in one of the four giant halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center

It's the biggest toy store in the world. But this one is for adults who won't blink an eye at dropping a couple of million bucks on the latest satellite truck or news helicopter. PF Bentley and Dirck Halstead spent four days trudging the miles between the four huge halls at the Las Vegas Convention Center looking for the newest, the most impressive, and even the most bizarre items on display. Here is our report:

EVERYTHING is High Definition. Because of the FCC ruling that all television stations must switch to digital transmission by February of next year, there is a bonanza in sales for manufacturers. There will also be a windfall for shippers, who will be sending all that obsolete analog equipment to Third-World broadcasters. It's also clear that the day of the classic "big" cameras, like the ubiquitous Betacam, are coming to an end. With stations having to junk all the Standard Definition analog equipment, many will elect to go with the newer, cheaper professional cameras such as the Sony EX and the Canon XH-G1 for field and studio use.


For the second year in a row, Canon lacked any real surprises in their huge booth. They had no new high-end products to introduce. They are in the uncomfortable situation of not making any real progress on what their customers want the most, which is a professional hard-drive HD camera. They realize that they have a big winner in the newspaper market, the successor to the popular HV20 HD camera. The HD30 is the same size, but it comes in black, with an improved HD wide-angle adaptor. The LCD panel has been changed with a wider color range and improved viewability, longer-life batteries that can completely charge in one pass, and an improved zoom control. One of the things that particularly caught our eye in the Canon booth was the new VIXIA HF10 High Definition camcorder. This little camera, smaller than the palm of your hand, is one of the manufacturers' "interim" products as they prepare to go to tapeless in the future. It has a 16-gig internal hard drive that is capable of delivering two hours of HD video in a 17 mps mode which translates into a 1920x1080 AVHD image. You can also use a SDHC flash card. An 8-gig card would give you half the recording time. The hard drive can instantly transfer the media to the flash card. This is very helpful in newspaper applications, since you can hand off the flash card to an editor and keep on shooting. This is Canon's first foray into HD flash memory. Like the HV30, you can add the optional Canon shotgun mic, which has a shorter flash shoe, but comes with a "fuzzy" windscreen.

Canon introduced a new upgrade on the five-year-old XL line. The XL-H1S is the same design, but has added some new features to the XL-H1S, such as an improved lens, and the ability to zoom and focus at the same time, but it is still the same tape camera with a few new wrinkles. The Canon people at the show were painfully aware of the need for Tokyo to come up with a tapeless camera.


Among the low-priced professional cameras, the JVC200 series just seems to grow longer. The 200 is slimmer than most Pro HD camcorders, but it measures some 18 inches from lens to back, which is jammed with all sorts of add-ons. We have always liked this camera. It has gained acceptance not only in broadcast, but also among filmmakers. "24 Hours" is one of the TV shows filmed with the 200. One idea that JVC came up with several years ago that we have liked is to put a padded earphone on the handle of the camera, right where the operator's right ear would be. The 200 and its more expensive brother, the JVC250, are essentially the same camera. The only difference, like Canon's XH-G1 versus the XH-AI, is the inclusion of a "jack pack" on the 250 which allows for video and encoded audio with timecode to be output to an accessory hard drive.

JVC, unlike most manufacturers, bases its HD on a 720P signal. However, in practice there is little or no difference that can be discerned between it and 1081i cameras.

The 250 was shown with an EDIROLL Hard Drive, which can record 100 gigs of High Definition media. Then to make the camera even a bit longer, JVC slapped on a LIBR Remote microwave system, allowing the camera to transmit a high-definition signal at least a kilometer to a receiver at 20 mbs.

JVC also showed their new MRHD200 Video Media Recorder, which is a removable hard drive that docks right onto the camera and can record 100 gigs of media. The unit will be available in the fourth quarter of 2008.

The JVC250, minus lens, retails at about $9,500. The JVC200 saves a lot of money. It sells for $5,995 including the 16X removable lens.


FireStore was one of the first manufacturers to come up with a portable hard drive for video cameras. We reviewed their first model back in 2002:


Their latest entry, which will be in stores this summer, is the FS-5 Portable DTE Recorder. It is a 100-gig High Definition hard drive that fits right on top of your camera handle or on the back. It is capable of recording 7 1/2 hours of media. However, the battery will only last about three hours, so we suggest a few extra batteries if you are going to be shooting all day.

The novel thing about the FS-5 is that it has a built-in Web server that allows the operator to encode meta-data as he or she shoots. It can be displayed either on a laptop or any portable wireless device such as an iPhone. This means that clips can be identified in the field, making the transfer in the edit bay much faster.

The FS-5 is an important tool for a Canon user in particular, because it allows the operator to turn an XH-G1 into a tapeless camcorder.


There's good news and bad news concerning the notorious new firmware update 1.0.5. While it does fix the backfocus problem on the EX1, along with some other internal improvements, the camera does have to go to the San Jose Repair Facility. Some Sony reps in the booth said that Sony has never let the end user do firmware upgrades (however, you can do upgrades if you have the shoulder-mounted F350/355 cameras). This boggles my mind since it's a pain to package up and ship the camera and it's out of use for a week or two while they do the 15-20-minute upgrade. In addition, it must be a pain in the butt for Sony having to deal with all these cameras coming in every time there's a new firmware update. I lobbied hard for a simple download and the ability to connect the camera via FireWire to computer to do the upgrade.

The Sony reps knew how bad the EX1 handgrip is and nothing can be done until a new model for the series is out. Hopefully, that will be soon for all of us who try and shoot handheld with the EX1.

No word on a release date for the new 32-GB ExpressCards at this time.

The EX3 is very nice for those who need interchangeable lenses. The body will be around $13,000 list with the same great Fujinon lens that comes with the EX1 – other lenses extra. It also is a semi-shoulder-mounted camera (I guess Sony figured out no one could actually handhold the EX1 with its current handgrip), with many nice improvements and refinements over the EX1. Expected release date is the third quarter of 2008. (And yes, it has the same handgrip as the EX1.)

For Phillip Bloom's excellent review of the EX3 camera click here.


The folks at RED Camera had two new cameras to show. The new 5K Epic is for those shooting for the very big screen and the 3K Scarlet ($3,000 for the body), which could have been a VJ contender for the serious documentary filmmaker until I found out that RED surprisingly opted for mini-plug audio connections for the Scarlet and not XLR.

Sorry Big RED, but XLRs are the standard industry pro connection for audio. It was interesting to hear the Scarlet rep in the RED booth try to justify the mini-plug connection to a few documentary filmmakers questioning RED's decision. "So we'll make a camera just for you, okay?" was his best line as he got more agitated. The other line was "We wouldn't have been able to keep the price at $3,000 with XLR connections." Well, charge us $3,500, RED. Due out in early 2009, maybe it's not too late for the folks at RED to come to their senses and change it to XLR.


Sorenson Squeeze 5 is much improved over Squeeze 4 and gives Telestream's Episode Pro a real run for its money at a lower price ($779 vs. $995 for Episode Pro). Additions to Squeeze 5 include the ability to watermark, hue-and-saturation control, sharpen, audio duration, and audio volume in addition to faster encoding speed along with H264 encoding for Flash.

I'll be reviewing Squeeze 5 in a future column.


Makers of the popular G-Raid hard drives showed the new G-Tech G-Raid Pro that can be configured in 1TB to 4TB for all of our HD video editing, storage and archiving needs. Supports both RAID 0 and RAID 5. Available in June, prices starting at $999.


Century Optics has a whole new line-up for the Sony EX1 that includes a nifty Fisheye HD adapter that attaches to the EX1 lens easily and quickly like the lens hood does.

This means no screwing of the adapter onto the lens ring which takes time and always gets stuck just when you need to detach it. Price: $529 at B&H. I'm buying one myself since it really opens up the frame when you need to go very wide and it's great for stock.


Bebob, presented the ZOE EX, a speed adaptable lens controller for the EX1. Zoom ramping speed is pre-adjusted via a dial on the side of the unit. Also of note was the Bebob Lux LED, a camera-mounted daylight LED system that has variable focus range of 40 to 60 degrees. This light runs off your camera battery so there's no need for an external power pack to add to the load. These items are also sold by 16x9, which has the nifty J-Clamp Mounting Bracket for the EX-1 and other cameras.


Light Control Concepts showed a new grid system for the Litepanels 1x1, 2x2, 4x4 and Mini lights. These easily slide in and out for better light control.

They offer 30-, 60- and 90-degree grids for the 1x1, 2x2 and 4x4. The Mini grids come in 30 and 60 only.

Our favorite stocking stuffer was the new Litepanel micro light. Using the same cool daylight LED light source, this little lighting tool, which measures about 3 x 4 inches, runs on four AA batteries and is the perfect on-camera light for run-and-gun news coverage. Litepanels was selling these lights at their booth for $244 each, and they went like hot cakes.


For the VJ who needs not only a Steadicam but a moving Steadicam for instant dolly shots without laying down tracks, may I suggest the Handsfree Transporter – sort of a Segway for Steadicam operators.

Top speed is about 15 mph and it can go fully charged for about 23 miles. Go to the Handsfree Transporter Web site for some video and photos of the Transporter in action and footage from the rig. Pretty cool. Yours for around $20,000, battery included but Steadicam and camera are NOT included!


For those who need an HD camera mounted on a Bell Helicopter, there's the 206L4 fitted with Rolls-Royce engines and ready to go for about $3 million.

Luckily for me, I had Dirck's charge card number, so the new Platypus Eye in Sky will be delivered next week to its new home in Austin. Memo to Dirck: I told them to make it No Signature Required. Hope that's okay.


Finally, kudos to the excellent instructors of Future Media Concepts who offered many training classes in the Post-Production Conference at NAB. Sean Casella and Yossy Tessone really know their stuff and got me through my Apple Training. The Future Media Concept’s comedy team of Greenberg and Shapiro (sometimes known as Shapiro and Greenberg depending on whose class it actually is) consists of Jeff Greenberg and Abba Shapiro, who not only know FCP Studio and Leopard inside and out, but keep you entertained and on your toes. Never a dull moment in any of their presentations.


The best evening I had in Vegas was attending the FCPUG Super Meet in the Grand Ballroom at MGM Grand. FCP guru Larry Jordan did a great job as host and MC for the night. Michael Horton of the Los Angeles FCP Users Group made the end-of-night raffle a blast and kept things lively throughout the night. (Did I mention great food too? – all for $15.00.) A definite "go-to" event if you're at NAB. See you next year for sure.

Warning: Cliffhanger ending coming up …

Oh, and one more thing ... on the last night of NAB, at the FCPUG Super Meet, We saw two insane new programs that blew our minds, which we'll be reviewing in the months ahead.

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