Last year I made the 100 mile trip from St. George to Las Vegas to attend the NAB 2017 Show. I saw so many exciting and unusual products that I decided to return this year. The only difference is that I made sure the air conditioner in my car was working. I made the mistake last year of assuming that rolling my windows down would provide enough cool air. That brilliant solution worked for me in Seattle, but was less than ideal in Vegas where the temperatures was in the 90s each day.
NAB stands for the National Association of Broadcasters. Each year over 100,000 attendees and 1800 exhibitors pack into the Las Vegas Convention center for a week. The show spans three massive halls and would take most people two of three days to see every exhibit. A lot of booths showcase professional video and audio gear for the studio. Sony has one of the largest and most popular exhibits at the show. And yet next to their booth, you might find a small company from Japan selling $200 HDMI cables. It’s an odd mix of big and small and everything in-between.
You never know what you’ll find, which is a main draw of NAB. On my way into the exhibit hall on the first day, I walk past this trailer full of Thunderbolt. Notice the barber chair out front and you can understand why I kept walking!
I wish I had stepped inside the Thunderbolt trailer
This week I’d like to share with you a few of the interesting products I saw at NAB. Let’s start with the most obvious.
NAB 2017, a Storage Galore
You might ask why you should care about NAB. What I can tell you is that editing and rendering video, especially at 4K resolution, requires a lot of computing power and whole lot of storage. That’s why Microsoft, Amazon, Google and other cloud providers were in Vegas to show their products. But some of the most interesting booths housed smaller companies that built specialized storage products. I saw many rackmount cases packed with SSDs last year.
I’m talking dozens of companies attempting to put their own spin on a fast storage solution. This year I saw many of those same companies, but this year, they were showing cases full of super fast M.2 drives. Makes me wonder if we’ll see solutions using Intel Optane next year.
Storing 4k Videos Is Hard.
When I spoke with fellow attendees who stopped by our booth, most shared a mutual frustration with storage. Video editors working for large production companies didn’t complain as much because they have server and storage farms at their disposal. So while they are shooting in formats that require more storage, they have IT pros behind the scenes to make sure their workflow runs smoothly. Larger companies can also afford the horsepower to build rendering farms in-house, yet I noticed quite a few were now outsourcing that job to companies such as Amazon and their Digital Media in the AWS Cloud.
Small companies and individuals who specialize in video production have many storage solutions to choose from. Yet few are happy with their options. I talked to people who purchased full-sized desktop PCs and crammed as many hard drives as they could inside. Some purchased NAS solutions from companies like Synology and Netgear. I came away from NAB believing that there’s a big opportunity in serving this market.
It’s unfair to assume every video producer will eventually render and store all their files in the cloud. Many live in areas where internet speeds hinder the turnaround times to upload and download large video files.
VR and 360-degree Content
Companies such as Sony, Panasonic and Canon were pushing 360-degree camera systems capable of taking uncompressed 4K video. These are complicated and expensive solutions that consists of high-end cameras and software that stitches together the 360-degree scenes. The Canon solution I saw consisted of 9 cameras! But the product that caught my eye was the tiny Nokia Ozo camera. The Ozo is a VR camera with eight 2K sensors that compress and feed shots into a single video stream. What I liked the most about this product was the simple-to-use software that Canon provided. It even worked within Adobe Premiere. The only downside? It retails for $60,000.
I’m still not certain where VR and 360-degree content fit into our lives. I’ve seen dozens of demos and personally experienced a few VR applications and games with mixed results. One interesting VR application I saw at NAB was a virtual news studio. But until the wearable part of the solution is a lot smaller, I don’t see it growing outside of the gaming market. Nobody wants to walk around their home or work wearing big, awkward goggles.
The Nokia Ozo is a $60,000 VR camera you can attach to a drone
360-degree content has a much brighter future, especially when it comes to watching sports on TV. The NFL is ahead of other professional leagues in integrating 360-degree video into their broadcasts. The NFL positions dozens of cameras above and alongside the playing field. That means the viewer can experience each play from multiple angles. We are not far from the day where our home cable or satellite providers will provide on-demand alternative views of the same game.
Mobility is Key
If you go back a decade, most of what we watched on TV was created in a studio where professionals have control over lighting and acoustics. Call it the YouTube effect, but companies are racing to make products people can take outside or on the road. Or really anywhere they want and still preserve video and audio quality that’s acceptable for YouTube, Twitch and the like.
Everyone with a modern smartphone can take HD video and audio and share it with anyone. So companies like Sony and Canon have to create products that provide better quality than a high-end Android or iPhone. One solution I saw at NAB was Sony’s studio in a backpack. It gives you everything you need to shoot high-quality video and audio outside the studio.
Sony’s studio in a backpack at NAB 2017
Looking Around is Free…
The National Association of Broadcasters show is filled with wonders, and I’m always amazed at the creative equipment and businesses I find here. While looking around is completely free, you might balk if you look at the price tags on some of this high-tech gear.
The Sony booth was packed each time I walked by. I finally asked one of the Sony employees what all the buzz was about, and he explained they were demoing the new A9 full-frame mirrorless camera. I eventually got close enough to hear the camera snapping off 20 frame-per-second shots. I’m sure sports photographers will be lusting after this camera. For $5,000 it can be yours, if you can find one in stock.
I spent the last day of the show walking through the north hall that’s home to hundreds of smaller companies. In spite all all the cool new products, my favorite part of NAB is talking to the owners of these small companies. One guy built green screens for small studios. Another guy hand-built rotating studio chairs. He had leather samples on hand, and he told me that each chair required about 100 hours of labor. I asked him how much a chair cost and he said, “They start around $3,000.”
Like I said, you never know what you’ll see at NAB.