Last week I spent a few days in Las Vegas attending the NAB Show. NAB stands for National Association of Broadcasters and is a trade association, workers union, and lobby group representing over-the-air radio and television broadcasters in the United States. The NAB represents more than 8300 terrestrial radio, television stations, and broadcast networks.
NAB was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center which is basically two massive halls which was home to 1874 exhibitors and just over 103,000 attendees. It’s not as crowded as CES (Consumer Electronics Show), but it’s one of the largest events held at the convention center each year. All the major television networks have a presence at the show along with major computer, camera, software and storage companies. I spent a few hours each day manning a booth for a custom workstation builder while spening the remainder of my days wandering the exhibit halls speaking to hundreds of people about their new products.
For this week’s article, I wanted to do something a little different and share with you some of the products and trends I noticed while attending the conference. I know that’s unusual compared to the hardware-heavy articles I normally write, but I think you’ll find some of the topics of interest. I came away from the show with a better understanding of the challenges these highly trained professionals face, and I’ll cover some of those challenges in greater detail.
The Future of Video is 8K
I feel your pain because I recently purchased a 4K Vizio when my trusty Samsung plasma died. It wasn’t that long ago that we upgraded our sets to 1080P and then 4K sets came along with very little 4K content to support it. And yet I’m supposed to believe 8K is on the way?
When I attended CES, which focuses on the consumer market, I noticed a handful of smaller 8K screens scattered around the halls. Fast forward to NAB and most large displays I saw on the floor were showing 8K footage. And if your eyes are accustomed to 1080P, you’re in for a treat because these 8K screens are gorgeous! The colors and content really pop.
The 8K screens are a thing of beauty and large price tags, for the time being
At shows like NAB, it’s not always easy to separate the hype from reality, but I had enough people at the show tell me that 4K was more of a stop-gap solution while 8K sets and content are where things are headed and will eventually settle, much like 1080P did for a decade.
At least to my eyes, moving from 1080P to 4K was a moderate, but noticeable improvement, while moving from 1080P to 8K is a huge jump most everyone will appreciate, even on 60 t0 80 inch sets. I assumed OLED would eventually find its way into every home theater, but with LG refusing to license the technology to Sony, Samsung, Vizio and other set manufacturers, I don’t know where it fits into the 8K scene, but I’m sure it will be there eventually.
I mention 8K because it presents a number of challenges to those who shoot, render and edit video. Video files are already large and cumbersome to backup for many people. Each time we’ve seen a major bump in screen resolution (standard def to 720P to 1080P to 4K…) we’ve seen a commensurate increase in file sizes. Those high quality training videos you produced years ago might fit on a flash drive today, but when shot in 8K, they will require a lot more storage capacity. Which brings me to: storage.
It’s All About the SSD
As I walked around the exhibit hall, I commented to my friend how it felt as though every other booth was an obscure storage company who had managed to stuff a 2 or 3 chassis full of SSD drives, a controller and some basic software and were marketing it as a smart storage solution. Below is one such chassis with one clever touch: the SSDs are part of a 12 node solution.
I lost track at the number of companies selling SSDs. Western Digital had a large booth at the show, but they were showing large rackmount solutions for archiving video. I talked to a number of independent producers and each of them mentioned how much they struggle with storage. Most of them spend their days editing and rendering video projects in Adobe Premiere. Rendering times are dependent not only on CPU and GPU acceleration, but also speedy read/write times of local storage. It’s not uncommon for these raw files to be many gigs in size, and rendering times are critical to getting projects completed on time.
Companies like Glyph are trying to meet the needs of the independent producer by creating attached storage solutions. These are usually Thunderbolt supported devices that accommodate up to 4 drives in various RAID configurations providing up to 32 TB of storage. The chassis are rugged and the products are well-built and supported. They are a good solution for an individual, but don’t work well for teams or workgroups.
That brings us to the NAS solutions of which there were many at NAB. These products are geared towards workgroups or a team of producers working on large projects. NAS solution add a layer of complexity compared to attached solutions that many users find frustrating. With an attached solution, the user attaches the devices to the computer via USB 3 or Thunderbolt cable, powers on the device and it’s ready. NAS products are a lot more complicated, although I saw a number of companies touting their NAS products as so easy that even the marketing guy could figure them out. But honestly, I saw too many NAS products held back by horrible software. One producer told me his company NAS gives him so many problems that he’s saving all his projects to an external drive which is against company policy.
The importance of storage to this group of broadcasters was not lost on me. With so many companies marketing hundreds of different solutions, it tells me the storage market is vibrant.
I came away from NAB with a realization that broadcasters deal with many of the same challenges we do in IT. Storage needs are exploding with no end in sight. Changes in technology can bring a company and its employees demonstrative benefits, but usually not without significant investment and training. I noticed that software is still largely frustrating to many users outside of IT, and that well-designed interfaces are a godsend.
I was actually a little jealous when I stepped into the Red Digital booth to check out some of the most advanced cameras in the world. Each new camera model came with significant performance and feature enhancements, and it made me long for the days of when new Intel CPUs were so much faster than previous chips.
New technology brings with it opportunity regardless of the market you’re in. Taming that technology will often fall on you, the IT pro and MSP. If NAB is any indication, we’ve got a lot of new products to look forward to.