October 23, 2014

NAB Show 2012: My Initial Thoughts

NAB 2012 Series

NAB is one of my favorite trade shows

As I mentioned earlier, the  National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show is one of my favorites, with the wonderful variety of companies and products in attendance. Everything from professional video and broadcast equipment to IT infrastructure gear to celebrities (including the cast of Arrested Development) are on display at NAB. But what were the highlights? Here are my thoughts.

A Year of Resolution

Many people make New Year’s resolutions, but NAB Show 2012 highlights the year of the different type of resolution: professional gear is moving to 4K, and everyone else is moving beyond HD. My latest camera has a 24 megapixel sensor, my iPad is beyond 1080p, and Ben Freedman and I are planning for HD streaming of Tech Field Day. Video producers, too, are moving to HD and beyond.

All this high resolution video and photography strains the underlying equipment like never before. Suddenly, hard disk drives can’t keep up with a single camera, let alone multiple streams. FireWire and USB 2.0 are passé as computers move to USB 3 and Thunderbolt. Video producers increasingly rely on Fibre Channel, Thunderbolt, and lightning quick PCI express flash cards just to keep up.

These momentous changes were incredibly visible at NAB. A host of impressive new cameras were introduced (the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and Sony FS700 were the highlights) and RED continues to gain mind share. But every cinema camera on display highlighted beyond-1080p resolution (2K, 2.5K, and of course 4K).

The crowd inspects the new Blackmagic Cinema Camera

Interestingly, both the Blackmagic and Sony cameras mentioned above use conventional still camera optics, Canon EF and Sony NEX E-Mount, respectively. The idea is to bring professional post-HD video quality to the masses. Blackmagic, especially, embraces this “prosumer” market segment and is priced the Cinema Camera at just $3000. This camera also eschews proprietary media cards in favor of off-the-shelf 2.5 inch SATA SSD’s!

Trouble Downstream

These cameras excel at producing massive media files, and the storage and I/O requirements are mindbending. NAB was awash in high-speed interfaces (3G-SDI and Thunderbolt) and massive data storage devices. It was great to see companies like Active Storage, Object Matrix, DDN, and AmpliData getting so much attention from the professional media crowd. On the desktop side, LaCie, G Technology (now part of Western Digital), and Promise, as well as lesser-known companies like Rocstor, were ready to soak up all that data.

Fusion-io's new ioFX card brings ioMemory to the masses

One of the coolest storage products at NAB was not featured in the booth of its own. Fusion-io stocked a dozen booths with their new ioFX workstation flash storage card. Although not quite as fast as the company’s respected ioDrive, the ioFX wowed the audience with its attainable pricing of just $2495. Fusion-io also announced an SDK on Wednesday, allowing software natively to access the ioFX and ioDrive at full speed without translating their “ioMemory” into a fake disk drive. Cool times two!

I'm sure most people overlooked the significance of Sumitomo's Thunderbolt cables

Thunderbolt was the highlight of last year’s NAB Show. Although the release of Thunderbolt peripherals has not been as rapid as many (including myself) would like, there were some bright spots at NAB this year. Most people certainly overlooked it, but the release of copper and optical Thunderbolt cables by Sumitomo suggests that prices of this critical component could be coming down soon. Lenovo was also showcasing the first official Thunderbolt-equipped PC, and it was connected to an AOC monitor!

Thunderbolt to 8 Gb Fibre Channel, 10 Gb Ethernet, and SATA

Thunderbolt docking stations remain a fantasy, apart from Apple’s own Thunderbolt Display, but a number of clever I/O adapters were scattered on the show floor. ATTO was showing off their line of ThunderLink converters (8 Gb FC, 10 Gb Ethernet, and SATA), and Sonnet could even convert a Mac Mini into something like an Xserve(r) with their RackMac mini, complete with dual PCI express desktop card slots!

Non-Apple Thunderbolt is a reality in 2012!

Stephen’s Stance

NAB Show remains one of my favorites, and one of the only trade shows I’d unreservedly recommend attending on one’s own dime. From Thunderbolt to post-HD video to solid state storage, NAB has it all. And did I mention that the cast of Arrested Development was there, too? Oh yeah, and W. Curtis Preston, Robin Harris, Nick Pearce, Jason Collier, Scott Shadley, and many more besides!