The 2002 Vanguards
In a tough economic market, innovation can be the first thing to suffer. But business consultants often suggest that bad times are in fact the best times to innovate. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, consultant Darrell Rigby advocates using lean times to build on core values and even grow, rather than diving headlong into austerity and starving the future. “More companies fail after a downturn than during one,” he says, because they have not used the downturn to “become who they want to be in the upturn. Smart companies look beyond the storm and even find ways to grow while it ravages around them.”
One of the most dramatic examples of this thinking is surely Media 100, a company that sold off its crown jewel assets to bet on the future of – of all things – hardware. The resulting technology, first exemplified by the NAB debut of the 844/X is daring and certainly innovative. Time will tell if the bet will pay off. But in the meantime, the 844/X was the number one pick of our Vanguard judges, who nominated 45 products, and chose 15, ranking each on a scale of 1 to 5 for its potential to change how video professionals work. Also a favorite with the Vanguard judges, the Panasonic Mini-DV 24p camcorder is both heralded and misunderstood by the public, as evidenced by a flurry of chat room attention. This debate only reflects the camera’s groundbreaking nature for our judges, especially those who have field-tested it themselves and understand its Vanguardian potential.
It’s worth mentioning that both the 844/X and the DVX100 won our Pick Hit awards at NAB, as did a disproportionate number of this year’s Vanguard winners. That’s another indicator of how difficult this year has been, with fewer product launches in the second half of the year. On the plus side, it’s encouraging to note that some of the products that caught our judges’ attention at NAB stood up to eight more months of scrutiny.
As we know from past experience, innovation is no guarantee of success. But as one of the toughest years in decades draws to a close, we are pleased to celebrate some of 2002’s most promising new tools. We voted for products, but really we were voting for the engineers and designers who tried new, hard, and interesting things in hard and interesting times.
Media 100 844/X
Just when it seems like the world is evolving toward software-only postproduction, Media 100 bucks the trend. The 844/X (now renamed the 844/Xe) that debuted at NAB offers performance parameters that can only be achieved through the magic of Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs). Media 100’s custom ASICs represent a truly spectacular investment of resources from a company that has dared to think big. “There’s an old saw that says ‘Performance, Image Quality, Price, pick any two,'” says judge Bob Turner. “This product says you can have all three. The eight-video stream realtime performance with complex processes is incredible.” “Audio tools have been enhanced to the point that one could use this NLE as a Digital Audio Workstation,” adds judge Tom McAuliffe.
In a departure from traditional dual-stream editing, the 844/X technology brings the NLE model to compositing, allowing editors to move “horizontally” through multiple layers just as swiftly as they move vertically along an editing timeline. This hardware-driven performance offers true competitive potential over software-only editing tools at a time when Final Cut Pro is redefining the video production market. The lower cost sibling to the Xe (the 844/Xi) is designed to make the 844 model accessible to a wider range of video professionals. For more information on the 844/Xi, see Edit Tools, p. 43.
Price: starting at $44,995
Panasonic AG-DVX100 Mini-DV 24p camcorder
Not since Sony introduced the now-venerable VX1000 has a prosumer camcorder generated so much excitement. With good reason: with one relatively low-priced Mini-DV format camcorder, Pansonic has invented a new category, true progressive-scan Mini-DV – and the ability to shoot four sub-formats. For conventional video, shoot 60i. Creating multimedia or an easy-to-edit filmic look? Go with 30p. For an even more filmic look, chose 24p that has a traditional 2:3:2:3 pull-down. Planning to transfer to film? Use either the new 24p Advanced (2:3:3:2 cadence) or 24p mode – depending on your lab’s advice.
“These options,” says judge Steve Mullen (who reviewed the camera in last month’s issue), “plus the camera’s extensive setup functions combined with the camcorder’s superb ergonomics, make the AG-DVX100 ‘camera of the year.'”
“Panasonic should be applauded for their leadership,” says judge David Leitner, who also cites a laundry list of smart ergonomic features and singles out the “clever 2:3:3:2 pull-down” as particularly Vanguardian. “Reinventing pull-down, now that’s thinking way outside the box.”
“Few cameras hold the promise to so utterly transform the way we work and the way we see the world as Panasonic’s new 24p DV model,” says judge Barry Braverman (who wrote a field report on his experience with the camera in last month’s issue). “A truly breakthrough product.”
For more on the DVX100 see videosystems.com
Hitachi CR-D10 recorder
When combined with the Hitachi Z-3000 camcorder, the CR-D10 foreshadows what the ENG camera of the future will likely be: a combo camera/recorder. The CR-D10 (an “evolution” of the C-D1X that won our Pick Hit at NAB) is revolutionary variable bit rate MPEG-2 encoder that records DVD-VR files directly to DVD-R or DVD-RAM discs, opening up the potential for new ways of working and saving money. “For news and event producers, this is a unit that can literally do it all, from image capture and posting on location to easy transmission of files back to the studio or production facility via TCP/IP,” notes judge Barry Braverman. It’s important to note that the CR-D10 has not yet lived up to one of its NAB promises: It does not dock to a range of camcorders and currently works only with Hitachi’s own Z-3000.
Price: $5,990 for recorder; about $10,000 for camcorder; about $20,000 for bundle including recorder, camcorder, lens, and carrying case.
Sony IMX MSW-900P 25p camcorder
Sony’s MPEG IMX MSW-900P, a digital PAL camcorder introduced to the U.S. market, combines so many innovations it’s hard to know where to start: new megapixel, progressive-scan 16:9 2/3in. Power HAD EX CCDs; a new high-performance Digital Signal Processing LSI evolved from Digital Betacam; four 20-bit audio tracks; the first true single-frame time-lapse capability in a video camcorder (utilizing an on-board 8-second memory cache); the first camcorder to feature Sony’s MPEG-2 IMX format – 50 Mbs, 4:2:2, I-frame MPEG-2 with near-lossless 3.3:1 compression – and all of this in an 8lb. package before lens and battery. An IMX cassette that records 71 minutes is only $18. “Would I use the MSW-900P again?” asks judge David Leitner who got into Sundance with a IMX-shot film. “In a heartbeat. The images we created with the MSW-900P, a standard-definition camcorder were several orders better than they had any right to be. We remain amazed. ‘Poor man’s HD’ would not be an overstatement.”
At last Ultimatte decides to go beyond upgrading their first-class algorithms. Perhaps realizing that desktop is the future and that greenscreen engineers are a very small market, they have also simplified their interface and brought believable keying to DV’s tricky, compressed color space. The plug-in, which works with the most popular compositing and editing programs, is resolution-independent but does its most Vanguardian work in the murky realm of 4:1:1 and 4:2:0 DV. “Easy to use and very powerful, it’s the essential tool for tough keying projects,” says judge S.D. Katz. “In many cases, this new plug-in may obviate the need for producers to move up to a higher-end and more expensive format such as DigiBeta or D-9,” proposes judge Barry Braverman, echoing one of his observations from NAB.
For more on the AdvantEdge see judge S.D. Katz’s review at videosystems.com.
The Sony DSR-DU1, one of the smallest hard disk video recorders, delivers versatility to DV editing. Working with Xpress DV, Premiere, and Final Cut Pro via a plug-in, one of the unique benefits is its ability to dock onto the rear of compatible camcorders. After completing a shoot, the unit can be detached from the camcorder and used for field offline logging or EDL creation, as a player for making dubs, or as a source feeder machine for i.Link-equipped NLEs. “But wait there’s more!” adds judge Dan Ochiva. “It also offers loop recording to avoid missing an important scene and time-lapse.” This Ginsu-esque lineup of features is sure to define tomorrow’s necessities.
Avid Xpress DV 3.5
“A major improvement, worthy of much more than the .5 designator,” says judge Bob Turner, indicating one Vanguard criteria: an important upgrade. “It provides, for the first time, an affordable product for the Mac crowd with Avid toolset sophistication, as well as the Avid workflow and Avid-compatible metadata.” Its “realtime performance” works for platforms that are not state-of-the-art, bringing the software-based definition of realtime to a much wider base of users. “The 3.5 upgrade finally frees the classic Avid interface from hardware dependency,” says judge Jeff Sauer, “and also finally brings serious functionality to a corporate-level editor.”
Panasonic PT-D7600U DLP projector
Panasonic brings the first sub-50lb. (44lbs.) three-chip DLP projector to the market. It has SXGA resolution, interchangeable lenses, and uses a UHM lamp to deliver 5000 ANSI lumens. “It will revolutionize the desktop/installation category,” states judge Pete Putman.
nVidia Quadro4 AGP 8X family
The top-of-the-line professional card in this family sets records for 3D graphics on all the various tests, with numbers that are 10% to 20% faster than the previous top scores. With two more affordable siblings, these cards bring nVidia’s next-generation graphics-accelerator technology to a wider range of users. Also new: nView multidisplay technology, which simplifies working with multiple displays and represents the first time more than one AGP card can be installed in a single system.
Price: MSRP $195 to $899
Barco iQ G300 series projectors
An NAB Pick Hit winner, the G300 is now joined by a networkable sibling, the iQ Pro G300. The breakthrough? These are the first desktop/installation projectors to incorporate a seamless switcher/mixer and video-tiling engine. This means the projectors can do dissolves, wipes, and other transitions between interlaced and progressive sources, and also display multiple windows with layers. The latest iQ Pro extends the innovation to networked display environments, good news for installation professionals, as well as road warriors who want to bring in updated content over WANs. The very definition of a modern projector.
Macromedia Flash MX
While Flash gained adherents for its quick and easy animation capabilities, the new MX version handles video just as well. Users can create video files that don’t need a player, so they can be emailed or posted on a website. The video looks great, even with its small footprint courtesy of Sorenson’s codec. Other good points include a configurable interface, versatile and powerful scripting for advanced designers, and organizational tools that make it easy to develop Flash movies. “An essential Web development tool that offers powerful new programming functions and increased productivity enhancements,” says judge Dan Ochiva. “Brings built-in video to the most popular rich media format on the Web and by doing so frees Web video from all sorts of traditional paradigms,” says judge Jeff Sauer.
Price: $499, $199 for upgrade
For more on Flash MX see videosystems.com.
Studio Network Solutions Fibredrive
The Fibredrive brings fibre channel technology down to a single, enclosed drive ideal for a stand-alone workstation. Why use a single FC drive, when everyone knows they belong in arrays attached to a high-speed network? Turns out that the speedy FC interface and performance features – such as no penalties for disk fragmentation – make the single 72GB drive capable of realtime record/playback of up to 56 tracks of 24-bit/48k audio, as well as a stream of 3:1 compressed video.
NEC Technologies PlasmaSync 42MP4
The high-resolution monitor features progressive scan (as opposed to the ALIS system). It has 1024×768 non-square pixel resolution and weighs 65lbs. “Best looking 42in. plasma out there,” says judge Pete Putman.
Wacom Cintiq 18sx tablet
Here’s an obvious idea that is difficult to engineer: a brilliant combination of a high-resolution LCD monitor with the interface features of a graphics tablet. The Cintiq caught the attention of our Pick Hit judges at NAB; it continues to get high marks for taking the chance on a premium drawing tablet that asks users to rethink the way they work. When painting over other images, it’s unparalleled and is particularly useful for cutting masks and retouching. “Not essential unless you are trying to animate Waking Life by hand, but a real kick if you’re experimenting with gestural animation,” says judge S.D. Katz.
Microsoft Windows Media Player 9
A controversial nomination with our judges, the player formerly known as Corona got the votes in the end, but with caveats. Cutting through the hype and an inherent skepticism of Microsoft’s proprietary tack, the judges zeroed in on the Digital Rights Management component (a must if streaming studio movies are to be a reality); the audio quality (up to 5.1 surround), which holds up at low bit rates; and the ability to compress up to HD-level picture signals to enable high-quality projection from a DVD disc. This raises the potential for a truly democratic distribution process that could deliver high quality over a range of devices (cell phones, etc.) and networks (Internet or intranet). As for the proprietary debate, while our judges bristle at the prospect of being “beholden to Microsoft,” there is a potential upside, at least for ISPs: no MPEG-4 licensing fees.
Price: free download
Honorable mention: Apple Final Cut Pro 3
Narrowly defeated, and only because it has already won most of our awards, Final Cut Pro continues to come up on everyone’s Vanguard list, remaining – in the words of judge S.D. Katz – “the most enabling software yet.”
Honorable mention: Kino Flo ParaBeam
An NAB Pick Hit winner and an elegant mini-marvel that brings HMI punch to fluorescent fixtures. The imitators can’t be far behind, which is the sincerest form of Vanguard flattery.
The following Video Systems editors and contributing editors sat on the Vanguard Awards judging panel:
Barry Braverman, cameraman Steve Katz, filmmaker/animator/author David Leitner, independent filmmaker Tom McAuliffe, camera and sound professional/entertainer Frank McMahon, media artist/educator Steve Mullen, digital video consultant/Ph.D Dan Ochiva, technical editor Pete Putman, projection consultant Jeff Sauer, video producer/research and testing consultant Bob Turner, video editor Cynthia Wisehart, editorial director
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