The Digital Cinema Society at NAB 2004, One DP’s Perspective

by | May 15, 2004 | News | 0 comments

For all of you who were too busy earning a living to make the jaunt to NAB, let me give you a couple of highlights in regard to Digital Cinema. I’ll start by telling you about our kickoff party held the evening of April 20th at Caesar’s Palace and hosted by our friends at Women In Film/Las Vegas…

Well, it was a fantastic success with hundreds in attendance to help us celebrate the launch of our group. Notable new members in attendance included Director/Screenwriter Dale Launer, (My Cousin Vinny, Ruthless People, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, etc.), Andy Maltz from The Motion Picture Academy, Dick Millais from IVC, Jim Hannifin from FotoKem, Dave Bancroft from Thomson, and Michael Bravin from BandPro among many, many others. Thanks to the generosity of companies such as Apple Computer, Avid, Final Draft, Location Sound, and DigitalFilmTree, to name only a few, we had great door prizes to give away including three copies of the latest version of Final Cut Pro, (which was the talk of the convention), as well as numerous other software, training DVDs, books, (care of CMP Books), and other cool swag. It was also a great opportunity to network and meet other professionals in the Digital Cinema Community. Everything in Vegas tends to be larger than life, including the claims made by some of the manufacturers. It’s hard to separate the hype from reality, but let me tell about of few significant things I noticed. It was not so much the new products, although Final Cut Pro HD and Panasonic’s new low-cost FireWire- (iLink) capable portable HD VTR, AJ-HD1200A, were very impressive.

What really impressed was the way Apple and Panasonic have been working together to provide a joint HD solution. You can now shoot on the Varicam and directly FireWire, (with no additional capture card), HD material into Final Cut, including variable speed footage. This greatly simplifies the whole process and makes it possible to be completely posting HD for only about $30,000. This includes $25,000 for the VTR, which can record and output not only 720P, but full 1080P and plays back formats from mini DV, DVcam, to full DVC ProHD. Another $4,000 for a G-5 with cinema display and a $999.00 copy of Final Cut Pro HD, (only $399.00 to upgrade from previous version of FCP) and you’ve got a system. I’ve personally shot a lot of Varicam footage and I like the camera, but the problem, which has now been solved, has been that your post options were very limited. So, this is significant progress for both companies and it’s nice to see different manufacturers finally working together to find solutions. In other news, the Dalsa camera, which was due a few months ago, is still not there, but they have made significant progress this year. The major obstacle, however, is not the capture, but where in the heck do you put 16 mega bits per frame of data? They are demonstrating their prototype camera with a 1.2 terabyte hard drive unit the size of a small refrigerator that’s capable of recording only 50 minutes of “uninterpolated” data. They have also added dual stream SDI outputs, to record on more practical methods, such as Sony’s new SR system or a D5 VTR. They are working on a “lossless” compression scheme, which will also require less storage in the field, but can be reinterpolated to full quality later in post. They also have a down sampled DVI monitoring output with settings to approximately preview different looks for various end uses like filmout or DLP projection

The sensitivity of the camera is currently pretty slow at less than 100 ASA, but the production model should be above 200. Recording speeds are from 15 to 36 FPS and lens selection and accessories are available from anything you would choose for a 35mm PL mount camera. Panavision is, of course, still very much in the Digital Cinema camera business, but they are mum for the time being about 4K or any plans to increase chip size. They did introduce a new lens for digital capture which is capable of a whopping 7 to 2,100mm or 300 times zoom ratio! They are still tweaking, and the very long end seemed to loose a little resolution, but it was probably just all the atmosphere you need to look through when trying to frame a close up with the subject a good block away. Arri is promising to have their D-20, first introduced at IBC, commercially available by 2005. It will feature a 3K capacity chip, mirrored shutter, (like their motion picture cameras), and variable speeds from 4 to 150FPS. An interesting thing about Arri, as pointed out by Vice President, Franz Wieser, is that they are the only company that is involved from “Framing to Projection”. They are involved in the manufacture of cameras, essential post technology, such as their Laser Scanner, all the way to both digital and film projection equipment.

Also in the very interesting, but not quite there department, Jeff Kreines introduced his Kinetta Digital Cinema Camera at the April 18, SMPTE Digital Cinema Summit. In contrast to the bulk of the Dalsa prototype, this camera promises to be small and extremely hand-holdable. The design is based on film camera concepts, (it looks a lot like an Aaton A-minima). It’s not loaded down with too many controls, with the idea of simply capturing the raw image data and leaving the processing decisions to post. Adding to the svelte design, a single fiber optic cable feeds breakout boxes with ports for 4:4:4 dual link HD-SDI, 4:2:2 HD-SDI and standard def SDI, etc. In a throw back to the days of Billy Bitzer, variable speed is achieved with the use of a hand crank, (or, on the other hand, maybe Jeff Kreines is just having us on). All in all, it’s another system worth keeping an eye on.

Of course Thomson has had their Viper out now for a couple of years and it continues to gain in acceptance, but as I said earlier the biggest stumbling block seems to be the question of how to manage all the data you are able to collect from these cameras. Sony’s SRW-1 portable recorder is a step in the right direction, capable of dual stream 4:2:2, or RGB 4:4:4. (You can also simultaneously record on the same tape, the output of two 4:2:2 signals which could be great for shooting 3D). At this point, I personally feel more comfortable with a tape that I can pull out of the deck to have and hold. This may be old fashioned, but I think this is a psychological hurdle we will have to get over as we proceed further into image capture data management. A company that is today providing solutions in this area is S.two. Their D.MAG Digital Field Recorder, which they were showing with a Viper, seems to be a practical and portable way to record film stream data. About the size of an old 1” portable, (if anybody remembers those), the D-MAG can record up to 54 minutes of uncompressed HD in each removable “magazine”. These magazines can then be hot swapped into a docking station for cloning to a master library or storage vault. This is reminiscent of taking your exposed film to the lab where they will store it until you’re ready to proceed to post. Again, this seems to be a psychologically more comfortable approach for some of us. Progress is being made on many counts, but I’m always on the lookout for image capture storage solutions, which seems to be the big bottleneck in the development of HD cameras. Please note, the opinions expressed here are my own. If you should desire more information from the manufacturers, please visit the links below.

Thanks for participating in The Digital Cinema Society. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome.


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