The NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Show, held every year in Las Vegas, is the place to see the latest and greatest tools of the trade, whether you’re a broadcaster, a content creator, a filmmaker, a video editor or even a still photographer. As much as I love to see what’s new on the show floor, the value I get from attending NAB is the illuminating discussions taking place at a multitude of conferences held within the show.
Here are a few things that caught my eye or piqued my interest this year:
If last year was all about the drone, this year was about virtual reality. First, I should point out the distinction between 360 video and VR. Here’s a great explanation from Sam Rohn, director of IVRPA (International Virtual Reality Photography Association):
VR would be a way of displaying various content including but not limited to 360 Video. VR content could also include CGI imagery, still 360 panoramas, etc. Typically, VR these days refers to stereoscopic (or false stereo) content viewed in a headset such as Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR etc. 360 Video has other applications besides VR headsets as well — site-specific installations with dome projection viewing or in normal web browsers.
I checked out the show’s VR pavilion, which included manufacturers’ booths and a theater where you could watch VR films. Personally I wasn’t tremendously impressed by the quality of the VR examples I saw, but let’s face it, VR is still in the pioneer stage. It’s nothing like the VR from the 1980s. Cameras ran the gamut – everything from Kodak’s PixPro SP360 4K ($499 - $899) to Spericam’s V2 (around $2,500), a 360-video camera (actually six cameras) no bigger than a tennis ball that records in 4K with automatic-stitching, WiFi and streaming baked right in, making viewing and sharing content easy. At the high end is the Nokia Ozo ($60,000).
I assumed that only gamers or those who created content for gamers would be interested in VR until I attended a panel discussion called “VR – Being There – VR in News and Documentary.” The panelists included filmmakers as well as people from distribution platforms that were using VR. Ultimately, VR is just another way to tell a story, but because it is immersive it provides a very emotional experience for the viewer. All the panelists agreed that this tool has a lexicon all of its own.
For example, there is no cropping. Two very important points were made about creating content for VR: Proximity is important, meaning that you need to be close to the action of the main subject, and a narrator is essential – kind of like a tour guide to direct the viewer as they move through the experience. This can be done with audio or graphical overlays.
The content creators also agreed that the post end of VR can be very challenging, time consuming and frustrating. Storage is an issue, and stitching can be quite cumbersome. But this is now; it’s an area that is changing rapidly. Many viewers balk at having to wear a headset, but one panelist predicted that within a year the headset would be replaced by a contact lens. Like anything radically new and different, if you want to get into this type of storytelling, be prepared to be a pioneer and deal with the trials and tribulations.
Last year, the NAB Show was all about the drones. The technology was amplified this year: A drone can provide a unique perspective by getting your camera in places that would not have been possible otherwise, and because of that they have revolutionized aerial cinematography. With cameras getting smaller and smaller, the possibilities are expanding.
Clearly, the legalities of who can operate a drone and where they can fly are still an issue, but those issues are also changing. The FAA recently predicted that sales for US for commercial purposes are expected to grow from 600,000 devices in 2016 to 2.7 million in 2020, with the combined number of hobbyist and commercial drones expected to rise from 2.5 million devices in 2016 to 7 million in 2020! Yikes! If that boggles the mind, check out the NEO by Acecore. With eight propellers and a five-foot span, it can carry a large payload for a respectable time.
Pelican Air – Do you fly a lot and find that your case is taking up half the allowable weight on airlines? Check out Pelican’s new line of Air Cases, which are up to 40-percent lighter without compromising durability. Right now there are six sizes, but Pelican will be expanding this line.
Ribcage by Back-Bone – If you’re a GoPro fan, you’ll love this: The Ribcage is a modification for the GoPro Hero3 or 3+ and Hero4 cameras. It allows you to connect a large selection of lenses when the camera’s fixed fish-eye lens can’t capture what you’re after.
Sennheiser MKE 440 – A compact stereo shotgun mic designed for mounting on your DSLR camera. Geared for semi-pros, consumers and one-man bands or journalists on the go.
Westcott Flex – If you’re a traveler or someone who doesn’t want to lug around cases of lights, check out Westcott’s Flex LED lights. I stopped by their booth and loved their demo. Not only are these lights portable, lightweight and flexible, but the demo showed just how much abuse they could take. Great for road warriors.
Relamp by Visionsmith – If you have invested in Arri hot lights and wish you had LED’s with the power of an HMI, then check out these bulbs. Essentially, you can drop them into your Arri Fresnel hot light and turn it into a cool LED that has the light power of an HMI.
My favorite part of NAB is attending the Super Sessions and seeing what the movers and shakers are talking about. This year, director Ang Lee gave a talk called “Pushing the Limits of Cinema” and showed his yet-to-be-released feature Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, the first major motion picture captured in 120-frames-per-second 3D at 4K resolution in High Dynamic Range. You can see Lee’s talk here, but you’ll have to wait to see the film, and there won’t be too many theaters that will be equipped to show it.
That brings me to my overall takeaway: As filmmakers, we have an increasing array of incredible tools available to us. Not long ago, 4K was new, but companies are already marketing 8K-resolution cameras! But here’s the rub that was pointed out by a panel of engineers in the session "4K, UHD, HDR and More - The Future of Video": Just because we can create content in 8K or even 4K, it doesn’t mean the end user or viewer will see the difference.
For example: Unless viewers sit no further than four feet from their 48-inch TV screen, they will see no difference between HD and 4K! Creating content is one thing; delivering it to the viewer is a totally different challenge with many variables, including getting it through the pipeline to the consumer. My overall takeaway from NAB is that just because we can create content in high resolutions or with HDR, it doesn’t mean we should.
Have a reason for doing so — and that reason should be driven by a story need, not because it’s technically possible. At the end of the day, we all create for end users, and for the most part they’re interested in the story.
Go here to visit photographer and filmmaker Gail Mooney