Philly Creative Guide

Here's the Thing

Bill Haley

Leaving Las Vegas: Reflections on the 2009 NAB Show
by Bill Haley, 1 May 2009

Bill Haley is President, Interactive of Allied Pixel (www.AlliedPixel.com), an integrated media production firm specializing in the convergence of HD video, web and interactive media. He is also an evangelist for PhillyCreativeGuide.com. He can be reached at bill.haley@alliedpixel.com.


So here I am, heading home on flight 1748 and feeling rather, uh, queasy, sandwiched in the middle seat of an overbooked plane, elbows in my ribs from both sides, when the captain comes on to tell us that the flight will be delayed because of a "situation" in Philly. Our stay had ended just a handful of hours ago as all stays in Vegas should: At the Voodoo Lounge, 51 stories atop Rio, propelled by fiendish amounts of vodka amid total strangers who had every intention of getting to know at least one other stranger rather well before heading home. I distinctly remember my esteemed colleagues making endearing statements to the DJ's girlfriend on the rooftop bar while the world's most profanity-drenched girl band played inside.

My esteemed colleagues: Paul, Pete, Tom.

But I digress. Allied Pixel's annual road trip to Vegas is a chance to see what's new and cool in the integrated media production business. The NAB Show has actually become a bit of a misnomer in recent years. While sponsored by the National Association of Broadcasters, the tradeshow covers nearly every aspect of production and distribution in the media creation field. While it once was the exclusive domain of broadcast people, today it encompasses the broader universe of creative media folks. It's one of the largest tradeshows in the world and we had just two days to traverse it.

So we started out just where you'd expect us to, at the All-You-Can-Eat Breakfast Buffet at the MGM. I would have to say that the mini-waffles were quite good. From there we hit the show floor. Actually there are several show floors, spread out on two levels of two cavernous halls comprising the Las Vegas Convention Center. You could easily spend a week in each hall, so you need to be rather selective – while at the same time keeping an eye out for the unexpected upstart company that just may have The Next Big Thing.

One of the 1,500 exhibitors at NAB.

A few things stood out, not the least of which was 3D. It seems 3D mania is now in full swing, with many firms extolling the superiority of their stereoscopic imaging solutions. It was kind of funny to see people crowded around plasma displays, wearing those goofy 3D glasses, nodding their heads like they'd just seen The Coolest Thing Ever. In reality, 3D has not come that far since the drive-ins of the 50's. The exception was an experimental display previewed by Sony. And I do have to say, the depth effect on that thing was remarkable.

4K was also hot. You could not walk fifteen feet without tripping over a RED camera, the darling of the Budget Minded Digital Cinema Set. Arri and Vision Research unveiled wicked cool 4K cameras that made seasoned vets weak in the knees. (4K represents the number of pixels recorded horizontally in a frame. So a 4K image is 4,000 pixels wide by 2,250 pixels high. Doing the math, that comes out to nine million pixels per frame. The amount of data generated by these beasts is astronomical. The resulting IT workflow is still, in large part, in the realm of science experiments for now.) Gosh, it was only a few years ago that people were swooning over 2K.

Nifty gadgets for your camera.

Small cameras were hot too. Canon's new EOS 5D Mark II is a digital SLR that also happens to be capable of shooting real HD video (1920x1080, 30 FPS.) The sensor size is 24x36 mm, the same as old-school 35 mm cameras. So you can get that gorgeous shallow depth of field that's so filmic. Problem is, of course, that it has the form factor of a still camera – which doesn't lend itself to motion picture shooting. Zacuto and a few others seized on the opportunity and were showing rigs to transform the camera into a shoulder-mounted kind of thing.

Virtual set.

Adobe had a big presence at the show. They demonstrated the latest Creative Suite, including InDesign, Dreamweaver, Flash, Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, Premier, SoundBooth, et al. Chris Edwards of The Third Floor put on an engrossing talk, showing how he used CS4 tools to create some very snazzy visual effects for George Lucas at Skywalker Ranch. It makes you realize that you and I have access to the very same tools that The Biggest Names in the Business use. It just comes down to ideas and mastery. Just.

Right next to Adobe was Microsoft's hectare. It's interesting to note that Microsoft's presence was almost entirely devoted to Silverlight, their (sort of) recently unveiled Flash Killer. Microsoft obviously has a lot invested in the success of Silverlight, and it is leaving no stone unturned to make believers of us all. As you might expect, the IT geeks were hanging out at Microsoft while all the cool kids were at Adobe. It may well be true, though, that the geeks will inherit the earth.

A Learning Opportunity at NAB.

Eventually we had to stop for lunch and we sat down next to a guy who ran a TV station serving the Greek Islands. "Broadcasting is dead," he carped. "It has no future. We need to get into webcasting." And immediately the wheels started turning and I am envisioning the Greek Island Office of Allied Pixel, right on the beach on Ios...

And as for us? Well, we made deals for two shiny new baubles. We're getting a really cool webcast encoder from Kulabyte that will allow us stream HD video live from basically anywhere on the planet (including Ios.) And we're getting a next-generation XDCam F800 camera from Sony that records onto an optical disk instead of tape. Fun toys for sure; the boys can't wait to open them up.

Our Kulabyte friend explains how the thing works.

Attendance at the NAB Show was down this year; something like 80,000 versus 120,000 the year before. Like everything else, a victim of our hurting economy. It actually was a benefit for those who showed up, because we got more face time with the experts.

Vegas itself seems a little down on its heals these days. The whole place looked dingy. Walking down The Strip, the Mexican hustlers handing out call girl flyers seemed less enthusiastic than usual. Funny, the only place in Nevada where prostitution isn't legal is Las Vegas County. The first time I went to NAB, maybe 15 years ago, my buddy Steve and I rented a Jeep and drove through the desert to the Bunny Ranch. We just wanted to see the place. We got there and found a sad and lonely village of trailer homes behind chain link fences. Kind of ruined the image for me.

How you test cameras at NAB.

It's a merry go round, of course. Next year we'll go back to NAB and we'll see new stuff that makes this year's stuff look downright silly. That's the nature of the beast. So now my plane is landing (after circling over Salem, NJ for the past hour due to the "situation") and I haven't puked, which may be my proudest accomplishment of the trip. Good to be home.

Print Article Brought to you by: Bill Haley | President, Interactive of Allied Pixel