DV Expo West 2003: Technology Marches On
Posted Dec 23, 2003

"Whoever controls the pixels controls the production," said Scott Billups, author and SFX professional at this year's DV Expo West in Los Angeles. Clearly, Billups sees the almost overwhelming importance of digital production in filmmaking today. For Billups, film or video is one more acquisition method for the true artists: the computer jockeys who are now in the driver's seat.

The American Society of Cinematographers panel offered a contrasting view. The panel featured such luminaries as Laslo Kovacs of Easy Rider fame and Bob Primes whose credits include television's Quantum Leap. Primes said that the issue isn?t about technology--film vs. DV--it was about telling stories. "Movies are all about story-telling," he said, "and a successful film tells a powerful story." He emphasized that technological effects should really be invisible to the audience so they can enjoy the story. Kovacs, on the other hand, would appear to disagree with Scott Billups while supporting storytelling. "The cinematographer may have a better eye or ear for [telling] the story than the director," he said.

Ralph LaBarge's comprehensive workshop on DVD production explored the compromises necessary for content delivery to that medium today. Given that there is no global standard for television, content must be modified to perform well in each of the various systems worldwide. The content's aspect ratio--4:3 or 16:9--also requires a modification to deliver on DVD. Each of these modifications limits quality. The exhibit floor was slow the first day.

Although well-known DV aficionado Sinbad arrived early to view the wares, there didn't seem to be many others to join him. The second day, however, the floor boomed with energy. Serious Magic had just that at its booth. Their marvelous Ultra chromakey software attracted a great deal of attention from video editing prosumers and pros. For more general users, the Visual Communicator deserves the accolades it is getting, up to and possibly including "Product of the Year."

VC creates finished video presentation output from DV input?which may not sound much different from any NLE. The difference here is that VC also works with Webcam input and is script-based rather than timeline-based. Users insert, position, and edit video based on the audio text shown onscreen. This is a simple, yet a familiar approach to most professional presenters. Visual Communicator wins my "Most Coveted Product" award for this year's DV Expo, if for no other reason than I want a copy (and for several other reasons too).

Sony continued to promote their new Professional Optical Disc (POD) with several prototype POD cameras on display in their booth. POD is a high-density recordable DVD holding about 23GB on each disc (or about 85 minutes of DVCAM content). POD cameras would be shock-resistant and have fewer moving parts, hence appealing to newsgathering or location shoots. Almost as important as their aim for a purely optical production environment, Sony also announced their new and future studio equipment and camcorders will include Ethernet connections in addition to the more traditional composite video and other cable connectors. This is the first time a camcorder will include Ethernet, which is likely the trend for a universal connector. For this, Sony wins my "It Saves Me Time and Money" award by cutting out one more complex studio problem.

Hardware provider nNovia showed off the QuickCapture A2D, which they claim is the DV industry's first portable, Analog /Digital HDD-based video recorder. Similar to their earlier QuickCapture DVR device, the A2D now supports inputs from both DV and composite video cameras. The A2D wins the "Jack of All Trades" award besides my earlier "Just Got to Have It" Award at Comdex for the DVR version.

If you are serious about independent film production, you need to look at Movie-producer.net's CineTools budgeting and scheduling software. This combination seems unique among low-cost packages (CineTools retails for under $150) as other solutions come separately?budget or schedule. Movie-producer is not well known, but they certainly won me over with genuine enthusiasm for our market and its needs. I give them the "Soon to Be Number 1 as We Try Harder" award.

I was also impressed by the Khronos Group, which released the Software Developers Kit (SDK) for the proposed OpenML standard at the show. OpenML would be a great advance for studios as it would mean that video hardware and software could interoperate using the same language. In essence, this would bring us far closer to true plug-and-play. Now that there's an OpenML SDK, I expect next year's DV Expo to have quite a few products supporting it.

Finally, I have to mention the wonderful set of video storage hardware coming out from various vendors. In this month's feature, "RAID in the Digital Studio," we look at Medéa's RAID offerings. In addition, Enhance Technology, Infortrend, and Rocstor offer cost-competitive storage systems as well. I was impressed to see broad support for SATA, the new connector for hard drives, particularly Infortrend's. But I really like the editBox from Enhance, which strikes me as a great combination for desktop use.