I came to the show with two big questions: Is video ready for prime-time and not just the soaps? And two, where is all this content going?
As for the first question, the news is great. New camera technology, non-linear editing software, and various add-ons make it possible to approximate so closely the look-and-feel of film that the uninitiated asked "what film stock did you use" when they meet some of the producers. While chroma subsampling methods still remain a challenge for video, the current state of the art could satisfy the needs for many projects.
As for the second, distribution, the challenge remains. There were only three, count 'em, three companies with a focus on distribution at the show. Digital rights management and content protection was not the topic of any of the 60 or more breakout sessions and workshops. This, despite the groundswell of support for low-cost productions in DV, and all the tumult surrounding the soon-to-come DTV.
Douglas Trumbull, the Oscar-nominated special effects wizard behind 2001: A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, illustrated the content protection conundrum by accident in his keynote address. As he began his presentation, he expressed his regrets at not being able to show many sample video clips (and the ones he had were low-res). He couldn't figure out how to extract content from the encrypted DVDs he had brought along to show due to the copy protection. Ironically, he later denounced the rampant piracy of content and the need for strong measures from Hollywood to limit access, even though the misapplication of said measures had earlier tripped him up. However, today's rudimentary protection effectively prevented Trumbull from delivering his full "vision" for his talk.
What made this more ironic was that Trumbull came in advocating his GetSet virtual set technology as a vital step forward in reducing production costs. With GetSet, entire productions could be made without ever constructing a traditional set. Everything would be created digitally, then matted together with GetSet software. What makes this remarkable is that it is done in real-time, not in post-production. Also, GetSet allows a wide range of camera motion, unlike traditional compositing which limits shots almost to two dimensions only. With GetSet, cameras can maneuver in almost 360 degrees around and through the actors.
This means that directors can more closely realize their "visions" than ever before, but without the enormous cost of physical sets.
But enough with the preliminaries. Let's move on to what I saw and what it showed me:
The Into the Groove award goes to Verbatim for their new Digital Vinyl CD-R media. The discs—which seem to be quite popular around here—replicate the appearance of a 45RPM record down to the grooves. Wow.
The Sign of Things to Come award goes to nNovia. Although not exhibiting directly, their Stream Storage Processor Technology was at the Laird Telemedia booth. Laird's Capdiv direct DV recorder includes nNovia's SSP-100 streaming processor. In effect, the Capdiv is a FireWire hard drive for your video camera. It eliminates the capture process entirely. Double wow! (DataVideo also displayed a similar unit, the DV Bank.)
The Mini Where Your Mouth Is award goes to Canon. The combination of Canon's XL1 DV camera and the ZGC Mini35 digital adapter proved that it did indeed deliver on its promise of film-quality video. (The Mini35 allows the XL1 to use standard 35mm film lens on the XL1.) Sample videos shown were clearly impressive. The "Destination Mars" show is delightful!
The Store and Forward award goes to Medéa, which featured its low-cost disk arrays for digital content developers. Medéa, unlike other vendors, has tweaked their units to provide a more optimal stream.
Best-Bang-for-the-Buck award goes to Sony, with its upcoming Rough Cut storage bundle. Due in April, Rough Cut includes Sony's AIT-2 drive, 9 tapes, and Mezzo's project backup software. (This is strictly a data backup solution for works in progress—not a videotape device.) All this for about half the cost of the pieces separately.
On the network side, three companies vied for the Best Connected award. Real offers to partner with content developers to create "channels" for them on Real's premium RealOne SuperPass service. This at no up-front cost to the content creator. Real acknowledges that this might create a surge of demand, but they said they'd rather have that problem than not. PlayStream offers to host content (either live or on-demand.) This too with no setup fees and monthly rates running about $100/9GB of monthly bandwidth with both lesser and greater service available.
Finally, the Do-it-Now! Award goes to CustomFlix. They offered a complete kit for online sales of DVD content—even a mailer to send in your DVD master. CustomFlix then acts as your complete fulfillment house: providing an online storefront (which your site automatically links to), order processing, producing DVDs as sales demand, and shipping units to customers. The only aspect they don't handle is promotion. All this for $9.95 (and a small percentage—about 5%) per disc sold. This is a great solution for those selling 500-1,000 copies of each title. In fact, I am dusting off some old tapes of very different times for transfer now. Anyone want to see COMDEX 1989 on DVD?