NAB 2014: Affordable 4K cameras, boundary-pushing plug-ins & drone domination

NAB Show is an event by the National Association of Broadcasters that includes conference sessions and workshops as well as a chance to see the hottest new tech before it's released.

Artist, animator and author Angie Taylor reports back from her time at the NAB 2014 tradeshow in Las Vegas, where she uncovered the biggest trends and most exciting tech coming to the broadcasting industry.

NAB is a must-visit event for anyone working in the broadcast industry. So much more than just a trade show, it’s the biggest opportunity to attend excellent conference sessions, network with partners, develop new business prospects, see innovative products and technologies before they hit the streets, stay in the loop with industry trends and party like an animal (several times per night). A good friend of mine, industry expert Philip Hodgetts, said: “NAB is two days too long and four nights too short.” Las Vegas, in April, really is the place to be.

I delivered several sessions at this year’s Post Production World (one of the best conferences in my calendar) and while I was there I took time to check out what was making the news at NAB 2014. 4K continued to dominate the scene with a new batch of affordable cameras. Adobe pleased the crowd with great presentations of new features while rival companies and plug-in providers continue to push the boundaries with their fabulous offerings. Aerial footage is everywhere! I also saw some great gadgets flying around and spotted some brand new, innovative technologies that can really speed up creative workflows.

NAB 2014: Software galore

On the NAB 2014 trade show floor, Adobe showed its wares. I watched some great demos from Joost van der Hoeven, Karl Soule and Jason Levine.

My beloved After Effects continues to improve in updates that are expected to arrive in the "coming months". Effects can now be applied on a per mask basis, helping to simplify organisation in the Timeline. There’s also much improved effect masking & tracking in Adobe Premiere Pro. Masks can be imported from Premiere Pro via Dynamic Link to refine tracking or apply other adjustments in After Effects. Exciting new Live Text templates that can be created in After Effects can be adjusted and edited directly within Premiere Pro.

I was thrilled to get an exclusive one-to-one demo with After Effects product manager Todd Kopriva, showing After Effects' new Kuler integration. I was particularly interested to see this much-needed feature, designed to replace a clunky, old workflow for matching colours in logos or other branded items. Before this update, After Effects users had to create a document in Illustrator that contained colour swatches. This was then imported into After Effects as a reference to sample colours from.

Kuler now allows you to capture colours with your smartphone camera via the Kuler app, linking directly, via Creative Cloud, to the new Kuler panel in After Effects (above) and giving you access to captured colour themes. You can load colour themes from your own library as well as themes that other users have shared through Creative Cloud. Colour themes can also be created within the application based on tried and tested colour models. The colour swatches within each colour theme can be sampled and used on your motion graphic elements in After Effects.

Autodesk Smoke 2015 introduces a subscription model similar to Creative Cloud. Although some nice features have been added (notably 3D Camera tracking) some features appear to have been removed and added to the new product, Flame Assist. I’m concerned the company may confuse its potential customers. For example, there’s no Flame project compatibility with Smoke 2015, if you want that you need Flame Assist. I’m left wondering which product is right for me. In my opinion, Autodesk should worry less about giving away more features for a smaller price tag and concentrate on improving its existing systems, making them accessible to more people for a lower price. This will attract new users rather than confuse them.

NAB 2014: Plug-in power

RE:Vision Effects showed its new DE:Flicker™ plug-in product for Adobe After Effects. This smooths out annoying flicker and artifacts seen in high frame rate or time-lapse video. It deals well with flicker from artificial light sources but also fixes flicker on multiple objects, even when they flicker at different rates. This helps when shooting directly at light sources - elements can appear to “breathe” or change size when shot at higher frame rates. It also handles things that pop in and out of frame on time-lapse footage.

Digital Anarchy also showed its solution for video flickering, aptly named Flicker Free. It's incredibly effective at removing rolling flicker that occurs with LED lights, computer monitors or when there's electrical interference - something that often happens when shooting with an iPhone.

Digital Anarchy's Beauty Box Video version 3.0 plug-in was also on show at NAB 2014. It includes better masking, great preset styles to provide interesting looks and improved OpenCL support for faster performance.

Boris FX released it’s new BCC9 FX Browser. Looking eerily similar to GenArts Sapphire’s own preset browser, the Boris browser is fast and easy to use. You can compare presets from multiple effects and see your effect previewed on your own, moving footage. The highlight of the upgrade for me is the fun and flexible Grunge Filter, which can be used to create an array of different looks.

GenArts Sapphire 7 is one of the highest-quality effects suites out there. It’s now available for SGO’s powerful compositing package, Mamba FX. Sapphire’s reliable and fast GPU acceleration combined with Mamba’s own accelerated graphics enable really fast rendering times and dynamic, speedy previewing without sacrificing quality of it’s high dynamic range image processing.

Sadly GenArts has killed off the promising FX Central preset subscription program. If you are a member, make sure to download the thousands of free presets before they remove them in September 2014. Vivoom remains the cheapest way to apply GenArts presets to your videos via the app or Vimeo’s Enhancer.

Red Giant I’m sure will make a success of their subscription model with the release of Universe. It won the Best Plug-in of NAB 2014 by offering innovation and value to customers. It introduces a more collaborative, community approach to software creation, allowing users to help develop their own “Dream effects”. It also automatically takes care of updates, offering several subscription options including a lifetime option. I’m all for a more open approach to beta testing which this seems to embrace.

Rampant Design and That Studio have teamed up to promote and sell the amazing package for independent film-makers, Indie Essentials. Rampant Design have always created very high quality, original visual effects elements for motion graphic designers. Indie Essentials offers an amazing price at $399 for the entire Indie collection aimed squarely at independent film-makers. For a  special Digital Arts discount of 15% off, use the code PUNKROCKLIVES at checkout.

Watch out Adobe

The Blackmagic Design booth at NAB 2014 was huge and constantly swamped (as you can see above). Already world leader in colour correction, DaVinci Resolve 11, has added a solid set of editing features. These include must-haves like simple workflows for sub-clips and editing compound clips. This software is one to watch for Adobe.

NAB 2014: Camera power & 4K love

For gadget-lovers, Blackmagic Designalso showed its coveted cameras. The HD & Ultra HD Studio Camera blew me away with its tiny camera and huge monitor (below) - why did nobody think of that before? Brilliant! It provides shooters with discreet 4K shooting at under $3000 (around £1700)!

The HD Pocket Cinema camera is also super-impressive at under $1000 (around £600). However, my wishlist is still topped by Sony’s mirror-less, full-frame a7s 4K camera with its massive dynamic range. I like to shoot stills as well as video - everything from insects via macro to landscapes in wide-angle.

NAB 2014: They're watching you

Drones were everywhere at NAB, filming your every move! The DJI Phantom 2 and GoPro Hero 3 has to be the dream-combo for affordable and practical aerial shooting.

Every now and then I walk past a small, unassuming booth and do a double-take. This was the case with Bella Corporation when I chanced upon KillerKeys. This is a virtual on-screen keyboard that shows colour-coded shortcuts displayed on each key of the virtual keyboard. It provides complete wireless control over your computer and switches context-sensitively, showing shortcuts for the active application on a VR (Virtual Reality) Keyboard.

It also comes with a free iPad App. As well as featuring the same on-screen keyboard, the KillerKeys Express app also includes a trackpad with pinch-to-zoom control, application launcher, volume and zoom controls, as well as a multimedia widget with jog wheel.

Adobe, Avid, Autodesk, Maxon as well as all the other creative and utility apps you’re likely to use are among the applications supported by KillerKeys.

NAB 2014: The parties

In terms of parties, there were many. The Motion Media Ball returned for it’s 17th year. It is a community event produced each year by a dedicated team of volunteers. Run by the International Media Users Group (IMUG), it is a collection of digital production professionals from around the world. The MediaMotion Ball was created as a rare opportunity for everyone to get together in-person and meet face-to-face. I had a blast celebrating my 50th birthday party here with my best industry pals. It was then onto the Adobe party and beyond!

Next up on my wish list is the Motion Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Now where did I put my piggy bank…?

Photography Courtesy of Robb Cohen

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