Digital Production Buzz
May 29, 2014
[Transcripts provided by Take 1 Transcription]
Terry Curren, Founder/President, Alpha Dogs Inc
David Foley, Sr. Technologist & Founder, NanoTech
Andy Shipsides, Director of Education, AbelCine
Voiceover: The Digital Production Buzz is brought to you by Blackmagic Design, creators of the world’s highest quality solutions for the feature film, post production and television broadcast industries; and by TOLISGroup, the BRU guys, pioneering the development and support of ultra-reliable data backup, archival and restore solutions for nearly 30 years.
Voiceover: Live from Ralph’s Maytag Museum and Podcast Studio in beautiful downtown Burbank, it’s the Digital Production Buzz.
Voiceover: Production, post production, distribution.
Voiceover: What’s really happening now and in your digital future?
Voiceover: The Buzz is live now.
Larry Jordan: And welcome to The Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for creative content producers covering media production, post production, marketing and distribution around the world. My name is Larry Jordan and joining us is our co-host, the ever cosmopolitan Mr. Mike Horton.
Mike Horton: I am the traveling man.
Larry Jordan: Nobody is more…
Mike Horton: Hey, you’re going to be traveling, right?
Larry Jordan: I am, I’m going to London the week after next.
Mike Horton: Oh man, you always get to go to the cool places. Nobody ever invites me to those places.
Larry Jordan: I generally go to Anchorage in February, I go to Arizona in August. I think it makes perfect sense to me.
Mike Horton: Yes, well, you can always come to Chatsworth, to my house.
Larry Jordan: Yes, but that’s too hot. We’ve got a great group of hot guests tonight, he said, blending this beautifully. We’re going to start with Terry Curren. He’s the Founder and President of LA-based Alpha Dogs and hosts the regular Editor’s Lounge. Recently, we heard Terry grumbling about 4K hype and couldn’t resist bringing him on…
Mike Horton: Yes, I’ve already heard Terry talk about 4K over the years, over and over and over.
Larry Jordan: I don’t think he’s a fan, I think.
Mike Horton: I don’t think he is.
Larry Jordan: No. I’m really curious to hear what he has to say.
Mike Horton: But I think he did coin the term, and he’ll probably use it during the conversation, “4K’s fine for acquisition and not so fine for distribution.”
Larry Jordan: Yes, well, see, that’s interesting because our second guest is…
Mike Horton: I know.
Larry Jordan: …is David Foley. He’s the Senior Technologist and Co-Founder of NanoTech Entertainment and what NanoTech is doing is they have found a way to provide thousands of 4K video products direct to consumers via the internet and he is in direct, I’m not going to say opposition, but he definitely disagrees with Terry’s point of view that you can’t distribute 4K images, and we want to compare and contrast between Terry and David.
Larry Jordan: Then we’re going to wrap up with Andy Shipsides. He’s the Director of Education at AbelCine, which is a sales, rental and education house also in LA. Andy teaches camera classes there and Panasonic has just released some brand new Varicam cameras and we want to get Andy’s point of view on what market the Varicam fits and why we should consider those cameras and spend a bit of time talking about high end video cameras, as opposed to some of the more entry level types.
Larry Jordan: Anyway, it’s going to be a great discussion between Terry and David and Andy; and thinking of great discussions, Michael, what are you up to these days?
Mike Horton: I’m recovering from last night; and by the way, thank you for coming out last night and being a guru at the LAFCPUG meeting. It was a good show.
Larry Jordan: How can you not enjoy going to one of those LAFCPUG meetings?
Mike Horton: It was a lot of fun.
Larry Jordan: We had a good crowd.
Mike Horton: We had the world premiere of Fitness in Post, which is something that Zack Arnold has started, and it’ll keep us all fit and healthy because we’re sitting 14, 15 hours a day. I think you sit 20 hours a day and then sleep four hours a day and then get up and sit some more, so you’d benefit from this program big time. So will I. As you can see, my stomach would say, as I need to get rid of it.
Larry Jordan: It was a great, great time and I enjoyed chatting with everybody and answering their questions. Are you going to take a hiatus for the summer?
Mike Horton: No. I should, but I don’t.
Larry Jordan: Well, I’m going to join you again during the summer.
Mike Horton: No, I’m working on Amsterdam Supermeet.
Larry Jordan: Between the two user groups, that’ll keep you busy.
Larry Jordan: Just a reminder, we’re offering text transcripts for each show, courtesy of Take 1 Transcription. Now you can quickly scan or print the contents of each show, as well as listen to it. Transcripts are located on each show page. Learn more at take1.tv and thanks, Take 1, for making the transcripts possible.
Larry Jordan: Remember to visit us on The Buzz at Facebook, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. We’re on Twitter, @dpbuzz. Subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com. We’ll be back with Terry Curren, Founder of Alpha Dogs, right after this.
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Larry Jordan: Terry Curren is the Founder and President of Alpha Dogs, which is a boutique post production facility that he himself founded in 2002 in Los Angeles. Terry’s also the host of the Editor’s Lounge and, Terry, welcome. Good to have you with us.
Terry Curren: Hey. How’s it going, Larry?
Larry Jordan: Well, we are talking to you and Mike is just a quivering bundle of excitement at this moment.
Mike Horton: Hi Terry.
Terry Curren: Yes, I heard the set-up there, Michael. So you’ve heard me talk about 4K too much, huh?
Mike Horton: I’ve heard you talk about 4K for the last two, three years when the 4K was a buzz term. When it was an early buzz term you were talking about it. What the hell?
Larry Jordan: Terry, let’s just set a background for you for people who haven’t heard of Alpha Dogs and haven’t heard of Editors’ Lounge. The last time you were on The Buzz was in January of 2013, so give us a quick description of what Alpha Dogs is and the kind of stuff you work on.
Terry Curren: Ok. Alpha Dogs is a middle sized post house in Burbank and we’re primarily a finishing house – that’s where most of our focus is – but we also have offline bays for rent etcetera, we do graphics, audio mixing and color correction. We started with the focus on the talent as opposed to on the gear, which was a big difference back when we started and it’s served us well – people come to us for the personal service they get.
Terry Curren: Editors’ Lounge, on the other hand, is something that also started back in 2003. Now that I had a place, I wanted to have a meeting for editors that wasn’t specific to any platform, more just about the general art form and it’s kind of a place to hang out and shoot the crap mostly. It’s kind of developed into a much bigger thing, but the manufacturers seem to like coming and doing demos, even though we abuse them, because they do get honest feedback, and then we also get editors who come and talk about the craft and we’ve placed a lot of videos of the better events up on the Editors’ Lounge site. So there you go.
Larry Jordan: Ok, so in other words you’ve got your hands up to your elbows dirty and working with all this post production format stuff.
Terry Curren: Yes.
Larry Jordan: One of the things that I really enjoy about your Editors’ Lounge events is that you’re never shy about sharing your opinion and you’ve been grumbling about 4K video for a while, so give us a background. What’s your perspective on 4K?
Terry Curren: Well, first you have to ask why – is it because it’s going to give a better experience to the home viewer? There are multiple studies, there are calculators you can find online etcetera that show, where you take your viewing distance and your eyesight, say 20/20, and the size of your screen and they show whether you’ll notice a difference between 1080 and 4K, and basically if you’ve got a 65 inch TV, which is what I have in my living room, I have to sit five feet or closer to see a difference, and that’s pretty darn close to a 65 inch TV.
Terry Curren: The problem is that the human eye has a finite ability to resolve. There is a point where it can no longer resolve detail and anything past that, we’re just wasting time. I get that Sony’s worried and they haven’t been selling enough TVs because the Koreans and the Chinese now really have put a hurt on them, but that doesn’t mean that we should try to sell something to the consumers – who just bought HD TVs – that is not going to give them a better experience.
Terry Curren: I can guarantee you that my parents will never been able to see the difference between HD and 4K on a monitor at home.
Larry Jordan: Ok, let me just interrupt because I did some research on this prior to this show.
Terry Curren: Uh-oh.
Larry Jordan: No, no, it’s all right. Panavision did a study and said that when you’re in a theater, a digitally projected image which is on, say, a 40 foot screen, the optimal distance of watching a 2K picture in a digitally projected theater is one and a half to two times the screen height, so if the screen height is, say, 20 feet high, you want to sit between 30 and 40 feet back from the screen to be able to get the optimal viewing of a 2K image.
Larry Jordan: Continuing the same research, they said in order for you to be able to see the difference in pixels of a 4K image, you’d need to set not one and a half to two times the screen height away, but somewhere between six to ten feet away from the screen to be able to see the additional resolution that 4K provides.
Terry Curren: May I rest my case?
Larry Jordan: Well, except, Terry, I think that there’s a couple of different issues here. We’ve got high resolution for acquisition, we’ve got high resolution for editing and we’ve got high resolution for distribution. Are you saying that we should not even shoot high resolution because we can’t distribute it?
Terry Curren: Well, you’re right, there are three different parts. Shooting high resolution, it depends on what you’re going to do with it. Is there a point in shooting two million K? Probably not unless you plan to push in 10,000 times. I know people who are using 4K cameras to shoot two person interviews. That gives them the master shot and two close-ups with one take, which saves a lot of time and effort, but their final product is HD. There are other people who will argue, like Adam Wills, that if you take a highly compressed 4K, so something that comes down to 420, like one of the Sony cameras, and you down sample that to a 1080 signal, then all of a sudden you have 444, so you actually have a better signal by down sampling after you’ve captured at a higher resolution, so there’s certainly an argument for that also. But when you’re talking about distribution, right now I have a really good looking image that I create in my color correction bay at 1080 and it’s ten bit and it’s 444 color correction. You know what it looks like when you get home?
Larry Jordan: What does it look like?
Terry Curren: Nothing like what I started with. Now you’ve got to go four times that amount of data down to the house. Are they going to increase the pipes that much? We can’t even get a decent 1080 signal into the home now. Why are we going to all of a sudden have four times? They’ll argue yes, but the H.265 codec is more efficient. Ok, well, then let’s use that now with 1080 if it’s so much more efficient and try to get 444 ten or 12 bit down to the house.
Larry Jordan: I’m willing to accept, until we talk to our next guest, because David, I think, is going to disagree with you, but I’m willing to accept that we have severe limitations in distributing 4K images. Broadcast right now can’t handle it. Most digital theaters are showing 2K pictures except for Sony, Sony theaters are 4K, and we have problems with 4K on cable.
Mike Horton: And net neutrality’s going to kill it anyway.
Terry Curren: That’s right. There is that too. Well, I don’t know, did you see the Dolby HDR monitor at NAB?
Mike Horton: No. I heard a lot about it but I did not see it.
Terry Curren: Oh my God, it’s amazing. They’re doing high dynamic range. They did a lot of research, because the human eye is far more sensitive to contrast difference than it is to resolution, so they wanted to find out where the sweet spot is. Right now, reference monitors are set up for 100 NIT being the white point, the unit of measurement, so 100 NIT is the white point. You go down to zero, you’re black, or a little bit higher than zero because they don’t do perfect black on most monitors, but that’s the range.
Terry Curren: So what they did is they wanted to see how high they could go that people would still watch it and be able to perceive the difference and then also where the sweet spot would be, so they actually used a full blown projector and rear projected it down onto a small screen and had people watch various images and what they determined was that the human eye can perceive the contrast all the way up to 20,000 NITs and the sweet spot that they found, that most people were happy with, is your white point. Your brightest part in the picture was at 10,000 NIT, ok? Now we’re at 100 NITs. So their monitor now is capable of doing 4,000 NITs and when they show you a scene from a movie and you see the 1080 beautiful scene on a nice monitor and then right next to it is the exact same scene on the HDR monitor and it just really pops. That’s the kind of thing where my parents would walk in and go, “Oh, I like that one on the right,” you know, the HDR monitor, because everything pops. When you have the higher dynamic range, you’ve got more room for information and separation of detail, which increases contrast, which is what people perceive as sharpness. When you expand that range, it also allows more room for chroma, so the colors pop more etcetera. It’s really impressive. I strongly encourage everybody to see it.
Mike Horton: Yes, but how much is it? It’s like a gazillion dollars or something, right?
Terry Curren: No, no, no. Actually, they’re trying to license this.
Mike Horton: Oh, ok.
Terry Curren: If you go and look at all the electronics that feed your television at home, there’s licensed Dolby stuff in all of it. That’s what they want to do. They’re going to make a reference monitor, right now they have prototype ones around town that people are using to color correct and to have material available, but what I was told is they’re looking at about $8,000 for the reference monitor, which is reasonable for our universe. But what they’ve done is license the technology to a bunch of television companies, VIZIO being one of them. VIZIO is including it in their home high end monitor, whatever they call it, but VIZIO are the cheap guys, and I guess they were showing it at CES this year. So you go buy a VIZIO TV and it has an HDR mode in it. Any material that comes over the net that’s HDR is going to really pop.
Larry Jordan: Terry, I had a chance to visit the Dolby labs here in Burbank and they gave me a technical demo of that and you’re absolutely right.
Mike Horton: Did you understand it?
Larry Jordan: Yes.
Mike Horton: I wouldn’t.
Larry Jordan: They were talking codecs, Mike, you’d have loved it. But you’re absolutely right. The HDR – I think it’s high definition…
Mike Horton: High dynamic range.
Larry Jordan: …high dynamic range, the HDR image just sort of glowed off the screen and you got a sense of contrast in a sky that you would never see normally; and you’re also right in that they want to essentially license their technology the same way that you throw a Dolby switch on an old tape deck or a Dolby switch now, it is noise reduction circuitry for our audio that we take for granted. It would be the same thing, it gives us access to all of this additional visual information invisibly – you just turn on your TV set and it senses whether it’s there or not.
Terry Curren: Exactly.
Larry Jordan: And you are right, they were working with low resolution standard 1080P or 2K images, they weren’t working with real high resolution images.
Terry Curren: Yes, once again the human eye is capable of perceiving the contrast difference far greater than the detail or the resolution difference.
Larry Jordan: But you are leaving unsaid one gigantic question mark about 4K. It sounds like you’re accepting that high resolution for acquisition makes sense in some situations and you are casting aspersions on distribution of high resolution, but you are carefully skirting the whole issue of editing high resolution. How come?
Terry Curren: Well, you’re talking about four times the data rate, right? So you’re talking about four times as much storage, four times as much bandwidth, four times as much processing power on your CPUs and GPUs, four times as much rendering time. Just multiply everything by four, and the joke is you’re not getting four times the resolution in reality because if you look at a horizontal line, you’re actually only getting twice the resolution; or if you look at it vertically, you’re only getting twice the resolution, so we’re taking four times the data and we’re having to process that and what tools do we use right now? Do you want a reference monitor? Ok, you got $35,000? No problem. You want to actually view that on an external scope so you can do decent color correction? Oh, those don’t exist yet. These kinds of things are big issues on a workflow that we just don’t have yet and if you were forced to do that and you go buy this extremely high end equipment to do it, do you think the producers are going to come in and say, “Oh, you know what? I’ll be happy to pay you three or four times as much to finish our 4K show”? No.
Mike Horton: Is there any reason at all to edit in 4K? Is there any reason?
Terry Curren: You could argue for future protection, maybe, but…
Mike Horton: Well, I mean, why can’t you do proxies? Why don’t you edit proxies like everybody else does?
Terry Curren: Yes, ok, but at what point do you make the 4K file?
Mike Horton: At the end.
Terry Curren: I’d look at this more from the finishing end.
Mike Horton: When you’re done, yes. Well, that’s true, you’re at the finishing end.
Terry Curren: Right. I mean, you can offline anything, you could be offlining 8K proxies or 2,000K proxies or whatever, but at some point in time you’re talking about making a 4K master. That process has to be done and the tools are just not really there to do that elegantly or economically at this point in time, but people don’t talk about that. They just talk about, “Hey, we need to sell more TVs,” which I think is short sighted because, I’ve got to tell you, I just replaced my parents’ 35 inch standard def television about three months ago with a HD flat screen 55 inch TV. They’re happy as can be. There’s no way they’re going to go, “Oh, let’s throw this away because I heard there’s this 4K thing out there,” when they can’t even see the difference.
Larry Jordan: There are a couple of issues here. Issue number one is we would never have moved to HD from standard def if we all waited for people to have an HD television set in their home, because nobody would have bought the television set because there was no HD programming. Is this a chicken and egg syndrome?
Terry Curren: Well, we certainly did that with HD. The Japanese were broadcasting it in the early ‘80s and when did we get it? 2005, 2006? And if you look at one of the survey companies, maybe Nielsen, they came out with an article where they show the amount of people, even if they have HD televisions, that are watching SD up converted. It’s something like 65 or 70 percent. It’s crazy. So currently, that’s what people are doing – watching SD, even if they have an HD TV. I mean, you see it, you go into a bar or something and they’ve got four by three material up there on the 16 by nine set and it’s stretched out and things like that.
Larry Jordan: Well, I still know that there’s a lot of satellite programming that’s done in standard def because they just don’t have the bandwidth to support HD, so some of it is you’re watching SD because you don’t have any options, because you want to be able to get the content and the content doesn’t deserve a large enough audience to have the bandwidth for HD. But does that mean that we should turn our back on 4K?
Terry Curren: Well, let’s reverse engineer this and look at it from a different point. Let’s find out what the maximum amount of detail the human eye can perceive is, let’s find that number, if it’s 2K, if it’s 4K, if it’s 286,000K, whatever it is, let’s find that number. That’s our target. Let’s stop farting around and just do that. Anything beyond that, we’re wasting money and time and effort and bandwidth and anything below that, you could say, “Well, we have something to aspire to,” but this game that we’re experiencing now from the television manufacturers is similar to what Apple did to phones. It used to be you bought one, maybe two phones in your entire life. That’s what you had in your house. They never died, they never went bad, you never had to replace them. It’s just a phone. Apple changed that market. Now you replace your phone every two years. The TV guys are trying to do the same thing. It was buy your HD TV back in 2005, 2006, somewhere in there, and then they’re going, two years later, “Buy a 3D TV,” and now, two years later, it’s “Oh, you’ve got to buy a 4K TV,” and then two years from now it’s going to be, “Oh, no, you’ve got to buy an 8K TV,” you know? Ok, that’s a cute game but that’s not how people buy televisions in the real world. They still look at it like an appliance, like a washing machine or a refrigerator. You’re not going to be swapping them out every couple of years. There’s my rant.
Larry Jordan: So I’m sensing a little bit of skepticism, Terry, just a little bit of negative feedback.
Mike Horton: Yes.
Terry Curren: Yes, I was a 3D skeptic too and I had plenty of people telling me I was wrong this time.
Mike Horton: I was wondering how Terry felt about when HD TVs came out first.
Terry Curren: Oh, well, I was praying for the HD from back in the early ‘80s, when the Japanese had them, like, “Come on, guys, get it over here. Let’s get it going,” you know? But that was a different thing because you can see the difference.
Larry Jordan: You’re not a complete Luddite, in other words.
Terry Curren: No, no, I’m not a Luddite at all. I’m just a realist. Personally, I love film, I wish film was still the same. I hate to see film go but if it is going, I’ve got to admit, the ARRI Alexa is a pretty good replacement.
Larry Jordan: Well, thinking about that, we’re going to be talking not ARRI Alexa, but we’re going to talk about a competitor to the ARRI, which is the new Panasonic Varicams coming up a little bit later in today’s show.
Larry Jordan: Terry, for people who want to keep track of the latest rants that are going on with you and Editors’ Lounge, where can they go on the web?
Terry Curren: Editorslounge.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s editorslounge.com.
Terry Curren: Editorslounge.com, yes.
Mike Horton: That is tomorrow night, by the way, here in Los Angeles.
Terry Curren: Yes, yes. Yes, we have one tomorrow night with Adobe coming down, and then also Philip…
Mike Horton: Yes, Philip Hodgetts and Lumberjack, right?
Terry Curren: Exactly, and Philip and I also do a podcast called the Terence and Philip Show.
Mike Horton: It’s called the Rant of the 4K.
Larry Jordan: Terry, for people who feel they just have to throw money in your direction, how can they get hold of Alpha Dogs?
Terry Curren: Alphadogs.tv.
Larry Jordan: That’s alphadogs.tv. Terry Curren is the Founder and President and if you want to keep track of the latest rants from people who have a clue about what’s going on, check out editorslounge.com. Terry Curren is the Founder and President of Alpha Dogs. Terry, thanks so much for joining us. It is always wonderful hearing your opinion.
Mike Horton: Thanks Terry.
Terry Curren: Thanks a lot, Larry. Thanks, Michael.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
Terry Curren: Bye, bye.
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Larry Jordan: David Foley is a Co-Founder of NanoTech Entertainment, which is based in San Jose and focused on entertainment and communications products. He’s an award winning IPTV and gaming designer and development professional with over 20 years of experience in the industry. Hello, David.
David Foley: Hi, how are you?
Larry Jordan: Well, we are consumed with curiosity. We just had a segment talking with Terry Curren and Terry was saying that 4K may not necessarily be evil, but it may be premature and we can’t deliver it to the home and nobody is interested and just give up the whole idea.
David Foley: Yes, I heard Terry and I don’t disagree with some of the things he said, but certainly I do disagree with some of them as well.
Larry Jordan: Which is why we decided to put you on after him, to let him sort of soften the ground and you get to come in and explain what’s going on. Tell us first what NanoTech Entertainment does.
David Foley: We build a variety of hardware and software products and also deliver content over the top on a variety of devices.
Larry Jordan: Now, what does over the top mean?
David Foley: Over the top essentially means that, instead of using traditional broadcast methods, you’re delivering the signal to your television using the internet.
Larry Jordan: So when we see the phrase OTT, that stands for over the top and it means video delivery via the internet?
David Foley: Yes, so if you have, say, a Smart TV and you’re watching Netflix or Hulu, you’re getting it over the top as opposed to coming down through your direct TV or your cable box.
Larry Jordan: Wouldn’t it have just been easier to say ‘via the web’?
Mike Horton: Yes.
David Foley: Well, you know, that doesn’t make a nice acronym, right?
Mike Horton: So an Apple TV, a Roku box, those things, are those over the top devices?
David Foley: Correct.
Mike Horton: Ok.
Larry Jordan: Ok, so why did you decide to co-found NanoTech?
David Foley: Well, we actually started building out of home entertainment products, a digital pinball machine was our first product, and then a couple of years ago, as we saw the Roku start to get traction, we really felt like there was going to be a paradigm shift in viewing habits, moving away from what had been built up as the viewing method where people would have a DVR, store the show then go and watch it at their leisure. It’s now become, ‘I don’t want to wait for it to come by and have to record it and then watch it. I want to just go online right now and I want to watch three episodes in a row of something’ and so we felt like that was a really good shift in how people were going to be watching television and so we started investing in building the technology to create channels for devices like the Roku.
Larry Jordan: Ok. Well, we just heard Terry Curren explain that there are three phases to high resolution video – there’s the acquisition, which is what the camera acquires, which you’re not involved with; there’s the editing, which Terry is deeply involved with; and then there’s distribution of the final content to the home or the broadcast, which you are deeply involved with. Terry is saying that high resolution video, however you decide to define that, doesn’t really have a role yet in distribution. Would you agree or disagree?
David Foley: Well, I disagree and I disagree from two points. One is he was saying that the human eye can’t differentiate it, but what we’ve seen and the stuff that we’ve worked on says that the average consumer is looking at a 50 to 65 inch display in a room where they’re six to ten feet away and you can differentiate between HD, 4K and 8K in that viewing zone, if you will.
Larry Jordan: With a screen that’s about how big, did you say?
David Foley: 50 to 65 inch.
Larry Jordan: Ok, so then we established that NanoTech got started with digital pinball and you decided to shift into a home delivery of video, for lack of a better phrase. What specific products are you releasing and what format are you releasing them in?
David Foley: Our current wave of products is twofold. One is that we’re building a set top box that is the first set top box that delivers 4K, like a Roku box delivers HD, but it actually delivers 4K using the same kind of internet connection and we can deliver that with a very good resolution in 4K with a network connection that’s as low as ten megabits.
Larry Jordan: Ten megabits for a 4K image?
David Foley: That’s correct.
Larry Jordan: And you’re not throwing away so many pixels due to compression that you’re back to a 2K quality?
David Foley: No, absolutely not.
Mike Horton: And people in that six to ten foot zone can really tell the difference? Is there any scientific basis for this, or is this just the gut that says, “Yes, I can see the difference. This is awesome”?
David Foley: Well, there’s scientific basis. We’ve also done a number of taste tests and we’ve actually deployed with a bunch of our OEM customers and we’ve also shown it at major trade shows and we’ve done side by side displays where we’ve done 1080P and a 2160P or a 4K display side by side and let people decide for themselves. We’ve also done a lot of work on the compression front, where at our booth at CES we had the same streams running at six megabits, ten megabits and 20 megabits to let people see the difference in quality when you go down as low as six megabits when delivering 4K.
Mike Horton: Is this some super secret sauce you’ve got going here in the compression? Or is this something that we all know about?
David Foley: No, it’s a combination of using what’s out there for codecs and then doing some post processing. There are a bunch of companies that do optimization for compression. If you look at companies like Beemer, they take your 1080P compressed image and they’ll deliver it to you and 30 or 40 percent better bandwidth usage, and there are plenty of post processes you can use to do that. We’ve stumbled across a combination of things, if you will, that allow us to deliver it using standard codecs.
Larry Jordan: Now, is this a shipping product or is this something that’s still in the labs?
David Foley: The product has been out to our OEM customers and we’re about to release a version for our consumer customers where we’re actually updating to the latest operating system with Android 4.4.
Larry Jordan: And what’s involved in getting the box and is it affordable by mere mortals?
David Foley: It is. It’s actually a retail price of 299 and will be in retail stores this summer and you’ll also be able to buy it off the web in Amazon and places like that.
Larry Jordan: Now, that’s 299 and how much for the service itself?
David Foley: Our service comes with the box or we’re also building out versions of our channel – our channel’s called Ultraflix and that’s the 4K dedicated channel – and it has a combination of about 100 hours of free 4K content and then we have about 200 hours of video on demand content and that varies on what it is. We have a bunch of movies that you can rent that are as low as $1.99 for a rental period, all the way up to more current releases that are $12 to $15; and in the fall we’ll actually be releasing a digital locker version, where you can actually buy the content and store it online and stream it as many times as you like.
Larry Jordan: What do we need for monitors or television sets to be able to watch this?
David Foley: Well, that was the big surprise two years ago when we were at CES. You saw a few people with 4K televisions, and then last year it was just a tidal wave and there are not only the big players, the Sonys, Samsungs, LGs and VIZIOs that all have 4K product and are actually starting to gear up for second generation 4K product, but you also have a wave of very low cost panels coming in that use decent glass, and so if you have a good 4K image, like off of our Nuvola box, you can get a very low cost display. There are companies like Seiki and TCL and Hisense that have a 65 inch 4K television that’s under $1700.
Mike Horton: I’ve actually seen those.
Larry Jordan: Wow.
Mike Horton: They’re actually impressive, but that’s me. I see double vision, so…
Larry Jordan: If I don’t have a 4K monitor, can I use your service, even if I’ve got, say, a standard high def set or a 2K set?
David Foley: No. Well, you could use it but you’re certainly not going to get any benefit out of it because it’s all 4K content.
Larry Jordan: Ok, so I guess what I’m asking is, so there’d be no benefit for me to get your service if I don’t also have a 4K set?
David Foley: That’s correct.
Larry Jordan: There’s a ton of interesting stuff going on. It sounds like you’re optimistic about the future growth for 4K.
David Foley: Well, we are and we’re just basically looking at the market and looking at what’s already out there and companies like Sony have already shipped over half a million 4K sets. We’re looking at the numbers combined between the low end sets, where we have our device plugged into the TV, and the high end sets, where our channel will actually just be embedded right in the television. We’re going to be deployed on over a million units this year.
Larry Jordan: Hang on, Mike and I were looking at the online chat for a question. Mike, you had a question?
Mike Horton: No, I do, but again I’m the stupid one here, so I’m going to ask a stupid question. When we’re talking about pumping all this stuff through that box here, is the net neutrality ruling here going to hurt you if you become as big as Netflix? Are they going to hit you with a big price increase?
David Foley: Well, it’s interesting because the net neutrality thing is really, in my opinion, a red herring for the FCC to take control of the internet.
Mike Horton: Yes, that’s what we hope, or hope not.
David Foley: Yes, I hope not, for sure. But I think that if you look at it from a business perspective, sure, we should pay a little bit more than an email service or a web service because we are using a lot more bandwidth, but I think that just needs to be factored into your business model.
Larry Jordan: David, for people who want to learn more about the products that you offer or if they want to sign up to get this box when it ships, where do they go on the web?
David Foley: Www.ntek.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s ntek.com. David Foley is a Co-Founder of NanoTech Entertainment. David, thanks for joining us today.
Mike Horton: Yes, David, you should come to Los Angeles tomorrow for the Editors’ Lounge and sit down with Terry Curren. It would be an awesome panel.
David Foley: Well, you know, I can’t make it tomorrow, but I’d be happy to come down when I have a little bit of a chance to set up a schedule.
Mike Horton: It would be so much fun.
Larry Jordan: I’d pay to watch that. David, thanks for joining us.
David Foley: All right, thank you so much.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Andy Shipsides is the Director of Education at AbelCine and still teaches camera classes his very self in the training department, as well as serving as their technical editor for their blog. He joins us with an update on the new Varicams from Panasonic. Hello, Andy.
Andy Shipsides: Hi Larry, how’s it going?
Larry Jordan: We are having a great time talking about 4K and that gets us into shooting 4K and that gets us into the sort of stuff that you’re talking about, which is cameras, and we are really looking forward to chatting with you. But let’s just set a scene real quick for people who haven’t heard of AbelCine. What do you guys do?
Andy Shipsides: We’re a camera sales company. We sell high end cameras and all accoutrement. We’re also a rental company of high end professional video cameras. We do training classes on those products and we also service them and fix them, so kind of a full service camera house, so to speak.
Larry Jordan: You guys started as a repair facility, then you moved into rental and sales. Where does education fit into this?
Andy Shipsides: Well, exactly, we started off as an Aaton repair house. We picked the Aaton film cameras and kind of evolved into these different things and education’s a natural outgrowth as the business changed. We started off selling pretty expensive cameras, broadcast cameras… a couple of years back now, only a couple of years back really, and the business of that, and you sell a couple of them and you’re doing pretty well. Now, cameras have got cheaper and we used to just do one on one training and we thought, “You know what? We’re selling a lot more cameras these days…” and we wanted to keep that same level of service to our customers and we wanted to educate them, so that kind of evolved into a whole training program outside of that one on one model that we had before. It still happens, of course, but it’s a necessity of our business and we wanted to have the wider reach that comes with these new cameras, but we wanted to just give our customers the sort of service they were expecting from us.
Larry Jordan: There are so many cameras at so many different price points, how should we decide what camera to buy? What decision criteria should we make?
Andy Shipsides: You’re exactly right, there are so many tools out there now and education’s an outgrowth of that, so that’s why we always educate our customers, because there are so many tools out there it’s hard to make that decision nowadays. We always say horses for courses, no one tool fits the job, it’s all unique but I think we have to look at criteria like sensor size, obviously there are a lot of big sensor cameras out there that give a certain kind of look. Dynamic range is a big one, it’s often overlooked in terms of the specs of a camera, but recently it’s gotten more attention with cameras like the Alexa having 14 stops of range, so it’s an important factor and, in fact, one that really defines the image a lot. And then, of course, there’s the whole resolution thing, it’s important. 4K obviously is a lot of discussion for today, and then beyond that it’s sort of features like usability. Usability is huge. People will accept a camera that kind of works for some applications, but you really need to be able to use this thing in a lot of scenarios. It’s a tool and if it only works for you in a few scenarios for your production, then you’re kind of limited.
Larry Jordan: Well, that’s where Panasonic comes in. Panasonic has had both consumer grade cameras and professional grade cameras and the high end of the Panasonic line is the Varicam, and I know that AbelCine caters to the high end of the market as opposed to people buying for $1.98, but what makes the new Varicams impressive?
Andy Shipsides: Varicam has a long history here of image quality and a look that everyone loved and it’s one of the first cameras we started to sell after the Aaton film cameras, well, it was kind of a concurrent thing, but the Varicams are known for their look and for the quality of the camera build. This camera has a lot of dynamic range, it’s got those 14 stops that is a magic bullet for the look of it, and it’s promising the look of the Varicam, that nice color quality that Panasonic is known for, so there’s an image quality thing that we’re all after all the time and the camera looks good. It’s kind of like film stock, you’re choosing a look; and then, of course, it’s got the sensor resolution which, moving forward with the 4K thing, is an actual thing. It’s complicated but it’s a real thing; and there are frame rates too. In 4K, you can shoot at 120 frames and then they have this other model, which is an HD model, which can shoot up to 440 frames, it’s a modular system. So it hits a lot of things – frame rate, dynamic range, resolution. It’s got a lot of those key words, but they’re important things.
Larry Jordan: It’s wonderful to have a camera that has those kind of specs, but it seems to me that a hidden trap is the codec the camera shoots. Now, I know Mike loves codecs like nobody else, but if I’ve got a high end camera and it records AVC HD, I’m giving up a lot of the quality of the lens and a lot of the quality of the sensor. How much weight should we give to the codec that the camera shoots?
Andy Shipsides: I certainly do. We talk about this a lot. You do want to have the best quality you can get at a certain cost. There are the two sides to any coin, right? When you’re talking about high end compression, the better quality you get, the bigger the file sizes are, so it causes other problems. So there’s that part, but they have this AVC Ultra and AVC Intra compression that’s been pretty successful in other forms and Sony have the XAVC codec and it’s done pretty well. Panasonic really started that in their own AVC Ultra compression. It’s proved to be quite good, certainly the quality you’d expect out of most popular video codecs today, and so Ultra is kind of new, I don’t know exactly what it is, but the promise is, being that it’s a modern codec, that you can get a lot of bang for your buck, so to speak.
Larry Jordan: If we’re shooting, how do we decide what settings to use? By that I mean how do we decide what video format? When should we shoot RAW? When should we shoot AVC Intra? How do we make those kind of technical decisions when we’re maybe not feeling really secure technically?
Andy Shipsides: Well, that’s a big one. It’s a decision that you have to make on a lot of levels. Post production and production merge this way all the time today, you can’t just go shoot film and deal with it later, you have to…that talks to people and there are a couple of big things. There’s quality, obviously. You shoot AVC HD, you’re going to suffer the consequences of shooting that codec and adjustability in post once you get out of it. But if you go to the higher quality codecs, the AVC Ultras versus RAW, I’d say – well, RAW, it’s the best quality you can get, absolutely, and the Panasonic cameras can do that too with a codecs recorder – the best quality but you’re going to pay the price in processing and post and just physically hard drive space. Big deal, obviously, hard drive space, so when you’re making that decision, you have to really look at that, for that data rate, the data rate of the RAW data, because that literally means money out of your pocket for production, and massive RAID space in those facilities. The 4K uncompressed RAW data, which is going to be basically what comes out of there, is about two gigabit a second, so…
Mike Horton: Holy cow.
Andy Shipsides: Yes, so it’s a little big. It’s just about a terabyte an hour, let’s say, a little more than that. So it’s a lot of data.
Mike Horton: It’s a lot of data, a lot of storage, a lot of metal.
Andy Shipsides: Exactly and that’s a big consideration.
Larry Jordan: Andy, would it be a true statement to say that if you need fast turnaround, you want to shoot a format which would not be RAW? But if you’re doing a lot of CGI or Rotoscoping or color correction, a lot of post production, post effects work, then you’d want to shoot the highest quality RAW format because it’s going to give you the data that you need to make it look good?
Andy Shipsides: Exactly right. That’s the decision. Do you need the quality? Do you need the ultimate flexibility and CGI potential, repositioning, all of that, of RAW? If you need it, you go for it. Otherwise, quick turnaround, that’s the advantage of having an AVC Ultra codec. It’s quick turnaround, you can still shoot in blocks, you get the dynamic range that you want but you can edit it in… can even support up to the 4K versions of these codecs, so you can actually still be in 4K if you want to be. Before that was the way to get high res, was to do RAW. But now with these new cameras, I can get 4K and still be in video if I want to be, so I don’t have to worry about all that extra data if I don’t really need it.
Larry Jordan: So these cameras will now shoot more than HD? They’ll take us to 2K, even 4K?
Andy Shipsides: That’s right, yes. That’s one of the great things about these new video cameras, or cinema camera, but they can just shoot video if you want it, even in 4K. It’s a new idea really. 4K cameras have been out for a while, but they’re RAW cameras and that’s a bigger decision to make, but 4K video is one that may be a little more palatable.
Larry Jordan: One of the things that I’m fond of reflecting on when I chat with guests is one of the companies that I do not want to run is a post production facility in Los Angeles, because this is a recipe for having no hair and sleepless nights.
Andy Shipsides: Yes, I would think so.
Larry Jordan: The other, though, is a camera company because all of a sudden competition is coming up from places you never saw before. We’re seeing Blackmagicdesign and AGA, which are traditional interface vendors, suddenly releasing cameras, and cameras at these price points that we’ve never seen, cameras with this level of features at this price. How does a company like Panasonic cope with this kind of off the wall competition?
Andy Shipsides: This is something we talk about a lot, as you can imagine, internally, because it affects us too as a reseller. Obviously there’s more money to be made on a higher price camera, so take a lower price, change your business model around a little bit and companies like us are threatened in a way by competition in the form of, like, amazon.com. What’s stopping them from selling a Blackmagic camera? So suddenly it thrusts us into everything else, but at the same time it does spur on momentum. It spurs on camera companies to lower their prices and if you look at the cameras today and the prices they are, they’re fractionally what they were a couple of years ago. At the same time, how Panasonic really competes is in feature sets and options and outputs and things that add usability to a product. Yes, you can get a 4K image out of a Blackmagic camera and the same with the new Psion, and they’re both good cameras in their own way. Panasonic went for functions and operation and build quality and things like that to separate it from the fray, so to speak.
Mike Horton: In the high end cameras that you’re talking about, the Varicams and the REDs and the ARRIs and things, is image quality pretty much the same in the Blackmagic cameras as in those?
Andy Shipsides: Not to get too into the politics of all that stuff and saying one’s better than the other, but I think that dynamic range, definitely, as we get higher end is increased. I think we could argue that, especially in the area of the new RED Dragon 55, the new cameras. They’re pushing those boundaries, getting to a 14 stop range, this new Panasonic being included in that, and that’s a big part of it, so the quality of the image in terms of dynamic range is certainly there. Specs in terms of resolution, well, you can get that in Blackmagic. If you’re just looking for 4K or Ultra HD, you can get there. That spec has been met now. It’s the other stuff that comes along with it that defines it, the colorimetry, the look and quality of the image overall.
Mike Horton: Well, you know in this world that, especially when it comes to the indie film world, it’s budgets matter more than anything and we will go for the Blackmagic over the ARRI if the cost is a lot different.
Andy Shipsides: Yes, only about $90,000.
Mike Horton: Yes, if it’s still going to give us a great image, and from what I’ve seen it does…
Andy Shipsides: Yes, yes.
Larry Jordan: But it seems to me also there’s another dynamic. First we’ve got the dynamic of picking the right codec; second, the dynamic of a camera that’s got a high usability function; and we’ve also got the massive differences in price between a $90,000 and a $20,000 and a $10,000 camera. But the other is camera technology is changing so quickly that we almost can’t get our money back on rentals. In other words, if I bought a camera, I can’t do enough jobs to get my money back and it almost seems like the camera manufacturers are changing so quickly to force us into renting cameras as opposed to buying cameras otherwise we’re not going to get our money back. What do you think?
Andy Shipsides: Well, it’s like any tool. I always talk about it and compare cameras to construction equipment, which seems like a weird analogy, but you don’t buy a…
Larry Jordan: Everybody needs a bulldozer. Ok, I’m in favor of this.
Mike Horton: I do.
Andy Shipsides: If you need a bulldozer, you buy a bulldozer. Why are you going to buy a bulldozer? Because you’re going to make money using it, you know? If you buy a tool that you can’t make money on as a professional, then that’s not a good purchase. So paying back a purchase like that, well, it’s something where you may be able to pay it back right away and you know that. People buy really expensive cameras all the time because they know they have the workflow; but I know what you mean. On the other side, the flip side of that coin, it is hard to get your money back compared to what it was, because it just lasted longer and basically the math has changed. It used to be, well, I know this camera’s going to last me ten years and it did. You know, a Betacam, hell yes… ten years, you got it. Now it’s like if you get three solid years out of a camera, that’s rock and roll.
Mike Horton: Yes, really.
Larry Jordan: I remember the digi Betacam. You bought it and it never changed. You put in new tape and it lasted forever. I feel like that’s like constant employment – it’s something in the distant past. We just don’t see that today.
Mike Horton: We’re running out of time here, I want to get this question in, how much does ergonomics mean to you and the cinematographers you work with? How big a deal is that?
Andy Shipsides: It actually is quite big, believe it or not. Again, from that working professional standpoint, every day you work, what they can do with something, how fast they can do it kind of is their job because if I can’t get that shot right now, then I can’t and because I’m limited by the function and shape of the camera, then I’m limited to what I can do with it. Now, a good cinematographer can make anything work, of course. I won’t pretend like the job isn’t there, but it is a really big factor for a lot of people. In fact, we have sports shooters, news shooters, those guys, to them ergonomics is king. They almost rate ergonomics over the spec. They have to move quick and if it’s not in the right spot and they can’t nail that shot for the doc or the news that they’re shooting, they won’t do it, they just don’t want it, so it is a big deal.
Mike Horton: Do those guys go the DSLR route? Or do they go for the Varicams and the others?
Andy Shipsides: Surprisingly, it’s a good chunk of that market has gone up for the F55. The Varicam shooters in the past, they’re looking at this new Varicam too. They’re used to this kind of camera and this function. The new school, young kids coming in, they say, “Hey, I have a DSLR too, I love DSLR,” and they can make it work, but you give that to somebody who’s been using a broadcast camera for 20 years and they look at it like, “Ok, I can’t use that,” so it’s a matter of perspective but I think there is even maybe two different trains of thought at the same time. It’s these… cameras, we’ve kind of had those for many years as a shooter and… DSLRs. I certainly know what I can do with each of those tools, how fast I can operate them, so I think that people that you work with and the people we sell to and rent to, they know what they can do with it and how fast they can turn it around. Many of them will still ask for the big wide camera, and also there’s this whole perception thing too that goes along with it, which we can talk about if you want to, but having a big camera says something, you know? Having a DSLR says something else.
Larry Jordan: Andy, we have a couple of questions before we run out of time. Eric on the live chat is asking whether the Blackmagic cinema camera is competing with the ARRI. Do you see them being direct competitors?
Andy Shipsides: Well, that’s a good question. Yes and no. Not in the sense that no-one in the cinema world would want to use the Blackmagic camera for a big budget movie. It’s not going to happen. Maybe for a cross cam, second cam, B cam kind of thing, sure, but whatever it is, perception wise or otherwise, it’s not going to happen. But that’s where the Alexa kind of lives – narrative, high end commercial, that kind of thing – so it’s not really competing because the price points are so vastly different, so the markets are so vastly different. I think it competes only in the sense that they can make competitive images, you can make a similar picture with it, but there’s this whole perception part of it that comes into play.
Larry Jordan: Which gets me to the last big question – are the new Varicams available and, if not, when do they ship and what do they cost?
Andy Shipsides: Ah, I can only answer some part of that. They’re not available yet. They’re coming in September. Price point, all I can say is under 60 something. I can’t promise a harder number there, they won’t tell me, so that’s a guess.
Larry Jordan: Ok, but you’re saying around $60,000 for the camera, which would not include the lens, correct?
Andy Shipsides: Correct, yes. It’s a pro camera that way, yes.
Larry Jordan: Ok, so they’re coming in September and what’s the name of the new version so we know what to check into?
Andy Shipsides: It’s the Varicam Super 35. There are two versions of it. The Super 35 has a Super 35 brain, so to speak, and then you can take that off and put on the Varicam HS, which is the high speed two third inch version, so you can record with two different brains. Varicam Super 35 and Varicam HS.
Larry Jordan: And two questions on the live chat. Cesar’s asking what’s the favored camera now for news and documentary production? Short answer.
Andy Shipsides: F55, yes.
Larry Jordan: The F55 from Sony and Eric is suggesting the Canon C300 is also very popular.
Andy Shipsides: You’re right, you’re actually right, you’re right, I would take that back. C300. I’m going to go with you on that. Between those two, you’re right, the C300 is…
Larry Jordan: Andy, for people who want to learn more about what AbelCine is up to, where can they go on the web?
Andy Shipsides: Abelcine.com; and if you want to learn about our training classes, firstname.lastname@example.org and there’s also our blog – email@example.com.
Mike Horton: And they’ll be at CineGear here next week, which I will be at, and looking forward to hanging out at AbelCine.
Larry Jordan: CineGear is a wonderful show and that website is abelcine.com. Andy Shipsides is Director of Education. Andy, thanks for joining us today.
Andy Shipsides: Thank you very much.
Mike Horton: Thanks Andy.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
Andy Shipsides: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Well, if nothing else, Michael, we’ve had a divergence of opinion today.
Mike Horton: Yes. What’s your opinion of 4K distribution, real quick? I know we’ve only got two minutes.
Larry Jordan: I am a fan of shooting high resolution for acquisition because that way you’ve got yourself covered, and especially because directors are not planning shoots any more, they’re just pointing the camera and hoping they get a shot and fix it in post, so I think 4K gives us more flexibility in editing and getting the shots framed the way we want.
Mike Horton: I know I have old eyes, but I have seen those side by side comparisons between the HD and the 4K displays and David talked about people saying, “Well, I can see the difference.” I’m sorry, I can’t, and it might be my old eyes, so I don’t know. But he said there is some sort of scientific basis for that, the six to ten feet thing. Terry says no.
Larry Jordan: I tend to agree with Terry, though, that the HDR – high dynamic range – is a much more impressive visual image than the 4K image is, so I tend to lean toward shooting high resolution, shooting 4K or 5K or six…
Mike Horton: Oh, absolutely.
Larry Jordan: …but then editing down to 2K and distributing 2K, because I’m not yet convinced that 4K is a market that I can make some money.
Mike Horton: Well, see, I can’t tell the difference in a movie theater between 4K and 2K.
Larry Jordan: Michael, I’ve seen your glasses. If you washed them once in a while it would make a difference.
Mike Horton: I do and it just always fogs up. This is why I see you in a fog. I see the world in a fog. Something’s wrong. I need contacts or something.
Larry Jordan: Just younger eyes, I think, is really all that’s necessary.
Mike Horton: And my ears are going bad too.
Larry Jordan: It has been a wonderful show. I can’t think of the last time we had this kind of divergence in opinion between two different groups of people. I’ve enjoyed listening to both Terry and…
Mike Horton: And I believe everybody.
Larry Jordan: Well, I think everybody’s got a point. I don’t think anybody’s misguided. They’re focusing on different parts of the market. I want to thank Terry Curren, the Founder and President of Alpha Dogs; Dave Foley, Senior Technologist and Co-Founder of NanoTech; and Andy Shipsides, Director of Education at AbelCine talking about Panasonic Varicams.
Larry Jordan: There’s a lot happening at The Buzz between shows. It’s all posted to our website, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Talk with us at Twitter, @dpbuzz, and Facebook, at digitalproductionbuzz.com.
Larry Jordan: Music on The Buzz is provided by SmartSound, streaming by wehostmacs.com and transcriptions by Take 1 Transcription. Our producer is Cirina Catania, engineer Adrian Price. That affable, warm, avuncular voice on the other side of the table, Mr. Mike Horton. My name’s Larry Jordan and thanks for listening to The Buzz.
Mike Horton: Bye everybody.
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