So, continuing along with this year’s Fearless Forecast, let’s look at the 4 major categories I spelled out in part 1.
Red is hinting at new products to be revealed in about a month at the NAB Convention, but my feeling is that those new products will not be new cameras. I think that with the two Epic models and the Scarlet, Red is positioned well in the market it competes in. Along those lines, they will likely continue to be a major player in stereoscopic feature production, as well as 2D features and the indie market. They will also continue to be a popular choice for commercial work. But my prediction is that they won’t likely make more of a splash in television, with one major exception: the Epic will often be brought in as a specialty camera for high speed work. The Epic can easily shoot at frame rates often relegated to the Phantom in the past, but compared to the Phantom, the Epic is smaller, more familiar, higher resolution, and cheaper. The use of Epics as specialty cameras on shows shot primarily on other cameras has accelerated, and my feeling is that this will continue. But at the same time, I do think that the choice for the “A” camera in television series work will usually be either the Alexa (as it has been almost exclusively for the last year or so) or the Sony F65. The Alexa has a proven track record, and has won over a lot of fans based on the images it produces and the simplicity its workflow represents. The F65, while it can record RAW and is in part designed to produce 4K images, can also record directly to HD resolution using Sony’s SR Master codec. This puts it in a unique position of being capable of delivering high resolution RAW imagery for feature use, but directly competing with the Alexa in the television market, delivering HD images natively. The fact that Sony also happens to own a major motion picture and television studio practically ensures that the F65 will see use in both. But wide deployment of the F65, especially in television, will require that Sony deliver feature complete and reliable cameras in numbers that will satisfy that kind of demand. At this point, their ability to do that in a way that can service the television pilot season that’s just now beginning is a bit doubtful, but that won’t prevent the F65 from becoming a major player in the industry as the year progresses. So my prediction is that what we’ll ultimately see this year is a digital feature market that is split between Red and Sony (with Red being the most common choice for both independent productions and stereoscopic work), and a television market that continues to be largely dominated by the Arri Alexa, with Sony making some inroads, but perhaps having to wait until later in the year for a real share of the television market. There will, of course, be some crossover. Red will be used on some television series, and the Alexa will see some feature use. Which brings me to my final camera prediction: Arri will at least announce, if not deliver, a higher resolution version of the Alexa to better compete in a market that already has the 5K Epic and the 8K F65. The announcement might happen at NAB, or it might happen later in the year, perhaps at IBC in September. But it will very likely happen. There are, as always, some wildcards in play. Aaton, with its Penelope design, could be a factor, particularly in Europe. And there have been various rumors related to Panavision designing a new digital camera. But my feeling is still that the dominant players will likely be Red, Arri, and Sony. Not necessarily in that order.
The post production industry, like every part of the film and television industry, is changing before our eyes. The dominance of large post facilities is being seriously challenged. The ability of the editorial team to do more than basic picture and sound cutting has been enabled by enhanced software and cheap storage. And the inevitable approaching of file based deliveries in the television world will alter the landscape in terms of the skill sets required and the equipment needed to do final finishing.
I doubt that we’re going to see anything quite as bold as Blackmagic’s introduction of DaVinci Resolve at $1000 this year, although I wouldn’t completely rule it out. But among the industry’s most dominant software vendors, I think we will see a continuing movement towards more power to do final finishing in what have previously been regarded as offline tools. Along those lines, I think Avid will finally make a decision regarding its Avid DS product, and will likely either discontinue or sell it and fold features such as image sequence support into the Media Composer code base, although possibly restricting it to the Symphony product. I don’t see Adobe’s Premiere Pro gaining much ground in the “high end” editing market, but Adobe has done a lot of things right and will likely continue to gain users that are either coming from Final Cut or are new to the market. And one aspect of Adobe’s software to keep an eye on will likely be the Speedgrade product, acquired from Iridas, which will likely make its appearance at NAB as either a standalone program or part of the Adobe CS suite (much as Apple did when they acquired Final Touch and turned it into Apple Color). For those willing to use separate (but linked) programs for things like editorial, visual effects compositing, and color grading, the Adobe suite could be a desktop competitor to very high end systems such as Quantel Pablo/iQ and Autodesk’s Flame Premium suite. And it is one of the few companies that is actually positioned to compete with Blackmagic in the specific area of color grading, both in terms of capabilities and price. Adobe at the very least will be an interesting company to watch.
Display technology is an area in which we’re still seeing quite a bit of innovation, and I predict this will continue. The past year saw the introduction of 4K DLP projectors for theatrical use. This year could see the introduction of laser technology into the projection arena. Red in particular has been making quite a bit of noise regarding such a product, and interestingly they are claiming to be aiming it at both commercial and consumer markets. This is not the first time Red has expressed a belief that 4K display technology is something that will be a part of consumer electronics, but I happen to disagree with those who make such a claim. Displays that are appropriate for large screens have always been introduced in theatrical venues, and I have no reason to believe that this will be any different. The subject of high resolution displays is wide enough to warrant its own article, and I plan to write about that in the near future. But suffice it to say that just as 3D in the home has basically gone nowhere, I really don’t see 4K going anywhere in the home, either. We’re still in a serious economic downturn, for one thing. And for another, most people in this country and around the world don’t live in large houses with empty rooms that are just waiting to be turned into personal home theaters with 10 foot screens. Many of us live in condos, apartments, or smaller homes in which even a 50 inch flat screen monitor is too large. And this is not to even mention the fact that there is not only no broadcast standard for anything like 4K images, there is no real financial incentive for coming up with one. Many of those advocating 4K in the home are either too young to remember, or simply unaware of the real reasons for the establishment of digital broadcast in the first place. It was done primarily to allow for a recovery of bandwidth spectrum and a subsequent auctioning off of that spectrum by the federal government that controls it. In other words, it was done for financial reasons, not some kind of need for better quality television pictures. That was just the side benefit. Without the financial justification, it would likely not have happened, just as 4K will not likely happen without a financial motivation. And at this point, I don’t see one.
But that aside, I do see a growth in new display technology that may very well filter down to consumers, and that would be OLED technology. I predict that we’ll see wider acceptance and more products using this technology on the professional side this year, following up on Sony’s introduction of professional OLED displays. I also predict that displays such as the rumored Apple iPad display that will likely be introduced this week will play a very significant role in how consumers and professionals alike view the content we all create. With essentially 2K resolution, the new iPad has the ability to really alter the landscape in terms of high quality viewing in a portable environment. For all of the talk about large screens, much of the public has really taken to small screens for a lot of their viewing time, and I think that trend will also continue.
Since the world economy is still stuck in a serious downturn (although, fortunately, we seem to be at a point where we might be coming out of it a bit), many industry trends, like other businesses, are being driven by the need to reduce cost. And by reducing cost, we often mean cutting staff. The deployment of much of the technology we now use has made it possible to do a lot of post work “in house,” and this would mean everything from dailies creation to final finishing. This is often done today on independent features (certainly the dailies part), but I predict that we’re going to see more of that in the television world, where the time factors to some degree tend to favor development of these kind of new models. High end television has for years relied on an infrastructure of large post facilities for both front end work and back end finishing. But the need for those facilities has to some degree been driven by the cost of equipment such as videotape decks, online editing systems, video routers, telecines, and expensive color correction systems. With the advent of file based deliveries, all of those items become unnecessary. I don’t see the large facilities closing any time soon, but I do think we’re going to see some serious contraction of those that remain, and that might start as soon as this year.
The feature world, to some degree, represents a different story. As long as theatrical venues are the premier destination for feature releases (even if they’re not the largest revenue producers over the long term), the only real way to simulate the theatrical projection experience in post production is to create a small theater, and that’s exactly what digital intermediate facilities are. I think that model will remain for the foreseeable future, simply because it represents the best way to experience the images and sound in a way that the first audiences will.
That’s it for this year. I realize this is a bit less extensive than I’ve done in the past, but I also think we seem to be settling into a time when the changes we’re seeing are a bit more evolutionary and a bit less revolutionary. The pace of innovation continues, but the transition to digital technology in both television and features has already taken place, and so the debates about those changes are largely over. We’ll see what the next year brings.