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  • Scarlet Rays

    Posted on December 4th, 2009 Mike 1 comment

    Scarlet 2/3" Fixed Lens

    Earlier this week, Red Digital Cinema released information regarding some future products, in particular their Scarlet camera and Red Ray media player. I wanted to take a few days to go over the details and hear others reactions before posting mine.

    Scarlet is an attempt to enter a new market segment for Red, who basically defined their own market with their first product, the Red One. The price/performance of that product was something that really hadn’t been seen before and a lot of people in the mainstream production industry really didn’t know what to make of it. But in the approximately 2 years since its release, it has established itself as a strong player in some very specific areas. Independent filmmakers (now redefined not as those who are working for independent studios, but as those who are working for themselves) latched on to the Red One as a device that could give them images that went considerably beyond what was available with “prosumer” video cameras, such as the Panasonic HVX200, which had become quite popular for this type of use. Some more experienced cameramen saw it as something they could afford to own and present themselves as owner/operators on a wide variety of productions, but particularly in music videos and commercials. In fact, in that two year period, the Red One has found pretty wide acceptance in that community. In what I would refer to as the “mainstream” industry, it has been used on a few sizable feature films, as well as a few television series, but it has seen much more success in the commercial world. The Scarlet represents an attempt to move, for lack of a better term, downmarket with a product that is smaller, simpler, and has a much lower price point. Surprisingly, Red plans to endow the Scarlet with a great deal of the functionality and image quality of the Red One and its successor, the Epic, and the ability to share a lot of peripherals with the Epic line, allowing both to be used together in a lot of situations. Like much of what Red has done so far, this is an approach that has never really been tried by the “traditional” camera vendors, and clearly reflects Red’s out of the box thinking.

    The specifications for the Scarlet include 3 different sensors (a 2/3 inch, a S35 size, and a full frame 35mm model), 2 different configurations (the 2/3 inch with a fixed 8:1 zoom lens, or an interchangeable lens model with different lens mounts available), and a myriad of accessories. The cost for the “basic” fixed lens model is $4750, which gives you a package that includes the camera, a compact flash module to hold recording media, a remote control module, a touchscreen enabled LCD viewing screen, and a battery and charger. The interchangeable lens “brain” is a bit less expensive at $2750, but adding everything that you get with the fixed lens package will immediately inflate that to $5050, and that’s without any glass. They are building “mini primes” that are specifically designed for the 2/3 inch sensor and the Scarlet form factor that will go for a little under $1000 each, a good price if the lenses are good performers. You can also use other lenses via the different available lens mounts, which will allow you to mount anything from a Canon still lens to a full PL mount cine lens, although with all of these lenses, you’ll be dealing with a fairly substantial crop factor due to the 2/3 inch sensor. When you consider that a camera such as the Sony EX3 sells for almost $8000, the announced Scarlet pricing is quite a bargain considering its specifications, capabilities, and RAW recording.

    Red’s out of the box thinking is perhaps most evident in some of the things they have chosen to include that no other camera manufacturer is currently using. They seem to understand the nature of their product as essentially a “computer with a lens,” and have embraced various inspirations as evidence of that understanding. From the cell phone world, they have chosen to include a GPS unit and an accelerometer in each “brain” module. The GPS has the potential of providing not only geographical information, but also a very, very accurate time source for accurate time code across multiple units. The accelerometer provides real time information on camera attitude, in particular, tilt and rotation. This type of information can be very useful for visual effects and other post processes, and Red has said that it will be encoded as part of the metadata in every recorded file. They have also included wireless capabilities and gigabit Ethernet, allowing wireless control via their “Redmote” unit, and direct control via Ethernet or wireless WiFi from any laptop computer. In addition, one will be able to transfer recorded files via Ethernet (wired or wireless) rather than physical removal of the recording media. They are also specifying such innovative features as wireless focus and iris control (via the Redmote) and something they’re calling “touch focus tracking,” which would allow the operator to select an object in the image as the focus target that will then be tracked and the focus adjusted as needed. These functions will depend on the presence of an electronic lens, such as the Canon and Nikon autofocus lenses, as well as the fixed Red lens (but not their mini-primes). Functions such as these have been tried before, and historically the lenses have not been able to perform such changes smoothly or quickly enough to make those kinds of operations practical in an actual production environment. So although I have what I would consider a healthy skepticism as to their ultimate effectiveness, it is certainly interesting to see whether Red can really make them work. But in general, the cameras are without question more powerful and more affordable than anything that even begins to approach their capabilities has been, and a marvel of innovation. Of course, at the same time, what seems to be overlooked by the Red faithful is the fact that they won’t even ship for at least 7-8 months – maybe longer. Red also emphasizes that the specifications, as well as the price, are “subject to change – count on it.” So if one needs to shoot something any time before next summer at the earliest, it is best to not consider the Scarlet line as an option, as you are likely to be disappointed. It also means that it is very likely that in the next 8 months, Canon is going to sell a hell of a lot of 5D Mk II’s and 7D’s. How many of those purchasers will become satisfied with that as their primary solution and ultimately bypass a Scarlet purchase is, of course, yet to be determined, but Canon’s plans are also “subject to change,” so this could become a pretty interesting market segment over the next year or two.

    The Red Ray product is now two products, the Red Ray Pro and the “consumer” Red Ray. The Red Ray Pro will be released first, and is essentially a real time playback unit for both Red’s native camera files (R3d), and files compressed with their new delivery codec (RRD). They have not said what will be used to create the RRD files, but it is a reasonably safe bet that a compression application will be supplied, as well as possible plug ins for existing compression engines. The unit contains outputs for quad DVI and quad 3G SDI connections to a Sony 4K projector (or, potentially, a different projector, although Sony basically owns the 4K projector market at this point in time). It handles 12 channels of digital audio as well. It is stated that it will also offer some form of file encryption and link encryption, as well as wireless connectivity for control purposes. What is less clear, at least to me, is the intended market for this unit. It has a lot of potential in non-entertainment applications, such as 4K projection for corporate presentations and large screen special venues. It also could be used as a compact media player – one that doesn’t require a computer host – for screening dailies shot by the various Red cameras in full 4K, provided there is 4K monitoring or projection available. This would, of course, be greatly aided if playlist capabilities are included, which is certainly a possibility. But for theatrical venues, I just don’t see it really having a place at the table. For one thing, it doesn’t support 3D stereo playback, a major driver for new digital projection installations. It also does not play industry standard digital cinema packages, at least not based on the current specifications. Pricing was not announced, but current DCI spec digital cinema servers are not particularly costly, certainly not in comparison to the projectors that they feed. In addition, the current DCI specification already supports 4K, it supports 48fps 3D stereo streams, and perhaps more important than anything else, it supports an encryption/key delivery system that is utilized by virtually every studio and distributor and is universally used for electronic delivery of theatrical product. It is very, very questionable whether any other system can make any serious inroads into this market, in part because the theaters are highly obligated to adopt the industry standard technology if they want to exhibit the studio product that is their life blood. Having said that, I have to assume that Red has done their homework and has specific markets in mind for the Red Ray Pro player, even if they aren’t your neighborhood multiplex. And it can potentially be used by individuals for private screenings at 4K equipped theaters, provided the projector in those theaters can be directly fed by the interfaces supplied (not always the case).

    Regardless of what one might think of Red’s products or marketing techniques and strategies, there can be no doubt that they have shaken up the camera and equipment industry to a degree that’s rarely been seen, and in a very short time frame. They are ambitious and innovative, and their out of the box thinking has informed both their own products and those of the major manufacturers. Even in a time of great financial upheaval, they are managing to explore new technologies and extend existing technologies to a degree that others are not. In many ways, we are fortunate that Jim Jannard chose to create Red in the way that he did, and to follow his own vision of accelerating product development in an industry that had begun to buy into the “good enough” mentality that now permeates so much of our world. We are seeing the fruits of that vision, from both Red and those they compete with. And that can only be a good thing.


    1 responses to “Scarlet Rays” RSS icon

    • Nice to read your blog, Mike!

      RE: RedRay – have you thought of it as an HDCAM deck killer as well as a DCI / DCP competitor?

      For one thing, I’m tired of having to rent a deck at $500/day and pay for expensive dupes just so I can send something to be screened at a film festival.

      Also, for indie filmmakers the existing DCI / DCP world SUCKS because:

      1. we can’t author it ourselves cheaply (my friends and I have had DCI package thingamawhatsits made for a few features and prices seemed to be in the rip-off category)
      2. we can’t play back and test the damn thing back easily ourselves
      3. it’s not accepted at film festivals as projection format – most of the time it’s HDCAM or film only

      This gives us all this, plus:
      1. ability to sell premium-priced, somewhat copy-protected RedRay versions of our movies to people with the home player
      2. if RedRay becomes an accepted delivery format such as HDCAM, then great – no more renting decks the next time we have to deliver something to the outside world

      Also, if you’ve got quad 3G SDI, surely they can support 3D?

      Bruce Allen

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