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  • 2010: Fearless Forecast

    Posted on January 2nd, 2010 Mike 3 comments

    This is the time when you see a lot of reviews of what’s transpired over the last year, but I’m not going to do that. For one thing, 2009 really sucked on almost every level, so why rehash it? But more importantly, I like to look to the future and not dwell on the past. And the future will be, at the very least, well, interesting. And not necessarily in the ways you might expect. So here are some personal prognostications for your profound perusal. And please don’t hold me to any of them – they’re all based on personal opinion with no basis whatsoever in actual fact. That said…

    1. The influence of Red Digital Cinema will be manifested in various ways, some that will benefit Red and some that won’t. Some time later in the year, probably around late summer, Red will ship some (but not all) of their new products, to the delight of some and to the disappointment of others. Some will be thrilled to get anything that Red is willing to sell, others will be a bit peeved to see that some of the anticipated features are either not present, changed, or delayed. Some won’t care that the products are shipping many months late, others will point to that as an example of blind zealotry. And in the end, Red will still sell a lot of the new products (although not as much as some are predicting) regardless of the reaction. At the same time, Red’s influence might eclipse their actual sales, because their presence in the market and their insistence on raising the bar in terms of resolution and work flow enhancements will finally cause some of the more established companies to take a leap forward as well. Canon will unveil (but perhaps not actually ship) at least one – perhaps more – new products that will utilize the basic chip technology contained in their video enabled still cameras (i.e., the 5D, 7D, and 1D models), but house it in a motion picture friendly form factor and price it as high end prosumer gear. It will likely do most of what the Red Scarlet will do, but in a more traditional housing (and probably equipped with industry standard HD output interfaces) that will appeal to some and not appeal to others. They will likely resort to compression (as Red has) to allow the larger format to be recorded as something that can fit on commodity media, and might partner with an existing vendor (Cineform, perhaps?) to achieve that. Unlike Red, they will likely publish detailed specs regarding the sensor and its performance that will encourage third parties to adopt their format and write their own debayering and processing routines to enhance it. Arri will ship their new digital cameras and will offer a compressed recording option – but they will also allow uncompressed recording, distinguishing their products from both Red and Canon and appealing to the “high end” users who are still wary of compression during original capture. Sony will talk – a lot – about the virtues of 4K, and will continue to ship their 4K projectors, but they will not ship a 4K camera this year. That won’t stop them from talking about it, though.

    2. Post production will become even more software based (if that’s even possible) and thus the hardware will become more of an afterthought. The importance of large and fast storage will become more apparent, and the design of the storage and networking pipeline will become more critical than the particular workstations that are used. Linux will be the system of choice at the high end, and Windows 7 will become more universally used on PC’s, with those still on XP and Vista changing over. Most mid level tools will be multiplatform, with both Windows and Mac versions available. Existing tools that are over the $20K price point will have their prices adjusted downward as both individual and facility buyers finally realize that the low end tools provide a lot of the functionality of the high end tools at a fraction of the cost. Growth in the individual buyer market will allow lower end versions of traditionally high end tools (think Autodesk systems products, Assimilate Scratch, and possibly things like Avid DS, Baselight, and DaVinci Resolve here) to find a new, lower cost of entry market that will erode the ability of facilities to maintain their traditional rates for these devices, in spite of the more experienced talent they employ, in all but the largest markets. In other words, if you’re Efilm, Company 3, Technicolor, Encore, Modern Videofilm, or Fotokem, you don’t have that much to worry about. But if you’re, say, Charlotte Post, Boston Transfer, or Austin Video (none of these company names actually exist, I’m just using some examples) you’ll need to re-examine your business plan if you want to compete with the individual artists – some of whom probably work for you at the moment – who will set up their own little one room shop built around affordable versions of what you paid a lot more for. Which brings me to the unavoidable elephant in the room…

    3. Apple. The Mac has had a very interesting history in our industry. It has worked its way up from a basic lower end platform to one that is now attracting such high end players as Autodesk, who recently unveiled a Mac version of their high end finishing product, Smoke. The brilliance of Apple’s development of the Mac as a professional platform lies in how they went about making it a more vital tool. By buying Final Cut from Macromedia, and then developing it, solidifying it, and combining it with other purchased programs (notably Cinema Tools, purchased from Digital Film Tree), they turned what could have just been another Adobe Premiere clone into a product that challenged Avid on both features and price, ultimately capturing a very large percentage of the editing market, an even larger percentage of amateur and beginning editors, and forcing Avid to drastically alter both its marketing and its price points. The success of Final Cut Pro also lied in Apple’s decision to open it up to third party hardware developers, such as Blackmagic Design and Aja, allowing them to develop and build boards that allow real time input and output over standard SDI interfaces, in both SD and HD. The growing Final Cut user base in turn allowed these companies to create powerful cards that could be sold very inexpensively due to the larger potential market. In order to encourage the movement toward high definition, Apple adopted and supported the DVCProHD codec developed by Panasonic to allow HD – albeit, highly compressed HD – to work on commodity hardware, without the need for fast CPU’s or large and fast storage arrays. And after Avid introduced its own compressed HD format (DNxHD), which at the time was a markedly superior codec, Apple introduced their own version of DNxHD – called ProRes – that they would keep as a proprietary, Mac-only codec for encoding purposes. At the time, their decision to keep ProRes encoding only on the Mac was questioned, as DNxHD was cross platform, potentially a serious advantage. But time has proven Apple right in the business sense, as the move to Apple’s hardware and operating system by larger industry players like Autodesk is based at least in part on the ability to gain direct access to the ProRes codec, which has since become a very widely used standard thanks to the many seats of Final Cut Pro that support it. There is no doubt that Final Cut has sold many, many Macintoshes into the industry that would not have been sold otherwise, and with the now complete changeover to Intel processors, Apple is in a position it has never really been in before – they are the choosers, not the beggars. Anyone using Final Cut already has a Mac, and lots of Avid users do as well. And the Mac is now built on industry standard hardware, with an operating system as solid as any in the world, based on Unix. The final piece of the puzzle for Apple will be support for SDI based Nvidia cards, which will likely be forthcoming. Once that happens – and perhaps earlier – it would not be surprising to see Autodesk migrate other products, and other vendorsĀ  considering a similar approach. Which brings me to…

    4. Color correction is a process that to this point has operated in a niche market. This is due in part to its nature as one in a series of finishing steps, albeit an important one that occupies a unique place, but also due to the cost of traditional systems to perform the work. Apple Color, shipped as part of the Final Cut Studio bundle, changed the cost equation completely, but Color has some weaknesses that have relegated it primarily to use by individuals, not facilities, although there are exceptions. Systems such as Baselight, Lustre, DaVinci Resolve, Assimilate Scratch, Film Master, and others have feature sets and performance levels that Color simply cannot match. The difference in price, however, is enormous. In every end of the industry, however, it has usually taken one disruptive product to change that equation. In cameras, it was Red. In editing, it was Apple. In CGI, it was Alias (with Maya, the first high end program to undergo a drastic price cut in order to appeal to a wider audience). In color correction, one might say it was Apple, but I think the company that might emerge as the ultimate disruptive force is the oldest player of all – DaVinci, now owned by Blackmagic Design. Blackmagic has a history of developing disruptive products and marketing them with the expectation that volume will allow profitability. This is true of almost everything they have released, from the HDLink converter all the way up to their routers and format converters. DaVinci has traditionally been a hardware driven system, but the Resolve line is essentially a software product. Since the purchase, Blackmagic has ended the reliance on support contracts, ceased manufacturing of DaVinci’s hardware based products, moved the Resolve code base away from proprietary supporting hardware and on to commodity GPU’s, and has basically gotten rid of almost everybody who worked for the “old” DaVinci in anything but an engineering capacity. The intent is clearly to streamline the Resolve product and make it easier to both maintain and update. Now, if you take into account Blackmagic’s history, it’s not difficult to foresee them creating a software only, shrinkwrapped version of Resolve, ported to run on systems other than Linux (either OS X, 64 bit Windows 7, or both), and selling it at a price point that appeals to individuals and not just facilities – perhaps at about the same $15K price that Autodesk settled on for its Mac release of Smoke, perhaps less. Releasing such a product, and making it compatible with commodity level hardware control surfaces (the Tangent Wave comes to mind…) would open up an entirely new market that has never really been exploited – one comprised of individual artists who want to own their own system, but consider Apple Color too limited in both functionality and performance, and who cannot afford to buy into even the Assimilate Scratch level market. One might question whether such a market really exists, but going back to the beginning of this article, didn’t a lot of people say the same thing about the digital cinema camera market until a little company called Red came along?

    So that’s it. Fearless forecasts that are not based in fact. They’re only my opinions. I could be wrong…


    3 responses to “2010: Fearless Forecast” RSS icon

    • this is my new favorite blog. I never thought that I would agree with everything that you said, and
      learn (or become aware) from your statements.

      Keep up the good work !

      Bob Zelin

    • I’ve heard talks circulating about DaVinci in some very well know DI facilities here in NY. The fear is that edit houses will go for it and hire one of the many talented but recently laid off colorist out there to keep color in house and of course increase profit margin.

      My only prob with this theory is the price. I have good reason to believe the price point for Resolve will be around $100k. If this is correct I have a hard time seeing a DaVinci-lite coming in at around $15K unless they horribly cripple the features and tool so that it will not cannibalize the sales of the $100k version.

      I do think the big DI facilities that work mostly on commercials will have serious issues if apple color ever gets realtime 2k dpx & R3d playback or if DaVinci decides to market the Resolve at $15K without crippling the features and tools.

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