Tuesday, 29 September, 2009

3G services in India

NewspaperS in India have kept us informed on the running battle for 3G in India. The auction, mind-boggling numbers stating figures on what this is worth etc etc. We'll believe it when we see it, this 3G thing.

Meanwhile MTNL has been advertising free trial of 3G services for its Trump and Dolphin GSM customers. I checked it out on MTNL's sparse web site. Here.

Basically, this is only a trial. It only works in Delhi. And even there it works at Connaught Place, Sanchar Bhawan, Rajaji Marg, India Gate, Pragati Maidan, Delhi Gate and Minto Road. 

No tariff is stated and MTNL says it will be announcing it in the near future.
MTNL plans to sell 3G as a means for video telephony and high speed internet with speeds up to 2 Mbps being advertised.

So that's it for 3G in India. 

Monday, 21 September, 2009

IBC 2009 - my view

I just got back from chilly Amsterdam where IBC happened between 10th and 15th Sept 2009. I don't have a detailed report like earlier years. But I do have notes on many things I saw and anyone is welcome to write me and I'll share specific information.

From the post-production point of view there were significant happenings around IBC. Some a bit before IBC, and others during.

First, Blackmagic Design bought DaVinci. For me this was significant. That a manufacturers of capture cards costing between US$ 250 to $ 2000 could sell enough of these to be able to buy out a company that sold systems costing US$ 300,000 to $ 800,000 each. Clearly shows where the numbers are.

Blackmagic's buyout has been documented by many sites, along with Grant Petty's own thoughts, so I won't repeat any of it. Creative Cow has a detailed analysis and an interview with Grant.

These four links tell all.
Blackmagic Design Buys DaVinci: Part 1
Blackmagic Design Buys the Power of daVinci: Part 2
A Letter From Grant Petty 

Blackmagic & DaVinci, and What It Means

But broadly, after this buyout, the DaVinci 2k Plus - the telecine colour correction system - will be discontinued. Resolve, the DI grading system will stay and probably be overhauled. As will Revival. Resolve now sports 3D workflows as well as 4k real time even for 3D.

Two other acquisitions happened but the results of these aren't immediately obvious. Avid bought Maximum Throughput and EditShare bought Gee which makes Geevs broadcast video servers, and the Lightworks editing system.

Quantel, Digital Vision, DaVinci, Filmlight had their stands in places different from earlier years. And they all has smaller stands. And all four, aside of some evolutions in their systems had nothing Earth shattering to show.

Pandora showed their MacPro based grading system - the Revolution. For DI workflows. Along with their Evolution grading surface. My colourist colleagues sat through a demo and came away impressed. Pandora has reduced prices.

Scratch and Iridas Speedgrade were both there with colour grading systems that are getting better all the time.

Red was everywhere too but there was no official Red booth. All grading systems now offer Red support. Some even have acceleration using RedRocket - Like Digital Vision. Conforming to Red files is also almost standard and doesn't need complicated DPX conversion workflows.

There were many film scanners at IBC. DFT's Scanity though not shipping yet. Spirit 4k, P+S Technik's Steadyframe, MWA's Flash Transfer, Lasergraphics' scanner, Arri's scanner, Norhtlight, Cintel's Ditto and DataMill, GoldenEye, were all there with their scanners. Great time for someone to do a side by side comparison. I did and was extremely impressed with GoldenEye.

Amongst all these, GoldenEye with its small size, 4k/2k interchangeabilty, capability for Dailies use, Sound transfer features, and low price seemed to be the scanner to watch. It is also ideal for restoration because of its clawless film transport. I hope to be associated with these scanners in the months to come.

Foundry's Nuke is emerging as the leader in film and TV compositing and VFX. They have a great suite of products and a deal for Nuke leading to the soon to be released NukeX. For a modest budget, Furnace plug-ins for FCP pack a serious punch and deliver the same quality as those inside Nuke.

Maxon's Cinema4D showed great demos and I wish someone somewhere in India would adopt this in a big way. Its the only Mac and PC based complete 3D system out there. Starting at $1000 and going up to $ 3700 with unlimited render clients this is the 3D creation software to consider if you're an all Mac shop,

Avid showed off new versions of their flagship products. I saw the Media Composer 4 demo and the single biggest feature was frame rate mixing in the same timeline. That, along with 100 undos, 16 tracks in the audio mixer, and improvements in segment mode handling are the great new features in the new MC. Avid's presentation also misspelt the word editor - they spelt it as editiors.

3D stereoscopic vision is still going strong. And many companies have now implemented it in one form or another. 3D displays and movies were everywhere. Quantel still seems to be the leader but others are fast catching up. For editing 3D, Avid has it sorted out somewhat while FCP can be made to do 3D via Cineform.

Among monitors, JVC seem to be the best with even a 10-bit display on show. But TVlogic, and Frontniche are great too. Astro's 4k display is as gorgeous as ever and a must buy for someone doing 4k or Red. Sharp also makes a 4k display, but I didn't see it at IBC.

I saw many DCI encoders that make DCPs for theatrical digital cinema release. Dolby, Qube, Doremi, and others. The surprise at Dolby was, or course Pankaj Kedia - the former 'face of Discreet' in India now in a new Avatar. Still soft-spoken,  sweet and helpful, I think Pankaj will take Dolby to new places in India, just as he did with Discreet.

DCI encoders are still a bit complex. The interface and working is simple enough but the whole act of QC and previewing as well as accommodating changes seems a bit clunky. This has to get simpler and easier. And cheaper too. I quite miss the Wraptor plug-in from Quvis.

Sunday, 6 September, 2009

The new Canon 7D - another still camera that shoots HD.

On the 1st Sep 2009, Canon put out yet another DSLR (Digital single lens reflex) camera that shoots HD video. The new Canon 7D. What makes this different from all the other HD capable still cameras is that this camera can do multiple frame rates. 24, 25,30, 50 and 60 fps.
For me, the features that matter, in this new camera are... 

Depth of field
The Canon 7D sensor is not full frame but APS-C (a specification of frame size). Many film pros have lamented that this is not 'full frame'. That's what photographers call the full 35mm still photography frame. That's important because one of the things that makes video look like video and film like film is depth of field.
Sure, The Canon is 'only' APS-C but APS-C is not small. Consider the following frame sizes of different cameras.
35mm film still frame - 36x24 mm - diagonal 43 mm
35mm film Super35 frame - 24.89x18.66 mm - diagonal 31 mm
Red One frame - 24.4x13.7 mm - diagonal 28 mm
Canon 7D frame - 22.3x14.9 mm - diagonal 27 mm
Genesis/Sony F-35 - 23.62x13.28 mm - diagonal 27 mm
2/3" cameras - 14.75x8.30 mm - diagonal 16.93 mm
16mm - 10.26x7.48 mm - diagonal 12.69 mm
Super16 - 12.52x7.41mm - diagonal 14.54 mm
Focal length is proportional to the image diagonal. And the longer the diagonal, the longer the focal length, the shorter the depth of field (DOF).
So, the Canon 7D frame, while being smaller than 35mm still 'full frame', is not significantly smaller than Super35, Red or the other digital cameras. So the Canon 7D would appear to have a depth of field comparable to Super35 film and most other digital cameras. And vastly better depth of field than 16mm, and prosumer Digital camcorders.

Frame rate
The Canon 7D shoots at a range of frame rates and formats, like...
1080p23.98, 1080p25, 1080p29.97
720p50, 720p59.94
Note that its not actually 24fps, but 23.976 fps. This 23.976 is some NTSC complication that PAL users simply can't fathom. But 23.976 is no big deal, and CinemaTools can convert it to 24fps instantly. Sound speed too can be very easily adjusted.
Incidentally, the earlier Canon 5D MkII like almost all other DSLRs that do HD video, can only shoot at 30 fps. Except the Panasonic GH1 that does 24fps.

Auto Focus
Autofocus in the Canon 7D actually works in HD movie mode. Not like a follow focus, but a snap focus when you half-press the click button. Like an assistant who pulls out a tape, measures and then sets focus. But focus doesn't adjust while shooting video. It has to be 'pulled' manually. Again no big deal once you get used to the lens.

Reduced rolling shutter
Because of the small sensor and faster shutter speeds available, the 7D should have less rolling shutter than the 5D MkII and other such cameras. I've seen examples and they seem OKish. But unless someone makes a side by side comparison, one can't be sure.
Rolling shutter is an issue with CMOS cameras, but with due care while shooting, its not a major problem.

Why 7D?
The greatest value in these DSLRs that shoot video (now called VDSLRs) is that its a tool in the hands of photographers. Who are capable of shooting really good images with available light.
Unlike cinematographers, still photographers don't whine for lights. As a discipline they're used to shooting with available light mostly. Even if you gave them shooting lights they probably won't be able to know what to do with them.
There are several reviews on this camera and you can find them at dpreview, gizmodo, and other photography sites. Many forums are discussing this actively.
Vimeo has examples too. This new space in imaging is hotting up. Keep in touch.