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Gear of the year.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, one of the most popular records in my house was a 1965 LP called That Was The Year That Was by Tom Lehrer. A Harvard graduate who later taught mathematics at Harvard and MIT, Lehrer rose to modest fame in the late-'50s for his satirical songs and singing and dextrous piano-playing, eventually winning a regular gig as in-house songwriter for the BBC TV show That Was The Week That Was (aka TW3). A live album recorded in San Francisco, That Was The Year That Was consisted of14 songs Lehrer had written for TW3 in 1964. These included his most topical material, offering wry commentary on nuclear proliferation, Vatican II, pollution, American militarism, and the like. Listening to this record marked my introduction to not just political satire but to irony itself (much of which I missed). For most of my elementary school years, knowing nothing of the last decade's British TV programming, I also misunderstood the title of the record, reading it as a complete sentence: "That was the year that was Tom Lehrer." In 1965, I surmised, this guy must have been huge.

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I didn't start attending technology trade shows until 3 decades after Tom Lehrer's heyday. But an equally credulous reading of the bold type at the shows I attended might have left me similarly deluded that 1995 was The Year That Was Interactive Television; 1997 was The Year That Was Web DVD; 1999 was The Year That Was Live Streaming Everywhere; 2002 was The Year That Was Blu-ray; 2004 was The Year That Was HDV; 2008 was The Year That Was 3D Home Theater; and 2013 was The Year That Was 4K. (Probably 2014 too.)

In most of these cases, the "Year That Was" misfire wasn't so much about technologies that would never have their day (or year) in the sun, but typical cases of the hype and excitement running a few months (or years) ahead of the reality, or some enabling technologies simply arriving ahead of others. But that's what makes trade shows fun. Who wants to go to a video trade show such as this month's NAB to see last year's gear, handle products that you've already handled, and hear about stuff that everyone is already using?

Trade magazines are a little bit different. To serve our readers responsibly, we need to walk a fine line between foreshadowing what's coming and explaining what works. In truth, we need to do both.

So, at the risk of ceding the cutting edge to the carnival barkers at NAB and looking retrograde by planting two feet squarely in the present, this April 2014 issue of Streaming Media is proud to present "The Gear of the Year"--composed entirely of products introduced in 2013. That's right: Rather than tempt you with the Next Big Thing that may someday knock you off your feet and render all you know obsolete, in this production-focused issue, we've invited three contributing writers--and producers in their own right--to choose four products each that have proven to be indispensable to professional online video production and webcasting workflows or that represent the best currently available choices in their particular category. It's a highly subjective list, and one that's sure to start arguments. But, so be it.

This is the gear that is The Gear Of The Year.

Roland VC-1-SC

As a webcast producer, one of my biggest challenges is dealing with VGA inputs from computer presentations. The VGA signal requires conversion and scaling so that my video switcher can recognize the signal. The Roland VC-1-SC is unique in that it solves the VGA-to-HD-SDI conversion challenge that can often require the use of multiple converters, and it isn't limited, like some of its competitors are, to a small range of VGA input resolutions. Surprisingly, most of its competitors don't support VGA inputs of the most desired 1080 and 720 video resolutions.

VGA-to-HD-SDI conversion is required for video switchers that lack VGA (or analog DVI) inputs and internal scalers. HD-SDI is the preferred HD connection, and although VGA can easily be converted to analog DVI with a simple passive converter, having an actual VGA input is preferred. The same is true for VGA-to-HDMI converters; you can take the HDMI output and/or further convert it to HD-SDI, but video professionals want direct connections using professional cables. HDMI is a consumer connection, and additional HDMI to HD-SDI conversions don't circumvent its limitations.

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Despite the complications these connectivity issues create for webcast producers, there are currently only three professional VGA-toSDI converters available, and two of them were announced in the summer of 2013. The only pre2013 option, the $1,000 Kramer VP-483, gets the job done with a single VGA input-to-dual HD-SDI outputs, and it has convenient buttons that make scaling the output to 720p or 1080p easy. Unfortunately, it lacks additional inputs and outputs that the two 2013 models do.

The Datavideo DAC-70 adds both HDMI and HD-SDI inputs and outputs and has an attractive $500 price tag, which is likely one of the reasons it is currently backordered. Unfortunately, it suffers from one tragic and potentially limiting flaw: As with the popular Grass Valley ADVC G1, a DVI and HDMI-to-HD-SDI converter, the DAC-70 accepts only a limited range of VGA resolution inputs. Both of these models lack support for 1920x1080 and 1280x720 VGA signals. This means that if your VGA computer input is already in one of the two official HD resolutions, you're out of luck. The DAC-70 is also limited to a 60Hz refresh rate, while computer displays often operate at higher frequencies.

The $1,000 Roland VC-1-SC--also released last summer--features additional HDMI and HD-SDI input and output options such as the DAC-70, but it also supports 1080 and 720 video resolutions. When you combine this with support for even more computer resolutions than the Datavideo model does, along with an additional refresh rates that aren't 60Hz, the Roland VC-1-SC provides producers with a much more compatible and versatile converter, scaler, and distribution amplifier option than any other available solution.

Canon XA25

As much as I love my large-sensor video cameras, I miss the small camcorder form factor and the ability to work with long zoom lenses. My Sony FS700 and FS100 just weren't designed to be handheld; their lack of a side-mounted LCD screen and limited native E-mount lens selection--necessitating the use of nonstabilized lenses for most professional productions--makes handholding much more difficult than with traditional camcorders. A large sensor also limits zoom lens selection, especially at the telephoto end. A typical DSLR zoom lens that is appropriate for video has a 3x zoom, and most top-out at 200mm, or 300mm in a 35mm equivalent.

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I like the Canon XA25 for it 20x zoom lens (35mm equivalent of 576mm) that has a maximum aperture of f/1.8 wide and f/2.8 zoomed in. By comparison, the Sony 20x G series servo zoom lens models, such as the Sony NX5U, ramp down from f/1.6 to f/3.4; this translates into a half-stop advantage for the Canon XA25 on the long end of the lens, where it matters the most. Canon also employs two stabilization methods, similar to the Sony NX30, but that camera has only a 10x optical zoom lens. The Canon stabilization is so effective that during my testing the handheld option, I was able to track dolphins swimming in the ocean and airplanes flying in the sky, while being almost fully zoomed in, from atop a cruise ship.

The Wi-Fi feature allows remote, browser-based control and live view of the camera image. This Wi-Fi creates some very exciting possibilities for unique POV shots, remote operation of multiple cameras, and wireless transmission of video without additional upgrades or investment. Admittedly, the live view frame rate is webcam-esque, but in some applications, this is sufficient. The internal gradiation filter is a nice touch, engaging automatically when you close the iris wheel beyond the camera's f/4.0 sweet spot to offer one, two, or three stops of f-stop reduction.

The OLED screen is gorgeous, and XLR inputs allow for professional audio connections. However, while there is an HD-SDI connection in addition to the mini-HDMI output, both digital outputs leave something to be desired when considering professional connection standards and preferences. The mini-HDMI output does offer 1080p frame rate options, but being a mini connector, it requires a mini connector cable, which isn't currently standard in most A/V kits or easy to replace in a pinch if you ever need to do so. The HD-SDI output is SMPTE 292M (1.5G HD-SDI) and unfortunately is limited to 1080 60i outputs, instead of the more desired SMPTE 424M standard (3G HD-SDI).

If you can live with 1.5G 1080 60i, then it's hard to beat the $2,500 Canon XA25 for web-casting because HD-SDI output cameras usually command a premium compared to their otherwise-equivalent HDMI siblings, if they're offered at all. The XA25 is about $800 less than its closest HD-SDI competitor. But if you need progressive video support, then you might want to look at the $2,000 Canon XA20 and convert the mini-HDMI output to a progressive HD-SDI signal with a format converter.

Blackmagic Design ATEM 1 M/E Production Studio 4K

It's safe to say that CRT televisions are obsolete, having been replaced by LCD, plasma, and, recently, OLED technologies. The same goes for CCD sensors, which have been replaced by CMOS sensors in both video and still cameras. Both these new imaging and display technologies use progressive scan to display video, but, unfortunately, many of the components that are part of video switching and webcast workflow are still stuck with interlace scan technology based on SMPTE 292M (1.5G HD-SDI).

Blackmagic Design took the bold move of augmenting its ATEM line of video switchers with two models that support 3G HD-SDI and 6G HD-SDI. 1080p video support moves Black-magic Design ahead of the of popular 1.5G HDSDI video switcher models such as the Sony MCS-8M and Panasonic AG-HMX100, and UltraHD 3830x2160 support leapfrogs Blackmagic way ahead, reassuring its buyers that this model won't soon be obsolete. And with a price of $2,495, this 10-input switcher (10 HD-SDI with one input switchable to 4K HDMI) costs a fraction of what its competition does.

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When compared to the existing HD-only line of ATEM switchers, the ATEM Production Studio 4K adds improvements to its 1 rack unit-height front panel with Aux output controls and a small LCD screen. The rear now features an internal power supply, XLR inputs and outputs (sans pig-tail breakout), and RCA stereo audio inputs. Gone are the sharp and protruding heatsink fins--replaced with a quiet internal fan.

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Software control panels keep costs low, and up to six network connected computers or laptops can operate the software controls. But plan on pairing this device with a VGA converter/scaler for legacy computer inputs and making sure all your video inputs match the same frame rate and resolution because the ATEM line doesn't have any internal scalers, and tally light outputs require an additional GPI and Tally Interface box.

Roland VR50-HD

One of the big challenges of webcasting is that you're expected to be able to support myriad video inputs in both the digital and analog realm. This requires format and scan converters as well as video scalers. VGA computer signals are among the most challenging to input in an HD workflow, and true VGA support is something that the leading all-in-one studio-in-a-box switcher and webcast encoder lacks. Despite the VGA standard being able to support 1080p and 720p resolutions, many VGA-to-HDMI and VGA-to-HD-SDI converters don't support those two specific resolutions. The VGA resolution then has to be changed to something "close" that is supported but is in a different aspect ratio and then requires scaling and, inevitably, a pillar box or a letter box set of bars.

The fact that the Roland VR50-HD supports half-a-dozen VGA resolutions, including 720p and 1080p, means that it can handle most any analog computer input those A/V techs who run the projections screens and a presentation switcher throw your way. But when you consider that the VR50-HD also has a Program and Aux VGA output, you could easily replace that tech and his presentation mixer while mixing up to 12 channels of audio on the integrated digital audio mixer for the PA speakers, and outputting a USB 2.0 or 3.0 signal to your computer for webcast or archive recording (without requiring a dedicated video capture card).

I don't want to give you the impression that the VR50 HD is a VGA switcher--although that is one of its standout features, along with legacy composite video inputs, all scaled internally if required. The VR50-HD is a modern HD video switcher with HDMI and HD-SDI video inputs and outputs; it supports up to 1080p 60 video, while most of its competition is limited to interlaced HD video resolutions. There are a lot of additional nice touches too, such as a separate audio level adjustment for the USB output, a five-light VU audio level meter, a built-in 7" preview touch monitor, HDCP support for mixing copyright content to the HDMI (only) output, and even a pair of headphone jack outputs in 3.5mm and 1/4" sizes so you don't have to remember to bring your adapters.

My only minor qualms with this switcher are that it has only four video channels (six when not using compositing features such as PinP or Key) and its lack of tally light support. But it's hard to complain about a switcher that does so much and eliminates the need for thousands of dollars' worth of converters, scalers, adapters, audio mixers, subvideo mixers, and webcast capture cards--all for $7,495.

Joby GripTight Mount

Joby's compact GripTight Mount is by far the least-expensive, lightest, and smallest piece of kit I've selected for this year's Gear of the Year. But I can honestly say it's one that I reach for very frequently; it's become an indispensable tool for various production tasks.

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Joby is known for making more famous products such as the GorillaPod, a flexible wraparound tripod used by our team to hang cameras in locations as exotic as a meeting room at the House of Commons or Jose Castillo's spicy and productive SparkPlaza. Yet it turns out that the included GripTight Mount (known formally as the Joby JM1-01WW GripTight Mount) has proven to be an even more versatile production tool.

By itself, the GripTight Mount lists for $19.95, although you can buy one on Amazon for just more than $14 (amzn.to/1eH4WPN) or with a GorillaPod for about $26 (amzn.to/1b4p0Ns). The GripTight fits on any standard tripod or monopod head, or it acts as its own stand-alone tabletop mount for a variety of smartphones, snugly holding any iPod touch or iPhone (as well as a variety of Android and WindowsPhone devices) in place for the duration of a shoot.

The GripTight Mount measures just a little more than 3" long when collapsed and is only 0.3" thick, as the pinchers at either end of the GripTight Mount fold inward to create a flat, thin surface. This means I can easily slip it into my front jeans pocket, as alongside my iPhone, it takes up little more space than an extra-long USB flash drive.

In the field--especially if I'm hiking to a shoot location--I've paired the GripTight Mount with a ProMaster MP528 carbon-fiber monopod (amzn.to/1kH7wwq) so that I have a monopod doing double duty as a lightweight hiking stick. The Joby's snug grip on the iPhone allows me to hoist the monopod over dropoffs with no fear that my iPhone will slip out and spend the rest of its days at the bottom of an inaccessible cliff--although I will admit to using my iPod touch to shoot in some situations where losing my cellphone might prove detrimental, so as not to tempt fate.

In less arduous situations, where a flat surface is handy, I forgo the use of either the GorillaPod or the monopod, opting to use the Joby GripTight as a self-balancing tabletop smartphone stabilizer. Either way, this little wonder easily tops my Gear of the Year list.

Promise Pegasus R6

By the time you read this article, Promise Technologies will be shipping the updated version of this desktop-based RAID 5 Thunderbolt storage solution. The new unit will have Thunderbolt 2 connectors, allowing 20Gbps bidirectional transfer, compared to 10Gbps first-generation Thunderbolt connectors found on a majority of products today.

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But having worked with the original Promise Pegasus R6 for more than 18 months, I can say that even the first-generation version of this six-drive RAID solution is an incredibly robust and intuitive storage workhorse. And it's very fast, even when compared to many solid-state-drive (SSD) devices I've attached it to.

The R6 that I use contains six 2GB drives, for a total of 12GB of storage, in the N+1 configuration common to RAID 5 storage devices. It lists for $2,495, although it can be found for a little more than $2,100 in a variety of locations (amzn.to/1aZroGA).

The enclosure houses six drives and has two Thunderbolt connections, so that multiple enclosures--or a 27" Z27i monitor, in our case--can be daisy-chained together.

Each of the six hot-swappable drive bays is equipped with a two-light status indicator, as well as a two-color power button. After more than 16 months of continual use, one of the drive bay lights on my unit shifted from blue to red, warning me that I might need to check the status of the enclosure.

Using the included Promise Pegasus utility, I discovered that the drive had failed. Had it not been for the indicator light, I would never have sensed a potential data-loss scenario looming, because even with the single failed drive, I was still able to achieve 423MB per-second (MB/ sec) writes and 353MB/sec reads.

A simple RMA with Hitachi, maker of the drives in my R6 enclosure, resulted in a replacement drive arriving in a very timely manner, after which the Promise utility rebuilt the entire R6 RAID, allowing me to once again go back to writes of 666MB/sec and reads of 553MB/sec.

What could have turned into a significant data-loss disaster turned out to be merely a small hiccup in production, thanks to the foresight Promise put into making this "luggable" and lovable RAID 5, six-bay storage solution easy to work with and to repair.

Apple TV (AirPlay)

Apple, the maker of the highly popular iPad, iPhone, and Macintosh computers, has a hobby: the Apple TV.

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Or at least that's the way Steve Jobs famously referred to the first-generation product. The more recent, third-generation Apple TV is about one-third the size of the original unit and packs a single-core A5 processor, HDMI output, and a 100Mbps Ethernet port. In addition, the 4"-square unit, which sells for around $99 (amzn.to/1cC4SOM), has Wi-Fi, which can be used in production to display content from myriad Apple devices.

This wireless display capability, known as AirPlay, allows a MacBook, iPad, iPhone, or late-model iPod touch to stream its audio and/ or video source directly to the Apple TV--for display on an attached big-screen monitor. For presentations, this is a handy feature, allowing multiple users to show videos, keynote presentations, or even webpages to a larger audience. Unfortunately, the Apple TV doesn't have a lockout mode yet, which has led to a few overzealous souls "accidentally" pushing their content to the big screen while someone else is presenting. The lack of distinction between multiple Apple TVs on the same network can sometimes lead to confusion as to which device will display a presenter's content.

Still, for ease of use, the Apple TV tops the list. I carry one while I'm on the road, as I've found it a much better solution for connecting to a hotel room's flat-panel television. The Apple TV takes up less space than the 10' HDMI cable I used to carry, and I'm free to roam around the room with my 11" MacBook Air, unencumbered by wires, using the Apple TV only when I need to view something on the larger monitor.

In a pinch, if the venue doesn't have Wi-Fi, I can use my laptop to generate a Wi-Fi access point, limiting the connectivity to the specific MAC address of the Apple TV. On the flip side, if I'm in a hotel room that has an Ethernet jack, I can also use the Apple TV for its original purpose: watching Netflix or iTunes cloud-based content.

The Apple TV: a versatile production tool in a very small package.

Wowza nDVR

I've written about network-based DVRs before, including how they can dramatically limit power consumption (to the tune of $50 per household per year in power savings) if implemented properly.

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But what if you're just doing a one-off webcast? Is there any benefit to using nDVR? The answer is yes, as illustrated by the nDVR functionality in Wowza Media Server's nDVR AddOn tool.

I design nDVR functionality into customer solutions for enterprise and house-of-worship clients; it allows those stragglers who might miss the beginning of a live event to view the content on a few-minute offset rather than having to wait until the entire webcast is completed.

We build our system solutions so that our tardy viewers can choose to start viewing at the beginning of a live event (using nDVR) or at the current time in the event (using the live stream). For those who use nDVR, they can even push ahead in the time-delayed stream to catch up with the currently live portion. This might allow a road-warrior employee to catch up on key points in the CEO's all-hands meeting or allow two churches to coordinate their sermons and music ministries.

Either way, the addition of Wowza nDVR to the standard media server functionality can be accomplished via a perpetual license or a per-use/per-month basis. Once the nDVR has begun recording the content, it can hold it for a defined number of rotating hours, making the idea of a rebroadcast a fairly simple process for those who might want to watch the content a bit later in the day. In that way, an nDVR performs like a simple content management system for content that may be timely for only a few hours.

With the imminent arrival of Streaming Engine (successor to Wowza Media Server 3), we look forward to seeing what additional enhancements Wowza adds to the new nDVR AddOn.

Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera

We find ourselves at the precipice of production, where high-quality, better-than-HD video has become very affordable and easily attainable, where editing tools are more approachable and easier to use than ever before, and 4K production is starting to make inroads into our daily lives.

Nearly every camera on the market today records HD by compressing it into one codec or another. It may be the near-universal AVCHD or a higher-end codec that provides greater bit depth and lighter compression to provide higher quality for your finished product. But those high-end systems cost a lot. Or they did, I should say, until Blackmagic Design shipped its Pocket Cinema Camera offering raw video for less than $1,000.

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Raw video captures what the sensor sees, with as little intervention as possible. This provides greater detail, greater dynamic range, and--not surprisingly--much higher data rates, which means a more involved workflow when it's time to get the video out of the camera. But for the price of a high-end point-and-shoot camera, without requiring any third-party software such as Magic Lantern to enable raw on the camera, the Pocket Cinema Camera enables you to record some of the best, highest-latitude video possible.

On the back end, software tools are evolving to handle the raw/Cinema DNG output of the Pocket Cinema Camera in a more fluid way, with fewer "workaround" steps. It's a new process, so it's not yet the drag-and-drop easy workflow we've achieved with the more established codecs. But these are new capabilities at this price point, and the available tools are adapting to make the workflow easier and more intuitive.

While BMD's Pocket Cinema Camera is tiny and thus not the easiest camera to use, it does offer audio in and video out to enable you to build a capable setup around it. Think of it as a great sensor in a case, to which you need to add everything else. But for the price, there is nothing out there that comes close to offering the images that the Pocket Cinema Camera places--quite literally--in the hands of users, for under $1,000.

NewTek TriCaster 40

When it comes time to add a second or third camera, then you need to start thinking about a video mixer. When HD started taking over the production environment, I lamented the lack of affordable HD video mixers (bit.ly/1jc 0Gh6). Blackmagic Design changed that with its sub-$1,000 ATEM Television Studio. I presented a session on sub-$5,000 video mixers at Streaming Media Producer Live last November, and when directly comparing the features of all these video mixers, it became clear to me that there is one standout solution: NewTek's TriCaster (TC) 40.

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The caveats are that it is still a software-driven product. While you can use a normal computer keyboard, adding the external control surfaces for video switching makes it more intuitive, tactile, and mistake-proof. Also, the TC40 has component video inputs, not HDMI or HD-SDI. But you can convert HDMI/SDI to component and, when compared to HDMI, component cabling can more easily handle longer runs.

The key features that first jump out are the fact that the TC40 will accept video of any size and frame rate, and mix them together. The TC40 also has an internal playback deck, the ability to simultaneously record the program output in a different format, multiview source monitors in the program interface, audio mixing, and a whole lot more. The TC40 also features a built-in titler, multiple ME layers, and internal 3D sets. These internal sets turn a very basic greenscreen into a polished, expensive-looking background.

Lastly, in addition to the video out (for IMAG) and internal recording, there's the third output of the TriCaster (hence the "Tri"): built-in streaming capability. Your streaming deliverable can be a different size, frame rate, or data rate from your master record and your video output. How's that for flexibility? There are numerous other small details for more specific needs, such as the ability to take live score data for sports events and tie that in to the TriCaster for automatic updating of graphics.

Note that the latest MSRP for the TC40 v2 has pushed it above the $5,000 threshold, but it's still widely available at $4,995. And when I look at everything else in that $5,000 (and less) range, nothing comes close. Best of all, NewTek has been building and refining the software video mixer for more than 23 years. That's a very long time in this industry. NewTek does both the software and the hardware, so you can rest assured that it's a solid system with components designed to work together, not something cobbled together from various third-party products.

Adobe Premiere Pro CC

What the TriCaster doesn't do, however, is edit. I, like many in the industry, made the transition from Final Cut Studio to the Adobe Creative Suite when Apple killed its Pro Apps as we knew them. I was initially reluctant to move to Adobe, as Adobe itself was transitioning from a boxed product (Creative Suite 6) to an online "app store"-type solution called Creative Cloud. But very quickly, the capabilities of the Creative Cloud license became useful to me.

Creative Cloud (CC) is a license to the end user to use Adobe apps on whatever machine you have in front of you--Mac or PC. This alone is a huge improvement over owning a physical copy. I own CS5 for Mac, but getting the CS6 crossgrade to PC (I also switched to PC for editing) would have cost me $699. I opted to join CC at the introductory rate. The CC license covers both Mac and PC. Within days, I was using this capability to speed my work and make me money.

I was freelancing on set and they were using Final Cut Studio 3 on a pretty recent 6-core i7 iMac. However, exporting video from Final Cut Pro 7 used only half the cores to 60%; the other half were at 30%. It was wasting time and processing power. I loaded my CC license on their Mac and was soon exporting using all 6 cores at 100%. It cut my export time by more than half.

At home, my new PC developed a hardware issue, which left it unusable for a short period of time. I was in the middle of editing a project for delivery that week. I removed the PC's internal hard drive, copied the video folder off the PC drive and onto my Mac, installed Premiere 6 on my Mac, opened the project file, and everything was exactly where I left it. The playhead was even where it was when I last saved. I exported and made my delivery schedule with time to spare.

Now, it seems annoying to have to pay monthly for your software. Many people were not upgrading to each and every version of Adobe's $1,800 Creative Suite. They did this to save money. But let's do the math. Let's say you, like most editors, upgrade to every other version. Divide $1,800 by 3 (for an upgrade every 3 years). Divide that $600 by 12 months, and you get $50/month. CC is $49 a month. It's the same cost, but now has 20 apps, a lot more features, such as shared web space, fonts, and other add-ons, as well as cross-platform support and remote installation/ activation without a pile of discs.

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That cross-platform capability enabled me to work around a computer failure, install it temporarily on a client's computer, and keep my deliverables on time--something that was impossible to do with my physical CS5 discs. So, for the same price as a new box set every 3 years, Adobe Creative Cloud offers much more.

Sony FDR-AX1

Lastly--speaking of products that give you much more--the release of Sony's $4,500 FDR-AX1 and the $5,500 PXW-Z100 have solidified 4K for producers in a way that $500 4K TVs and Samsung's 4K shooting Galaxy Note III cellphone hadn't. It's one thing to have 4K at the highest end of production for motion picture distribution. It's another to have consumer 4K cameras and TVs. But when you enable the prosumer market to easily transition to 4K production, you jump-start 4K the same way Sony did it for HDV with the HDR-FX1 and Z1U camcorders.

The AX1 gives the mid-level owner/operator a 20x optical lens with ND filters, using H.264 to record up to 2 hours of 4Kp60 video on a 64GB QXD card in one of the camera's two internal media slots. No external recorder. No expensive lenses. No tangle of wires to make it work and monitor your source. This simplicity, ease of use, and complete practicality is what will bring 4K into the hands of the people that will generate the most 4K content. Moreover, the camcorder also shoots regular HD with incredible oversampling from the 4K sensor inside.

At the outset, Sony is also including a 32GB QXD card and a full copy of its 4K-capable NLE, Vegas Pro 12, with your camcorder purchase. So you get everything from lens to delivery in the box.

Should you spring the extra grand for the high-end model? It depends on whether you need 10-bit 4:2:2 video at up to 600Mbps full 4K, versus 8-bit 4:2:0 video at 150Mbps QHD.

What's the difference between full 4K versus quad HD? Well, 4K is 4096x2160 and quad HD is 3840x2160. At this high resolution, I doubt the difference is visible. So really, the issue is color space; whether you need 4:2:2 or 4:2:0 will come down to how much grading and coloring you'll do in post.

I expect most people will find the AX1 sufficient. And, unlike with the earliest HDV-era camcorders, the hardware is identical with XLR jacks and video I/O. I expect people who are now looking at $3,000 and $4,000 camcorders will opt to "future-proof" themselves with the AX1. For a little more, they'll get a very nice HD camcorder that also enables them to start shooting and editing 4K, so that when the clients start asking for it, they can deliver it without having to buy or rent a 4K camcorder to do the job.

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Also, much as you could shoot HD and deliver DV (as most of us did) at the very beginning of HD, you can shoot 4K and deliver HD. You can even crop, pan and scan, and zoom in post within the 4K footage and still deliver full HD. Then, in a few years, when 4K becomes more of an expectation, you will already have a catalog of 4K content.

2013 was very kind to video producers, with the arrival of better and more affordable tools to shoot, mix, edit, stream, and deliver HD, as well as the introduction of new tools that enable high-end 4K acquisition, editing, and delivery right out of the box.

Anthony Burokas (video@ieba.com) has provided corporate communication services and consulting through IEBA Communications for 20-plus years. His award-winning video has been seen on PBS for more than a decade, he helped build in-mall advertising, and he is currently transitioning to 4K.

Shawn Lam (video@shawnlam.ca) is a professionally accredited and multi-award winning Vancouver-based video producer and technical director. He has written more than 50 articles for Streaming Media Producer and EventDV and is a respected video production expert and sought-after product reviewer.

Steve Nathans-Kelly (steve@streamingmedia.com) is editor of Streaming Media Producer (streamingmedia.com/producer) and video publishing director of Information Today, Inc.

Tim Siglin (writer@braintrustdigital.com) writes and consults on digital media business models and go-to market strategies. He is chairman of Braintrust Digital, a digital media production company, and co-founder of consulting firm Transitions, Inc.
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Author:Burokas, Anthony; Lam, Shawn; Nathans-Kelly, Steve; Siglin, Tim
Publication:Streaming Media
Article Type:Cover story
Date:Apr 1, 2014
Words:5779
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