I guess this is par for the course with every NAB Show, maybe it was the onslaught of Las Vegas, but the 6-day event was overwhelming in several dimensions. I’ve not attended an NAB event before, and perhaps returnees are used to the size and onslaught of presentations and exhibits at the Las Vegas Convention Center, but the only reaction I muster at the end of each day was a stiff drink before crashing out at my hotel. Meanwhile, I’m sure, there were many chips being cashed in.
The NAB Show 2011 not only consisted of nine concurrent conference events focusing on such areas as telepresence, cloud computing, media business, and the military, but also featured where keynote addresses by the likes of directors James Cameron and Kevin Smith. Next door at the Las Vegas Hilton, the “co-located” Broadcast Educators Association (BEA) conveniently offered its full schedule of event taking place. And, of course, there were pavilions of media companies taking up space of the floors of the major halls, all offering their various wares, services, and visions of the future.
The major theme of the event without a doubt was the emerging role of 3D in the digital media ecosystem and its assumed importance to the future of broadcasting. The key assumption: widespread 3D adoption is coming within the next 3-5 years. This premise follows the success of the format in driving audiences into the seats of movie theatres, and the increasing availability of stereoscopic camera equipment that is beginning to work its way into the creative workflows of big budget filmmakers and content producers.
It is also based on rapid developments on the consumer side and for smaller scale productions, i.e. 3D-capable home theater systems – including screens that will not require the use of 3D glasses – as well as the investments by TV networks and cable providers in dedicated 3D television channels. Meanwhile, cameras are getting smaller and more flexible for location-based shooting, while the increased storage and bandwidth requirements of 3D footage – while still a significant concern – are at least manageable in some degree now through digital production tools and distributed computing, i.e. resources and capabilities that were not available in past film-based 3D efforts.
While narrative-based fantasy 3D features such as Cameron’s box office hit Avatar have demonstrated the technology’s promise to mass audiences, numerous CGI-driven animated features such as Disney and Pixar’s Up and Bolt have also hit screens, though with varying levels of success. However, unlike live action features, these animated films can offer significant 3D effects without the use of actual cameras in production, as can be done with the use of 3D graphics in video games. In both cases, however, a compelling story for audiences young and/or old still needs to be told convincingly. All the 3D in the world can not help in this regard.
Yet the real wow-factor of NAB Show 2011 was timed perfectly Monday through a glimpse of 3D broadcast footage from the weekend’s Masters golf tournament. I don’t normally root for Tiger Woods, but it was fascinating to see the stereoscopic realism of his turn past the gallery on Amen Corner and the stroll over the bridge at Rae’s Creek. NOTE: the cocktail waitresses that made headlines for Tiger were also on display in “real 3D”, though down the Strip at any given club and casino. Would I watch golf in 3D? Yes. Any other sports, such as basketball, hockey, baseball, or football? Absolutely, and beyond North America, the brief soccer and rugby clips were also impressive. However, I’m not sure I’d re-watch any of these events, and I’d definitely not bother to watch sports highlights with a set of 3D glasses. For three dimensional sports broadcasts, it seems the value is all in the attack, not the release.
There is, of course, a catch to all this 3D hype… more specifically, a couple of key “gaps” in the stereoscopic view of the future: (1) the “content gap” that leaves these 3D-specific channels with an obvious need to fill empty air time, and (2) the “learning gap” that becomes apparent when content producers realize that creating compelling 3D content involves much more than simply doubling up on a 2D image. Furthermore, the same cost spiral that that can sink a traditional 2d feature film or even a studio or live-album recording – specifically, the philosophy that it can be “fixed in post” – is even more pronounced when dealing with the unknowns of a third visual dimension. Getting the z-axis wrong might not just put off an engaged viewer, it might actually make them feel ill.
Where this leaves off, for now, is the question of how music fits into all the 3D hype? I can say without question that seeing the U23D film in an IMAX theater in 2008 made me rethink the stereoscopic film as more than a gimmick to get asses in theatre seats. Sure it was disconcerting to see Bono’s giant head – literally, not figuratively – peering out three dimensionally from his pulpit.
Yet the film had a definite effect on me, specifically, the role of concerts for capturing high-quality 3D content that requires little to no narrative effort on the filmmaker’s part (that’s the artist or band’s job, for the most part). Furthermore, the concert film genre also can also hold on to value – if not gain value – through its documentary role in a way that is generally more pronounced than its sporting event broadcast sibling. When I first saw U23D, I kind of left these ideas in the realm of BIG TICKETS such as U2 (and, of course, Hanna Montana). After the NAB even, I’m not so sure they need to be kept there.
The Content Conference, Rob Legato’s keynote, the “standards” update and panel
Keynote by Chad Beck, editor of the Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job, plus a sampling of presentations from the BEA event at the Hilton.
James Cameron and Vincent Pace’s deliver the NAB Show 2011 Keynote, followed by a press conference around the launch of their new 3D film company Cameron-Pace Productions, as well as some lively discussion at the Cloud Computing Conference.
The Telepresence Conference that I didn’t teleconference into.
Kevin Smith sets a words-per-minute record, checking out the exhibitor halls, then getting some hands-on instruction at the Pro Audio Pit
Off to Coachella for the elusive press pass, with not a wristband to be found.