Tales of a NAB Newbie

Going to NAB is a sure-fire way to obliterate your daily steps goal.

My marathon began when I saw the massive line for the convention center-bound monorail.  It didn’t look like the destination was too far off, so I decided to skip the line and walk.  After the first quarter mile I remembered that Vegas blocks are as over-sized as their buffets, and the morning sun quickly began to turn from luxurious to threatening.  Nothing says, “Hi, I’m a video professional” like a sweated-through shirt, so I finished the walk targeting as many areas of shade as possible.

The Scene

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It is impossible to say if the blur of the first two hours on the NAB show floor was the lingering heat stroke, or complete sensory overload at the scope of what I was seeing.

I’ve been to many conventions, and have seen what I thought were massive displays of marketing prowess.

Every one of my previously experienced show floors combined would make up maybe 75% of one level of this conference (of which there were four + an outdoor pavilion).

This is a big-dog convention, serving the needs of broadcasters of every shape and size and drawing around 80,000 attendees.  The exhibitors ranged from satellite uplink gear, IP backhaul providers, top-of-the-line 4k camera makers, all the way to mom-and-pop shops who make cables or custom gear.  The largest “booth” was multiple stories with a corner, 2nd floor conference room so that business stuff could happen; the smallest was basically a fold out table.

The Toys

The superstar studio camera makers were all present, from Ikegami to Sony, with each booth containing a pre-lit set populated with beautiful women reading books, and ringed with cameras for you to play with.  I applaud the restraint shown by the guest operators I saw.

Virtual sets were of course a hot topic, but the blending of virtual with real was of the most interest to me.  Robotic cameras with pre-built moves allowed for graphics to be overlaid and interacted with by on-stage talent; it was really cool to see in action.

Dell drew crowds by having a three-seat Oculus Rift demo area, where visitors could experience a short run through the world of the “Book of Life” movie.  I’m just glad the heat stroke had passed before I was virtually tossed down a roller coaster drop or I could have made quite a scene.  The technology is amazing, and knowing we are only at the beginning of that road is very exciting.

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If you saw any coverage of the convention it likely included a mention of the “Drone pavilion”.  I’m a hobbyist in this category and fancy myself a decent pilot, easily able to bulls eye womp rats in my T-16 (hello nerds who got that).  I quickly learned that a) my home-built model has been fully surpassed by off-the-shelf options and that b) having a robot co-pilot makes flying much, much easier.  The 3DS Solo’s demo station had a simulator allowing you to fly a virtual drone, and the controls were so much better than I’ve used before that even after just a few minutes it’s going to be hard to go back to standard controls.   Overall, you can get a flyer of most any size, at most any price point that will let you take you camera airborne.

Ustream and Livestream offered an interesting comparison in tactics.  Livestream had a large area packed with hardware ranging from full switching systems to camera-attached encoders. It was consistently busy and exciting.  Ustream had a small booth with a few monitors, data-sheets, and very little activity.  As we use Ustream extensively, we know that the core product of both vendors is high quality, but Livestream is really attacking the market via the creator hardware space.

Microsoft’s booth was largely focused on third parties whose services are built on Azure, but had a spot to discuss Azure’s streaming capabilities. Interestingly they announced a brand-new streaming platform on their blog the day of the event, but the booth personnel had no new information on it, and I was told to watch for details coming next month.  Very unfortunate timing.

Live-U had a great presentation space in their booth, and showcased a new slim-lined cellular connected model that is able to be mounted to a camera or put in a belt pack, as well as updates that allow a Live-U unit to be a full 2 way hotspot for an event location.

1-Beyond was showcasing a fully automated tracking camera that uses face recognition and motion to lock on to a presenter and pan/tilt/zoom as necessary to keep them in the frame. Gets a little complicated when multiple presenters are in the mix, but the robot seems fairly smart and has a pre-defined fail-safe mode to jump to a wide shot when it gets confused.  They also had an interesting product that allows you to stream all of your feeds live and let the viewer select which stream they want to watch.   It was a fine demo, but not really practical in most scenarios.

MediaPlatform was the only vendor in our typical webcast “platform” space who was present at the conference, largely due to their focus on PrimeTime as a media management play.  Little to no fanfare for Webcaster or any live solutions, although we will have a follow-up meeting to discuss their ability to integrate PrimeTime videos in to SharePoint and Yammer.

IMG_7058The portable hardware switcher space was pretty crowded and I saw showings from DataVideo, Sony, and BlackMagic.   Sony’s AnyCast Touch was by far the sleekest looking, and included the ability to remote control Sony robotic cameras.   DataVideo had a very strong option in their HL-2000 model.

SkypeTX also had a presence with a couple vendors, the most popular being NewTek’s TalkShow device.  As we’ve seen, it’s a great way to pull remote guests in to a live show, and is likely going to be a hot-seller amongst the in-studio production folks.

Wowza had a solid presence and unveiled their Wowza Cloud product, which removes the need to manage the server layer.  It is all pay-as-you-go, with a simple setup process that will spin up your servers, configure Wowza, and connect to Akamai for delivery.  There are a number of options on the player side, from a simple web page containing a player, to an embeddable player, to using your own player.   It is a really nice step forward for a great platform.

35,000 Steps Later

After a long day roaming the convention center, and with my decision to wear fancy business shoes having long been deemed a mistake, it was time to call it a day.  Overall it was a great experience, and I found some shiny needles in the haystack that hopefully will help fuel our services over the coming years.  I could go on for a couple more pages about adventures in Vegas once I flipped in to vacation mode, but you know the saying…

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