There were fewer workstation vendors at NAB this year and those companies that were there really toned down their presence. PC vendors have been hit hard in the last twelve months both in terms of the slowdown in overall PC sales and the drop in stock prices. Perhaps in part as a result of these harder times, many vendors decided to cut spending on marketing activities, and tradeshows are always the first thing to go.
These types of budget decisions are made at the corporate level, and while overall PC sales are down the workstation market is doing a little better.
Compaq for example released their latest solutions for DV editing solutions that support some of the latest released DV editing software. The company has created two reasonably priced systems. The first is its native DV option kit that works with Compaq's Workstations and Deskpro PCs. The complete kit is priced at $1,700 and includes Adobe Premiere 6.0, IEEE-1394 interface, 30 GB.
The second DV solution has Compaq's Desktop EN qualified with Avid Xpress DV and starts at $3,800. This DV editing solution includes Avid Xpress DV, Sonic Solutions DVDit!, Media CleanerEZ, Matrox G450 graphics card, and streaming/DV output support.
Another workstation vendor who is starting to appear in the digital content creation (DCC) space is Sun Microsystems. They tried to enter this market several years ago, but it was a little premature. They didn't have all the hardware components in place to support this market and as a result weren't able to get a lot of independent software vendors (ISVs) to support the platform. That was then, this is now. The industry has progressed and so has Sun. They've got most of their hardware components in place, they certainly have the storage and server requirements, and they have a better understanding of the market. At NAB they even announced a new bundle with Creative where Sun plans to offer two new sound cards for all of Sun's PCI-equipped workstations and servers.
The other dominate theme at this year's NAB was the growing support for MPEG-4. Many editing and streaming technology vendors are showing momentum and taking MPEG-4 to heart. MPEG-4 is fast becoming the looked-upon standard for delivering data rich content over the Internet. Because MPEG-4 is so scalable and can bring in data from multiple sources, content providers are very interested in the broadband applications such as delivering Internet-enhanced television broadcasting into the home. MPEG-4, due to its compression capabilities, is being targeted for handheld wireless devices including cell phones and PDAs. Some of the early developers of MPEG-4 solutions include Ligos, PacketVideo, en-Vue, envivio, and DiamondBack Vision.
Another budding technology standard that is gaining momentum is OpenML being developed by a consortium of companies, called the Khronos Group. The Khronos Special Interest Group itself is made up of a number of brand name vendors including 3Dlabs, ATI, Compaq, Discreet Logic, Intel, HP, IBM and Sun to name a few. The creation of the group was to bring together industry leaders to help create a standard for creating digital media content and playback.
At NAB the Khronos Group announced the completion of the OpenML specification. Up until now OpenML has not be a widely known or discussed specification, but now that the specification is available we should expect to see more coverage. The OpenML software environment enables easier integration of multiple forms of digital content including video, audio and 3D graphics simultaneously. One important point to note about OpenML is while it is enriches the graphics, video and audio of new products such as TV set top boxes it works for portable devices as well. So, where MEPG-4 provides the streaming video component, OpenML can be viewed as the glue that would bring together all the components from video to rich 3D graphics and rich audio.
One exciting new area creating a stir in the DCC space both from a 3D perspective as well as for video editing, is called match moving tools. Match moving tools combine 3D objects with video and incorporate 3D tracking technologies, thereby allowing any form of 3D object to be placed in a video scene. While such a thing exists already for films, most of the high-end production facilities had to create expensive internal development tools to accomplish this. Now, with the help of boujou from 2D3, a company out of the UK and MatchMover from Realviz of France, videographers can now create the same effects. While the products are still relatively expensive, at $10,000 and $5,000 respectively, we should expect to see more of these sorts of tools in the future.
The digital media market in general is an extremely exciting market and will stay that way for at least the next five years. Last year was the year of streaming media. Now, companies realize that streaming itself is just an output mode for distribution, just as HDTV, SDTV, and DVD are. This year seems to be the year of the "integrated workflow". This proved to be no exception at NAB, with the majority of companies showcasing enhanced-workflow features and solutions. Companies are starting to focus more on the big picture and what part of that continuum they fall into.
The tools are robust and prices are dropping making for a strong indicator for future growth (better quality and more access). With the focus on easing workflow bottlenecks, there is also growing emphasis on the use of SANs (storage area networks) to store all this digital content we are now creating, digital media asset management solutions to keep track of it all, and secured broadband access to distribute it.
If NAB 2001 is any indication of what is on the horizon, there is a whole lot more to come. Suffice it to say that the number of companies entering this market with new, innovative digital video and graphics products is growing every year. With prices continuing to come down, DV is having an enormous impact on the media industry.