NAB 2018 RECAP What you missed, what we liked and how future entertainment is shaping new technology.

by Daron James

The annual NAB trade show held in April at the Las Vegas Convention Center brought new innovation and technology. Each year, themes emerge from the onslaught of manufacturer announcements and this year was no different. Two years ago, we saw 4K and HDR flood the market and they continue to make an appearance. Last year, buzz around the ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard was part of the conversation. In 2018, acquisitions and integrations were the talk of the show floor.   

It was another big year for audio as it started to lead in IP and immersive experiences for virtual and augmented realities (VR/AR). Studios and networks are spending boatloads of cash in order to attract audiences to new immersive forms of entertainment. Whether 3D, 360-degree or ambisonic audio, you’ll be hearing a lot more about the technology advancements going forward.

For location sound, the usual suspects in audio manufacturing made their presence felt, but it was not as striking compared to previous years. It’s interesting; we’ve grown accustomed to hearing about new gear around trade show time, and when we don’t, it feels like a letdown. But that’s not the manufacturer’s fault. It is of our own making. Not to mention, companies like DPA, Countryman, Lectrosonics, Sanken, Schoeps, Sound Devices, Wisycom and Zaxcom have already pushed the boundaries of what we believe can be done with audio technology. They’ve improved polar patterns, increased track counts, made things incredibly smaller, integrated workflows, enhanced the durability and advanced countless other modifications.

Many audio manufacturers, to their credit, design gear that’s future proof and doesn’t need to be replaced often. That’s good for the consumer but it puts them in a challenging position to grow. We’ve seen that especially in the last several years. Zaxcom was the first to introduce a wireless system with simultaneous internal recording to a memory card. Now, Lectrosonics is following Zaxcom’s lead, offering wireless that can transmit or record to an internal memory card. Tascam offers similar solutions. There’s little doubt that if Zaxcom didn’t hold a U.S. patent for its simultaneous recording technology it would be reproduced. Outside North America, it has been replicated by Audio Limited with its A10 Digital Wireless System, a new acquisition of Sound Devices. Though it’s worth noting it doesn’t offer simultaneous wireless transmission and internal recording inside the U.S. because of the aforementioned patent.  
 
This is not to say drawing inspiration from existing ideas and adapting them as your own is a bad idea. It’s done all the time. But it needs to be done with caution. In speaking with Intellectual Property Lawyer Michael Cohen of Cohen IP Law Group in Beverly Hills, having “some form of IP protection is not only important but it can make or break a company.” While non-practicing entities or “patent trolls” have created a bad persona about patents, Cohen mentions, “It’s important to realize that for practicing companies it could be their only means of survival.”

And it’s not just the bigger players battling for market position, nor is it limited to those in audio technology. If anything, NAB this year proved that companies are starting to vertically expand their portfolios. Sound Devices made a splash with the aforementioned purchase of Audio Limited, its first venture into wireless microphone systems. The buy allows the company to possibly package the 688, SL-6 and A10 wireless together at an attractive price in the future. It will also be interesting to see if Sound Devices starts integrating receivers directly into its recorders/mixers.

The Wisconsin-based company also announced a partnership with Sennheiser allowing its MixPre-6 and MixPre-10T recorders to capture and monitor 360° spatial audio through Sennheiser’s VR microphone, AMBEO.

Sennheiser showcased its new evolution wireless, the G4 which replaces its popular G3 series. The G4 comes in three lines: the 100, 300 and 500. The 100 G4 series is identical in spec to the 100 G3 line but offers a new housing and a monochrome LCD instead of the orange display. The 500 G4 series is its pro line offering a new chipset for 2,880 frequencies across an 88 MHz band.

Sennheiser also introduced the Memory Mic that captures audio on smartphones. It’s a lapel mic though it’s pretty bulky. It’s essentially a microphone with an internal recorder that can capture up to four hours of audio. Then the recorded audio can be transmitted to a smartphone via hotspot and synced to video. It might be an interesting solution for a plant mic, possibly a scratch track, but the audio quality remains unknown as it was a prototype.

Other quick hits from the show floor included gear from K-Tek’s new “budget-sensitive” Airo line of accessories, Rode’s NT-SF1 ambisonic mic, Rycote’s 3” windscreen dubbed Baseball for shorter mics and Zaxcom is shipping its Deva 24 and Mix-16.

For the Video Engineers of Local 695, Flanders Scientific started rolling out 12G-SDI UHD monitors as large as 65”. Vaxis now offers an extensive range of wireless video systems from five hundred feet all the way up to three thousand feet. SmallHD and Teradek have teamed up to offer monitors integrated with wireless video. The 703 Bolt is a bright 3,000- nit seven-inch monitor offering five hundred feet wireless range while the Focus RX/TX system is an 800-nit five-inch monitor with range of five hundred feet. On the Teradek side, its new Bolt XT and LT provide a zero delay wireless video system. Additionally, Atomos unloaded Ninja V and partnered with Apple to support ProRes RAW for its video recorders.

Company integration is now part of the future of technology. It was the buzz throughout NAB, at least for this observer. We’ll see more companies partnering to simplify workflows. Others will expand to untapped markets like virtual reality or tweak lucrative ideas as their own. Only time will tell which ones will pay off.