Well, we survived our sojourn in Las Vegas for the 2014 NAB Show. During our visit, we captured two photographs that I think concisely summarize our entire experience. See if you can identify the common theme between them:
If you've visited our YouTube channel in the past week, then you know we've been busy uploading videos, sometimes twice a day, about the different people and products we encountered at NAB. However, neither our blog or our other social media outlets have kept up. So, now that we're back in Portland, it's time to get caught up. Here we go!
Patrick Smith at Aerial Media Pros, who we met for the first time at AMA Expo in January, showed us the new DJI Ronin gimbal. This is an interesting development, one one which falls a little outside our field of expertise, because its primary application is hand-held operation.
However, it can also be mounted (via a quick-release mount) to an as-yet unreleased 1,200mm octocopter that is currently under development by DJI. At a cost of $5,000 each, hobbyists won't exactly be beating down DJI's door to purchase Ronins for themselves, but the video professionals at NAB seemed impressed at the price – with comparable units selling for three times as much. For myself, I was interested to see hobby technology being utilized in professional applications.
Next up, we met the folks over at Quadrocopter.com. At their booth, they had some impressive, professional-grade systems on display – with prices to match. I caught some flak on YouTube for showing off hardware that costs more than a good quality used car.
Heck, my original Gaui 330x set me back more than the 1976 Ford Mustang II that saw me through my first year of work after graduating from college, so I'm entirely sympathetic to those complaints, believe me.
I never believed that any of our fans were going to run out and buy a CineStar with a Movi gimbal immediately after watching this video, but I thought there were some good ideas to be had – like the undercarriage that rotates with the gimbal, to provide the camera with an unobstructed 360-degree field of view without the mechanical complexity of retracts.
Like I told someone over on YouTube: pro-grade hardware is expensive, but good ideas are free.
To our surprise, we met up with our friends from Aerial Technology International at NAB. We were loitering around the FreeFly booth and Lawrence Dennis appeared out of the crowd. The following day, we caught up with him and the rest of the crew at the a space they shared with other cutting edge developers, apparently sponsored by Intel.
Anyway, they showed us the next technological evolution of their partnership with 360Heroes – a seamless, flying video orb that allows you to look in every direction without seeing the aircraft. We got to try it out with a set of Oculus Rift video goggles, and the effect is startling. Once it catches on, I'm convinced this is going to be a very powerful way to remotely experience different locations around the world.
Now that we're back in Portland, we're going to get together with them in the near future and do a video about this thing.
We also ran into Rick Bohlman from GoProfessional Cases, who we first met at the 2013 Multirotor Challenge and again at the AMA Expo earlier this year. This time, he showed us a nice 5.11 Tactical backpack that he had kitted out with foam to hold a DJI Phantom and its accessories.
By all accounts, his business in the multirotor sector has just exploded since we first met him a year ago. Like a lot of people in this industry, I suspect, things are moving so quickly that he's been having trouble keeping up. He explained that he's been getting requests to do a backpack for months now, but never had the time to actually sit down and do it until just recently.
One of the great pleasures of attending NAB was having the opportunity to meet Ziv Marom of ZM Interactive. He does high-end aerial film production for television and movies. Most recently, he was in Bulgaria for two months shooting Expendables 3. We were most recently in a city park, making a YouTube video.
So, on that level, we have very little in common. However, I felt a strong connection with Ziv nonetheless. Like us, it's clear he just loves this technology – and he is also dedicated to ensuring that it is used safely. You'll be hearing more from him in an upcoming video we shot while in Las Vegas, as well as an article in the July issue of RC Sport Flyer magazine, so stay tuned for that.
Being an actual card-carrying English major, I loathe trade spellings – the practice of deliberately misspelling words in advertising and branding to secure a trademark and draw attention. I flinch every time I see an advertisement for “Dri-Fit” diapers or “Odor Gard” antiperspirant. So, when I first discovered Yuneec (pronounced “unique”) multirotors on the show floor, you can imagine my reaction.
At Techinstein's urging, I steeled myself and went in for a closer look – and I'm glad that we did. I feel like I gushed a little bit during the video, but their stuff is just so slick it was hard not to be enthusiastic. That 24-channel radio with the built-in monitor (running Android OS, according to Techinstein) is just so sweet that I was ready to run out to the local organ donation center and sell off a kidney to raise the funds so that I could purchase one right then and there.
Fortunately for my body's ability to filter waste products of out my blood, neither the radio, nor any of those other wicked kewl products have been released yet. Product Manager Mark Padilla told is that they would go on sale starting this summer.
Although I heard murmurs of “vaporware” on the show floor, I'm thinking that Yuneec is going to deliver. They had videos at their booth showing these products in action, and they are a well-established company with a portfolio that goes far beyond the unmanned aerial video production segment.
Our good friends at MediaFX Video Production urged us to check out the Ninja Star from Atomos. Making our way over to the Atomos booth, we were delighted by what we found. Oh, and the product was pretty cool, too.
This isn't something that your typical FPV hobbyist is ever going to need. However, it's a powerful tool for aerial video production – allowing you to capture better quality video than you're able to using the record function on many cameras, including the GoPro Hero.
I'll be completely honest: I don't fully understand all of this “color depth” mumbo-jumbo, and I figure 4:2:2 is better than 4:2:0 because eight is more than six – and more is better, right? Anyway, whatever the limits of my own knowledge (and, in this case, they are indeed substantial), people who know this stuff and whom I trust implicitly tell me that it's important.
On a completely unrelated note, shortly after putting this video up on YouTube, I started catching flak for using the word “drone” in reference to multirotor aerial camera platforms. I'm sympathetic to those concerns – I truly am – but I simply disagree with those commentators. My belief is that we need to redeem the word “drone” and make it mean more than “flying death machine.”
The problem is that there is no other word that succinctly describes the type of system we are describing that is simultaneously universally recognized. I have a friend who owns a drone business, and he and I do a little role-play to illustrate this problem:
Question: “What do you do?”
Answer: “I run a company that is involved in deploying small unmanned aircraft systems.”
Question: “What's a small unmanned aircraft system?”
Answer: “Basically, it's a remote control aircraft equipped with cameras and other sensors.”
Question: “So, like a drone?”
If there was another word available in English that everyone understood and accurately described this technology, I would be using it. However, there isn't. So, it's incumbent on all of us to show that it can mean more than it does today.
They're putting out a new magazine that will hit the newsstands any day now, specifically devoted to multirotor aerial camera platforms. Its title? RotorDrone.