I was happy to find time to visit Broadcast India 2013, and this is my quick report of what I found exciting – and troubling.
Important: What follows is not business, financial or legal advice or analysis, just my personal opinion. Please consult a professional before taking any action.
Understanding the Indian market
India has always been a land of low-budget filmmaking. Price plays a huge role in the buying process, sometimes overshadowing the value proposition. This means, in a nutshell, even if you have a product that demonstrated higher value with a better ROI, a lower priced product from your competitor will still have equal odds, at the very least.
Take, for example, the case of the Sony F55, a camera I’ve been dying to touch (wish fulfilled, more later!). Sony has sold less than five in India so far, and none that I know of in Mumbai. The two sales are to two major rental houses. Please don’t ask me for my source, but the person who told me is someone who would know the figures even before Sony does.
It’s understandable, when you look at the comparison of rental prices for some cameras:
|Arri Alexa XT||$5,000||$750||6.7|
|Blackmagic Cinema Camera||$500||$167||3.0|
|Canon 5D Mark III||$200||$42||4.8|
*Per day. Prices are not completely accurate and may vary wildly. Exchange rate is about Rs. 60 per USD. Kit includes lenses, tripods and everything you need for a production.
A BMCC or a C300 is hot property and there are many who rent it out. DSLRs have become so common that rental prices have hit rock bottom. Surprisingly, higher end cameras like the Alexa, Red Epic and the F65 find very little use. The Alexa is used mainly for commercials. You could rent the older Alexa model (and shoot Prores) for $500 per day (includes Zeiss primes and the whole shebang).
To buy anything, one has to get it shipped insured from overseas. Even the official distributors have to do it this way. Then, one has to pay about 30% of the gross value to customs. States also have Service Tax, Octroi and other forms of taxation that further adds to the cost. E.g., if I wanted to buy an Arri lighting kit, I’d have to pay twice what it costs in the U.S.
So, why would anyone want to purchase the Sony F55 when the F5 shoots 120 fps and fulfills 99.99% of India’s film, commercial and broadcast demands? How can a new rental house cover their rental rates because they also have to invest in Sony viewfinders, the recorder, lens adapters, rigs, etc.?
The price of a fully functional basic Arri Alexa XT kit (including lenses) would cost about $350,000 in India (prices ‘gleaned’ from the official Arri distributor). At a rental rate of $750, it would take 470 days, or 1.3 years just to recover your purchase price. And then a new camera is announced. On the other hand, the same kit costs about $175,000 in the U.S., and at a rental rate of $4,000 will take only 45-60 days (two months) to recover its purchase price. Of course, this is a simple comparison. For a more complicated look on renting versus buying, check out Which is better: To buy or rent a camera?.
The greatest challenge for overseas vendors is the lack of direct contact with their end user. E.g., a major manufacturer popular nowadays for a certain cinema camera sells via a distributor, and the distributor further sells via resellers. If their cool new camera or switcher breaks, I can’t imagine the aggravation.
Sony, Panasonic and Canon have strong presences in India, with great support. Red has recently opened an official Indian office, and the Red Dragon was one of the highlights of Broadcast India this year. To be honest, if I find the manufacturer has no direct repair facility available, I lose interest – this single factor tells you how serious they really are about the market.
What is Broadcast India?
is probably the biggest film and television technology show in India, and takes place in Mumbai every year. It started in 1991, but I don’t think there’s been a show as exciting as this year’s.
I visit every year, and this year saw a lot of big guns pull their weight in India. I only had a day to spare, so my main focus was:
- To check out some new cameras
- Find good DAS USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt solutions
- Check out the live streaming landscape
- Look at cheap lighting options
- What the Indian manufacturers are up to
I got an excellent opportunity to test two Blackmagic Pocket Cameras – the first from the original shipment, and the second from a newer batch. I can say the re-calibrated Pocket camera no longer has the black spot or white orb problem, and the images look astoundingly good – as good as what you get from the Sony F5 or C500.
Now that John Brawley has opened the lid on the RAW update coming (with compressed Cinema DNG at about 2 to 2.4 MB per frame), this camera has some serious potential.
I asked the rep about the 4K production camera, and was told it would arrive by the ‘end of the year’. This was not an India-based rep, though I’m not telling you who it is. A funny thing happened with the reps from India (who are actually employees of the distributor). I was studying the new SmartView and SmartScope monitors:
They were stacked up next to each other, and showing the same images with the same waveforms – but different colors. I asked the reps why this was so, and they didn’t know. Rec. 709? Never heard of it. Anyway, the smaller Smart* monitors are great. I can’t say the same about the bigger version though.
I was given a demonstration of the Vision Research Phantom 4K camera, 4K at 1,000 fps. Mighty impressive. It writes to an internal RAM at 10 GB/s and can record up to 2.5 seconds worth of 4K material at a time – not for kids at all. The cool thing is you can trigger the record function and stop when you’ve had the shot, and only the last 2.5 seconds get recorded. I was told not all specs are available, but the camera should easily do 12 stops, maybe even 13, as far as dynamic range is concerned. Good stuff from Vision Research.
What about the Red Dragon? Well, it sort of looked the same as an Epic, except I used the carbon fiber version. After all, there is no monitor that can display 6K, so without recording and studying footage it is impossible to say anything. Anticlimax, really.
I played with the Arri Alexa XT, and I must say the Arri viewfinder is probably the best I’ve used (for camcorders, that is). Hey, I’ve already given the XT the title of the Best Camera in the World. It is.
Panasonic didn’t show many cinema cameras (zero, to be precise). I looked at the AF102, sitting like a duck on a tripod, and walked straight past. Life is too short.
Finally, Sony. I spent some good time with the newly updated Sony F5, and I must say the images are better than what I usually get with the C300. Too bad the rental options are limited. I can easily see it replacing the C300. With 120 fps, it is a winner.
What I was really sad to see, was the Sony F55 placed at the back (or front?) of the stand – and nobody waiting to touch it. It drove me mad. I played with it for a good half hour and some people lined up to see what I was doing, but nobody was interested in operating it. The reps were all at the front (which looked like the back), with the PMWs and FS’s. I just couldn’t believe I had free run of the best camera on that stand, and I can tell you it’s a beast.
I also took a good look at Sony primes on both the F5 and F55 and I must say they are really impressive. Sony has two winners, but I figure nobody in India knows it yet.
Storage, data and streaming
The ‘regulars’ were all there, but I was interested in finding cheaper alternatives. And I did.
DataTale makes two 4-bay DAS devices that are of interest – one in USB 3.0 (and the other with Thunderbolt ($600 without drives, cable included). Check out the review here. I’m probably going with the USB 3.0 version (RAID 0 will get me about 300 MB/s, which is well within the USB 3.0 limit). Why am I choosing RAID 0? Check out Which is the best RAID level for editing?
The empty bay would cost me about $300. Great price for a device that does RAID 0, 1, 5, 6 and 10; and JBOD. Of course, these enclosures aren’t exactly new, so my excitement is mainly confined to the fact that I can purchase them for close to their ‘market price’, rather than pay twice for something shipped from overseas (like the G-Raid or Promise bays).
Another cool DAS Thunderbolt solution reminded me of the Areca ARC-8050, the Netstor NA762TB 8-bay Thunderbolt Raid storage, capable of RAIDs 0, 1, 5, 6, 10, 50, 60, single disk or JBOD . But at $1,699 (I have to pay 1.6 x that) it’s hard to recommend.
I met a few engineers from RiverSilica, who have designed PixFix, a software transcoding-on-the-fly solution for live streaming. They provide only turnkey systems (Supermicro servers, with SDI adapters, over 1 gbE) for real-time encoding to multiple bit rates in H.264. The base price for a 1080p rack is about $10,000 (all inclusive, equivalent Rupee price) – which is mighty competitive.
Next, TFT teleprompters from autoscript. If you’re ever unsure how to tell a good brand from a rip-off, a trade show is the best place. Just play with both, and you’ll immediately see the difference. The teleprompters from autoscript are extremely well built and rock solid on a tripod (they used Vinten on the show). I think I checked out the 17″ version (though I can’t say for sure because I had the distinct impression the rep wanted to be busy with other things. I even stuck around answering a few questions from other walk-ins while he was happy to watch!) and was impressed. Unfortunately, autoscript prompters start at $2,000, and a 17″ version might be $5,000 or more. The Indian teleprompter is about $500…sigh.
I also met a company who makes products very similar to Blackmagic Design, and are not shy of announcing they were screwed by the said company (not my words). Interesting, for about five seconds. But we’re moving on.
Lighting and everything else
I had massive fun playing with the Arri L7-C, and I swear never to buy it (it’s too big, it’s too heavy, it costs twice as much, and both the Indian distributors are not fun to talk to at all). Arri should understand that they have products from the high end to the low end, and one ‘attitude’ isn’t going to cut it. E.g., here are some typical reactions I got:
- How much does the XT cost in India? Answer: I don’t know. Just take the dollar price and multiply.
- A few cinematographers playing with the XT: Why is this image so stretched (It was anamorphic in 16:9 mode). Rep doesn’t know. I step in, and change the menu to 4:3 (my first time with the camera, but thank you Arri for the online menu tool), apply a desqueeze, and voila. Rep is not happy (you could see it in bold letters on the LCD on his face).
- I tell rep: The Arri L7-C you have rigged isn’t earthed. I just got a shock while turning the color knob. Answer: I didn’t stick around to hear his excuse.
The L7-C is beautiful – it is everything right about LED – but totally impractical as a replacement to a smaller and cheaper 650W Tungsten Fresnel (Tweenie).
Most Indian lighting rental houses can’t afford Arri or Mole Richardson (they haven’t heard about Mole in these parts), so they source their fresnels and HMIs from local dealers. One local company who has been making lights for ages is Khatbon. Their lights are reputably solid, cheap and use quality parts (I spoke to the owner and toured their factory a few months ago). In fact, I feel more reassured buying from these guys than Arri in India.
I didn’t visit any software vendor, because I’ve had my fill of software for the next two years. However, I made the mistake of stepping into the Editshare booth, a small booth you can cover in four steps. I stood at the center, surrounded by four reps (or was it six?), all with their backs turned and busy with their own monitors. Five minutes go by, nobody cares to say hi. They’re not getting many visitors, and all I wanted to say was what a great job they did with Lightworks. I took that thought home, unsaid.
The same happened at the Aja stand, where I played around with a C500 and Ki Pro Quad, but couldn’t figure out something. I look around like a hungry poodle, for ten minutes. Did they want me to go on my knees and beg?
I got to play a bit with Hocus Focus, acted dumb, and asked why there’s no SDI out on it. I’m terrible. They were troopers.
I also happened to check out some rigs, most of which were crap. I was impressed with Arri rigging gear, and I’ve already stated elsewhere I think they make the best rigging tools. The Chinese and the Indian brands (some even rip-offs of Chinese rip-offs of known brands!) were all on display. One owner didn’t like me testing his slider for ‘bumps’, of which I found two. The manual slider costs about $450. No, thank you.
I think I’ve been completely put off by cheap imitation goods. It was sad to see ‘real name’ manufacturers sharing floor space with companies who rip off their goods.
Finally, one of the highlights of my visit was meeting Peter Daffarn of Photon Beard (now I know where the name comes from!), and listening to his ideas on LEDs, fluorescent (took a good look at the new Square One) and plasma lighting – and what he thought of other manufacturers and their lights. Didn’t know Photon Beard was the oldest lighting company in the world (130+ years).
The Square One is cheaper than (almost twice as cheap) a Litepanel 1×1, can be fitted with Osram daylight or tungsten tubes, is dimmable (but not till 0%) and can be battery powered via 14.4V bricks. Nice, but not for me.
Well, that’s about it.
I had a great time this year, and am sorry I only had a day to spare for it. On the whole, the Internet has brought us all a lot closer than we were five years ago. I sincerely hope manufacturers will get their supply chains and service centers in place – it would make the purchasing process a lot easier.
I’ll be there next year as well.