Thursday, November 13, 2008

What Just Happened: The Big RED Announcement

So remember my post earlier this year about how the RED camera was an awesome digital filmmaking revolution?

And remember how their NAB announcements further "changed the game"?

RED's latest announcement just bitchslapped all previous products and announcements and told them to go make it a sandwich.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, a brief timeline.

How We Got Here

At NAB 08, two new cameras were announced in the RED product line. The 3K "Scarlet" -- originally touted as a "professional pocket camera" -- and the 5K "Epic," called the "flagship of the RED family." There's been a flurry of discussion about both cameras ever since on the RED community site RedUser. Scarlet discussion, in fact, was so significant that it wound up spawning off its own dedicated discussion board, ScarletUser.

On both sites, requests for features -- both "reasonable" and "unreasonable" -- were made by the community, changes and revisions made by RED, and while not everyone was thrilled by every aspect of either camera, the forums were buzzing all through the spring and summer.

Then, in September 2008, several announcements came in quick succession from Jim Jannard -- founder of RED and wacky billionaire extraordinaire -- on the RedUser forum.

The first, posted on September 8, announced a "DSLR-killer" that was tentatively called a DSMC (Digital Still & Motion Camera). Speculation as to what this could mean -- and in particular, where the DSMC sat in relation to the Scarlet, specification-wise -- immediately erupted. Scarlet had a 2/3" sensor, after all, whereas to even play in the DSLR sandbox the DSMC would have to be a 35mm sensor, to say nothing of the planned "fixed lens" on Scarlet, when the DSMC would need to be swappable. So it sounded like the DSMC would pretty much trounce Scarlet spec-wise; but if it were more expensive than Scarlet's speculated $3K price point, it would be too expensive to be much of a competitor, let alone a "killer," of the DSLR market.

I personally was already confused by what seemed to me to be significant market overlap between the Epic and the Red One -- now RED seemed to be stepping on their own toes again. It just didn't make much sense.

Three days later, on September 11, Jannard posted a message stating simply that "Epic...has changed." Eleven days after that, on ScarletUser, Jannard announced that Scarlet, similarly, was "not the same," and that everything we "knew" about Scarlet should be wiped from our memories. He later made the same "clean slate" statement regarding Epic. Renders and spec pages of both products were pulled from the RED company website, replaced with temporary images stating that they were "Currently Undergoing Change."

When it was pointed out that no mention had been made of where the DSMC sat in these plans, Jim gave the cryptic answer, "What's a DSMC?"

Based on all that, it was assumed by many in the RED-aware community, myself included, that RED had realized that Epic needed to be more distinct from Red One and were re-tooling it, and likewise had absorbed the DSMC into a revised Scarlet concept.

Finally, Jim announced that all would be made clear on November 13th. Why that date? Who knows. But the RED community -- and really, much of the digital filmmaking community -- has been looking toward the day with some degree of anticipation or other.

So now the day is here. And as of 1:41 AM, all has indeed been made clear.

What Just Happened

The most significant element of the announcement, as it turns out, is the DSMC. If the concept started life as a distinct, stand-alone product, it has since evolved into the over-arching philosophy for the foreseeable future of RED's product line.

Standard practice for electronics manufacturers is to build a full-featured device -- in this case a camera. The commonly understood drawback being that the device is obsolete nearly the moment you buy it. Technological advancement has created an improvement in the sensor, or the processing, or the monitoring, even an improvement in form factor -- whatever it is, it will require that the manufacturer create a completely new device, and you must buy it again.

This also tends to mean that updated devices come every 12-18 months, since manufacturers don't want to constantly be revising their product line. So they wait for a "backlog" of improvements to build up, enough that they can justify creating a new product and you, the buyer, can justify ponying up the dough again.

The DSMC model does things differently.

RED's plan moving forward is to produce not cameras, but components of cameras, which can be configured and re-configured almost infinitely1. You can buy one set of components and be able to make a still camera, a movie camera, a shoulder-mounted camera, and even a 3D rig. You are not locked in to the configuration that they think is most "optimized" for the most situations. You decide.

On top of that, because the camera is modular in every way, including the sensor (which I'll get to in a second), you also don't have to wait for technological advances to reach critical mass before upgrading to the latest and greatest. If a better LCD monitor comes out, you can buy that and integrate it into your configurations without losing the investment on the rest of the components. A lot of the non-electronic components -- the grips, the shoulder-pads, the mounting rods -- will rarely or never need an "upgrade," so it's senseless to buy all those bits anew when the electronics are improved. Thanks to the modular DSMC system, you no longer have to.

The concept, like all revolutionary ideas, is forehead-slappingly obvious once someone comes out and does it. And to be fair, it's not a completely new concept -- to RED. This is essentially what the Red One was intended to be, but they couldn't quite make it happen.

But hey, the camera makes pretty pictures and if it was a necessary step to take on the path to developing the DSMC system, then I am happy to forgive.

As I said, the system is totally modular, and that includes the sensor. Not only was DSMC not absorbed into Scarlet, but as it turns out, both Scarlet and Epic were absorbed into the DSMC philosophy.

One of the issues that restricted the intended modularity of the Red One was the fact that some parts were easier to upgrade than others. For example, the camera can only record 4K resolution at 30 frames per second. This is not a restriction of the sensor, which can be upgraded and swapped out relatively easily (by trained technicians), but of the camera's internal motherboard which processes the imagery, which cannot be upgraded.

So when it comes to the DSMC, rather than simply selling swappable sensors and wishing the users best of luck, RED will package the sensors with the necessary electronics to record, encode, and control the imagery from those specific sensors, and swappable lens mounts. They call these modules "Brains," and like the other elements they are fully swappable modules. So instead of Scarlet and Epic being individual cameras, they are two lines of Brain modules, and they break down like this.


Scarlet Brains are tentatively to be configured as follows:
  • 2/3" Mysterium-X Sensor,2 3K resolution, 1-120 fps recording, $2,5003
  • Super-35 Mysterium-X Sensor, 5K resolution, 1-30 fps recording, $7,000
  • Full-Frame 35 Monstro Sensor, 6K resolution, 1-30 fps recording, $12,000
  • All Scarlet Brains will record a data-rate of 42 MB/sec (compared to Red One's 36 MB/sec).


    Fair warning: if you understand even some of what I'm saying here, the specs of the Epic Brains may explode yours.

    Epic Brains are tentatively to be configured as follows:
  • Super-35 Mysterium-X Sensor, 5K resolution, 1-100 fps recording, $28,000
  • Full-Frame 35 Monstro Sensor, 6K resolution, 1-100 fps recording, $35,000
  • Medium-Format 645 (basically IMAX) Monstro Sensor, 9K resolution, 1-50 fps recording, $45,000
  • These Epic Brains will record a data-rate of 225 MB/sec -- that's a 625% increase in data rate, and hopefully therefore quality, over Red One.

    I complained last time that they shouldn't be calling a camera Epic unless it basically shoots 65mm/IMAX format -- and they've answered that. Not only that, but they threw in one more format, one that makes IMAX its bitch.
  • Technorama 617 Monstro Sensor, 28K resolution, 1-25 fps, $55,000
  • Yes, you fucking heard me right. I said 28K. And it'll record at a computer-pulverizing 500 MB/sec.

    Red One's 4K is already four times bigger than your 1080p HDTV. How big is 28K compared to that? Stu Maschwitz did a comparison on his Prolost blog.

    If that's still too abstract, lay a 14-story office building on its side in your mind. That's roughly the fucking native resolution of 28K.4

    It's basically a digital, motion-capable version of this camera. The obvious question arises: Why in the hell would you port such a camera format to the digital realm at all, much less at such blasphemous resolutions?

    The best I can figure is that this is RED's way of telling me and people like me -- folks that thought we were hot shit calling for RED to step up to the IMAX plate after getting moist at a Dark Knight screening, folks that said that we knew what was "epic," we had seen "epic," and 5K Super-35, good sir, was not "epic" -- that we may feel free to shut our goddamned sissy mouths, and mince our dainty way out of RED Epic's sight.

    So What Does All This Mean?

    I remember being taught in science class that every cell of your body eventually dies, and is replaced by a new cell. Eventually this happens to every cell in your body, so that after a certain period of time -- as I recall it was a cycle of seven years -- your body is comprised of entirely new cells. After seven years, there is no cell in your body that was there seven years ago. They have all been replaced. But "you" are still "you."

    Metaphysical implications aside, this is basically what the DSMC philosophy will mean to the RED camera, starting when it is implemented in (tentatively) Spring/Summer '09. You only have to buy "one camera," and from that point on it is only the components that change. And by the end of it you may have a completely different camera than the one you started with, but your investment and upgrading is spread out over the life of the camera, and you hardly notice.

    Even better, with rental solutions you can upgrade your camera temporarily as needed. Say you invest in a package with a 5K Scarlet Brain, as it's most cost-effective, but you decide you want to shoot slow-motion at higher frame-rates than 30 fps. Outside a DSMC model, you would have to rent an entire camera package -- whether it be a Phantom or other high-speed camera, or even an old-style Epic -- the format and image quality and resolution may not match, they may not cut together, and it may bugger the whole pipeline.

    But with swappable Brains, you can shoot with the 5K Scarlet, then if you want to shoot high-speed you rent a 5K Epic Brain for a day and swap it in for the high-speed shots. It's all REDCODE, it's all Super-35, all 5K with the same compression type (though quite a bit less on the Epic) and same lenses, and you never even have to change the accessory configuration.

    And if (when), down the line, higher framerates or data rates or resolutions become a possibility, you can just rent or buy those new modules, and keep on shooting like nothing's changed.

    The example I gave above is, basically, what I plan to do. When the DSMC system becomes available, I will sell my Red One + accessories and use the money to purchase a DSMC package with a 5K Scarlet brain -- I don't know how much those accessories will cost, but more than likely, it will probably be cheaper out the door than my current RED package. I will rent an Epic 5K brain for high-speed shooting, and otherwise be happy with a camera that completely out-specs a camera with which I am already quite happy.

    The Editblog has dubbed today "REDmas," and though it's meant to be a bit of a nudge in the ribs at the TOTAL fanboyism and anticipation leading up to this day, I think it is still somewhat appropriate. Especially since, for me, the day is still not over.

    Our friends at fxguide/Red Centre have asked me to attend a private RED event on their behalf this evening, where we will be able to talk to the RED peeps, ask some questions, and hopefully get some pictures and even maybe get our hands on some prototypes. Keep your eye on fxguide for the story, and if there's any new insight that impacts what I've said here, I'll do an update post here too.

    Finally, the obligatory disclaimer: for all the excitement and profanity this talk has brought out of me, these are currently just plans and specs and CAD renders. None of this actually exists and it's possible that none of it ever will, whether by RED not following through or just changing their minds -- as they've already done once. But they did follow through on the Red One, so they've earned some faith from me.

    1. Their marketing material claims 2,251,799,813,685,248 possible configurations based on the planned accessories; don't ask me how they got that number, they may have just made it up, but even if they did, it still makes the point pretty strongly.

    2. RED's first sensor was, and is, the Mysterium. Mysterium-X is the second generation, with improved dynamic range (11+ stops to Mysterium's 10+). Monstro is the third generation, with both improved dynamic range (13+ stops) and improved bit depth (16 bits to Mysterium and Mysterium-X's 12 bits).

    3. There is, at this time, still a plan to have a self-contained Scarlet with an included, fixed lens with this same "Brain" config, pricing TBD.

    4. Sorry if the cursing is a little more excessive than usual, but seriously. Fuck.


    Drew Mazanec said...

    Thanks for clarifying.

    I guess you'll need to upgrade your computer to handle all that extra resolution.

    I remember joking about Red fanboys not being satisfied until Red came out with a 20k sensor.

    They came out with a 28k sensor.

    I expect to see RvD3 on the 617 camera.

    Drew Mazanec said...

    Can you imagine the Irish guy from the Panavision videos?

    "Laddies, we just got scrrrrewed!"

    Adam Mercado said...

    "lay a 14-story office building on its side in your mind. That's roughly the fucking native resolution of 28K"

    Will that require a hard drive the size of a 14-story office building to capture all that data?

    that was a great post that pretty much says what needs to be said at this point.

    Helmut Kobler said...

    I wonder if you can drop resolution to increase frame rate on these new "brains". For instance, if I have the ScarletFF35 6K brain, it's listed as only doing 30 fps. But, like the Red One, can I drop it down to 3K resolution and therefore get 120 fps?
    Hope so....

    Jon said...

    Actually you don't need to sell your old RED One. You can buy an Epic and trade in your old RED One and get the full $17,500 towards the purchase.

    Or you can keep your RED One and get a 12% credit towards a Scarlet.

    More details:

    Adam Oas said...

    You asked for Questions on Twitter, but if you don't follow someone they can't post back to you.... either way I'm really interested in hearing a response to Helmut Kobler's question. Not having to rent a specialty high speed camera would be a HUGE benefit for me.

    Jonas Hummelstrand said...

    Thanks for a good summary.

    I tried to summarize my disappointment here:

    CitizenZ said...

    I know many people are only thinking of these as tools for making motion pictures, but looking at this closely RED DIGITAL CINEMA has everything I can think of covered. Web shows, Documentary, Sports, and yes IMAX(+) level features.

    They even have Autofocus available on all the Full Frame 35 "brains" and the "entry-level" fixed lense Scarlet. So if you are say the NHL or World Cub Soccer and you are trying to get the archival footage of your league, all of a sudden you have this amazing new option that offers heretofore unheard of resolution.

    Phillip Gibb said...

    Does this not play RED out of their own game? I mean how can they progress further with this; what they have done is huge - can they do better? Or will they only provide support and enhancements on this.
    Maybe they'll have to work on providing display solutions like the '14-story' screen.
    Actually - how far away must you sit to be able to see the whole picture properly?

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