B&H Payboo Credit Card Reimburses Your Sales Tax

If you live in a state that requires collection of sales tax on internet orders, B&H Photo has launched a new credit card that will credit your purchase for the amount of the tax.

The official press release describes the process: “The Payboo Card delivers instant, immediate savings to B&H customers. For example, when a customer in Los Angeles buys a $3,000 camera, 9.5% sales tax, or $285, is added to the cost for a total of $3,285. However, if the same customer purchases the camera from B&H using the Payboo Card, a $285 reward is instantly applied to the order, and only $3,000 is charged to the card! The savings are instant – no future credits, points to accrue, or coupons to worry about. The customer is only subject to usual credit approval.”

Available to customers with a U.S. billing address and SSN or ITIN, the first step is to apply for the card, issued by  Synchrony Bank. The card has no annual fee but carries a relatively high APR of 29.99%, so to get the optimal benefit of the card, you’ll want to have cash on-hand to pay off your balance immediately.

The card can be used for B&H purchases only. Perhaps stating the obvious, the offer isn’t valid in states that don’t require the collection of sales tax on internet purchases, and some states that do require sales tax collection do not permit the benefit as described. The Payboo FAQ page provides a link to check your benefit based on your shipping zip code, so be sure to verify the benefits for which you are eligible before applying.

For additional details, see the Payboo FAQ page.

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NAB Wrap-Up, Part 4

This continues my recap of my tour through the aisles of NAB. An important topic is where to put all those pixels. 4K, 8K and raw all demand more room. And, critically, they demand better performance.

One way to get more performance from storage is to move from spinning drives to solid state memory. At the Lexar booth, they showed a portable SSD with a capacity of up to 1 TB and a possible 900 MB/s write speed. That’s about 5 to 6 times the speed of an average single spinning disk drive.

NAB Wrap-Up, Part 4
This Lexar drive is nearly 6 times faster than a traditional hard drive.

For even more speed, I stopped at the G-Technology booth. They showed their G-Drive mobile Pro SSD. This unit takes the possible write speed to 2800MB/s.

NAB Wrap-Up, Part 4
Solid state storage was everywhere at NAB.

You might wonder why I’d consider storage like this in an edit suite. With a maximum capacity of 2 TB in their largest model, it doesn’t hold that much. (These days 2 TB isn’t much.) Obviously, it will work screamingly fast for small projects, but it’s also a great tool as a cache drive.

When you set up your edit software, you’re often asked to point to a drive that the software can use for caching—offloading data out of memory. You might also have to select a scratch drive for generating previews. Pointing to a very fast drive can make your edit experience much better—less waiting for the software to process data. These drives don’t have to be that big because the data stored is temporary, and the space is usually managed by the software.

All SSDs aren’t created equally though. Engineers have developed Non-Volatile Memory Express—or NVMe—a new way of using solid state in drives. Instead of the traditional drive control (position the drive head, write or read the data, seek a new position), we now have SSDs that are treated more like RAM. There’s no head to reposition, just a location to read and write to.

NAB Wrap-Up, Part 4
The OWC ThunderBlade uses NVMe to achieve blazing fast reads and writes.

OWC uses NVMe in its ThunderBlade drive. Comprising 4 NVMe modules in the chassis, it can achieve read speeds up to 2800 MB/s and writes at 2450 MB/s. It’s via Thunderbolt 3 with up to 8 TB of capacity.  

Finally, there’s shared storage using Network Attached Storage (NAS). Once relegated to complex and expensive Storage Area Networks (SANs), NAS was prevalent at NAB.

Qnap showed their NAS products. Using 10-gigabit Ethernet (10GbE), which can run on copper, the multi-drive connected storage can deliver terabytes of 4K footage to multiple users. In a future post, I’ll talk more about how NAS has become more affordable.

Next time, I’ll cap my recap of NAB with a little bit about advances in edit software.

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NAB Wrap Up, Part 3

While it’s great to see trends in production and display, as an editor I’m driven to several things at NAB. One of them is storage. As cameras capture more and more pixels, where are we going to put them?

For storage on location, I saw displays of camera cards. CFast, an evolutionary step from the original Compact Flash card, is being used by more and more camera manufacturers. And now the cards are storing half a terabyte.

Putting those pixels somewhere
SanDisk is delivering even more storage than this: CFast cards—now at 512 GB.

A more recent update in the CF family is CF Express. While CFast is designed to operate like a drive, CF Express works more like RAM so it can achieve faster speeds. Faster speeds are important: As cameras increase in resolution, they have to write more pixels per frame. And the frame rates aren’t slowing down! A card that used to handle writing 2,000 pixels per 1/24 of a second might not be able to reliably handle 4,000 or 8,000 pixels in the same amount of time.

Putting those pixels somewhere
Lexar showed a prototype CFAST card with 1000 MB/s write speed.

Beyond camera cards, getting the footage from production to post requires storage with different requirements. One essential element is ruggedness. At NAB, G-technology showed off their ArmorATD.

As I work on projects, I’m surprised how often I receive drives delivered by people who aren’t part of the production team. Couriers, etc., may not see the need to treat delivery of a drive any differently than a box of staples. The ArmorATD can survive the crushing weight of half a ton.

Putting those pixels somewhere
Up to 4 TB of rugged storage.

Next time, drives for the edit suite on the NAB floor.

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Avoiding A Comedy of Errors In Your Own “Game of Thrones” Production

Making a film is almost always a group effort, which in many cases can work to your advantage, particularly in complex Sci-Fi or Fantasy productions that require many different teams with very different and specific skill sets. On some of these projects it seems there is truly strength in numbers when you have a cast of thousands—even tens of thousands—providing you with the essential manpower to produce a make-believe world conjured up by the director and producers that is perfect, seamless, magical and free of any outside references to the real world.

Except when that doesn’t happen.

A Mistake in the House of Stark: A Starbucks coffee cup was accidentally left in the scene during filming and was never removed until after the episode aired. Note: This screen grab was captured on May 6, 2019, at which time the Starbucks coffee cup was still visible in the footage.

For example, say a mistake has been made: Someone leaves their cup of coffee on the set, and it gets left in the show during the filming, isn’t discovered and remains in the footage all the way through to the final cut. Which is exactly what happened during the most recent episode of the “Game of Thrones” saga on HBO, which the New York Times points out, is “one of the most expensive and elaborately produced television shows ever.”

Yet, all that money and manpower couldn’t keep the “Game of Thrones” fans from overlooking a Starbucks coffee cup—perhaps a tasty Starbucks Blonde Caffè Americano–that had been accidentally left on the table during the beginning of a celebration scene in Winterfell, the home of House Stark.

Well, I wonder if the fans might still have noticed if it was a pricey cup of Starbucks Caramel Ribbon Crunch Crème Frappuccino or Starbucks Double Chocolaty Chip Crème Frappuccino Blended Crème. Nevertheless, the alien cup appeared and its presence visually confounded fans who were only expecting mugs, goblets and horns to hold their characters’ beverages.

But how might the filmmakers have avoided this problem…aside from decreeing that all branded and non-branded coffee drinks were now forbidden on the set?  

Well, according to Adobe, if the GoT episode had been made today, the post-production editors could have used the new content aware fill in Adobe After Effects to get rid of the drink, whether it was a Starbucks Cinnamon Cloud Macchiato or Starbucks Blonde Vanilla Bean Coconutmilk Latte. It wouldn’t matter which drink it was! Even if it was the largest Strawberry Frappuccino Blended Crème drink sitting upon the Iron Throne!

Using the content aware fill should allow the post editors to remove it from the footage. In fact, Jason Levine, a principal worldwide evangelist for Adobe, was able to make the cup disappear using Content-Aware Fill for this video, which he posted on Twitter.

A Miracle in the House of Stark: This screen grab was captured May 7, 2019, at which time the cup was no longer visible in the footage. The “Game of Thrones” production team removed the cup in post-production, perhaps using the content-aware fill feature in Adobe After Effects.

Of course, if you wanted to see the video now, you won’t be able to see it on HBO. They’ve just edited the coffee cup out of the scene, roughly two days after the episode first aired! So, perhaps, after all, they did use Adobe’s new content-aware fill to correct the footage. For more on this feature, check out this youtube video from Adobe …which, in case you were wondering, features no obvious mentions or depictions of Starbucks beverages. 

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NAB Wrap Up, Part 2

When I talked about NAB 2019 last time, it was mostly an overview of what the show looked like to me. I promised I’d give some of my reactions to exhibits as I asked myself, “Where are we going?” For this post, it’s all about the displays.

More and More Pixels

When I was at CES in January, it was hard to avoid 8K, or so it seemed. At NAB, 8K wasn’t to be denied—both on the production end and in displays. For me, 8K is an interesting topic.

NHK, Japan’s national broadcasting organization, has been broadcasting 8K since December of 2018. They’ve had displays featuring 8K at NAB for many years, and each year I make the trek to the North Hall to see it. Though I should say “experience it.” Because, for me, it’s about 8K as a consumer. Do I long for it in my home? How about other people who don’t work in the industry and who aren’t watching critical viewing displays all day long?

With any new display technology, I always try to listen to what other attendees say when they visit the booths. In the 3D era, I heard, “Why would I want to wear glasses just to watch TV?” In the DTV era, it was “Wow, it’s so thin—and expensive!”

One of the NHK 8K exhibits showed a loop of several pieces of content, one of which was a sumo match. As I watched the display, two people next to me commented, “Do we really need to see that much detail on those guys?”

When the other content began there was pretty much silence. Not exactly a scientific survey to be sure, but it was interesting to me. As I walked to other booths showing 8K I didn’t hear anything quite as telling as that. Actually, I didn’t hear much at all.

NAB Wrap Up, Part 2
It’s not NAB without a visit to Carnival.

While I didn’t hear much, I saw a lot of 8K content as I parked myself to watch full loops of exhibitors’ show reels. And, yes, there was the obligatory montage from Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Apparently, if you want to show off a new camera or display, it’s mandatory that you trek down to Brazil.

Aside from quadrupling pixels, how those pixels are used—regardless of quantity—was on display throughout NAB. More so than 8K, HDR (High Dynamic Range) grabbed attendees’ attention.

While many content creators are still trying to understand the various standards and figure out how to deliver content, you can’t deny that HDR consumer displays are being purchased and set up in viewers’ homes.

NAB Wrap Up, Part 2
HDR Technology from Consumer to LCD to OLED.

Reference monitors were in several booths, but unfortunately at prices that make them difficult to swallow. Monitors for HDR on set and in edit are coming down in price, however.

Fortunately, making sure content is displayed correctly—whether HDR or not—is becoming easier and easier. I talked to people at the Portrait Displays booth about their CalMan calibration software, now working with several consumer displays.

While it’s preferable to have reference monitors everywhere viewing is happening, that isn’t always practical. But displays that are calibrated is a step in the right direction.

NAB Wrap Up, Part 2
Calibration of your workstation monitor is essential.

On the workstation monitor front, BenQ showed several displays that could be easily calibrated. The PV270, for example, is a 27-inch 10-bit display that covers 100% of Rec. 709, 99% of Adobe RGB and 93% of DCI-P3 color spaces. But that won’t mean anything unless the monitor is calibrated. You can calibrate the PV270 with third-party systems or the downloadable BenQ Palette Master software.

While the number of pixels may be changing for better or worse, the ability to make sure those pixels emit the right color from production through post and onto consumer displays is definitely changing for the better.

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