When Steve Jobs was giving his keynote speech for MacWorld 2008, my buddy Jared and I were standing in the CalDigit booth, both of us staring at our iPhones…parked on the MacRumors site and reading the announcements as they came. That’s right…we BOTH had our iPhones out. Wy didn’t we just look at one and conserve the other’s battery? We were excited. WE ARE MAC ADDICTS! And last year the keynote was exciting. But, with each announcement, our excitement faded. iPhone update? OK…cool. Now I can make my icons dance. Now what? Oh, I can find where I am with a new feature…that is cool. And it is VERY close. SDK due soon for it…soon. The iPhone sales numbers excited me…I am a stock holder, I like good sales numbers. Time Capsule. OK, that is neat. Not earth shattering, but helpful. MacBook Air? OK…it’s thin, and it’s…thin. But other than that….eeeeh. Slow processor, a battery you cannot change yourself. TWO external connections (USB, Mini-DVI). $1800. $1800!?! Who is this for? Sorry, that didn’t excite me. And movie rentals on iTunes. BOOOORING. you have 30 days to watch them, and 24 hours once you started it. CRAP! I have Netflix and I can watch it whenever I want…no limit. BETTER QUALITY. Sorry…dumb. Apple TV 2. Eeeh…I like my TiVo. Just ho-hum announcements IMHO. Last year was exciting. Not only for Apple, but for a bunch the other products that were on the floor. There was the iPhone announcement, that was huge. Another company announced a service to modify a MacBook into a tablet Mac. That was cool (they won best in show too).

OK, so let’s get to this year. If you want to know what Apple released (if you don’t already know), go to Apple.com and see for yourself. Don’t get too disappointed over the MacBook Air. In the meantime, let me touch upon the things that I saw that caught my eye.

Microsoft has the second biggest presence at MacWorld, next to Apple. Yes, people consider them the evil empire…I consider them a necessary evil. I use Microsoft Office because…well, I have to. I get scripts from producers and I need Word to read them (as opposed to NeoOffice and the iWork suite). Because one of my producers likes to put little notes that only pop up if you have MS Office 2004 or later to see. Microsoft released a new version this year, Office 2008. Apparently is has some really cool features…that I won’t use myself…BUT I hear they are cool. A college friend of mine who works for Microsoft, and who was there in the both, told me so. Go to www.microsoft.com to find out what those features are. Just because a product caught my eye doesn’t mean I know all about it. I just know it is new and has a lot to offer. Leave me alone…I worked the entire time for Caldigit.

Speaking of CalDigit, lemme tell you what they had to offer.

They have two things. First is their CalDigit Raid Card (at the time of writing this, it is not on their site). If you know about Apple’s Raid Card …this is similar, but different. When you buy a MacPro, the cool thing about it is that you have four internal drive bays to install hard drives. This means that you don’t need to get an external drive right away to store your captured media. The advice I always give is “fill up these drives first, then buy an external solution,” because internal drives are cheaper than external boxes. If you want to, you can even raid the drives so that you can have faster performance and edit uncompressed standard definition and many formats of high definition.

Now, before the Raid cards, the only way you could raid these was to use the Disk Utility and do a software Raid. The problem with this concept is that if your operating system crashes, the software raid goes with it…and thus your media is lost. And you are limited to Raid 0 or Raid 1. With the Raid card, you can now raid the drives as Raid 0, Raid 5, or Raid 0+1 and have the cards manage the raid. They have an onboard CPU, as well as RAM and battery backup. What sets CalDigit’s Raid Card apart from Apple are many things.

1. You can install it yourself. The Apple Raid card is really big, and to install it you need to take many of the MacPro components out so that you can get the card in. The CalDigit card is smaller, and is easily installed.
2. Expandibility. With the Apple Raid Card, you are limited to the internal drives. That is all that it will control. CalDigit’s Raid Card offers expandibility. It has three external mini-SAS connections that you can connect to external 4-drive enclosures (up to three for a total of 16 drives) that CalDigit makes. You can do Raid 0, Raid 1, Raid 5, Raid 6. AND….I love this…AND when you run out of space and need more storage, you simply buy one of these external boxes and ADD IT TO YOUR RAID…no erasing, no loss of data. You just use the software to add it to the raid and boom, more storage. They call it “migration.” I like it.
3. Speed. The CalDigit Raid Card gets you slightly faster read/write times than the Apple Raid Card.
4. Price. The Apple Raid Card is $800. The CalDigit Raid Card is $550. So you won’t break the bank.
5. BOOTABLE. That’s right…if you Raid all four internal drives and install the OS on that Raid (why would you do that?), that Raid is bootable.

CalDigit also announced the HD ONE. This is the “little brother” to the HD PRO. Same capacity, same transfer speeds, less upgradability in terms of RAM…and cheaper. If you don’t need to do Uncompressed HD 4:4:4 or 2K and 4K…this might be the box for you.

Sticking with the hard drive enclosure theme, let’s take a look at Sonnet Tech. First off, the D800 Raid 5 series has always been a fully populated drive solution, just like CalDigit’s HD Pro and Dulce’s ProDQ and a host of others. But, due to popular demand, they are offering the D800E…meaning “expandable.” They will sell the case empty and ready for you the consumer to populate with hard drives of your choice. Now, while I find this cool and appealing to many many people (I get people arguing with me about wanting the CalDigit towers to be sold empty) it isn’t the best solution. Why? Well, when the companies populate the enclosure with drives, they not only make sure the firmware on the drives is updated and compatible with their controller cards (a big thing if you want good performance)…so if something fails, you have one person to call. That company. They support the whole shibang…and the warranty they offer covers everything. If you buy the enclosure bare, then when a drive fails you’ll get the run around as the drive manufacturer and enclosure company will point fingers at the other guy. My advice? Buy them populated

What really caught my eye at the booth was the fact that they had a MacBook Pro hooked up to an AJA I/O HD which was in turn hooked up to a small flat hard drive, called the Fusion F2. A two 2.5″ hardware raided BUS POWERED hard drive. But while it was powered by the firewire bus, that wasn’t how it was connected. It was connected via eSATA. Because of this, it was a perfect solution to a field capture and edit package that includes the MacBook Pro and AJA I/O HD. The I/O HD connects via firewire 800, so that ties up the firewire bus. Your only option…which is a good option because of the speeds required for ProRes 422…is to connect an eSATA drive. The Fusion F2 is great because it doesn’t require separate power. It pulls power from the computer via the firewire 400 port, yet doesn’t get all caught up in the firewire bus, so it doesn’t conflict with the I/O HD. SWEET! I’ll be getting a unit to test and review soon.

OK…what else. More iPhone and iPod cases that you can shake a stick at. The usual crowd of laptop bag manufacturers, drive enclosure companies, software vendors. I would mention that KIDPIX is now available for OSX…which is REALLY EXCITING to me, because I have 3 daughters that loved the original version that came with the original iMac, and they were bummed when I lost the disk. But I am sure most of you won’t be as excited as I was to find that. So, moving on.

Not really a newly announced product, but one that I finally relented into buying…the Elgato TURBO.264 hardware encoder. This handy little device connects via USB and speeds up the H.264 encoding process enormously. It has software that comes with it with presets for iPhone, iPod video high res, iPod low res, and web streaming. And you can make your own custom presets as well. It is touted to take the bulk of the encoding burden off of your computer, but really I think it simply compliments it. It doesn’t take it all on by itself, I am sure, and here is why I think that.

When I took a 2 min DVCPRO HD 720p 23.98 file and encoded it for the iPhone on my Powerbook G4 1.67Mhz machine with Compressor…it took 15 min. QT Pro export took the same time, same export settings.. When I used the encoder…it took 5 min. SWEET! But that is an OLD machine, what about a new one? So I took the same file to an Octo Core MacPro. Not the new one, the first version. On that, Compressor took a little over 4 min, as did QT Pro. But the Elgato? Well, on the Octo it did it faster than real time. A little over 1 min. So it was much faster on the speedier machine. This is why I believe it doesn’t do all the encoding internally, but shares the burden. That makes this the best purchase I have made in a while.

OK…this brings me to my all time favorite thing at MacWorld 2008. It was the thing that won the MacWorld 2008 Best In Show prize, for good reason too. I was on the way to the restroom when I walked past the NEC booth and glanced at the two monitors they had on display. My glance turned into a long look, one that stopped me in my tracks. On the monitors, a 24″ and 30″ model, were really vibrant pictures and a demo of Lightroom. What caused me to stop in my tracks was the fact that when i was walking by and looking at the monitors, the colors on the images did not change. Off axis viewing didn’t diminish the colors at all. By off axis, I mean viewed at a 45 degree angle or more. So the image I saw looking directly at the monitor was exactly the same color when viewed at 45 degrees, and even more…70 to 75 degrees! THAT IS HUGE.

The models on display were the LCD2490WUXi (24″) and the LCD2690WUXi (26″). I looked the monitors over and noted that they hand only VGA and DVI connections. I asked the person manning the booth if they had plans to make one of these amazing displays for video editing monitoring, because the current crop of HD LCDs have issues with off axis viewing. Red becomes “salmon,” dark rich blues become lighter. Only the high end TVLogic displays have realy good off axis colors, but they start at $8000. The NEC rep said that it was something they were exploring…but was not available at this time. Because the current monitors has a response time of 12ms (milliseconds), and for video it would have to be at 8ms. Plus if they add the appropriate connections…HD SDI, Component…that would increase the price beyond the $1200 for the 24″ and $2100 for the 26″. I was fine with that. If they are able to make this monitor for $4000, and have the same off axis viewing I saw then…it’d be worth it. But for now, they are FANTASTIC monitors for photographers. Ones that I cannot recommend highly enough. These monitors really did deserve the MacWorld Best In Show.

The NEC rep mentioned that a large production house was already using them in their edit bays, but they didn’t indicate which company or if they were being used for anything beyond simple client monitoring. I would LOVE to see this monitor in combination with my Matrox MXO….or even AJA Kona LH and AJA HDP.