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October 20, 2008

Table of Contents

The Moving Picture: Lessons from iTunes
Adobe Creative Suite 4 Now Shipping
Panasonic's AVCHD Format Supported by Adobe in its Latest Release of Adobe Creative Suite Software
Microsoft Releases Silverlight 2
Artbeats' Abstract Dimensions Backgrounds Step Forward
Digital Heaven Releases Loader - The Smart Way to Import Media into Final Cut Pro
NVIDIA Introduces QUADRO CX

The Moving Picture: Lessons from iTunes

I recently gave a presentation on producing H.264 video at Streaming Media West. During my preparation, I noticed that while H.264 is the hot topic in periodicals and forums, it’s still not widely used for streaming, with Windows Media and VP6-based Flash still predominating. In one market segment, though, H.264 was nearly ubiquitous, so I decided to spend some time learning about how H.264 was used—and misused—there. The market I’m referring to is video podcasts distributed via iTunes. iTunes is all about iPod/iPhone devices, which play only H.264 and MPEG-4 video. Finding H.264 video in iTunes is like finding Red Sox fans in Boston, Bulldog fans in Georgia, or Yankee fans in New York.

Having found the Mecca of H.264 usage, I decided to download 50 podcasts, try to load them on my iPod Nano, and see what happened. Six refused to load at all, and three had what I’ll call "potentially sub-optimal" displays. After analyzing all the podcasts in Inlet HD’s excellent streaming media analysis tool, Semaphore, I noticed that many others used suboptimal encoding parameters. While producing podcasts is probably a tiny part of what we do, it’s still a useful skill, so I thought I would detail my findings. First, here’s some background. MPEG-4 is the overarching standard that includes two video codecs, the MPEG-4 codec itself and a more advanced video codec, H.264, also known as AVC. When used in an MPEG-4 "wrapper," H.264 files typically have a .mp4 or .m4v extension, the first being the official designation and the latter being the extension Apple created for its devices.

You can also "wrap" an MPEG-4 file in a QuickTime file with a .mov extension or encode it for Flash with a .flv or .f4v extension. Soon, you’ll be able to encode H.264 to Windows Media presumably with a .wmv extension. H.264 has multiple "profiles" that specify levels of playback compatibility. For example, the Baseline profile is typically for devices like iPods or cell phones that have limited playback horsepower. Accordingly, the Baseline profile doesn’t use many of H.264’s more advanced encoding techniques that can produce higher-quality streams, but it may also create a stream that’s hard to decode. Then there’s the Main and High profiles, typically for computerbased playback, which produce a tighter, higher-quality stream that’s harder to decode.

Obviously, when producing for devices rather than generalpurpose playback, job No. 1 is to use the appropriate profile. Interestingly, of the six videos that wouldn’t play on my iPod Nano, five used the Main Profile, which is verboten. The sixth used the Sorenson Video 3 codec, of all things, which also won’t play.

So when producing for podcasts, always use the Baseline profile of the H.264 codec. Before encoding, however, go to Apple.com, print the video playback specs for the latest iPod, and make sure that you’re within the resolution and data rate requirements. Unfortunately, this is more complicated than it sounds because the initial iPod could only play H.264, Baseline-profile videos at 320x240 resolution, while current iPods and iPhones can play Baseline H.264 video up to 640x480 resolution.

Next is target resolution. In the sample of 44 videos that loaded on my iPod Nano, 25 went with 320x240, which is obviously the safer route, while the other 19 (and five of six that failed to play) went 640x360 or larger. Why go larger than 640x480 when the screen resolution of most iPods is 320x240? First, many iPods have composite output ports that let you play the video on a TV set or other analog device. Though display on the device itself is limited to 320x240, 640x480 video will look better than 320x240 when displayed on a TV set. More importantly, iPhones and the iPod Touch have 480x320 resolutions, and six of the 19 producers using greater than 320x240 resolution produced at 16:9, which looked better on the iPhone/iPod Touch than 4:3 video.

This leads me to the three podcasts with "potentially sub-optimal displays." Briefly, if you display 16:9 video on a 4:3 iPod, by default, the device displays the middle section of the video and cuts off the right and left edges. Several producers of 16:9 video—including Photoshop User TV—included screencam videos with content on the edges that wasn’t visible when viewed on a 4:3 display. As a result, while the announcer says "click this menu item," the menu item may have been offscreen on 4:3 displays.

Note that your viewers can change this default in the Movie menu and display the entire 16:9 frame with letterboxes on the top and bottom of the video. Since most iPods have 4:3 displays, if you’re going to produce 16:9 video, either make sure that all critical content is visible in the 4:3 center cut, or advise your viewers to change the default to display the entire frame within letterboxes.

The other mistakes I found were technical, like exceeding the recommended data rate and using too-frequent keyframes, which can degrade quality and add a pulsing effect. So it’s worth noting that the iPod preset in Apple Compressor uses a bitrate of 1.12Mbps for 640x480 video and inserts keyframes every 150–300 frames, depending upon content, or one every 5–10 seconds.

Jan Ozer (jan at doceo.com) is a frequent contributor to industry magazines and websites on digital video-related topics and the author of Critical Skills for Streaming Producers, a mixed media tutorial on DVD published by StreamingMedia.com.

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Adobe Creative Suite 4 Now Shipping

Adobe Systems Incorporated (Nasdaq:ADBE) today announced the immediate availability of the Adobe® Creative Suite® 4 product family, the highly-anticipated release of industry-leading design and development software for virtually every creative workflow. Delivering radical breakthroughs in workflow efficiency – and packed with hundreds of innovative, time saving features – the new Creative Suite 4 product line advances the creative process across print, Web, interactive, film, video and mobile.

Customers can choose from six new versions: Adobe Creative Suite 4 Design Premium, Design Standard, Web Premium, Web Standard, Production Premium and Master Collection. The combination of Creative Suite and the new capabilities of Adobe Flash® Player 10, also available today (see separate press release) deliver new levels of creativity and expressiveness across media channels. Designers using the Adobe Creative Suite 4 product family will gain unprecedented creative control using the new expressive features and visual performance improvements in Adobe Flash Player 10 to deliver breakthrough Web experiences across multiple browsers and operating systems.

"Creative Suite 4 and Flash Player 10 introduce vital time-saving features, new levels of integration and the jaw-dropping innovations our design and developer customers expect from us," said John Loiacono, senior vice president, Creative Solutions Business Unit at Adobe.

"CS4 continues to fulfill our promise to customers to break down more barriers in cross-media workflows, while also providing new services and collaboration tools that help them manage complex client demands."

As part of the CS4 product launch, the largest in Adobe’s history, also available today are brand new versions of Photoshop® CS4, Photoshop CS4 Extended, InDesign® CS4, Illustrator® CS4, Flash CS4 Professional, Dreamweaver® CS4, Fireworks® CS4, Contribute® CS4, After Effects® CS4, Adobe Premiere® Pro CS4, Encore® CS4, Soundbooth® CS4 and Adobe OnLocation™ CS4.

Intuitive Workflows Improve Creative Efficiency
A simplified workflow in Adobe Creative Suite 4 enables users to design across media more efficiently by making it easier to complete common tasks and move content seamlessly among applications. InDesign CS4 includes a new Live Preflight tool that allows designers to catch production errors and a newly customizable Links panel to manage placed files more efficiently. The revolutionary new Content-Aware Scaling tool in Photoshop CS4 and Photoshop CS4 Extended automatically recomposes an image as it is resized, preserving vital areas as it adapts to new dimensions. An expanded version of Dynamic Link in CS4 Production Premium enables users to move and update content between After Effects CS4, Adobe Premiere Pro CS4, Soundbooth CS4, and Encore CS4 without rendering, saving countless hours in production. With deep XMP metadata support, the production workflow is simplified, resulting in online content that gives viewers new ways to interact with and search for video, while giving content owners new opportunities to track and monetize content.

Adobe Creative Suite 4 brings 3D center-stage providing the ability to paint, composite, and animate 3D models using familiar tools in Photoshop CS4 Extended. Flash CS4 Professional now offers the ability to apply tweens to objects instead of keyframes, providing greater control over animation attributes. Also in Flash CS4 Professional, the new Bones tool helps create more realistic animations between linked objects. With a searchable library of more than 450 dynamically updated device profiles from leading manufacturers, Adobe Device Central CS4 enables users to easily test mobile content designed using many of the Creative Suite 4 products.

New and Expanded Services Extend Capabilities for Online Collaboration
Adobe Creative Suite 4 now also offers a host of services for online collaboration. Adobe ConnectNow, a service of Acrobat.com, allows real-time collaboration with two colleagues or clients. Designers can also share color harmonies with Adobe Kuler™. Other online resources include: Adobe Community Help for technical questions; Resource Central for accessing video and audio product-related news and tutorials, as well as Soundbooth scores and sound effects; and Adobe Bridge Home, a customizable resource for tips, tutorials, news and inspirational content.

Pricing and Availability
Adobe Creative Suite 4 and its associated point products are immediately available through Adobe Authorized Resellers and the Adobe Store at www.adobe.com/store. Estimated street price for the Adobe Creative Suite 4 Design Premium is US$1799, US$1699 for Adobe Creative Suite 4 Web Premium, US$1699 for Adobe Creative Suite 4 Production Premium, and US$2499 for Adobe Creative Suite 4 Master Collection. To reward customers for staying current, Adobe is offering Creative Suite 3 customers moving to Creative Suite 4 a lower upgrade price than it offers to those moving from older, qualifying versions. For a limited time, a special introductory offer enables customers with older qualifying products to enjoy the same lower price with savings of up to US$200 off their actual upgrade price. For more detailed information please visit www.adobe.com/creativesuite. Adobe Flash Player 10 is available immediately as a free download for Windows, Macintosh and Linux platforms (including new support for Ubuntu 7 and 8) from www.adobe.com/go/getflashplayer.

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Panasonic's AVCHD Format Supported by Adobe in its Latest Release of Adobe Creative Suite Software

Panasonic Broadcast announced today that new production software applications from Adobe Systems Incorporated will offer native support of the company’s AVCCAM camcorder line-up. The latest version of Adobe® Creative Suite® Production Premium (CS4), a complete pre- and post-production solution for creative professionals, will support all Panasonic AVCHD format products, with no transcoding or rewrapping required.

AVCHD, the industry’s new H.264/AVC High Profile compression format, provides a near doubling of bandwidth efficiency with improved video performance over the older MPEG-2 compression used in HDV formats. As a result, AVCHD recordings made by Panasonic AVCCAM camcorders are crisp and clear, even during fast motion, reducing image degradation associated with HDV and other tape or disc-based systems as well as eliminating tape drop-outs. The company’s flagship AVCHD model, the new AG-HMC150 professional 3-CCD handheld camcorder, provides professionals and enthusiasts alike the flexibility of high-quality 1080/720 AVCHD recording at bit rates up to 24Mbps and a simple, solid-state SD memory card workflow.

"This next-generation of CS4 software demonstrates Adobe’s industry leadership in supporting efficient, tapeless workflows that leverage advanced camera formats for producing high-definition content," said Michael Bergeron, Strategic Technical Liaison, Panasonic Broadcast. "Beyond the many benefits of the complete CS4 toolset—streamlining the creative process, easily expressing ideas in different media, sharing work with clients and fellow creatives--the enhanced value for Panasonic customers is a seamless professional AVCHD path."

"We are committed to providing world-class technology and forging industry initiatives, such as our support of Panasonic’s P2 HD and, now, AVCHD formats, that enable our customers to create rich, engaging content and deliver it to audiences on virtually any platform or device," said Jim Guerard, vice president and general manager of Dynamic Media at Adobe.

Panasonic’s AVCCAM camcorder line-up, bringing the benefits of solid-state recording to budget-conscious professionals, includes the AG-HMC150 handheld and AG-HMC70 shoulder-mount models.

For more information about Adobe Systems Inc. and its products, visit www.adobe.com.

www.panasonic.com/broadcast

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Microsoft Releases Silverlight 2

Microsoft Corp. today announced the availability of Silverlight 2, one of the industry’s most comprehensive and powerful solutions for the creation and delivery of applications and media experiences through a Web browser.

Silverlight 2 delivers a wide range of new features and tools that enable designers and developers to better collaborate while creating more accessible, more discoverable and more secure user experiences.

Microsoft also announced further support of open source communities by funding advanced Silverlight development capabilities with the Eclipse Foundation’s integrated development environment (IDE) and by providing new controls to developers with the Silverlight Control Pack (SCP) under the Microsoft Permissive License.

"We launched Silverlight just over a year ago, and already one in four consumers worldwide has access to a computer with Silverlight already installed," said Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the .NET Developer Division at Microsoft. "Silverlight represents a radical improvement in the way developers and designers build applications on the Web. This release will further accelerate our efforts to make Silverlight, Visual Studio and Microsoft Expression Studio the preeminent solutions for the creation and delivery of media and rich Internet application experiences."

Silverlight adoption continues to grow rapidly, with penetration in some countries approaching 50 percent and a growing ecosystem that includes more than 150 partners and tens of thousands of applications. During the 17 days of the 2008 Olympics Games in Beijing, NBCOlympics.com, powered by Silverlight, had more than 50 million unique visitors, resulting in 1.3 billion page views, 70 million video streams and 600 million minutes of video watched, increasing the average time on the site (from 3 minutes to 27 minutes) and Silverlight market penetration in the U.S. by more than 30 percent. Broadcasters in France (France Televisions SA), the Netherlands (NOS), Russia (Sportbox.ru) and Italy (RAI) also chose Silverlight to deliver Olympics coverage online. In addition, leading companies such as CBS College Sports, Blockbuster Inc., Hard Rock Cafe International Inc., Yahoo! Japan, AOL LLC, Toyota Motor Corp., HSN Inc. and Tencent Inc. are building their next-generation experiences using Silverlight.

"CBS College Sports Network streams more than 20,000 hours of live content annually for our 150-plus college and university official athletic partners, so we demand that our video player environment be both consumer friendly and robust," said Tom Buffolano, general manager and vice president, Digital Programming and Subscription, CBS Interactive-Sports. "Silverlight was the perfect choice to help develop and power our new, exclusive online collegiate sports experience, as it features the best price and performance of any streaming media solution on the market today. Silverlight also gives us the most flexibility in expanding the product in the future as we develop embeddable players and mobile platforms and explore new advertising integration opportunities."

Continued Commitment to Openness and Interoperability
Microsoft announced plans to support additional tools for developing Silverlight applications by providing funding to Soyatec, a France-based IT solutions provider and Eclipse Foundation member, to lead a project to integrate advanced Silverlight development capabilities into the Eclipse IDE. Soyatec plans to release the project under the Eclipse Public License Version 1.0 on SourceForge and submit it to the Eclipse Foundation as an open Eclipse project.

Microsoft also will release the Silverlight Control Pack and publish on MSDN the technical specification for the Silverlight Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML) vocabulary. The SCP, which will augment the powerful built-in control set in Silverlight, will be released under the Microsoft Permissive License, an Open Source Initiative-approved license, and includes controls such as DockPanel, ViewBox, TreeView, Accordion and AutoComplete. The Silverlight XAML vocabulary specification, released under the Open Specification Promise (OSP), will better enable third-party ISVs to create products that can read and write XAML for Silverlight.

"The Silverlight Control Pack under the Microsoft Permissive License really addresses the needs of developers by enabling them to learn how advanced controls are authored directly from the high-quality Microsoft implementation," said Miguel de Icaza, vice president, Engineering, Novell. "By using the OSP for the Silverlight vocabulary, they further solidify their commitment to interoperability. I am impressed with the progress Microsoft continues to make, and we are extremely satisfied with the support for Moonlight and the open source community."

Beyond funding development in the free Eclipse IDE, Microsoft currently delivers state-of-the-art tools for Silverlight with Visual Studio 2008 and Expression Studio 2. In addition, support is now extended to Visual Web Developer 2008 Express Edition, which is a free download.

"We wanted to build a cutting-edge, rich Internet application that enables our customers to search our vast database of content and metadata so they can access movie reviews, watch high-quality movie trailers, and either rent or buy movies from our new MovieLink application," said Keith Morrow, chief information officer, Blockbuster. "Because Silverlight 2 now includes several new rich controls such as data grids and advanced skinning capabilities, as well as support for the .NET Framework, allowing us to access our existing Web services, we were able to easily maintain the high standards of the Blockbuster brand and bring the application to market in record time."

Delivering Features for Next-Generation Web Experiences
Highlights of new Silverlight 2 features include the following:

  • .NET Framework support with a rich base class library. This is a compatible subset of the full .NET Framework.
  • Powerful built-in controls. These include DataGrid, ListBox, Slider, ScrollViewer, Calendar controls and more.
  • Advanced skinning and templating support. This makes it easy to customize the look and feel of an application.
  • Deep zoom. This enables unparalleled interactivity and navigation of ultrahigh resolution imagery.
  • Comprehensive networking support. Out-of-the-box support allows calling REST, WS*/SOAP, POX, RSS and standard HTTP services, enabling users to create applications that easily integrate with existing back-end systems.
  • Expanded .NET Framework language support. Unlike other runtimes, Silverlight 2 supports a variety of programming languages, including Visual Basic, C#, JavaScript, IronPython and IronRuby, making it easier for developers already familiar with one of these languages to repurpose their existing skill sets.
  • Advanced content protection. This now includes Silverlight DRM, powered by PlayReady, offering robust content protection for connected Silverlight experiences.
  • Improved server scalability and expanded advertiser support. This includes new streaming and progressive download capabilities, superior search engine optimization techniques, and next-generation in-stream advertising support.
  • Vibrant partner ecosystem. Visual Studio Industry Partners such as ComponentOne LLC, Infragistics Inc. and Telerik Inc. are providing products that further enhance developer capabilities when creating Silverlight applications using Visual Studio.
  • Cross-platform and cross-browser support. This includes support for Mac, Windows and Linux in Firefox, Safari and Windows Internet Explorer.
Get Silverlight 2
Silverlight 2 is available for download at www.microsoft.com/silverlight. Customers already using a previous version of Silverlight will be automatically upgraded to Silverlight 2.

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Artbeats' Abstract Dimensions Backgrounds Step Forward

Background clips don't have to be boring. The release of Abstract Dimensions, Artbeats' versatile new footage collection, proves that with 25 new backgrounds spanning a creative cornucopia of geometric shapes, subtle flowing designs and wildly colored warping 'effects.'

Abstract Dimensions features computer-generated (CG) textures designed as interesting, unobtrusive backgrounds for the placement of titles, text, ID bugs and other main elements. The clips evoke an incredible variety of moods -- calm, adventurous, peaceful, aggressive, playful -- providing appropriate backgrounds for many types of productions. They can be purchased in either HD or SD formats.

Available as individual clips or as a complete collection, this new footage joins more than 1,500 other background clips in the Artbeats library. Accompanying the release of Abstract Dimensions are 10 additional related solo clips similar in design, giving the customer even more options.

"The Abstract Dimensions clips offer producers and editors aesthetically pleasing backgrounds that don't compete with credits, lower thirds and other foreground information," says Phil Bates, president and founder of Artbeats. "They can greatly enhance production quality with artistically interesting atmospheres that can be used in a wide variety of situations."

Pricing and Availability
Abstract Dimensions includes 25 seamless clips that are available now from Artbeats' website at http://www.artbeats.com/abstractdimensions. This collection is available in HD-1920x1080 for $1099, NTSC-720 x 486 for $499 or PAL-720 x 576 for $499. Pricing for other Artbeats' HD collections range from USD $799-$1599; standard definition collections range from USD $399-$899. Individual clips are also available and range from $199-$299.

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Digital Heaven Releases Loader - The Smart Way to Import Media into Final Cut Pro

Digital Heaven, one of the leading third party developers for Apple Pro Apps, today announced the release of Loader, an innovative application that streamlines the process of importing media into Final Cut Pro.

Importing music, sound effects, graphics or movies into Final Cut Pro is a task that most editors do many times a day. In order to keep media files in one place for a particular project, it has traditionally been necessary to first copy the files to a media folder and then import the copied files into Final Cut Pro. Loader handles both of these processes automatically and adds some extra benefits.

Loader works alongside Final Cut Pro (launching and quitting automatically) and appears as a small tab on the left side of the screen. When tracks from iTunes or files/folders from the Finder are dragged onto the tab, it slides out to reveal a list of projects currently open in Final Cut Pro. After dropping the items onto the desired project, Loader copies them in the background to the assigned media folder linked to that project. In addition, those audio file formats that don't play nicely in Final Cut Pro (.caf, .m4a and mp3) are automatically converted to a 16 bit 48kHz AIF file before import. When the copy is complete then the copied files are sent to a new bin in Final Cut Pro.

Loader also offers the ability to sort copied media into subfolders according to the file extension. By default, subfolders are automatically created for audio, graphics and movie file types and settings can be changed at any time to suit specific requirements.

"I love Loader - no more messing about outside of FCP converting music to the correct format, just drop it on the Loader window and get right back to work. Simple and effective." - Jude Cotter, Freelance Editor, Perth Australia

Pricing and availability
Loader is available for immediate purchase from the Digital Heaven online store for US$49.00. A fully working 14-day trial version can be downloaded from the Digital Heaven website.

www.digital-heaven.co.uk/loader

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NVIDIA Introduces QUADRO CX

NVIToday NVIDIA introduced its new accelerator for Adobe®® Creative Suite®® 4 software, the NVIDIA®® Quadro®® CX. This new GPU provides creative professionals with a faster, better, more reliable way to maximize their creativity. Quadro CX was architected to deliver the best performance for the new GPU-optimized features of Adobe Creative Suite 4.

"Adobe is at the forefront of the Visual Computing Revolution," said Dan Vivoli, executive vice president of marketing at NVDIA. "CS4's GPU features are sending shockwaves through the creative industry."

"Photoshop users are always looking for maximum performance, and we recognized that tapping into the power of the GPU is one way to give it to them," said Kevin Connor, vice president of product management for Professional Digital Imaging at Adobe. "Thanks to NVIDIA's efforts to optimize the Quadro CX product for CS4, users can be assured of a dramatically fast and fluid experience on tasks such as panning, zooming, and rotating large images as well as manipulating 3D content."

NVIDIA specifically designed and optimized the Quadro CX to enhance the performance of Adobe Creative Suite 4 product line and meet the unique needs of the Creative Suite 4 professional. Adding NVIDIA Quadro CX to the pipeline gives creative professionals a faster, better, and more reliable experience. With NVIDIA Quadro CX users can encode H.264 videos at lightning-fast speeds with the NVIDIA CUDA™ enabled plug-in for Adobe Premiere®® Pro CS4, RapiHD™ from Elemental Technologies; accelerate rendering time for advanced effects; and accurately preview what deliverables will look like with 30-bit color or uncompressed 10-bit/12-bit SDI before final output.

Adobe Creative Suite 4 software now has added optimization to take advantage of GPU technology, including the parallel processing capability in the Quadro CX CPU. These enhancements accelerate a number of visually intensive operations, including the following:

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  • Adobe®® Photoshop®® CS4 uses NVIDIA Quadro CX GPU to bring unprecedented fluidity to image navigation. The GPU enables real-time image rotation, zooming, and panning, and makes changes to the view instantaneous and smooth. Adobe Photoshop CS4 also taps the GPU for on-screen compositing of both 2D and 3D content, ensuring smoothly anti-aliased results regardless of zoom level. Brush resizing and brushstroke preview, 3D movement, high-dynamic-range tone mapping, and color conversion are also accelerated by the GPU.
  • Adobe After Effects®® CS4 now has added optimization features to accelerate a variety of creative effects, making it easier than ever to add graphics and visual effects to video, which allows the artist to quickly move from concept to final product and speeds up the workflow. Effects accelerated include depth of field, bilateral blur effects, turbulent noise such as flowing water or waving flags, and cartoon effects. NVIDIA Quadro CX takes advantages of these workflow enhancements.
  • Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 can take advantage of Quadro CX to accelerate high-quality video effects such as motion, opacity, color, and image distortion. Quadro CX also enables faster editing of multiple high-definition video streams and graphic overlays and provides a variety of video output choices for high-quality preview, including DisplayPort, component TV, or uncompressed 10-bit or 12-bit SDI.
NVIDIA Quadro CX is available starting today, from leading resellers and retailers, for $1,999 USD. For more information on NVIDIA Quadro and the new Quadro CX, visit www.nvidia.com/quadrocx.

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