What’s the story with Socratto?

April at NAB this year Sony showed Socratto to the public on an exclusive Socratto Stand.

Since then FXGuide has been trying to get someone from the company to comment. After months of emails and broken promises, we have decided to publish what we know and our review of the product – without their direct involvement. While we have tried to get Sony to comment they have declined.

So is Socratto the white elephant that proves Sony can make a compositor?

Socratto is a Flame-like software and hardware turnkey system that Sony has been developing for a number of years. In fact many ex-Discreet people have drifted in and out of the Socratto development. Even ex-members of the Toxik team were grabbed by Sony in their attempt to set up a Flame style industry standard compositing device. To compete, they have set up an entirely separate company, with offices focusing on business only in London, LA and Tokyo, although NYNY might also get a look in. The product that was shown at NAB this year was not a release version but rather an early Beta, so by now the product may have changed.

The question that is at the heart of this new company is: can Sony produce a primarily software product, or is Sony’s strength in hardware? In the Hardware business it pays to be secretive, and only launch when you can ship. The Software business is very different, you talk to your clients and you build a feature set with wide consultation. The barriers to entry for a compositing product is now fairly steep. The body of functions now considered standard is huge, so it favours either existing players or people with deep pockets. Sony certainly has deep pockets, but do they have the right stuff ?

Looking at the product information and demo beta product so far shown, we have a product that is insanely like Flame. It is so like Flame that Jason Peterson, the Demo artist in Vegas kept saying “action” when entering their compositing “TFX” module by accident. It even boosts a keyer called.. you guessed it.. the Modular Keyer. During demos the product specialist Jackie Loran keep saying that the product used ‘rather familiar looking” “industry standard” user interface tools.. which was interpreted by all to mean, “just like Flame it has..” As a reviewer I would have to say the product is a functional copy of flame, with the addition of 3 key features a built-in render farm, a user generated History and resolution independence. With Discreet having already slated resolution independence for the next release of Flame and Inferno, Sony’s technological lead is already being eroded.

Socratto’s feature list was not final, but we were told that it included

  • Paint, but not the ability to import Photoshop files
  • Importing of EPS
  • Support by Tinder and Sapphire Sparks
  • Support by Realviz, but how this would work was not explained.
  • 2D tracking but not 3D tracking
  • 3D Camera import functionality
  • Support by Primatte and Ultimatte
  • Full Sony VTR I/O and EDL tools
  • LUTs
  • Runs on Intel based processors
  • Support for 16-bit and floating point calculations

During the demo we sat through the machine crashed 3 times and the demo had to be halted in the end due to a software problem, but in fairness to Sony – that is not unusual for early showings of technology. Sony has not priced the product, although we were given the impression it was similar to Flame’s current pricing.

The product in April was meant to be a Beta system, and the ever helpful Jackie and Jason team named Glassworks, Area 52, MPC, Riot and Method as either current or soon to be added Beta sites.
Note : We have since learned that Method has terminated their participation in the beta program last month.

So in our opinion, is the product a winner?

NO.

It is a good product but by the time it gets to market next year will it be expensive and competing with Shake and next generation products at one end, and a very impressive 8/5.0 feature rich Flame-Inferno user base at the other end? While no one in their right minds would write off Sony, but unless Sony buys 5D or Discreet or produces some other major innovation at a massively lower price point, Socratto may fail.

Sony Broadcast is a hardware business; is Sony (even a different division of Sony) equipped to deal with the creative community on its terms? Frankly, from our experience, after 2 NABs and various Socratto product launches, both users and publications alike have been asking basic questions of the Japanese and American Socratto teams for months… and we are all still waiting for any substantive answers.

Does Socratto have the potential to be anywhere as big as it would need to be to justify the massive investment it would take? Perhaps if there is a whole product line of consumer products following and even then – they would have to be software PC based products which are just not Sony’s strength. There is no doubt Sony has the deep pockets to target the VFX market, but after watching Kodak walk away from Cineon, Avid walk away from Illusion, and the recent changes that have affected Shake and Rayz/Chalice users, not to mention the current advertising business slump, deep pockets may not be enough. Next year’s NAB will be the decider, will the product be widely in release, with version 2 just around the corner, or dead before it starts ?

Can anyone remember the Sony NEWS workstation that was meant to take over from SGI in the late 80’s ?