A Red Scarlet-X 4K tour around CES 2012 (video)

For the third CES in a row, our old friend Ted Schilowitz has stopped by to let us drool over Red's latest high-end cameras. And boy, this is one helluva camera we have this time. You may recall that last year we were shown a working Scarlet prototype with 3K video resolution and a fixed lens; but fast forward to 2012 and we have the Scarlet-X, a sturdy 4K beast that not only supports interchangeable lens, but it's also actually out on the market. Obviously, the $9,700 base price (excluding the Canon EF lens mount; Nikon and Leica mounts coming soon) is aimed at film studios instead of us regular Joes, but Ted was kind enough to spend a whole afternoon showing us all the goodness on the Scarlet-X -- we even got to play with it on the CES show floor, and unsurprisingly, this Red kit became quite the celebrity. Read on to find out how we got on with it.

Our interview with Red's Ted Schilowitz at CES 2012.

This isn't our first encounter with the Scarlet-X. Back in early November, our very own Michael Gorman got to touch this rig for the very first time, and while praising the aluminum alloy body's sturdiness he also pointed out that at 5 pounds heavy, the camera's main body alone isn't quite as arm-friendly as, say, a standard DSLR. That said, those in the film industry will give you a contrasting feedback, as the Scarlet-X's portability is far superior to many other cinematography cameras, not to mention that this is also a 4K RAW camera we're talking about.

Externally, the Scarlet-X looks and weighs very much like one of the 48 Epics that's being used in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit, and even the sensor is the same 14-megapixel Mysterium-X designed by Red; but obviously with its much higher price tag (starting from $38,000 with a titanium PL mount), the Epic packs a few more advanced features such as high-speed 5K and 4K video. Still, we've been told that several film makers have already picked up the cheaper Scarlet-X, which will no doubt be a boost for the 4K line of blockbusters -- Ted said one such movie is already being produced in Vietnam. For those interested, Red's website also has a list of movies that were shot with its cameras.

If you've never used a cinematography camera and feel that you'd be intimidated by Red's aggressive looking camera, don't be, because even we managed to master the basics of the Scarlet-X within a matter of minutes. The particular setup we had for our crash course consisted of the Scarlet-X's brain, a Red Pro dual-hinge 5-inch LCD touchscreen, a DSMC SSD side module, a DSMC side handle (which houses a 30-minute battery) and a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM lens -- not the most advanced lens but it did the job just fine. Booting up took about 12 seconds after hitting the red power button, at which point the monitor displayed a live picture along with a range of image options at the top menu bar: frame rate, ISO, aperture, shutter speed, temperature, resolution (5K, 4K, 4K HD, 3K and 2K) and recording quality.

Most of these settings simply require a tap to toggle, and then a swipe or tap for the desired option on the menu, very straightforward. There's also a handy histogram at the bottom left for checking exposure. To focus the lens, you can either hold the shutter button half-way down or tap on the LCD; or you can switch to manual focus entirely in the secondary menu, though this is only a good idea if you've got the biceps you're on a tripod or a monopod. Speaking of which, in addition to continuous track focus and touch track focus, Ted made sure we're aware of the Scarlet-X's support for rack focus (where you can have two preset focal points on the touchscreen). Again, these are all accessible through the secondary menu under "Focus" (which is right next to "HDR").

Once you're good to go, hit any of the big red buttons to start recording -- a typical rig like ours would have three recording buttons for the sake of grip orientation: one on the SSD module, one on the side handle and one on the brain. To switch to playback mode, hit the play button at the top left of the screen and you'll be able to access the recorded clips; and because they're RAW files, you can conveniently adjust the ISO and temperature during playback for a quick preview. If you need to skip to a certain point on the timeline, you can simply swipe across the screen for video scrubbing.

With our training done, Ted thought it'd be a good laugh to shoot some 4K footage of the 4K TVs on the show floor, but also for him to show us how well the Scarlet-X can handle the low-light conditions. To our surprise, our Scarlet-Xs received more attention than we anticipated as we squeezed our way through the crowd. One tired cameraman sat on the floor actually made a "come hither" finger gesture at us as soon as he spotted our toys; but it's entirely possible that he wanted something else. Maybe our monopod.

Having seen the huge amount of 4K footage that Ted recognised as the work of Red cameras (that's a pair of eagle eyes right there), it's obvious that studios are keen to acquire movie, TV shows and even music videos at the highest resolution possbile; but when will 4K become the new 1080p in our every day life? Ted gave us a pretty candid answer:

"I think trying to predict in years is a little tricky, but if you mark CES in the last few years of people demonstrating and talking about it, and no one really knowing where it was going, I think this is the year where 4K is really establishing itself. This is not the next thing that will come some day; this is the next thing, and it's going to happen. Next year you're probably going to see product orientations, product pricing and delivery dates, and it will move out of the 'I wonder if' to the 'absolutely going to happen'."

When asked about whether Red will ever return to the prosumer space as it had originally intended to with the Scarlet, Ted reminded us that the company's still working on its 4K 3D laser projector (with working prototypes behind the scene already) and Red Ray media format that'll bring 4K to the consumers. The former technology is also scalable all the way up to the exhibition cinema environment, so this way Red has both the front end and the back end covered. Of course, it doesn't stop there: while stood next to Sharp's 85-inch 8K TV, Ted mentioned that Red's already publicly talked about a 9K sensor and a 28K sensor being potential replacements for Red's current 4K Mysterium-X chip, though he wouldn't go into detail about an upcoming Red Dragon sensor. Whatever this piece of silicon may become, let's just hope that it won't have to endure a roller coaster ride like the Scarlet did.

It'll probably be another year before we get to spend more quality time with a Red camera, so naturally, we held onto the Scarlet-X for as long as possible until Ted ripped it off our hands. If you want a peek of some clean CES show floor clips from the 4K camera, stay tuned for our full tour segment with Red at the Engadget Show next week.