The best new hardware & software for designers, artists, animators & editors - April 2017

From stunning new monitors from HP and Eizo to upgraded software from Adobe and Autodesk – and two new free video editing applications – here's this month's best new tech for creating art, graphics, designs, video and animation.

April sees the yearly NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) tradeshow in Las Vegas, so you see a lot of new tech being launched that appeals to creatives working in video post-production, VFX and animation – though many of these will also be of interest to those in other fields, especially the hardware (as a colour-perfect screen will suit both an editor and a designer working on a branding project).

So with NAB here, it's no surprise that Adobe launched updates to Premiere Pro, After Effects et al – though they kicked off the month with updates to Illustrator, InDesign and its still-in-beta Project Felix and Adobe XD apps.

Video pros get some nifty tools to help them work faster – including an Essential Graphics panel in Premiere to quickly adjust parameters on motion graphics templates (shown here, bottom), and a similar panel in After Effects to design these. There's also support for new hardware including Microsoft's Surface Dial and the Apple MacBook Pro's Touch Bar.

Read: After Effects and Premiere Pro CC 2017 updated to make motion graphics and audio easier

AMD's new Radeon Pro Duo graphics packs two of the company's fastest GPUs, but surprisingly, is slower than its 2016 predecessor.

The Pro Duo is based on the Polaris architecture. It provides 11.45 teraflops of single-precision performance, which is a downgrade from the 16 teraflops of performance offered by last year's Pro Duo, based on the Fiji architecture.

Performance usually goes up with each new GPU generation, but AMD opted to lower the power draw and the number of processing cores in the Pro Duo; as result, the product generates less heat. The Pro Duo draws 250W of power, compared to 350W by its predecessor.

The launch price of the Pro Duo is also $500 (around £390) less than its predecessor in the US. The new graphics card will start at $999 (£78) and ship worldwide by the end of May. AMD has been trying to push more affordable GPUs to consumers and professionals.

AMD is positioning the new GPU as a faster version of its single-GPU Radeon Pro WX 7100. The Pro Duo basically has two WX 7100 graphics chips, which makes it two times faster.

The Pro Duo allows graphics designers to work with 8K content. The graphics card also will support four 4K monitors at a refresh rate of 60Hz. When connected to fewer monitors, it can achieve higher refresh rates.

(Additional reporting by Agam Shah)

Autodesk used NAB to announced updates to both its big 3D modelling, animation and rendering suites: 3ds Max and Maya.

3ds Max ships with the MAXtoA 1.0 plug-in allowing you to render using the Arnold 5.0 rendering engine. This completes the transition from offering Nvidia's mental ray as the standard renderer – a move Autodesk made with Maya last year. The images here – by Johan Rimer and Image Engine for the film Logan – show the level of photorealism that Arnold is capable of.

Other new tools in 3ds Max 2018 include customisable workspaces, Bézier motion path animation, and a cloud-based large model viewer (LMV) that's integrated with Autodesk Forge.

Arnold 5.0, which is also compatible with Maya, offers better sampling; new standard shaders for surface, hair and volume; light path expressions and a VR camera.

The new Maya upgrade is Maya 2017 update 3 (not Maya 2018). The XGen hair/fur/feathers system now has interactive grooming of strands, there's a brand-new UV workflow, and improved motion graphics tools including a 'live link' with Adobe After Effects (in a similar way to AE's link to Cinema 4D).

Autodesk also announced updates to Flame 2018 and Shotgun.

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Media Composer First is a free version of Avid's professional-level video editing software. Not quite the industry standard it once was thanks to Adobe's Premiere Pro, Media Composer is still widely used for editing major TV shows. 

Unlike Blackmagic's DaVinci Resolve (see the next page), Media Composer First is rather limited. You can work with four video tracks and eight audio tracks – and a small set of preset effects. This should be enough for editors currently using Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro a chance to learn Media Composer's rather different interface.

Media Composer First will be out in June.

Blackmagic Design's DaVinci Resolve 14 is also available for free – though for professional use you're probably going to want to purchase the Studio version. This adds support for multiple GPUs, HDR grading, a motion blur filter, noise reduction, 3D and more. 

The new DaVinci Resolve 14 Studio has come down in price too, to £239/US$299 from £795/$995. You can buy it here.

Blackmagic says that the new version is up to 10 times more powerful than its predecessor v12 (there was no version 13, we assume for superstitious reasons) – so you can now edit 4K on a laptop. There are over 20 new filters for effects from dust to dead pixels, a facial-recognition-based tracking system for applying effects to faces without having to manually rotoscope, audio tools based on Fairlight tech and collaborative tools to let multiple editors work on the same project. 

The ColorEdge Prominence CG3145 is aimed at editors and artists working with HDR video. It can output video at a brightness of up to 1,000cd/m2 and with a contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1 – which Eizo says is needed for outputting HDR video with the correct level of highlights and shadows.

Eizo also says that the CG3145 supports the two gamma curves used for HDR video post-production: HLG (for live TV) and PQ (for films and streaming).

Other features include 10-bit 4:2:2 50/60p video input over HDMI, and 10-bit 4:4:4: at 50/60p over DisplayPort; and DCI-P3, Rec. 2020, EBU, and SMPTE-C, and Adobe RGB modes.

The CG3145 will be out later in the year.

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G-Technology has released updated versions of three of its external storage system, adding Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C connections for much faster connections to desktops and laptops.

The G-Drive with Thunderbolt 3 (top) has a single 7,200rpm hard-drive inside and is aimed at creatives from graphics designers and artists to editors and animators. It's available with up to 10TB drive inside, with 12TB drives available over the summer.

The G-RAID with Thunderbolt 3 has two removable hard drives inside up to 20TB of storage (24TB soon), which can be mirrored or striped (RAID 1 or 0).

Finally, the G-Speed Shuttle XL with Thunderbolt 3 fits eight drives (in RAID 0, 1, 5, 6,10, and 50). Designed for 4K video editing, it offers transfer speeds of up to 2000MBps. 

Alongside launching new ZBook laptops for designers and artists, HP has announced two monitors. Both are in HP's DreamcColor line – offering up to 1 billion colours through 10-bit colour support.

The Z24x G2 is HP's lowest cost DreamColor display so far. It's a 24-inch monitor with an HD resolution of 1,920 x 1,200. It can output 99% of the Adobe RGB colour space and has four inputs: DVI-D, HDMI and two DisplayPort 1.2. It's out in July.

The Z31 DreamColor Studio Display has a 'true' 4K resolution of 4,096 x 2,160 and can also output 2K video 'natively' – ie without downscaling as on many 4K monitoes. It can output 99% of both the Adobe RGB and DCI-P3 colour spaces, and has a built in colourimeter to calibrate the monitor 'on demand' or on a set schedule.

There's a built-in KVM switch, allowing it to be used with two computers and a single keyboard and mouse. And you can turn off all of its lights – or turn them red – for less distraction when working in dark conditions.

The Z31 DreamColor Studio Display will ship in September.