Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: Not the NC or the VC, just 400.
The Long Version: One of the more interesting souvenirs that I brought home from New York City was an exposed roll of the brand-new Portra 400 from Kodak. This film replaces the previous 400VC and 400NC formulations, and from the press release, it sounds like it's combined the best of both with no downsides. Sounds nifty, verging on too good to be true, but so far it looks like they really have pulled it off.
I have to concede that I'm not the best person to judge the new film, especially since the good people at Kodak only gave me one roll to try. Feel free to open these sample images (above and below) in a new window and replace the final "S" in the file name with "L" to see a larger image. On the other hand, what you'll be seeing is an electronically scanned version that's been reinterpreted by a different monitor in a limited colour space. I've made some effort to get the colours to look like the prints, but those are scanned second-generation copies as well. Unlike with transparencies, there's really no definitive colour reference.
For a subjective comparison, I've been showing the prints from my evaluation roll around, and have gotten positive reactions from friends, fellow photographers, and the photo lab. The colour is quite good - vibrant without being garish, and holds up quite well for portraits. Scanning it with my Nikon V driven by Vuescan is as easy as any colour film that I've tried, giving good to excellent results with very little effort. Grain is a non-issue, both because it's invisible in smaller prints, and because it's not a fault with film in the same way that noise is with digital capture.
While I don't anticipate Portra 400 replacing the quirky but powerful Ektar in my small-format cameras, I would choose it for any subject where the faster speed would be appropriate, or even for the times when I just want a no-fuss film for unpredictable conditions. I'll always have a couple of rolls on-hand as a solid second choice. Low-light photography will fall to Fuji's Press 1600, or perhaps I'll just bring my D700 out of its semi-retirement from time to time.
Updated 11 jan 2011: I've now had a chance to use the 120 film in my medium format camera, and it has become my standard colour film. Its results are as good as I hoped, with excellent tone and is very forgiving when confronted with over-exposure. I've put some large sample images and additional text over on my photo blog.
The new Portra 400 looks like Kodak really has improved on the previous Neutral Color and Vibrant Color formulations, and it's certainly better to see a new film than to simply discontinue an unpopular one. The quality that I've seen so far is very promising, and Kodak should be applauded for continuing their efforts to succeed in the marketplace.