Sunday, April 15, 2012

TSC: From Cinemaplex to Googleplex?

Will we see a day when the cinema audience is asked to turn their phones on rather than off? That was the controversial blue sky topic at a session devoted to enhancing cinema with second screen applications.
With cinemas already being kitted out with extensive IT systems and the ability for consumers to connect with the web via personal devices, the prospects for revenue on second screens in and around cinemas are being explored.
“The ability to buy products that you have seen on screen directly from your smartphone is a logical extension of product placement,” said Peter Wilson, director, High Definition and Digital Cinema Ltd.
“If studios and advertisers could run a database which is timecode-linked to the movie, then consumer iPhones could be their shopping phone.”
Similarly, users in the vicinity of a cinema could download trailers to preview before a film before going to buy a ticket. There are, said Wilson, a myriad of ways in which studios, exhibitors, advertisers or vendors local to the cinema could connect with audiences.
“E-commerce is an opportunity for studios and exhibitors but it does mean an IT headache to devise a system that can handle the transactions and data securely,” said Wilson.
Though in-cinema apps could be made to mute the personal device, inhibit internal cameras and mics or dim backlights on phones, the fear is that all of this activity will detract from the content itself.
“I don’t want cinema to be destroyed by people using second screens because having one point of interest in a darkened room is why people go to the cinema today,” said Mark Schubin, technology consultant,
Nonetheless in a poll of the delegates attending the session the majority believed that not only would second screen activity be introduced before and after cinema screenings, but that apps for movie goers who are actually watching a film would also debut within a decade.
Outside of the cinema, second screen apps are already being used to enrich the consumer experience or drive revenue.
Location based cinema, which uses GPS coordinates of film scenes for consumers to replay on their devices when at the location, is already possible.
Future second screen apps being developed by Deluxe includes the delivery of audio streams (commentary track or different languages) in sync with content to second devices so that individuals with different preferences could watch the same film.
“We are also investigating voice activated menus, augmented reality, pre-release alerts to additional content and in-feature commerce where props or clothes can be pre-encoded for purchase via second devices,” said Sapth Sholingapuram, VP at Deluxe. “User generated commentaries or text could also be uploaded to Facebook for others to stream when they watch the same content back.”
The key to second screen apps is knowing what piece of content is being displayed at any point in time. There are various technologies to achieve this but the most robust is audio synchronization by way of watermarking or fingerprinting.
Watermarking utilizes hidden information embedded in the audio file that is not audible to the listener and does not effect the quality of the original track. Fingerprinting is a means of tagging segments of audio content. Both techniques enable a second screen app to detect or record a piece of audio within seconds of it being played and identify the content and timecode.
In the cinema second screen sync is easier. The content can’t be DVR’ed, there is only one timecode to manage and everyone remains in their own seat.

F65 Short "Eldorado" Premieres At The TSC

Eldorado—a new 8-minutes short film from Curtis Clark, ASC, which was lensed with Sony’s F65 camera, was presented Sunday at the NAB’s Technology Summit on Cinema, co-produced with SMPTE.
Clark (The Draughtsman’s Contract) also wrote and directed The Arrival, the short that previewed the capabilities of the F65, before its release, a year ago. At the time, the TSC (then called the Digital Cinema Summit) was among the first public screenings of the anticipated short.
Eldorado includes a range including day, night, indoor, outdoor and was lensed in Las Vegas and at Red Rock. It was produced using the Academy Color Encoding Specification (ACES), the developing architecture aimed at preserving the quality of the captured image through a variety of workflows in production, postproduction, and restoration. The development of ACES was led by AMPAS’ Science and Technology Council and was outlined on Saturday at the TSC.
The screening of Eldorado concluded a Sunday session on “4K and beyond,” during which Sony CTO Hugo Gaggioni offered an overview of the F65 and its workflow. He said of the ability to perceive 4K compared with today’s more commonly used formats, “as panels get larger, you can see the [4K] effect.”
Yoshiaki Shishikui, head of advanced TV systems research division, NHK Research, discussed plans to shoot portions of the London Olympics using its UHDTV 8K production system, while testing a delivery method. This is a joint project between NHK, Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS) and BBC.
Reported Craig Todd, CTO, Dolby Laboratories: “Many of the necessary standards for UHDTV are in development. We may have an agreed specification in a couple weeks time.”
Jim Houston, principal of Starwatcher, moderated the discussion.

TSC: Digital Cinema Standards Update

John Hurst, CTO, CineCert highlighted a number of current SMPTE activities in standards for Digital Cinema, during the NAB's Technology Summit on Cinema co-produced with SMPTE. These efforts included a revision to the subtitling standard ST-4287 to accommodate stereoscopic titles during exhibition which will go to ballot this summer; and the compilation of a more detailed labelling standard for audio channels and soundfield groups in ST-428-12.

In addition, said Hurst, a study group into High Frame Rates had just wrapped and thrown up some interesting points for discussion.

“HFR is a very popular topic just now and we want to make way for the exhibition of HFR production but we discovered that there isn’t yet a consensus on what to focus on. When you talk about the principal of HFR to different people you get a different set of answers."

He explained: “We found there are two goals pursued by those interested in HFR. The first is for less motion blur and therefore more picture. The second is for more bits, which is not always coincidental with supporting more picture.”

The group is preparing a report which will assess the current environment for HFR but Hurst said he was confident that productions now will be able to survive without a lot of standards support.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

LEDs: Much more than meets the eyes

LED lighting technology is being deployed at pace in broadcast studios, and increasingly for feature film with the promise of significantly reduced running costs, yet the marriage of LEDs with digital cameras can produce alarmingly different qualities in color reproduction.

In an illuminating explanation of the color science behind traditional and new lighting technologies at the Technology Summit on Cinema, Ryan Fletcher, LED Product Manager at ARRI, drew attention to the disparities in color rendition that different LED light sources output.
“With digital imaging and LEDs there is much more than meets the eyes,” Fletcher said. “If we can’t trust a meter or our eyes – how we do know how to light talent with white LEDs?”
Fletcher explained that a white LED has not in fact been invented. Instead, white LEDs can be made by combining RGB LEDs or by placing a phosphor filter over a blue LED.
“This is important because LEDs make white with a discontinuous source,” he said. “When that is combined with a discontinuous method of capture - which is inherent in the sensor technology of all digital cameras - then we are faced with some scary consequences of bad color reproduction.”
A series of tests comparing subjects shot with tungsten with different LED sources illustrated this. Each of the white LED sources produced subtly different color reproductions – some as good as tungsten, others significantly worse.
“A white LED light will look white to the human eye and the measurement tools which we have been using for years will tell us that is white, yet when we examine the light’s spectral distribution [with a spectrometer) the color rendition can look startlingly different,” he said.
“The upside is that you can get very good lighting with LED but it requires more investment in time and in tools to test, you get great efficiency and a key advantage is the ability to tune the color by using different LEDs.”
Plus, he said, LED technology continues to improve. “In ten years we won’t be talking about LED and color – but it is a topic that we need to address today.

Tungsten technology is essentially unchanged in 100 years and it remains the most popular lighting source and the main reference light. But 95% of the electrical energy is converted into heat. 
“One of the pushes is financial,” said Fletcher. “When you install a studio with tungsten you generate a lot of power, a lot of heat and a lot of air con. If you go LED you get rid of power and reduce the AC by a factor of 4 – and your talent stays cool. The advantages in terms of ROI are quick to realize – we just need to be aware of what we are dealing with.”

TSC: AMPAS SciTech Council Talks LED, ACES, Preservation

During the first day of the NAB Show's Technology Summit on Cinema, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Science and Technology Council gave a comprehensive report on key aspects of its current work.

George Joblove, Co-Chairman, Science and Technology Council, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences explained that the overall aim of the Council was to ensure that the digital imaging evolution expands, rather than limits, the filmmaking art.  

He focussed on three of its activities: Solid-state lighting; the Academy Color Encoding System (ACES); and digital preservation.

Joblove agreed with ARRI's Ryan Fletcher (who spoke earlier in the day) that the spectral difference in LED lights can present unpredictable and undesirable rendition of skin tone, fabrics and props.

“It’s an issue that the Academy takes seriously since it presents issues with the integration of LED with existing sources such as HMI, tungsten and fluorescent, the results of which are often not amenable to color correction in post production,” he said.

The AMPAS SSL project aims to provide data to evaluate the impact of LED lighting, devise a framework for evaluating  future technologies and to find a more accurate measure of comparing and contrasting light sources than CRI.

Joblove next guided delegates through ACES, a work in progress that has achieved wide cross-industry support, to underpin the management of digital and film imaging from on-set into DI, VFX and preservation. 

 “Since a next generation imaging architecture won’t happen by itself and since we believe that for the future relevance of cinema the technology platform has to evolve – the Academy decided [in 2004] to begin work on ACES. The aim is to preserve all the quality of the captured image through a variety of workflows in production, postproduction, and restoration.”

Eight years on and the ink dry on the first three ACES standards and elevated to draft publication level at SMPTE, a further two standards are in the pipeline. These address an amendment to the use of the DPX format and a constrained version of OpenEXR.

In addition, the next round of industry trials are being prepared and a collaborative software site has been set up using open source software development GitHub.

The acronym ACES, which originally defined the color encoding portion of the background Image Interchange Format, has now been adopted in favor of IIF as the name for the entire system.

The Academy is concerned about the implications of the digital revolution in filmmaking for the preservation of motion pictures and the elements of their creation. 

“Film is a 100 years old and we are watching its end as a capture and distribution medium, yet we are still largely using film-based preservation practices incorporating more and more digital assets,” he said. “You can put film in a cool dark place and as long as temperature and humidity is controlled you can leave it for a century or more and find it in excellent shape.”

Following two "Digital Dilemma" research reports it commissioned, the Council has developed the Academy Case Study System (ACeSS) as a case-study project to investigate the operational realities of various digital archiving strategies and technologies as applied to motion picture materials.

TSC Opens With Digital Cinema Deployment Update

Fifty. That is the number of standards published by SMPTE this past year, reported SMPTE Executive Director Barbara Lange at the opening of the NAB Show’s Technology Summit on Cinema (formerly Digital Cinema Summit), which was again co-produced with SMPTE. As an example of this year’s important work, she highlighted Time Text Standards, enabling online video captioning, which means that  "everyone can have access to and enjoy web-enabled programming.”
Opening the first session on digital cinema deployment, Michael Karagosian, president of  MKPE Consulting, reported that an estimated 70,000—more than half of the world’s estimated 123,000 total screens—are now digital (according to IHS Screen Digest research).
North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific regions are well underway in the transition with more than half of their screens already converted--and with North America already at roughly 70%. Karagosian pointed out that Latin America and the Middle East/Africa are at 22% though he sees Latin America “starting to take off.”
Next up was Chuck Goldwater of consultant firm Goldwater Partners—who previously headed DCI and Cinedigm (then AccessIT)—who noted that digital cinema is “here to stay” as he urged the community to “love” technology.
He suggested that exhibitors have a “golden opportunity” to offer news services while making existing services more efficient. As an example, he pointed to potential benefits afforded by new operational management software and satellite delivery.
Joe Hart, senior vp digital dinema at Deluxe Digital Cinema, reported that electronic digital cinema is “still in its infancy” though growing, particularly in North America and Europe.
But there remains some technical and economic challenges.
The business challenge is creating a wide enough footprint to make this economical. He suggested that on the technical front, “the biggest challenge for electronic distribution is 3D subtitling and higher frame rates.”