Monday, May 14, 2012

Clouds on the horizon?

The second session of the SMPTE/EBU forum looked at technological developments, and in particular the influence of the cloud. First speaker was Karl Schubert of Grass Valley, who started by asserting that in 2020 there will be 50 billion connected devices worldwide.
Moore’s Law is actually being exceeded, he suggested, with microprocessor costs halving every 1.2 years and memory density doubling every 1.5 years. Fibre optics are increasing in speed, and power consumption is falling. Today we are seeing off-the-shelf hardware becoming fast enough to allow non-linear production, repurposing content as it is created. So we have the ability to create integrated collaborative systems.
The question is not whether cloud computing will empower this, but when. The challenge is about security and rights management. But governments use cloud networks for classified material – the security issues can be addressed.
Transport bandwidths are increasing and costs are coming down, so the other challenge of cloud is addressed.
All these changes create a new business model, for a service oriented, resolution independent environment. Analogue to digital took 20 years; Schubert predicts that the move to IP will take 10 years. Be ready, he said: the transition will be fast. As Brigitta Nickelson said in the first session, the speed of change is way under-rated.
He was followed by Peter Lud̩, president of SMPTE, who talked about the way that cinema technology moves into the television arena. In that context, 4k has become widely available in digital cinemas Рabout 10% of screens around the world Рand now it is being offered to the home. More plausibly it will be a high quality production format.
He also talked about higher frame rates. Some prominent film-makers are working on 48fps productions and even faster rates are being considered. Similarly, there is a growing interest in high dynamic range imaging to offer up to 18 stops of latitude.
The result is that we have to move from a scale of megabytes per minute to gigabytes per minute. A 100 minute movie in 48fps 3D is close to 6TB in its raw form. Cameron is suggesting that Avatar 2 will be shot in 12 bit 4k 3D at 60 frames a second which is an order of magnitude bigger again.
New extensions in digital media are inevitable. They will drive exponential increase in data, which in turn will force the shift to IT-centric infrastructures, drawing on enterprise-class hardware which is the benefit of the IT industry’s R&D budget.
Leszek Izdebski of Cisco picked up on this theme, stating that clouds are here, not on the horizon. They are not just about cost savings, they are about enabling innovation. The market is already maturing, with platform as a service offerings drawing on infrastructure as a service companies. There are probably 30,000 plus web grade cloud hosting companies already, differentiated from enterprise providers which deliver service level agreements in exchange for higher fees.
As an example of technologies providing transformation he suggested that in future the conventional outside broadcast unit could be replaced by just a couple of Lytro light field cameras at a live sporting event. By using massive cloud processing the director could put virtual “cameras” anywhere in the stadium, in 3D if required, at any time.
From NHK in Japan Dr Yoshiaki Shishikui gave an update on Super Hi-Vision, its ultra HD system which has been under development for some years. With 16 times the resolution of HD it has 33 million pixels and 22.2 channel audio. So far it has operated at 60 frames a second but it is developing a 120Hz frame rate. Prototype CMOS sensors are now ready, and likely to be seen at IBC.
The next major demonstration will be coverage of some events from the London Olympics, to be seen on public screens not only in the UK but in Washington DC, Tokyo and Osaka. They will use projectors, developed in association with NHK. But Panasonic has a prototype 140” plasma display, first shown in March 2012.
While the elements of the production system are coming together, much of it has to be hand-crafted and development of productised versions will continue over the next five years. The current generation of full-resolution cameras, for example, weigh 65kg, which has to be reduced for practical, everyday use.
The aim remains to broadcast Super Hi-Vision from 2020. Looking still further out, in 15 years time Dr Shishikui predicts that the whole production chain will be as usable as HD is today. That includes processing and storage in the cloud. It will deliver the massive storage and high speed processing required, but it will also provide resilience and persistency against disasters, which is an important consideration given the events of last year in Japan.

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