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The Future of Television-HPA Tech Retreat Unites Techy Types

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CreativeCOW presents The Future of Television-HPA Tech Retreat Unites Techy Types -- Broadcasting Editorial


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Led by the engineer and impresario Mark Schubin, the Hollywood Post Alliance’s annual Tech Retreat brings together nearly 600 techy types from broadcast and cable networks, motion picture studios and post production facilities.

The focus was on the near-future of technology, with an emphasis on 4K (or Ultra High Definition TV); the cloud for the production/post pipeline and archiving; and examples of ways that people are streamlining workflow, from “post on demand” to visual effects. Here are some of the highlights.



Engineer and impresario Mark Schubin led the 2013 HPA Tech Retreat


The Future of TV
Hans Hoffman of the European Broadcast Union addressed the future of TV, focusing on Ultra HDTV and 3D. With regard to 3D TV, Hoffman listed viewer discomfort (glasses), the lack of content, cost, genre-dependence and less-than-good image quality as the reasons 3D is not doing well in the home. He quoted In-Stat’s figures that Europe will boast the most 3D TVs at just over 7 million, and Asia/Pacific will have the largest share of 3D TV unit shipments of 32 percent.”

With regard to Ultra High Def (4K) TV, Hoffman pointed out that there is no content and no eco-system. Furthermore, he cast doubt of whether or not the consumer can even tell the difference between HD and Ulta HD. He cited a study with 72 participants shown versions of material shot with the Sony F65 camera and displayed on a 56-inch UHD-1 monitor. “A statistically small but relevant number of participants saw improvement in the native [4K] content,” he said. “But the perceived advantage is very, very small, whether it’s HD or a native UHD signal to the display.”

His conclusion? “To really create an immersive impact, we need to consider more parameters than only resolution,” he said. “Further tests are needed. Also, results are only applicable to uncompressed source; transmission compress may change these results significantly.” He also noted that increased spatial resolution “seems to call for an increase of frame rate too.” (He defines “real High Frame Rate” as beyond 60 fps.) “What needs to be investigated is compression efficiency, impact to GOP length and interfaces for RT beyond 60 p,” he concluded. “But there is no production or distribution for beyond 60 fps.”



The Future of TV: Hans Hoffman of the European Broadcast Union


“3D and Ultra High Def will benefit from each other,” he said, and then warned the attendees: “Participate in standards bodies now -- don’t complain later.”


Professional Forecast: Cloudy but Clearing, said moderator Seth Hallen of Testronic Labs and panelists Al Kovalick, Media Systems Consulting; Robert Jenkins, COO, CloudSigma; Mark Lemmons, COO, T3Media; Sean Tajkowski, Tajkowski Group; and Steve Anastasi, Warner Bros. Technical Operations.

Tajkowski noted the merging, and inter-dependence, of the data and the motion picture industries. But all that data has created a looming crisis. “Although digital acquisition saves a lot of money on the front end (i.e., acquisition),” said Anastasi, “It is about to cost a lot more on the backend, with regard to storage and archiving. The studios are about to get a bill and will be shocked.”

Capturing metadata at the time of acquisition and following it all the way to the archive is a critical challenge to the industry, he continued. “Whoever comes up with that standard to keep those assets alive and searchable for many years to come will make a lot of money,” he said. “Without metadata, we can dump all kinds of files into the cloud, but if we can’t find them, what is it worth?”



Professional Forecast: Cloudy but Clearing:


“Delivery of separations was a line item cost and they want to take it as a savings,” Anastasi added. “And we’re saying, no, you have to put money in there for archiving. There have to be costs written into the contracts. Our data is getting bigger and our dependence on fiber is bigger. We can’t take advantage of the powerhouse of the cloud without looking at our infrastructure.”


File-based Architecture: End to End was a topic of conversation for Blackstar Engineering CEO Andy Setos and Fox Entertainment Senior VP of Digital Television Jim DeFilippis. As they put it succinctly: “Terror-Bites of media files threaten Hollywood.” “In 2000, about 100 Terabytes was generated on an annual basis,” said DeFilippis. “ In 2012, we’re approaching the Exabyte region. By 2016, an Exabyte of data will be generated annually.”

They quantified the challenge: “A TV show generates 30 hours of media at 200 Mb/s which equals 2.7 TB. A season is 60 TB; 3D doubles it and 4K quadruples it to ¼ Petabyte. Movies generate 1 to 2 PB per title, which 3D more than doubles; High Frame Rate can double or triple these numbers.”

“We have a data tsunami, and it’s going to get really bad really soon,” was the message. “It’s more than capacity,” said Setos. “It’s the speed to and from storage. Archiving the data is another issue. And there’s File Format anarchy.” Every storage medium offers serious downsides, and archiving is an even more serious issue. Setos and DeFilippis compared the two options -- migration versus archival media -- concluding that the solution is to use both methods. “Some people want to go back to videotape and 35mm film, but it’s too late,” they concluded. “We need to invest in refining the digital media workflow. We work in the most complex AV world ever, and we need to be careful with every parameter.”


Post on Demand was the topic moderated by Sim Digital CTO Chris Parker, with Callum Greene, Executive Producer of Pacific Rim; Richard Winnie, VP of Post Production at Universal Television; Gavin Barclay, Co-Producer of USA Network’s Suits and Covert Affairs; and Chris Jacobson, VP of Creative Services/Colorist at Sim Digital.

Parker noted that whereas there used to be a “line in the sand” between production and post, the paradigm has shifted. “Over the past several years, it’s become more of a gray area as the digital negative gets passed from the camera to a DIT through the dailies process into the offline and then conforming and color correction,” he said. “ With the negative no longer on the camera, how do you manage the digital negative?”

He also noted the move away from a bricks-and-mortar post facility, full of lab and telecine equipment, to mobile gear. “With ways to streamline the process, it’s not a one-size fits all,” he said. “It’s about finding the right number of people for the right number of jobs.”



Post on Demand, Chris Parker (Moderator), Callum Greene, Richard Winnie, Gavin Barclay, Chris Jacobson


Greene, who started as a line producer, recounted that he used to “film the movie, throw it into post and wish them good luck.” “When I started the post side, I inherited my own mess,” he said. “I realized that physical production is from the beginning to end, with the bigger portion being post.” Five years ago, he did a Miramax production and set up a near-set lab, driven by tax incentives, but “there were a lot of questions and resistance to setting up a lab on location.” “Five years later, no longer is there a question about shooting on digital and also this idea of near-set or on-set lab is accepted,” he said.

According to Barclay, Covert Affairs takes advantage of this concept in many ways. The show has an “unforgiving post schedule” and frequently shoots internationally. “Over the past three seasons, we’ve gone to 15 different countries, within a very tight schedule,” he said. “The last show shot in Amsterdam, and we had nine days from the time we finished shooting until the time we had to lock the cut. That causes a problem if you have to ship dailies overseas or find a post house in Amsterdam. Now, I can talk to Bling which will bring gear to transcode dailies, so the production can get the dailies the next day and hit the ground running.”


Visual Effects’ changing landscape was examined by Simon Robinson, Chief Scientist, The Foundry; Patrick Wolf, head of pipeline, Pixomondo; Todd Prives, VP of Marketing, Zync; and Mike Romey, Head of Pipeline, Zoic Studios. The focus was on how VFX facilities deal with shorter deadlines, tighter budgets and more demands.

Robinson said The Foundry noted that “our industry has gotten pretty good at pipelines, which are open, scalable, modular and fast.” “As a company, we’re noticing a shift in pre/on-set/post,” he said. “We’re seeing that VFX is pushing post tools into story development pre-visualization and on-set as well as post. It’s part of the entire chain and is true for all vendors. As a company, we ask ourselves what are better tools for these various use cases? How could Nuke or variants of it be a better tool? Should we adapt Nuke for different points of the production cycle? We think about making tools modular so they can be broken apart and used in different places/parts of the cycle.”

Wolf stated that for Pixomondo, which has facilities around the globe, the challenges include “tracking distributed projects, exchanging data, ensuring usage of standards and tools, bridging environmental differences (software/hardware), deploying tools, utilizing remote resources.” “Solutions we came up with include strict application of naming conventions; prioritizing on a base tool set (3dsMax, Maya, Nuke, Shotgun, Deadline, RV); a communication platform wiki with helpdesks; infrastructure with shared APIs for TDs to build on and mount points, file structures and caches; and enrolling software vendors to evolve products for production needs.”



Sony Pictures 4K with Phil Squyres. Photo by Steve Weiner


“Tool deployment across the branches allow us to use resources across the network, such as remote rendering,” he said. “Enhanced remote rendering happens in the background and provides scalability.” Zync’s Prives talked about his company’s cloud rendering solution and allaying the film industry’s concern about the cloud. “We’ve created extensive billing tools so we can give an accurate estimate of the total cost, which helps producers to be able to budget,” he said. Bandwidth has been the biggest challenge. We’ve also created a smart platform design so you don’t have to upload bit files over and over again.”

Zoic Studios’ Romey reported that with the two to three week schedule to deliver a TV episode, htey have a workflow tailored to their tight rendering schedule and a high volume editorial conform. One solution has been The Foundry’s Hiero, a nonlinear editor with a new backend. “We edit our visual effects in a nonlinear space, add VFX and send them to our clients to review,” said Romey, who reported that Zoic is one of the first users of Hiero and has 25 licenses.

“We build templates and can bring 200 shots online in a few minutes and they get rendered pretty quickly,” he said. “The problem we’ve had historically through the Avid pipeline is that it can’t keep up with the iterations. As soon as they get finished with the edit, there’s a new overcut. Hiero lets us build custom tools to find new versions and find QCed or readied versions. As a producer, I don’t have to worry about picking a version not ready for client review. Hiero is akin to the way we work.”



Update of the acronyms (alphabetically)

An ACES Audit with Technicolor’s Josh Pines and Disney’s Howard Lukk gave an update on ACES, which is the Academy’s Color Encoding System. New features include a clearly defined procedure for applying the ASC CDL (Color Decision List) to full ACES inside color correction systems for dailies and final DI and for applying the ASC CDL to proxy ACES for onset look management. Remaining issues include real-time 4K playback in EXR, storage and inconsistency with toolsets (“After Effects does ACES wonderfully, but not Photoshop”). Lukk reported that Disney is “committed to moving forward on ACES for all our titles,” he said.

The ATSC 3.0 planning team is looking at three issues: increased transmission flexibility and efficiency; a reconsidered transmission system (PHY layer); and integration with other delivery technologies. “Expect the majority of TVs to connect to the Internet,” said Jim Kutzner, PBS & Skip Pizzi, NAB. “3D may have another resurrection so we want an opportunity for that to be in the system.” Also expect enhanced/immersive audio; accessibility; advanced emergency alerting; personalization/interactivity; and targeting. The ideal is a common world standard, but most experts expect that is unrealistic. Instead, they’ll try for a more unified system with a shared common toolset.

IMF Interoperable Master Format -- a format similar to DCP for distribution only -- has been updated for the last five HPA Tech Retreats, said Jerry Pierce. A SMPTE group is at work on the specs; basic architecture is a large set of core requirements, two of which have just passed ballot and are getting ready for publication. “We would like to make IMF so common it’s boring,” said Amberfin’s Simon Adler. “IMF is unfortunately is still exciting.” The take-away: learn from the roll-out of MXF in 2005; avoid vendor-specific enhancements; avoid user-specific enhancements; fix the specification rather than work around it.

Sony also reiterated its commitment to shooting two shows in 4K (Save Me, Masters of Sex), as well as two pilots (an untitled Michael J Fox Project and the untitled Gaffigan Pilot). In the Demo Room, DVS, AmberFin and GIC were all showing products with IMF applications.



Demo room


And last but not least Thomas Edwards from Fox showed off Mobile DTV, also known as Dyle, that brings broadcast TV to iPads and phones. Edwards reported that ATSC 3.0 will improve the Mobile TV environment since 3.0 will be “configurable, scalable, efficient, interoperable and adaptable.”

UltraViolet is growing. Between February 2012 and February 2013, the number of accounts grew from 1 million to 10 million; titles rocketed from 100 to 9,500. There are currently five retailers (Vudu, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, M-Go, Cineplex) as well as four studios on-board, and new territories include Canada, Australia and New Zealand. UltraViolet is still in Phase 1; later this year, the Common File Format, which is currently in a closed beta, will be released.

Jim Burger at Thompson Coburn LLP gave his annual Washington Update, focusing on litigation between the Barry Diller-backed, over-the-top Web video subscription service Aereo and the networks. “Broadcasters sued, saying Aereo was doing a public performance (to transmit a performance of the work to the public by means of any device or process). The judge ruled that it’s a single antenna, single performance, not guilty. So Aereo is in business until an appeal is heard.” Burger also reported that the judge denied a preliminary injunction against DISH Network’s Hopper DVR by ruling that “it’s Sony on steroids.” “She said that it’s users making copies, more than the Sony machine (Betamax), but it’s still fair use to make these copies,” he said.

How people actually consume media is an on-going study by the UK company Actual Customer Behavior, and that company’s managing director Sarah Pearson showed video from families paid approximately $750 a month to have cameras installed in their TV room. Researchers actually measure how many inches the viewer holds the smartphone or tablet from their face as they watch TV, among other data. “The industry needs to know that engagement across platforms is on the rise, and behavioral change around new technology is socially driven,” said Pearson.

As always, HPA Tech Retreat was intense but well worth the time spent in a dark room. The logistics are flawless, presentations are largely fascinating and the networking is peerless. Go to the HPA site to see reports that have been posted by the authors.



HPA Tech Retreat was intense but well worth the time spent in a dark room.









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