HPA Tech Retreat 2017 (Part 2) – Delivery, Quality, Innovators

The HPA Retreat took place in February in Palm Springs, CA. Part 1 of this two-part series can be found in the link at the end of this article.

On the second day of presentations, technological approaches, including those for media delivery and color grading were discussed in panels and presentations that covered moving beyond HD and the hybrid 8K/4K network that NHK will have in operation by the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

The super-session began with Jim Burger, Esq. of White and Williams LLP in a roundup of media law, litigation and legislation over the last year. After mentioning the demise of VidAngel’s “Hollywood movie cleaner” service, he played this hilarious VidAngel promotional video especially for the Tech Retreat. At the Tech Retreat, even an inside-the-Beltway attorney could be confused with a producer.

Pete Putmam of Roam Consulting delivered his sometimes-ironic highlights and analysis of the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). He referred to his “Deep Color” contact on the HDMI standards committee in discussing the data-transfer rates possible in the new HDMI specification which appear to rival that of fiber optics circuits. Other panels explored the promise and practicality of new media consumption models, including mobile and “binge watching.”

Andy Quested of the BBC, representing the Digital Production Partnership (DPP) discussed their collaborative work with the North American Broadcaster’s Association (NABA) to provide a file-based content delivery specification to simplify airing. Chris Lennon of Media Answers discussed a different approach, employing the latest version of the Interoperable Mastering Format (IMF) SMPTE standard and “perhaps a bit of BXF.” Mr. Lennon was the founder of the SMPTE group that developed the BXF protocol. Bruce Devlin of Mr. MXF, Ltd provided the background on IMF. The impression was left, after the presentations of Messrs. Quested and Lennon, that their incompatible approaches were somehow compatible.

ACES, the Academy (of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences) Color Encoding System was detailed in one presentation, while Gary Demos of Image Essence followed with a stream-of-consciousness presentation on his belief that his Single-Master System is even better than ACES.

Several presentations were made relating to computer security. Neither mentioned the basic security procedure of not using a privileged (able to install applications) account on your computer day-to-day; that way, if your computer is compromised, the compromise will have low-level privileges and will have difficulty in installing programs or extending or “persisting” the compromise. Nor was there mention of “multi-factor authentication” addressed.

The number of files that can be involved in post-production of a project and the need to make sure all files are present, without duplicates and in good form led to the development of the Cinema Content Creation Cloud (C4ID). With just a few lines of code, without the need for a central server or repository, by comparing the C4ID of files and folders in one repository with the C4ID from a local repository after file transfer, one can be assured all files were copied without a bit missing. C4IDs work across all computer platforms and on all file types, not just media. Changing file names won’t break C4ID. C4ID is in use today (the first use came less than 8 hours after the original code was posted to GitHub) and is in the process of being adopted as a SMPTE standard.

At the end of every day, HPA President Leon Silverman, in suit and sneakers, and HPA board member Jerry Haller produce a “what did we learn today?” shtick while soliciting attendee answers and questions. One of Leon’s views on this day’s activities was “IP is inevitable, but we still prefer SDI.”

The Final Day

The Tech Retreat traditionally ends ‘noonish’ on Friday. Attendance tends to be down on the last day, but generally, the last day’s presentations can be the most interesting.

One engaging Friday panel covered “Network Function Virtualization” as the general term for aggregating hardware functionality into computer networks. The move to IT-based media protocols is an obvious NFV-style initiative. Panel moderator Eric Pohl of National Teleconsultants introduced the term “Software Defined Hardware” and provided as an example a combination Intel CPU and Altera Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) first introduced a year ago. Conceptually, if a system built around such a chip needed additional processing power, it would build that capability into the FPGA in real time, then spin up the FPGA to handle the task. Other panelists discussed additional ways of handling the massive amount of processing power that might be needed to be available to process 4K and immersive video. Proposed solutions included arrays of FPGAs and Graphic Processing Units (GPUs). Other panelists described their implementation of Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) ‘processor blades’ to provide tremendous processing power when, as and where needed.

Kai Khrishnan of Google presented a slide deck on the perceived advantages of open source software development in the context of developing media specifications, which he slipped and referred to a ‘standards.’ One productive example of an open source approach he highlighted was the Alliance for Open Media, involving many large companies and any interested persons to contribute to the realization of the needed code base.

Iris Wu, a 23-year old NYU Music Technology student from Taiwan, described her approach to providing surround-type audio ambience using two or more speakers, even on mobile devices. She didn’t provide much technical details of Ambidio audio, but the treatment as presented sounded intriguing.

Steve Lampen of Belden presented the new REV RJ-45 connector system (video) that eliminates several of the impedance and noise constraints limiting CAT-6 data rates. Legacy RJ-45 connectors in twisted pair circuits must separate each pair where the wires at both ends enter the connectors. Noise floors and ceilings and impedance mismatches become significant problems when the copper wiring conveys multiple gigabits per second. The REV connectors are designed to keep each pair twisted together through the contact points on the connector.

Mark Schubin ended the Tech Retreat with a soliloquy on the word “Hollywood” and how it came to be the term for the cinema business in the United States. The presentation was tied into two of the “trivia” questions HPA attendees were presented with during each day of the Tech Retreat. The questions are inscrutable, arcane and interesting. One attendee, Tim McColm, provided correct answers to four questions, a Tech Retreat record.

A writer for The Broadcast Bridge answered one of the questions correctly; Mark Schubin had told him the answer more than a dozen years ago.

Tech Retreat Innovation Zone

In the Innovation Zone, time for a comfortable conversation.

In the Innovation Zone, time for a comfortable conversation.

For a modest amount of money compared to other industry events, companies can show their newest products and even ideas in the Tech Retreat Innovation Zone.

This year, in a side room, Sony showed a prototype 5000 NIT video projector. Canon presented their newest 4K studio cameras and lenses. Apparently one day before the official introduction “press conference”, Blackmagic Design showed their newest 4K camera, the URSA 4K Mini.

Sarnoff Labs,the last remnant of the RCA empire (now owned by the SRI International ‘think-tank’), showed the latest improvements in their Visualize transmission/display reference system to address issues with 4K video, HDR and HCG and problems that can arise from new forms of compression such as PQ.

In the farthest corner the Innovation Zone, in half of their small booth, Fraunhoffer IIS showed a ‘proof of concept’ live demonstration of plenoptic capture combined with live, seemingly plenoptic, interaction. The plenoptic capture was a minimal setup: three fixed mini cameras captured what looked like a miniature golden Buddha statue. The three live video feeds were combined, using a plug-in to the NUKE processing software, into a basic plenoptic scene that could be viewed as thus in a Vive google set.

With the goggles, one could clearly see that by moving one’s head towards the rear of the statue, part of the back of the statue became visible that hadn’t been visible when looking directly from the front. When handed a laser pointer, the viewer notices that the hand holding the pointer appears, in the goggles, to be a skeleton with a flashlight.

Pointing the laser at the scene while looking with the naked eye, the infrared shaft wasn’t visible. With the goggles on, not only is a shaft of virtual light seen, the “virtual light shaft” seemed to be reflected by the statue. Pointing towards the edge of the statue resulted in a spray of virtual light that could be occluded by the statue.

To consolidate everything into a mouthful, this was a demonstration of live plenoptic capture and interactive plenoptic display with plenoptic 6 degrees of freedom, combined with 6 degrees of freedom in live virtual interaction. Fraunhoffer IIS was not forthcoming on whether this was the first public demonstration of the two technologies in concert. Fraunhoffer IIS was the developer of the MP-3 audio format and is a research-focused institution sponsored by the German state that derives significant royalty income from Fraunhoffer’s many patented technological innovations.

Perhaps reticence on Fraunhoffer’s demonstration is part and parcel of the Tech Retreat, where technological innovations are to be found and discussed and braggadocio is out of scope.

A brief history of the Tech Retreat

The Tech Retreat has had two different non-profit owners, each of which changed name at least once in the 23+ years Mark Schubin has been involved with the event. The spur for the Tech Retreat were the lavish Presidential Retreats that the International Teleproduction Society (ITS) regularly held at exotic locales, inviting studio heads and presidents of production houses and post-production firms that sponsored ITS, and few others. Rank and file ITS members kept asking for their own event, which the leadership dubbed “an Engineer’s picnic.”

ITS leadership ultimately relented. Mark Schubin was invited to participate on a panel covering HDTV during the fourth Tech Retreat (Monterey, CA) in December 1997. However, bad Northern California Winter weather interceded. The region’s international airports shut down, with many attendees and much of the equipment still en route.

This first event included the moderator and some guests. Although Sony’s equipment, including an HDTV projector, had arrived, no Sony staff were available to setup the projector. Mark started talking about HDTV, and to assist, Steve Mahrer, Panasonic Chief Technologist, who was on a different panel, tried to get the Sony projector running to help with Mark’s one man show. Thus, did the phrase “the only time Panasonic helped Sony” enter the lexicon.

After that improvised panel, the 40 or 50 attendees that had made the trip were treated to a ‘new-agey’ presentation involving holding hands and the like. The attendees liked the HDTV panel much more than the touchy-feely panel. Mark was asked by ITS to put together panels for the next Tech Retreat.

In the same time frame, ITS had decided it wanted to be active in Washington and was advised that adopting an association form was far better for that than being a mere society. To keep the ITS branding, ITS decided to rename itself the Association for Imaging Technology and Sound (ITS). The Association declared bankruptcy within a short time after moving headquarters from New York City to inside-the-beltway Northern Virginia.

The very active Southern California chapter of ITS decided to preserve their parts of the organization, and the Hollywood Post Alliance (now the Hollywood Professional Association) was formed. The Tech Retreat became one of HPA’s signature events.

The results of curving a television screen beyond the breaking point and the globular results might be unviewable. Credit: JM Willkie

The results of curving a television screen beyond the breaking point and the globular results might be unviewable. Credit: JM Willkie

The format has evolved over the years. At one time, the Innovation Zone was in the back of the common meeting room, permitting those demonstrating to also take in the panels. After several years, the event was too big for such an arrangement and outgrew the facilities available in Palm Springs itself. The event moved to golf resort convention facilities in the suburbs East of Palm Springs. One year where many of the panels addressed 3D TV, arrangements were made with a movie theater that was within walking distance to enable 3D presentations and projections in a real theater.

The Tech Retreat has been described as “whatever you want to know, someone will be there who knows the answer” from the pool of attendees, panelist and presenters. What he has created and provides is a fun, highly technical and an as-informal-as-you-dare-to-be technical conference.

The Tech Retreat UK keeps much of that informality and spirit, including breakfast roundtables, under host Rick Welsh of Sundog. The second installment will start July 11 (for three days) in Oxfordshire, UK.

One aspect is identical for the two events: a bulb bicycle horn signals the end of breakfast roundtables and clocks the end of each presentation or panel.

Part 1 of this report can be read here.

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