Posts Tagged ‘HPA Tech Retreat’

Ultra HD: Live From the 2015 HPA Tech Retreat

Ultra HD: Live From the 2015 HPA Tech Retreat

As I write this, it is the morning of Day 2 at the annual Hollywood Post Alliance Tech Retreat. This annual conference brings together the top minds across a wide range of disciplines in the media production business. Cameras, lenses, codecs, displays, file formats and exchanges, content protection, archiving – they’re all here, as are representatives from the major studios, TV networks, software companies, colleges, universities, government agencies, and standards organizations.

Many of the sessions over the past few days have focused on next-generation television – specifically, capturing, editing, and finishing 4K images. Hand-in-hand with these additional pixels comes high dynamic range (HDR), which was prominently featured at CES in January. There’s also a new, wider color space (ITU BT.2020) to deal with, along with higher frame rates (how does 120 Hz grab you?).

I present a review of the Consumer Electronics Show every year at HPA (which now stands for the Hollywood Professional Alliance), and try my best to cram as much as I can in half an hour. Obviously, HDR was a big part of my presentation. And the overemphasis on HDR at CES provided a nice contrast to the presentations at HPA – at CES, it’s all about marketing hype, while at HPA, it’s all about engineering and making things work.

It was a full house for this year's Tech Retreat - as usual!

It was a full house for this year’s Tech Retreat – as usual!

The average Joe may not understand much about “4K TV” or Ultra HD, but there is definitely more than meets the eye. At CES, an announcement was made about the new UHD Alliance, a partnership of TV manufacturers (Samsung, Sony, Panasonic), Hollywood studios (Disney, Warner Brothers, Fox), and other interested parties that include Netflix, Dolby, DirecTV, and Technicolor.

All well and good, but you need to understand the primary function of this Alliance is to promote the sale of Ultra HD televisions. And right now, television sales haven’t been as strong as they were five years ago. (The introduction of Ultra HD did boost sales a bit in 2014, which may have provided the impetus for the UHD Alliance.)

So here are a few of the problems with transitioning to Ultra HD. First off, not all of the pieces are in place for implementing add-ons like HDR, wider color gamuts, deeper color, and higher frame rates. It’s nice to talk about these features in conjunction with Ultra HD, but the mastering and delivery standards for HDR 4K movies and TV programs haven’t even been finalized yet.

Color is a particularly tricky issue, as LCD TVs with LED backlights render colors differently than LCD TVs equipped with quantum dot backlights. And OLED TVs require their own look-up tables as they are emissive displays, not transmissive. As far as frame rates go, consumer TVs generally can’t handle anything faster than 60 Hz and in fact prefer incoming signals to match up to one of four harmonically-related clock rates.

Next, there is a new version of copy protection coming to your television in the near future. It’s known as HDCP 2.2, and will ride along on an HDMI 2.0 connector. It is not backward-compatible with current versions, and you may be surprised to learn that early models of 4K TVs don’t support HDCP 2.2 yet. So there is a real compatibility problem lurking in the shadows if you are an early adopter.

You may be wondering where 4K Blu-ray content will come from. The first Ultra HD BD player was shown at CES, and you can expect those to show up late in the 4th quarter of this year. Suffice it to say that they will be running HDCP 2.2 on their HDMI outputs! Media players will also have to adopt version 2.2 if they are to access movies and other protected content.

Getting back to HDMI: Although version 2.0 was announced in September 2013, it’s pretty scarce on Ultra HDTVs. Most current-model sets I’ve seen have one or two HDMI 2.0 inputs, and as I just mentioned, many of those don’t support HDCP 2.2 yet. HDMI 2.0 is also speed challenged; with a maximum clock rate, it can’t support signals beyond 3840x2160p/60 with 8-bit RGB color.

Because of that, some UHDTV manufacturers are quietly adding DisplayPort 1.2 inputs to their products. Some of these interfaces are intended for connections to proprietary media players, but others are available for connections to set-top boxes, computers, and laptops. DP 1.2 can support 3840x2160p/60 with 10-bit RGB color as it has a much higher clock rate.

In summary, it’s all well and good that UHDTV is here, and initial sales are encouraging. But the plane isn’t finished yet, even though some of us want to fly it. The HPA presentations I’ve heard and seen the past two days clearly point out all of the back room details that have to be addressed before the media production, editing, mastering, and delivery ecosystem for UHDTV is ready to roll…

4k In The Desert

I’m writing this while sitting in the Day 2 session of the annual Hollywood Post Alliance Technology Retreat, which has become one of the leading cutting-edge technology conferences for those working in movie and TV production.

From its humble beginnings at the turn of the century, the Tech Retreat has outgrown two hotels and now attracts over 500 attendees each year. This year’s edition is being held at the Hyatt Resort in Indian Wells and featured a full-day super session on high frame rate / high dynamic range / high resolution imaging, followed by two and a half days of presentations on everything from file-based workflows to consumer TV viewing preferences, the next generation of ATSC (3.0), and a behind the scenes look at NHK’s operations center for their 8K coverage of the 2012 Olympics.

Did you know the adaptive dynamic range of the human eye is 1014, or about 46 stops of light? (I learned this on Day 1.) I also discovered that the fire department in Paris played an integral role in the Lumiere demonstration of 60mm projected images on a 30 meter-wide screen in 1898. (More on that later!)

And I also heard about viewer preferences for high dynamic range displays, along with the trials, tribulations, successes, and failures of the UltraViolet online “locker” system for viewing movies and TV shows across a wide range of devices.

General sessions at HPA are packed wall-to-wall on Wednesday.

General sessions at HPA are packed wall-to-wall on Wednesday.

As might be expected, there is a lot of interest among attendees in the emerging crop of 4K TVs and displays. 4K has already made significant inroads to the post-production industry, but the end game remains uncertain: Is the best use of 4K to make better 2K digital files for movies, and improved 2K video for broadcasts? Do 4K displays beg for greater color bit depths, as opposed to the barely-adequate 8-bit system used for Blu-ray and digital TV? What are the challenges in building an end-to-end 4K production ecosystem?

How about displays that can harness the wide dynamic range that the newest high-end 4K cameras can reproduce? And what display technology shows the most promise for reference-grade 4K monitoring in post-production and color grading facilities? It’s clear that plasma is on the way out, based on sales trends for the past three years. Yet, LCDs still face major challenges in assuming the “reference” mantle. And OLEDs remain tantalizingly out of reach, due to continued yield issues.

And then there’s the “gotcha!” – delivering 4K content to the consumer. The MPEG4 H.264 codec can work miracles, but isn’t able to pack down 4K files small enough for existing terrestrial, satellite, and cable “pipes.” However, the emerging H.265 codec promises a further bit rate reduction of 50% over H.264. Will H.265 make 4K delivery feasible?

And what will we play 4K content from? Blu-ray discs? There’s certainly enough capacity in dual-layer blue laser discs, but there’s that 8-bit color limitation. How about hard drive or solid-state memory solutions, such as RED’s $1,500 4K media player? Streaming 4K seems out of the question for now, and digital downloads of 4K movies would certainly tax even the fastest broadband service providers.

In an informal poll of attendees after Day 1, a majority (at least 80%) indicated they believed that 4K TV was just another attempt by CE manufacturers to sell TVs, while a much smaller group (perhaps 20%) thought that 4K was a legitimate next step in the progression of content production. (HPA attendees also largely agree that 3D TV is dead and that “smart TVs” are yet another misfire on the part of Japan, Korea, and China.)

In my morning breakfast roundtable that focused on the struggles of the consumer TV industry, one comment was made that perhaps Apple’s long-rumored television product might use a 4K display (along with advanced gesture and voice control.) We also talked about the rapid decline in LCD panel and TV prices, and observed that some Taiwanese and Chinese manufacturers (Westinghouse, Hisense, and TCL) are already floating aggressive prices on 4K TVs; about $50 – $60 per diagonal inch in sizes up to 65 inches.

Clearly, 4K is coming. Just how fast and in what forms isn’t immediately obvious. There is talk of a need for standardization beyond what is happening in SMPTE and EBU groups, specifically focusing on high dynamic range 4K video with a wide color gamut that will display consistently both on cinema-grade projectors and across multiple brands of 4K consumer TVs.

In other words, it’s past time to stop worrying about being “backwards compatible” with legacy format and imaging standards developed for CRT displays, and blaze new trails for acquisition, post-production, distribution, and delivery of HDR UHD visual content.

Only then will the transition to 4K TV be worthwhile. And you can be certain that Tech Retreat presenters and attendees will be on the cutting edge as it happens…

(I almost forgot: The Paris fire department sprayed water on the Lumiere screen to make it translucent so that it could be viewed on both sides.)


This article originally appeared in Display Daily.

Notes From The Desert: The 2012 HPA Tech Retreat – Pete Putman

As I write this, the second day of the annual Hollywood Post Alliance Technology Retreat (or simply, the “Tech Retreat”) is drawing to a close. And once again, the Retreat has delivered a cornucopia of content to the 450+ attendees.


Consider that since yesterday morning, we’ve learned about 4K video cameras and workflows, heard the NAB’s view of ‘connected TVs,’ seen an actual demo of laser/LED hybrid projectors and gotten a first look at the details of Barco’s laser-power cinema projector, watched a live coast-to-coast videoconference on digital commercial workflows, and learned that, although NBC plans to cover the 2012 London Summer Olympics in 3D, they aren’t quite sure yet how they’ll get that 3D signal to the home. (Hmmmm…)


We’ve also gotten an update on the latest Washington, DC legislation, court actions, and legal opinions pertaining to the media industries; gained insight into file-based workflows at Fox, heard panel discussions of cloud-based content delivery systems and digital image preservation, been provided with an explanation of the differences between stereo vs. surround-sound loudness levels, and discovered a multi-lensed ‘ball’ camera that can be thrown into the air to capture a unique perspective.

There was a full house for Wednesday's Day 1 general sessions.


The technology demos have also been impressive and feature a 4K LCD display (Panasonic) and 3D and 4K home theater projectors (JVC and Sony), a 2K reference-grade LCD monitor (Dolby), reference OLED monitors (Sony again), critical display calibration (Spectracal), and numerous exhibits of image processing, file management, color correction, format conversion, and cloud-based workflows (do you know what ‘snowflakes’ are? If not, you should…)


As usual, I presented my annual CES review and roundup, ripping through 80+ slides and numerous video clips in 30 minutes (Tech Retreat chair Mark Schubin is a stickler for starting and ending on time), and also co-moderated the Next-Generation (lampless) Projection panel with HPA vice-president and multi-panel moderator Jerry Pierce.


During my CES Review, I used a wireless HDMI connection from my Toshiba Satellite notebook to the house projection system (stacked Panasonic 10,000 lumens 1080p DLP projectors on 16-foot screens). That’s a distance of 75 feet from lectern to receiver, and the signal never dropped through any of my slides or video clips. (A tip of the hat to Les Chard of the WHDI Consortium, who graciously overnighted me a replacement WHDI receiver – mine was left at home!)


Peter Lude (standing) talks about the new Laser-Illuminated Projector Association (LIPA) while Jerry Pierce moderates.

Another feature of the Retreat is the informal breakfast roundtables. You propose a topic and if it is accepted, you get to “chair” a group of fellow attendees and are free to hold court on your topic. So far, I’ve hosted two roundtables on digital display interfaces and wireless display interfaces, and both tables were ‘sold out!’ In fact, I got to my first roundtable on Wednesday a bit late and there were no seats left – that is, until I subsequently informed the seated attendees that they wouldn’t have a moderator, after which a space was hastily freed up for my chair.


The Tech Retreat has been around for a little more than a decade, and during that time has almost doubled in size. This year’s edition moved to the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort in Indian Wells, CA because the old venue was just too small. The pictures show why – Wednesday’s crowd was standing room only!


Several companies have chosen the Retreat to do pre-NAB product introductions. Sony’s 2011 launch of its new TriMaster OLED reference monitors is a good example. The Tech Retreat is also where I saw my first 3D NFL footage and my first multi-random-projector image tiling system, heard detailed explanations of human visual response and how it affects 3D viewing, experienced the visual quality of high dynamic range cameras, and witness how MPEG program splicing actually works.


It all makes for a stimulating and worthwhile program. Many technical innovations are first shown at the Retreat, as are fascinating programs on film restoration and archiving. And it’s all very informal – come as you are, no need for speaker bios or power suits. To paraphrase Shakespeare, ‘the information’s the thing,’ and you’ll be challenged and baffled by Mark’s multiple technology history quizzes. (Example: What significant invention that we use every day was first unveiled at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia? Come on, you know!)


Here’s the best part about the Retreat: Anyone can attend, and the program draws from a wide range of industries and disciplines. You’re just as likely to find yourself sitting at a general session table or sharing dinner with a studio executive, TV network engineer, or colorist for a post-production facility as you would with a creative services manager from a major insurance company, a media services supervisor at a large university, or a director of one or more state or federal government agencies.


TIP: If you plan to attend in 2013, better register early as the event usually sells out a month in advance. (So do the hotel rooms!)


See you next year!