Posts Tagged ‘Tech Retreat’

Digital In The Desert: The 2014 HPA Tech Retreat

I’m writing this while sitting in the third day of the annual Hollywood Post Alliance Technology Retreat, which is one of the top technology conferences anywhere and which attracted well over 500 attendees this year to the Hyatt Indian Wells Resort in the Palm Springs area.

I’ve been attending the Retreat since 2002, and it has grown by leaps and bounds since then. In addition to a rich, 3 ½ -day program of technical presentations, there is a mammoth demo room where manufacturers can show off the latest in video compression, camera, editing, post, color correction, storage, display, and interfacing products. Some products that are introduced at the NAB Show actually have their “sneak previews” here!

HPA president Leon Silverman kicks off the 2014 Retreat program.

HPA president Leon Silverman kicks off the 2014 Retreat program.

Presenters and attendees come from all walks of life and from around the world. We’ve had representatives of U.S. Canadian, and British TV networks, IT companies like Cisco and Google, Hollywood studios (Paramount, Universal, Warner Brothers, Disney, Sony Pictures), and well-known hardware and software manufacturers including Sony, Canon, Dolby, Adobe, Miranda, Belden, and NVIDIA. NHK, IBC, the EBU, SMPTE, and a host of domestic and international technology and professional associations are all well represented here.

The informal, ad hoc approach of the Tech Retreat contrasts with more structured and traditional technology conferences, and there are numerous opportunities for sidebar conversations, meeting, and networking. If you have a question about technology, there’s a very good chance someone at the Retreat has the answer.

There were several hot topics this year. UHDTV (4K) was one of them; so was the next-generation of file distribution and storage systems (clouds) and the move to IP-based facility interconnects instead of traditional copper serial digital interfaces.  This is a hot-button issue right now for post facilities and on Thursday morning, we heard about different ways to do it from Axon (AV Bridging), Evertz, Belden, and Cisco, along with the BBC. (Belden’s Steve Lampen pointed out in a humorous talk that coaxial cable is still faster than most people think and rumors of its demise are premature.)

A Tuesday panel focused exclusively on “second screen” trends and generational differences in how media is accessed and consumed – and how broadcasters and studios need to adapt their business models to satisfy the demand that Gen Ys have for anywhere & anytime content delivery. The “I want it when I want it, where I want it” paradigm was supported and contradicted by metrics from SAP, Nielsen, and (believe it or not) a representative from Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

Of course, the issue of video compression came up. A presentation on YouTube streaming proved a bit controversial when the presenters hinted that Google’s “free” VP9 codec might actually work as well if not better than the emerging HEVC H.265 platform, an assertion that was immediately challenged by Matt Goldman of Ericsson, an industry veteran who is well-versed in codec science and who later called for an independent, non-biased comparison test of both codecs.

Over 500 attendees made their way to Indian Wells this year to "drink from the fire hose."

Over 500 attendees made their way to Indian Wells this year to “drink from the fire hose.”

I took the stage twice on Wednesday. First out of the gate was my annual review of the Consumer Electronics Show, which covers a lot of ground in 30 minutes including Ultra HD TVs, curved displays, curved phones, HDMI 2.0, DockPort, 4K streaming products, gesture control, wireless, body sensors, and near-to-eye displays. (Plus 4K washers and dryers, Bluetooth underwear, connected cars, and grumpy cats.)

I followed that with an in-depth look at the new generation of small, fast, and dense signal interfaces found on tablets, phones, cameras, and ultrabooks. Examples included Mini and Mobility DisplayPort, Mobile High-definition Link (MHL), Micro HDMI, SlimPort, and DockPort. I also discussed the HDBaseT standard for multiplexed signals over structured wire,  and showed a few interesting applications for these connections including smartphone game controllers and smartphones that dock into notebook computers and provide CPU and video card functions.

Another unique feature of the Tech Retreat is the breakfast roundtables. These are held on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings before the main program kicks off. Banquet roundtables are set up with a number that corresponds to a list of topics outside the room. Show up, grab some breakfast, and enjoy an ad hoc, moderated discussion about that topic – or change the topic.

The scope of topics will amaze you. Here are a few examples of the 34 breakfast roundtables that were conducted on Thursday:

On-Set Workflows: Faster, Better, Cheaper  

4K = Four Times the Measurement Opportunities

Next-Generation Display Interfaces: the Conversation Continues

Cloud-Enabled Workflows: What Works, What Doesn’t

Should ITU-R Add 119.88 (Hz) as a Frame Rate to BT.2020?

Performance and System Requirements for a Reference Display

Deep Color Encoding: 12-bit Equivalent with Just 8 Bits

Conference organizer and industry veteran Mark Schubin likens the Tech Retreat to “drinking from a fire hose.” That’s how much information is available to attendees. You can absorb as much or as little as you want, and see some cool demos along the way.

There’s still a day left of the conference, but I’m writing this during the “Better Pixels: Best Bang for the Buck?” session, featuring speakers from Dolby, ETC, NHK, and the American Society of Cinematographers, along with Schubin. The question is this – do we really need more pixels on the screen (i.e. 4K or Ultra HD), or is a combination of high dynamic range and wider color gamuts a better approach to improving high-resolution displays and ultimately televisions?

Dolby, which bought Brightside Technologies’ high-dynamic range IP some years ago, is aggressively pushing for high dynamic range and the higher color saturation that comes along with it. Their argument is that HDR is a better fit to human visual systems, and a discussion has repeatedly come up about the interest of consumers in HDR TVs. (They’re talking about thousands of nits of brightness.)

I’d posit that the real challenge to selling HDR is the plummeting cost of large TVs. You can readily buy 55-inch LCD TVs with quite a few bells and whistles for less than $600, so just how much of a premium are consumers willing to pay to add high dynamic range? (Needless to say, such TVs would also be equipped with next-generation illumination systems, like quantum dots.)

My guess is that consumers would only tolerate a slight price increase to get HDR, as the benefit would be lost on most of them. Numerous studies have shown that consumers (at least, in the U.S.) prefer big, cheap televisions. They don’t care about 3D, and are ambivalent about “smart” TV functions for the most part. Both of these features have either become standard or seen a dramatic drop in price in the past four years.

If the Tech Retreat sounds intriguing, you should pencil it in on your calendar. Next year’s Retreat will be held from February 9 to February 13, and registration closes out very quickly – within a couple of weeks. For more information, go to http://hollywoodpostalliance.org/?page_id=5978.

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.

Long-time Disney tech guru Bob Lambert recounts the history of projection "light engines" (including candles) with his slides shown on a Casio XJ-H1650 hybrid laser/LED projector.

 

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!