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All Work and Some Play at the Technology Retreat

HPA event brings together diverse experts and industries


So what's the industry issue sending conference-goers into a frenzy as they head to the Eighth Annual Technology Retreat Feb.6-8 at the Palm Springs Marquis?

"How to keep from bleeding during the softball game," jokes conference moderator and television technology guru Mark Schubin. "It's not that it's a fierce game, it's just that everyone is so unathletic who plays it."

The Hollywood Post Alliance's conference will focus on technology issues impacting the TV industry. "In two-and-a-half days we try to get our attendees up to speed on the burning issues of the day and, of course, still leave time for our near-legendary softball game," Schubin says.

The Southern California-based HPA is a trade association representing businesses and individuals who are well-versed in aspects of creation and post production for motion pictures, TV, commercials and digital media.

HPA is a surviving chapter of the International Association for Imaging Technology and Sound, the post-production industry trade association that shut down in 2001.

The HPA's goal is a networking one, heavy on information exchange, advocacy of government affairs, local and community business issues and technology.

"The great thing about the Technology Retreat ... is that we try to have people from every possible aspect of the industry," explains Schubin. "So we like to have broadcasters, networks, Hollywood studios, DVD-makers, TV set manufacturers, professional equipment manufacturers, semiconductor manufacturers-everyone we can possibly get."


This convergence of industry types could be seen as a double-edged sword as far as clashing viewpoints go, but it's an important component of conference theme: Someone will be there who knows the answer to any question that crops up.

This year's retreat will center on the DTV transition and its influence on content creation, explanations of new content creation standards like MPEG-4, -7, -21 and the Advanced Authoring Format (AAF), DASE, digital technology and cameras, updates on digital cinema issues, digital display and projection technology and HD-DVD proposals.

Representatives from ATSC, CES, NAM and MPAA, among others, are expected to voice their opinions-good, bad and otherwise-on current issues.

"That's what we encourage-a lot of arguing and making fun of stuff and networking between the sessions. But the most important thing is there's going to be someone there from every aspect of television," Schubin says.

The days, typically starting at 8:30 a.m. and lasting well into the evening, are packed with panels, session and speakers. On Feb. 6, Charles Poynton, author of "Digital Video and HDTV Algorithms and Interfaces," will hold a morning seminar entitled "Color Transforms Among Video, Computer, Graphics, Film and Digital Cinema." He'll explore the science behind image digitization and tone and color reproduction.

Wednesday, Feb. 5, there is an all-day ATSC seminar on datacasting and DASE. Tech Retreaters can expect to banter over the recent attempts by ATSC and CableLabs to harmonize DASE and OCAP.

Why does this get the all-day treatment? "Everybody wants to make money and the question is how do you make money in the TV environment?" asks Schubin. "Is DASE something that post-production facilities should be concerned with? Should they be writing interactive programming? Are we on the verge of interactivity now or is this just some other pie-in-the-sky thing?"

These questions apply to all the technologies covered at the conference, including the various MPEG formats, which the Tech Retreat began to address last year. This year sees more MPEG material, reflective of its increasing importance in the technology arena. There are two MPEG sessions related to compression: an MPEG-4 update from the last year's discussion and one on H.264 ( MPEG-4 part 10).

H.264, says Schubin, is a "new, advanced video codec so advanced in technology that it can compress things to a fraction of the bit-rate that people thought was possible before."

He is almost certain that HDOC 264 will become popular with the ATSC, which recently issued a request for information on new coding technology for "robust" 8-VSB and will also be a hot topic for conference-goers.

Feb. 8, some panelists will moonlight as "compression algorithms" including DV, MPEG 2 and 4, AVC/H.264, JPEG 2000 and Wavelit to hash out their qualities before an audience.

But MPEG at the Tech Retreat isn't just about compression. "We have several different sessions that involve MPEG; one of them that's very interesting ... is a panel on MPEG-7 and -21," Schubin says. "[These are] MPEGs that have nothing to do with compression so it's not like, 'What gives you a better picture quality?' What MPEG-7 and -21 are related to is digital asset management and rights management."


Schubin's popular Technology Year in Review address gets underway with figures on an array of household penetration figures, from DVDs to DTV units. "The rest depends on what the latest stuff that happens is-in most of the other sessions, people will use PowerPoint," he says. "I am the person who uses overhead transparencies."

This sense of the semi-unplanned extends to breakfast roundtables, "one of the most popular things at the retreat." Numbering about 15 topics per breakfast, separated by table, early risers can attend whichever topic strikes their fancy. Moderators function to keep the conversation going.

Another hit are the quizzes, compiled by Schubin, that get progressively harder each session. Prizes include such coveted items as glow-in-the-dark statues of St Clare, the patron saint of TV, TV test-pattern night-lights and Jetsons-style TV clocks.

"One year I asked people to derive the NTSC color subcarrier frequency from scratch and two people did," he says. "People really get into the quizzes. I add hints every day."

The good times are part of the reason people head to the retreat, which has been growing steadily in attendance since its inception. Another draw, Schubin says, is that "Our event strives to be long on knowledge and short on hype."

"The idea is for people to have fun; it's to be an exchange of information and having fun-it's not a vacation, it's very intense. Anyone who thinks they're just going to lie around at the pool is coming to the wrong event."

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