HPA 2015: Live vs. Post

INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.Live means not being able to say, ‘I’m sorry.’” This was Mark Schubin’s summation of a presentation at the Hollywood Post Alliance Tech Retreat this week that highlighted the popularity of live media and the challenges of producing it versus material that goes into post.

“Nearly everything has post… every movie, every TV show, every commercial, every download…” is post produced, he said. “Except for everything else.”

Everything else, he said, is live.

Live content still rules despite reports of its apparent demise. He illustrated his point with a pair of headlines. One from TV Week extolling “’Better Call Saul,’ Sets Ratings Record, Biggest Series Premiere in Cable History.” The other, from USA Today, simply said, “Grammy Ratings Down.” “Saul” had 6.9 million viewers; 25.3 million people watched the Grammys.

Schubin is a logical defender of live becausehe has skin in the game as the engineer in charge at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The Met pioneered live event cinema some years ago, satcasting performances to theaters around the world.

Event cinema is becoming a public portal to an ever growing range of experiences heretofore unavailable to all but those within attainable proximity to the action: V&A’s “David Bowie Is,” a 3D tour of the Holy City, the National Theater’s live presentations, including its 4K transmission of “War Horse” last February. Live event cinema box office is doubling year over year in the United Kingdom, Schubin said.

He also noted that the last 24 Super Bowl telecasts were the highest rated shows on TV. That’s in terms of consumption. In terms of creation, live compared to non-live means no do-overs.

“Acquisition and processing are simultaneous. Color grading has to be done live,” he said, showing a couple of guys in a truck at the Met color grading 16 cameras live.

“Also in live, there are many cameras,” he said. “We can’t take one camera and move it around. There were 45 cameras at this year’s Super Bowl.”

Further, live production requires longer lenses as well.

“You can’t get into the middle of the action in the Super Bowl,” he said.

This need for longer lenses in turn presents an obstacle for doing 4K production, because most of the 4K cameras available today are PL-mount, and there are no long lenses for PL-mount cameras.

“Now, the longest is 20:1, but we shoot with 100:1 at the Met,” he said.

Camera manufacturers are starting to introduce B4 lens mount 4K cameras, he said. Another way to address the lens obstacle is by calculating virtual space.

Schubin said this concept is being applied in “Project FINE,” as in “Free Viewpoint Immersive Networked Experience.” Project FINE comprises a consortium of companies focused on the “concept of live free-viewpoint content,” and co-funded by the European Commission.

Using machine-vision cameras recording from set locations, algorithms are used to then calculate virtual viewpoints, so the camera can seem to be capturing the action right on the field. A video illustration is posted at Vimeo. Another aspect of Project FINE is the use of enhanced live media at the event itself.

“Resolution is still a bit of an issue,” Schubin said. “Movement is not.”

Schubin said the Met is not considering 4K as far as he knows, but that they are very interested in high dynamic range and high-frame rate production. They’ve also had discussions with NHK about 8K, using a single camera view projected within the Met, but there currently is no plans for deployment.