HPA Technology Retreat

Arecord number of the technical cognoscenti from the worlds of both broadcast and production/post-production were in attendance at this year's 17th annual Hollywood Post Alliance (HPA) Technology Retreat in February. The event featured more than 500 hundred registered attendees and 56 companies demonstrating a variety of advanced technologies, as well as glimpses of the future.

Held once again this year in Rancho Mirage, CA, the days start at 7:30 a.m. with breakfast roundtable discussions and continue with formal presentations and discussion sessions right up until 6 p.m. or so, when there is a short break before the evening dinner or other planned evening event.

While the retreat itself is billed as a three-day event taking place over Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, it keeps expanding. This year on Tuesday, the day prior to the official conference, there was a choice to sit in on either an all-day HPA Supersession on workflow processes or a special all-day ATSC seminar entitled “Symposium on Next-Generation Television Broadcasting.” There was even a pre-pre-day session on Monday afternoon on reference displays presented by Charles Poynton, one of today's pre-eminent authorities on the science of color and imagery.

New broadcast concept

In a subject clearly inspired by the FCC's current initiative in television broadcast spectrum reclamation and refarming to broadband services, a presentation called “New Broadcast Concept” created quite an audience stir. The new broadcast concept redefined the broadcaster's business model as being in the “mass market wireless delivery business.” As such, this new model concerns itself with bit rates as opposed to dedicated channel spectrum. The presenters' proposal essentially distilled down to the broadcasters in any given market delivering their content via bit streams over a shared 20MHz OFDM single-frequency network facility.

One audience member commented, “Oh no, COFDM vs. 8-VSB all over again!” I couldn't help but smile and think of the scene from “The Godfather” where they discussed the fact that the rival factions needed a mob war every couple of years to clear the bad blood. I guess there is still some COFDM bad blood out there. Back to the new broadcast concept: Ostensibly, then, lots of spectrum would become available in any market with more than three over-the-air stations. Wow! Would that make the FCC's day! Thought provoking? Absolutely.

The death of 3DTV

Another take-away from the conference is that 3DTV is dead. I have long maintained that 3DTV with glasses is a non-starter. Sitting in a theater for two hours staring at a screen is doable for most people. But television viewing is a social activity, and the necessity of wearing glasses is off-putting to the social interaction that occurs with family and/or friends as you view television together. It is even more problematic with today's younger generation, who, when they do watch television, are heavily into multitasking with texts, twitters and Facebook.

3-D was in the forefront from the conference opening, which began with highlights of the past year, including several surveys on 3DTV conducted by the Nielsen Company. One question was: “Do you currently own or will you purchase a 3DTV in the next 12 months?” The global response was just 28 percent positive and 52 percent negative, but the U.S. response was even worse at 8 percent positive and 76 percent negative.

The really telling survey was one from CTAM and the Nielsen Company. Consumers who indicated they were actually interested in buying a new TV set in the ensuing 12 months were twice asked the question: How likely are you to buy a 3DTV in the next 12 months? The first time was before actually seeing 3DTV and the second time was after viewing it. The results? Before viewing 3DTV, 39 percent were positive on purchasing, and 31 percent were negative. After viewing 3DTV, the response dropped to 29 percent positive and 43 percent negative! Exposure to this new technology actually caused the consumers' opinion to drop.

The next day at the conference saw an eight-member broadcasters' panel including all the major networks discussing various aspects of the current state of broadcast television. Notable by its absence was the lack of any discussion by the panel of 3DTV.

Next year's event

In the above, I've covered just two of the many sessions that occurred during the week. The retreat is a gem of a technology information resource, and next year's event, which is scheduled for Feb. 13-17 in Indian Wells, CA, is already on my 2012 calendar.

Anthony R. Gargano is a consultant and former industry executive.

Send questions and comments to: anthony.gargano@penton.com