Post Production Finds Format Flexibility

Digital dailies amp up; tools bend to fit


Going into NAB2003, the production and post industries are on pins and needles. The question on everyone's mind is, when are things going to pick up again?

Like many in the post-production and effects industries, BLINK.fx Chief Technology Officer Andy Mathis reports that business has been patchy. "One week, we're busy with all the rooms going, and the next we're not."

The effect on his shopping list at NAB? "We're going to be looking at cost effectiveness," he says. "Does it make sense to buy it, and can we get people to pay for it as a service?"

It's a sentiment that's common and manufacturers are well aware of it. "The better we can demonstrate return on investment, the more successful we'll be," says Sony Broadcast Solution and Systems Co. President Pat Whittingham.


As an example, he cited the company's new optical media rollout. "We try to stress the importance of how it generates efficiency and productivity gains that will translate into meaningful financial advantage for our customers, as opposed to, in the past, a strong focus on the technology per se."

As producers and post facilities search for cost-savings, one area that is generating a lot of interest is digital dailies systems, which enable productions to drastically reduce the expense of printing film dailies for producers and executives to review.

JVC will introduce a digital dailies system built around a professional version of its D-VHS format. The system includes an MPEG-2 encoder, a professional D-VHS recorder/player and an inexpensive playback deck. Combined with its D-ILA projection, the system delivers highly accurate digital dailies and previews. It was developed in conjunction with Hollywood beta site, LaserPacific.

"This [system] frees the editor and post production department from the issues, costs and pressures associated with the cutting and conforming of the film work-picture and the time and expense spent readying opticals that in many cases will be thrown away," says Leon Silverman, LaserPacific's executive vice president.

Microsoft, meanwhile, will be promoting its Windows Media 9 Series as the basis of a digital dailies system. The codec, which delivers compression ratio advantages of 3:1 over MPEG-2 and 2:1 over MPEG-4, is also being considered as a potential digital cinema codec and will soon go into testing at the University of Southern California's Entertainment Technology Center, a Hollywood digital cinema testing lab.


For companies that rely on advertising or broadcast design production work, HD is still a tough sell. But the tools are coming down to more affordable price levels. Media 100 will introduce HDX, a PCI card and software for its 844/X system that has HD capabilities. Priced under $15,000, HDX will be shown at NAB but is not expected to ship until the second half of 2003.

The HDX option gives users HD input and output. But inside the box, HD material is downconverted to 844/X's native SD operating resolution (with 10-bit color) and upconverted again on output. The company calls it an expansion of its GenesisEngine media processor, providing support for HD and SD applications in a single 844/X system.

The company will also be showing its Version 2.0 software release for 844/X, dubbed "The Finishing Release." It expands 844/X on many fronts with new toolsets for color correction, unlimited-layer compositing, editing and audio.

In addition, this year will see AAF-compliant production tools arrive on the market en masse. The file format enables content creators to easily exchange digital media and metadata across platforms, as well as between systems and applications. Expect to see numerous production tools such as editing and compositing systems from disparate manufacturers touting their AAF compliance. Indeed, the members of the AAF association include all the big names in that space-Avid, Discreet, Panasonic, Pinnacle, Quantel, Sony, Adobe Systems, Apple, Thomson Grass Valley and Leitch Post Production.

At the high end, the boundaries are still being pushed as facilities look for new services to offer, not to mention additional revenue streams. With a burgeoning interest in digital intermediates-working with data files at 2k resolution (or better), rather than with video or film, facilities are pushing storage, networking and infrastructure to the limits. At those resolutions, a feature film can run up to 2.5 TB.

That topic will be addressed during the Digital Cinema Summit, Sunday, April 6, in a session entitled "Digital Intermediates: The New Frontier," in which leading Hollywood post facilities will offer a status report on their implementation of the technology.


On the show floor, Thomson will introduce its Spirit 4K, a new scanner for the digital intermediate work that is capable of handling 2k in real time, and 4k at 6-8 fps. It also offers a high-speed GSN output to an SGI Origin 2000 at data rates of 800 Mbps, which translates to almost 24 fps.

With its ability to handle processing requirements of 2k data in real time, Quantel's iQ has been selling very well in Hollywood and around the world as a platform for digital intermediates. (In fact, the company previewed iQ's 4k abilities at IBC.) NAB will see the North American introduction of QColor, an in-context color grading option for iQ.

On the cinematography front, Sony will demonstrate a new version of its CineAlta camcorder that supports uncompressed 4:4:4 HD and gives DPs the ability to undercrank, something users have been asking for.

Thomson, meanwhile, is building out the kind of post-production infrastructure that will need to be in place to accommodate users of its uncompressed 4:4:4 camcorder, the Viper FilmStream. The company will introduce Specter FS-a virtual datacine that can accommodate Viper's 2 Gbps of data.

Currently Viper outputs directly to a Director's Friend portable DDR. Expect to see other third-party sources introducing DDRs for Viper at NAB. Boxx, SGI and Accom have reportedly been working on storage for the camera (as was 5D before it closed last fall).

The camera itself is expected to launch this spring, and a handful of early production units have already been sold.