SMPTE 2008 Explores 'Analog-Free Future'

HOLLYWOOD The Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers arrives back in Hollywood Oct. 27 for four days of nonstop goings-on that include tutorial sessions, technical exhibits, cutting-edge technical presentations and an award ceremony thrown in for good measure. This year's conference theme is "It's all about the Content: Creation, Management, Distribution and Display."

Hollywood's Renaissance Hotel is hosting the annual conference, which encompasses not only film and television imaging, but also computer technology and the IT backbone that makes possible many of today's cinematic experiences.


Professor Doctor Karlheinz Brandenburg, director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology, will keynote SMPTE. Keynoting activities at the conference is Karlheinz Brandenburg, who is often referred to as "the father of MP3." Brandenburg will address attendees on Tuesday, Oct. 28, providing a look at the future of digital media, including interactive media, 3D audio and video and immersive entertainment. Brandenburg is director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology in Ilmenau, Germany, and has had a major role in developing MP3 and AAC MPEG audio standards.

Kimberly Maki, SMPTE executive director, calls Brandenburg a "true visionary" in the field of media and entertainment industries.

"I am honored that he is delivering our keynote and am very much looking forward to hearing his thoughts about what lies ahead," she said.

Maki noted that Brandenburg's presentation would be immediately followed by a panel of Hollywood producers who will be addressing the creation of "transmedia." This is a relatively new term that's used to describe creative properties built through cross platform storytelling and branding.

"It will be an in-depth session about the latest creative ideas made possible by new technologies," she said. It will feature the likes of Tim Kring from "Heroes" and "Crossing Jordan;" Jessee Alexander, also from "Heroes" and "Alias;" and Javier Grillo-Marxuach of "The Middleman" and "Medium," among others.


The first day of conference technical sessions will also focus in on the rapidly approaching end of widespread NTSC TV transmission in America. Jerry Whitaker, vice president of standards development for the ATSC, will chair the morning's session, "The DTV Transition: Moving Toward an Analog-free Future." Speakers include Michel Proulx, CTO at Miranda technologies Inc.; Claire-Helene Demarty from Thomson's R&D division; James Kutzner, chief engineer at PBS; and Clarence Hau from NBC Universal. Such issues as AFD, new television delivery systems and computer vision will be in the spotlight.

Concurrent with the DTV transition session is a series of papers which examine the infrastructure needed for 1080p video operations. Gavin Schutz, executive vice president of Azcar Media Strategies, will chair the session, and speakers include Mark Sauerwald from National Semiconductor; Adi Kouadio from the European Broadcasting Union; Birney Dayton, president and CEO of audio/visual technology at Nvision; Wes Simpson, president of Telecom Product Consulting; and Thomson's Ian Trow.


Three-dimensional television was a hot item at last year's SMPTE Conference and there's more coverage of the topic promised at the 2008 event.

"We're featuring two sessions this time," said Peter Ludé, SMPTE's editorial vice president and a conference organizer. "In the past there have been a lot of presentations about 3D display technology—that's where it all started. For this show, we'll be exploring the making of films in 3D and the attributes involved in such productions. These have been known theoretically for some time and their now known practically. This is particularly vital new information that's being featured along with 'lessons learned' by persons involved in 3D work."

The second session, according to Ludé, will concern delivery of 3D content to the home and involves standards, content selections and other issues that will have to be faced in making stereoscopic television a practical reality.

"I think that there's going to be a great deal of interest in this in the future," he said.

Technology exhibits are always a big part of SMPTE technical conferences, and this year is no exception with vender space in the exhibition hall "virtually sold out" according to Ludé.


Speaking of exhibits, Ludé also reports that there's a new wrinkle planned for this year. The event's four tutorial sessions have all been scheduled early in the day and are open to anyone with an exhibits-only registration. This is a change from previous conferences, where full registration was needed to benefit from tutorials. (The full registration requirement has not been waived for technical paper sessions and other events.)

While this year's conference officially gets underway on Oct. 28, organizers have also prepared a pre-conference symposium on live event broadcasting and filmmaking, "How Did They Do That?

Innovations in Filmmaking and Live Event Broadcast," which takes place at the Renaissance Hotel one day earlier. This daylong event offers a detailed examination of coverage of the recently concluded Beijing Summer Olympics, as well as a look into the production techniques employed in the creation of the BBC's landmark "Planet Earth." television series. Dave Mazza, senior vice president of NBC's Olympics Engineering units, will moderate the first half of the symposium, which also features other members of the NBC team. Jonathan Keeling, who is part of the BBC Natural History unit, will present the second half and will be joined by additional BBC Natural History production team members. Keeling will discuss some of the challenges involved in creating the groundbreaking series, as well as share some behind-the-scenes footage never aired.


The conference is not all about checking out new equipment or being brought up to date on the latest topics in the world of cinema and television— several social activities are also included in the tightly packed schedule. These include an opening night reception, which provides attendees an opportunity to visit with old friends and make new ones. This is followed by a special screening of the new 3D version of "Journey to the Center of the Earth" at Hollywood's Mann Theatre.

There's also a Thursday night academy awards-style honors and awards reception and ceremony, where this year at least 15 individuals will be recognized for their achievements and 10 SMPTE members will be elevated to Fellow status within the organization.

Of special interest is the presentation of five gold medal awards at the ceremony. Birney Dayton of Nvision will receive the organization's prestigious progress medal; David Master, founder of Acme Animation, has been selected as the recipient of this year's Eastman Kodak Gold Medal; Albert J.P. Theuwissen, professor at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, will receive the Fuji gold medal award; Mark Ryan, film technology director for entertainment imaging at Eastman Kodak, will be honored for his work with the awarding of the Technicolor/Herbert T Kalmus gold medal; and Shawn Jones, engineering and technology director at NT Audio, will receive the Samuel L. Warner Memorial Award.

The conference wraps up the same evening with an "afterglow party."

Registration and complete details of all conference activities may be found on SMPTE's Web site:

James E. O'Neal

James E. O’Neal has more than 50 years of experience in the broadcast arena, serving for nearly 37 years as a television broadcast engineer and, following his retirement from that field in 2005, moving into journalism as technology editor for TV Technology for almost the next decade. He continues to provide content for this publication, as well as sister publication Radio World, and others.  He authored the chapter on HF shortwave radio for the 11th Edition of the NAB Engineering Handbook, and serves as editor-in-chief of the IEEE’s Broadcast Technology publication, and as associate editor of the SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal. He is a SMPTE Life Fellow, and a Life Member of the IEEE and the SBE.