Between the aisles of a packed ballroom, SMPTE President Ed Hobson opened a large silver canister of 35mm print film and rolled the black spool down the aisle.
There in that canister was the standard for film, he said to the crowd, there for the first annual digital cinema summit sponsored by SMPTE at an NAB convention. Take it to any theater, anywhere in the country, and loop that film onto a standard film projector. And voila, the images would appear.
At this year's SMPTE technical conference and exhibition, to be held Oct. 18-21 in Hollywood, the organization will drop gentle reminders such as these: before the standardization of the media, film frames came in all sizes-round, rectangular and square, some with the holes punched in the middle of the frame as opposed to the outer edges.
And no amount of squabbling or lobbying could get a round frame to fit in the confines of a square projector. SMPTE helped bring a standard to fruition, and thereby helped fuel the growth of the medium.
Over the past 90 years, that has been one of this organization's primary missions: to analyze the disparate debates and industry conflicts, and hone often mind-numbingly complex standards into cohesive guidelines for film, digital intermediates and video IP workflow, among others.
SMPTE has made it possible for sound, film and other mediums "to play seamlessly anywhere, and that has played an important role in the growth of the technology across the industry," Hobson said.
The organization considers its annual fall technical event the key place to educate members on what's new in the motion imaging technology world with a mix of conferences, papers, keynote speakers, special movie screenings and an exhibit hall.
This year SMPTE comes to Hollywood to celebrate its 90th anniversary, and in typical Hollywood style, will head to the Warner Bros. studio lot for a gala welcoming ceremony and digital film cinema screening, but will also get down to the important work of analyzing what the future holds for the industry.
The organization hopes to tackle that issue with sessions such as "Sound of Pictures: Media in Transition," which will look at what impact the HD-DVD and Blu-ray consumer high-definition disc formats might have on the industry.
The session "Compression: The Next Generation Gets Real," will look at the ongoing adoption of the next generation of image and video compression codecs-from JPEG2000, which is being used to distribute most new features in digital cinema, to H.264 and VC-1, which are being used for broadband, satellite and high-definition DVD distribution.
The organization is putting specific emphasis this year on digital cinema technologies with sessions such as "Digital Cinema: The Intermediate Train Has Left the Station," which will detail the problems still facing the technology.
A number of pioneering post-production studios and facilities have forged ahead with digital intermediate work, while SMPTE and other standards groups have attempted to set complying standards for the format. The session, chaired by Wendy Aylsworth of Warner Bros., will look at the difficulties that remain.
"We're focusing on standardizing a file-based format that will play with confidence anywhere in the world," Hobson said.
This year's conference will also address issues such as long-term preservation of digital motion pictures; debate which formats are likely to have the greatest impact on bringing HD to the masses; address the use of hybrid AV and IT technologies; and analyze the success of content protection and piracy technologies.
The keynote address will be given this year by Kirk Paulsen, senior director of pro applications marketing for Apple. Paulsen is expected to look back at the changes that have taken place in the field of editing in the last several decades.
SMPTE has also invited Aylsworth, vice president of technology for Warner Bros. technical operations, to serve as the SMPTE Fellows Luncheon keynote speaker.
The organization will also look to the past to remind attendees of its impact on the industry over the last 90 years. An event held Saturday, Oct. 21 will look at the mix of historical equipment that SMPTE has helped standardize, from sound to film to digital cinema.
SMPTE will also recognize several individuals through its awards program, which includes Fellowship to the Society, Honorary Membership, the Citation for Outstanding Service and the SMPTE Journal Award, among others.
To register, visit www.smpte.org/conferences/148tech.cfm.
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Susan Ashworth is the former editor of TV Technology. In addition to her work covering the broadcast television industry, she has served as editor of two housing finance magazines and written about topics as varied as education, radio, chess, music and sports. Outside of her life as a writer, she recently served as president of a local nonprofit organization supporting girls in baseball.
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