SMPTE Illuminates The Next Big Thing

(click thumbnail)NEW YORK
To take in a SMPTE convention, one must be prepared to do more than stroll around the show floor or pop in a session or two.

At their best, SMPTE conferences attempt to demystify and educate, giving attendees a unique look at emerging technologies by carefully dissecting complex topics—be it HD or digital cinema—in an attempt to take the sting out of grasping the latest broadcast or film imaging standard.

“We attempt to give attendees a cross-section look at emerging technologies,” said SMPTE Editorial Vice President Peter Ludé, referring to the conference that will extend across audio, film, HD and imaging technology industries during the fall technical conference and exposition Oct. 24-27 in Brooklyn, New York.

The Importance of Education & OutreachPeter Symes has been involved with the video industry for more than 40 years, starting with the BBC and spending almost 25 years with Grass Valley. He is also the author of several books on video compression. Recently, Peter was appointed director of standards and engineering for the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. TV Technology Editor Tom Butts sat down with Peter to discuss the changing role of SMPTE in today’s rapidly evolving technical landscape.

TV Technology: Give us a brief overview of your history with SMPTE.
Peter Symes: I’ve been heavily involved over the last couple of years on the volunteer side, bringing up new Web services for SMPTE, for example. I’ll be working closely with Joel Welch, the new director of professional development. SMPTE needs to improve its value proposition to members; we need to be out there doing a lot more education. That’s Joel’s job but I hope to bring something to the table to help that process along.

TV Technology: Do you think the SMPTE membership moves the standards process along quick enough?
Peter Symes: No, in fact, we’ve made a lot of changes recently that will, we think, make things more efficient. I think headquarters can provide an infrastructure and environment to help move that along.
Also, in the last year, we have made a lot of changes to the administrative procedures. We’ve gotten out of the mode of thinking that we’re supposed to have unanimity on everything. There won’t be unanimity on everything, in fact, you’re doing a disservice to the industry if you indefinitely delay something that people need because one person or one company objects. We certainly go through due process and if anyone raises an objection we have to make sure we have addressed that objection. But there will be occasions when you have to move on.

(click thumbnail)Peter Symes
TV Technology: Do you think that SMPTE is keeping pace with the changes in technology?
Peter Symes: Absolutely! There are some areas where we almost have to appear to be reactionary, in that, even though technology is moving on, a lot of the fundamentals have to be dealt with.
There will continue to be some standardization of very television- or film-specific technologies or interfaces, but the whole industry is moving much more to using whatever technologies may be available to other industries. In one sense, that says we don’t have to define them—somebody else does—but on the other hand, that also creates a tremendous need for middleware, because we have to deploy very demanding content on infrastructures that were designed to do a totally different job.
And yes, it could be made to work, but you have to understand both ends of the equation to make it work properly. I think a lot of the standards activity going forward, will be, for example, for the sake of argument, ‘here is generic IT equipment, here is a broadcasting application, here are the standards to make one work with the other.’

TV Technology: What are the biggest challenges ahead for SMPTE?
Peter Symes: I think we have been too complacent in assuming people still understand how important and relevant SMPTE is to the industry, because it is. The industry is still very dependent on some of the stuff we do; we’ve been in a shrinking market in terms of the number of people in the industry. We are just as dependent on getting the expertise from the industry into our committees to make things happen.
Part of my personal objective is to spend a lot of time with the users, be they content creators or the companies that make the equipment, to make sure they understand how relevant we still are, and how much they still need this work.
Attempting to draw in a new generation of motion imaging professionals, the conference plans to introduce new segments this year, showcasing new educational courses for faculty and students as well as hosting a beefed-up tutorial program for SMTPE section leaders.

But what truly sets a SMPTE conference apart—ringing particularly true this year, Ludé said—is the renewed focus on immersing attendees in the complicated, complex world of technology and standards. To achieve this, SMPTE will roll out a series of new in-depth tutorials and symposiums, designed to give both eager beginners and experienced engineers the chance to get their hands dirty.

Four new tutorials will debut at SMPTE this year, each designed to offer exhaustive details on upcoming standardization issues. While not literally as messy as a finger-painting class, a tutorial entitled “Extended Color Gamut” will push attendees to get acquainted with the ins-and-outs of the new expanded color gamut standard, piquing interest in this new possibility, and showcasing how a wider color scope might affect broadcast, television production and cinema productions.

Attendees will also get an in-depth look at IPTV in a one-hour tutorial that will review the end-to-end architectural components in an IPTV system.


Immersing attendees in the details was also the goal of a new preconference symposium. Rather than focusing on around-the-corner technologies, the symposium will offer an all-day exploration of the newest here-and-now technology—3D digital cinema filmmaking.

The technology has grown beyond its stereotypical labels—slip on the bulky theatrical glasses, prepare to be rattled by flying 3D insects—and has instead found a home with filmmakers and marketers who are tapping into the technology’s ability to highlight and expose images on the big screen.

“There have been huge advances in displaying of 3D entertainment in the last few years,” Ludé said.

Add in the rapid transition to digital cinema, and you’ve suddenly created an explosive new movie experience.

“There has been a rapid transition from film to digital cinema over the last few years—faster than most of us even anticipated,” said Chris Chinnock, president of Insight Media, a research and consulting firm for the display industry, who will participate in the symposium. “Everything came together over the last few years as the business plan and financing for projection systems came into place.”

“And now we’re seeing an expansion of 3D as part of the digital cinema experience,” Chinnock said. “This has further grabbed the attention of Hollywood.”

Experts expect 3D digital cinema will build to a crescendo in 2009 when director James Cameron releases “Avatar,” one of the first 3D digital cinema films.

“That will be a watershed event,” Chinnock said.

“Digital cinema allows 3D to be very effective in displaying more than trick 3D effects,” added Ludé. “And audiences have been speaking,” he said, referring to the 1,000 digital cinema 3D systems installed worldwide.

The symposium will also look at the core technologies behind 3D stereoscopic technologies, offering engineers a roadmap for exploring the 3D production landscape.

“We want to look at the ways to use 3D as a creative tool,” said Ludé, who will also serve as opening speaker of the symposium. “It’s a [technology] that’s not just a gimmick… It has the capacity to make money.”

Is 3D television far behind?

“It’s a technology that’s not just for film anymore,” Ludé said, pointing to a segment to be led by Lenny Lipton, a 30-year-veteran of 3D filmmaking. As CTO of the Los Angeles-based 3D technology firm Real D, Lipton will explore the waxing and waning popularity of 3D, and how current technology may actually lead to a fundamentally different permanency.


Using technology as a storytelling tool will expand beyond the 3D segment and into the keynote address given by Bran Ferren, co-chairman and chief creative officer of Applied Minds. As the former president of a branch of Walt Disney Imagineering, Ferren’s design career has touched upon special visual effects, lighting and sound design, and architectural and interior design projects. His keynote at SMPTE will touch on how to use technology for storytelling.

The primary goal of the SMPTE fall conference, of course, is to keep tabs on the complicated process of standardization, a dizzying, labyrinthine path that can overwhelm even a trained engineer when it comes to topics like vertical ancillary data mapping of caption data or forward error correction for audio/video transport over IP networks. To help illuminate the path, the organization has crafted a spate of sessions and tutorials designed to give attendees an in-depth update on what’s around the bend.

“It’s hard to keep track of all that [evolving technology],” Ludé said. “It comes in waves—a new technology is introduced, and it becomes important [that attendees] understand how all of this technology works. That’s what we’re here for.”

Detailed information on the conference can be found at

Susan Ashworth

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.