SMPTE: Looking Back, Moving Forward


(click thumbnail)SMPTE honors Roderick SnellThe Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers celebrated the organization's 90th year of existence with a four day birthday bash here last month, featuring presentations on the latest technology for both cinema and television industries, the introduction of the a new executive director and a day completely devoted to retro-technology.

More than 1,000 attendees descended on the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel for the organization's 148th Technical Conference and Exhibition, which featured more than 80 papers and panel discussions on television and motion picture related topics.


One of the highlights of the SMPTE conference was an all-day Saturday event devoted to historical aspects of both film and television production. Presentations included the evolution of sound motion pictures, kinescope recording of television programs, a complete history of television, and a personal reflection on the creation of the videotape recorder provided by special guest, Ray Dolby, a member of the Ampex team that invented the recorder.

Dolby described how his relationship began with both Ampex and the videotape recorder project while he was a student at Redwood City (Calif.) High School. At the time, Dolby was a member of the school's motion picture projection club when Ampex founder, Alexander Poniatoff, contacted the school in search of a projectionist. Dolby was selected and Poniatoff showed him the company's fledgling video recording project the same day. Not long afterward, Dolby was placed on the company payroll.

"I was first hired by Ampex to make audio calibration tapes," Dolby said.

Later, he was assigned to the videotape recorder team and during his senior year of high school, Dolby was working some five hours per day on the project. After taking a leave of absence to complete his U.S. military obligation, Dolby returned and made significant contributions to the creation of the VTR, including an improved FM signal system. He was one of the six team members seeing the project through to a successful conclusion in 1956.

"We were so proud of that machine," Dolby said.

During his presentation, Dolby displayed a large number of personal photographs depicting the evolutionary progress of the video recorder.

A special museum devoted to early motion picture and television artifacts was created for the occasion and was open for viewing for the duration of the conference. Objects on display included very early motion picture cameras, a Vitaphone sound projector which included a synchronized record turntable, an underwater 3D camera used in filming "The Creature From the Black Lagoon" and a splicing block used for physical editing of two-inch videotape.


Kimberly Maki, SMPTE's new executive director, was on hand for her first annual conference and was introduced to the general membership at the industry luncheon event. Later, Maki spoke to TV Technology about her plans for SMPTE.

"I want to keep the interests of the society strong and relevant, and from what I'm hearing and seeing, there are a lot of people who have given their hearts and souls to the society," she said. "The core membership has been very involved and dedicated. They have a lot to give and share, in terms of wanting to be the ones who teach something to the next generation within the industry."

Maki assumed her new position with SMPTE just two days before the conference began. She previously served as vice president of marketing and business development for the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers and was also vice president of public affairs for Time Warner Cable's Houston, Texas division.

When asked about her early career interest and progression, she said, "My first declared major was broadcasting, and while working in cable, I developed a deep appreciation for the engineering side of the business. While I'm a marketing person, one of the things that I enjoy most is representing the engineering side.

"I also have a love of legislative politics and processes, which is why my final degree was in public administration/policy. So, it makes sense that I would eventually tie all of that together with a career with an engineering society in the television and film industry. As you know, associations by nature are run similar to a legislative process."

In commenting on her thoughts and plans for extending the reach of SMPTE, Maki said, "I want to reach out to the younger people working in the industry with Webinars and other tools. I believe in keeping the integrity of the white paper process and opening up new processes."

As part of her responsibilities, Maki will serve on the IBC Partnership Board.


More than 50 equipment manufacturers were on hand during the show to demonstrate their latest products for the industry.

Another of the special events at the conference was the Friday night Honors & Awards Ceremony. Twelve new Fellows were inducted into the organization, and special awards were presented to individuals in recognition of their outstanding achievements in the motion imaging industry. These included the awarding of the Society's Progress Medal Award to Roderick Snell, co-founder of Snell & Wilcox.

As part of the Hollywood experience, attendees were bussed from the conference hotel to Warner Bros. Studios for a reception and special digital cinema screening of the studio's new movie, "The Departed."

SMPTE, which was founded in 1916 by C. Francis Jenkins, a prolific inventor, and a person whose talents and interests ranged from developing the first motion picture projector in 1895 to constructing and operating a broadcast television station in 1928. The organization has grown from a membership of 10 engineers in its first year to more than 5,000 members worldwide now. SMPTE is recognized internationally as a leader in developing industry standards and practices.

Next year's conference and exhibition, scheduled for Oct. 24-27, will be held at the Marriott Brooklyn Bridge Hotel in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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.