Tech Retreat Looks at Video’s ‘New Normal’

Annual HPA gathering to focus on IP, color and digital cinema
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Some of the best technical minds in the film and television production industry will gather for the 20th annual HPA Tech Retreat in Indian Wells, Calif., Feb. 17–21.

INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.—If one attempted to join today’s best ideas and breakthroughs with some of the best minds in the industry—and throw in several dozen exhibitors for good measure—a logical result would be the 2014 HPA Tech Retreat. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Hollywood Post Alliance’s annual sojourn for television and film’s movers and shakers will return to the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells here Feb. 17–21.

As tradition dictates, technology guru Charles Poynton kicks off Monday, Feb. 17, in a joint seminar featuring John Watkinson, with “Physics, Psychophysics, and Vision.” And perhaps to demonstrate how change is steadily seeping into all four corners of the video ring these days, an all-day Super Session on Tuesday (“The New Normal is Anything But”) counts among its speakers Christy King, vice president of Technology for Ultimate Fighting Championship.

“Wednesday had been about old media such as broadcast and cinema, as well as ‘oldish media’ like cable, satellite, DVDs and DVRs,” said Mark Schubin, veteran broadcast engineer, consultant, blogger and author, who has served as “retreat maestro” since its earliest days. “This year we run the range from the latest touches on the ancient— such as laser projection in cinemas and next-generation broadcasting—to the previously unthinkable, such as giving fans in a stadium access to their own instant replays, in effect, letting social media shape programming.”

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Gary Sharp, CTO/CIO of RealDm will describe his firm’s “Ultimate Screen for 3D” cinema at one of the many “Breakfast Roundtables” that precede the Wednesday–Friday sessions.

In a Thursday morning session, “Professional Networked Media,” Thomas Edwards, vice president of engineering/development at Fox Networks Engineering & Operations, and panel members will discuss how broadcasters and other media are moving their live streams away from the serial digital interface.

“Fox believes over the next couple of years we’re going to see a move away from the coaxial cable-based HD-SDI video distribution system in our broadcast plants to an Ethernet-based system,” Edwards said. “One of the mechanisms to do this potentially is [SMPTE’s 2022- 6], which is a standard for carrying SDI over Ethernet. There’s a couple of other ways and, regardless, it’s going to be over Ethernet using traditional off-the-shelf Ethernet switches—now that we have 20 Gbps and 40 Gbps, and eventually a 100- and 400- Gbps switches coming along. We want to go in this direction in order to enhance the flexibility and agility of our broadcast plant.”

Nicholas Pinks, technology transfer manager of BBC Research & Development, one of several panelists at Edwards’ Thursday session, will also discuss transitioning to an IT-based infrastructure. He plans to focus on two key BBC production projects: Glastonbury 2013 and the upcoming U.K. Local Elections. “I’ll describe what we learned when large production teams were located remotely from the shoot, as we were for Glastonbury, and explain some of the revolutionary ideas we’re planning on trialing at our Local Elections in May,” Pink said.

If Friday’s focus on new technology has a unifying theme this year it’s simply “color”— to include SMPTE and MovieLabs standardization updates. But color is not without controversy. Josh Pines of Technicolor (representing himself here and not his company) plans to provide a brief expose of what he considers to be “one of the most frustrating, time-wasting and inexcusable disasters currently causing problems in the post-production community—the inconsistency and lack of standardization concerning ‘full range’ versus ‘legal range’ images.”

Pines said the problem today affects every stage of production, from on-set to dailies, editorial, VFX, final DI color-correction, HD mastering and archiving. “It’s a disaster,” he added. “The amount of time and money wasted on a daily basis is absurd. So I’m merely making a plea for the various [parties] to get together in some informal ad-hoc group to start addressing the problem.”

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Pioneering HD cinematographer Randall Dark of Randall Dark Productions in Austin, Texas, will discuss a recent documentary deploying no fewer than 20 cinematic devices.

Gary Sharp, CTO/CIO of RealD, will describe his firm’s “Ultimate Screen for 3D” cinema at one of the many “Breakfast Roundtables” that precede the Wednesday–Friday sessions. “We call it the Ultimate Screen because it allows you to overcome all the tradeoffs you’re faced with when you’re doing painted metallic screen,” Sharp said. “There are no craggy bits with metal flakes under the microscope. Optically it’s a smooth contoured surface and, consequently, it has much better reflection efficiency.” Sharp’s predecessor at RealD, Matt Cowan of Entertainment Technology Consulting, who presented a demo on cinema brightness last year, will expand on it this year.

Pioneering HD cinematographer Randall Dark of Randall Dark Productions in Austin, Texas, will discuss a recent documentary deploying no fewer than 20 cinematic devices. “We utilized everything from highend 4K and 3D cameras to cheap POV cams, based on what the situations or locations demanded,” Dark said. Dark’s brief session will be “Too Much Geek Speak” late Thursday afternoon. “I plan to present realworld examples of why we shouldn’t get hung up on numbers, but rather concentrate more on content and images. I’ll also discuss a possible business model for the rollout of 4K and beyond for independent film makers.”

Dolby Vision, unveiled at the 2014 International CES, will be detailed by Pat Griffis, Dolby’s executive director for technology strategy, at a Thursday morning event. The 90-min. session will explore new developments in achieving better pixels and discuss the latest technical standards.

Griffis said Dolby believes there are three aspects to achieving noticeably better pictures: “First, more pixels using higher spatial resolution, then faster pixels with higher temporal resolution, and finally better pixels, deploying higher dynamic range/contrast and wider color gamuts.”

Dolby Vision focuses on improved dynamic range and wider color gamut in source material, which Dolby says will help drive the adoption of UHD 4K displays. “In other words, ‘better pixels’ translate to dramatically brighter, more colorful pictures—with a much higher contrast that a consumer can actually see across the room,” Griffis said. A video demonstrating Dolby Vision can be accessed at

To register for the HPA Tech Retreat, visit