Tag Archives: CES

Focusing on sound bars at CES 2017

By Tim Hoogenakker

My day job is as a re-recording mixer and sound editor working on long-form projects, so when I attended this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I honed in on the leading trends in home audio playback. It was important for me to see what the manufacturers are planning regarding multi-channel audio reproduction for the home. From the look of it, sound bars seem to be leading the charge. My focus was primarily with immersive sound bars, single-box audio components capable of playing Dolby Atmos and DTS:X as close as they can in their original format.

Klipsch TheaterBar

Klipsch Theaterbar

Now I must admit, I’ve kicked and screamed about sound bars in the past, audibly rolling my eyes at the concept. We audio mixers are used to working in perfect discrete surround environments, but I wanted to keep an open mind. Whether we as sound professionals like it or not, this is where the consumer product technology is headed. That and I didn’t see quite the same glitz and glam over discrete surround speaker systems at CES.

Here are some basic details with immersive sound bars in general:

1. In addition to the front channels, they often have up-firing drivers on the left and right edges (normally on the top and sides) that are intended to reflect onto the walls and the ceiling of the room. This is to replicate the immersiveness as much as possible. Sure this isn’t exact replication, but I’ll certainly give manufacturers praise for their creativity.
2. Because of the required reflectivity, the walls have to be of a flat enough surface to reflect the signal, yet still balanced so that it doesn’t sound like you’re sitting in the middle of your shower.
3. There is definitely a sweet spot in the seating position when listening to sound bars. If you move off-axis, you may experience somewhat of a wash sitting near the sides, but considering what they’re trying to replicate, it’s an interesting take.
4. They usually have an auto-tuning microphone system for calculating the room for the closest accuracy.
5. I’m convinced that there’s a conspiracy by the manufacturers to make each and every sound bar, in physical appearance, resemble the enigmatic Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey…as if literally someone just knocked it over.

Yamaha YSP5600

My first real immersive sound bar experience happened last year with the Yamaha YSP-5600, which comes loaded with 40 (yes 40!) drivers. It’s a very meaty 26-pound sound bar with a height of 8.5 inches and width of 3.6 feet. I heard a few projects that I had mixed in Dolby Atmos played back on this system. Granted, even when correctly tuned it’s not going to sound the same as my dubbing stage or with dedicated home theater speakers, but knowing this I was pleasantly surprised. A few eyebrows were raised for sure. It was fun playing demo titles for friends, watching them turn around and look for surround speakers that weren’t there.

A number of the sound bars displayed at CES bring me to my next point, which honestly is a bit of a complaint. Many were very thin in physical design, often labeled as “ultra-thin,” which to me means very small drivers, which tells me that there’s an elevated frequency crossover line for the subwoofer(s). Sure, I understand that they need to look sleek so they can sell and be acceptable for room aesthetics, but I’m an audio nerd. I WANT those low- to mid-frequencies carried through from the drivers, don’t just jam ALL the low- and mid-frequencies to the sub. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out as these products reach market during the year.

Sony HTST 5000

Besides immersive audio, most of these sound bars will play from a huge variety of sources, formats and specs, such as Blu-ray, Blu-ray UHD, DVD, DVD-Audio, streaming via network and USB, as well as connections for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 4K pass-through.

Some of these sound bars — like many things at CES 2017 — are supported with Amazon Alexa and Google Home. So, instead of fighting over the remote control, you and your family can now confuse Alexa with arguments over controlling your audio between “Game of Thrones” and Paw Patrol.

Finally, I probably won’t be installing a sound bar on my dub stage for reference anytime soon, but I do feel that professionally it’s very important for me to know the pros and the cons — and the quirks — so we can be aware how our audio mixes will translate through these systems. And considering that many major studios and content creators are becoming increasingly ready to make immersive formats their default deliverable standard, especially now with Dolby Vision, I’d say it’s a necessary responsibility.

Looking forward to seeing what NAB has up its sleeve on this as well.

Here are some of the more notable soundbars debuted:

LG SJ9

Sony HT-ST5000: This sound bar is compatible with Google Home. They say it works well with ceilings as high as 17 feet. It’s not DTS:X-capable yet, but Sony said that will happen by the end of the year.LG SJ9: The LG SJ9 sound bar is currently noted by LG as “4K high resolution audio” (which is an impossible statement). It’s possible that they mean it’ll pass through a 4K signal, but the LG folks couldn’t clarify. That snafu aside, it has a very wide dimensionality, which helps for stereo imaging. It will be Dolby Vision/HDR-capable via a future firmware upgrade.

The Klipsch “Theaterbar”: This another eyebrow raiser. It’ll release in Q4 of 2017. There’s no information on the web yet, but they’re showcasing this at CES.

Pioneer Elite FS-EB70: There’s no information on the web yet, but they were showcasing this at CES.

Onkyo SBT-A500 Network: Also no information but it was shown at CES.


Formosa Group re-recording mixer and sound editor Tim Hoogenakker has over 20 years of experience in audio post for music, features and documentaries, television and home entertainment formats. He had stints at Prince’s Paisley Park Studios and POP Sound before joining Formosa.

China’s online video network Youku calls on Nokia’s Ozo ecosystem for VR  

One of the largest online video platforms in China, Youku, has chosen the Nokia Ozo VR ecosystem of technologies to create and distribute immersive VR content to more than 500 million monthly active users. Their platform features daily views of more than 1.1 billion.

Youku will use the entire Ozo VR solution, which includes the Ozo Camera, Ozo Software Suite, Ozo Live and Ozo Player SDK, in the creation and distribution of content ranging from film and television to news and documentaries, as well as professional user-generated content featuring Youku’s top talent.

Youku will integrate Nokia’s Ozo Player SDK and Ozo Audio solutions into all its platforms, mobile apps and consumer offerings, enabling its enormous audience to enjoy 3D 360-degree VR. The Ozo Player SDK allows VR pros to create VR app experiences on most major platforms with a single, unified development interface.

Full-featured reference players are also included in the SDKfor all supported platforms — including Oculus Desktop, Oculus Mobile/GearVR, HTC Vive and Google VR for Android and iOS. The multi-platform Ozo Player SDK is now available in a free version as well as a Pro tier with more features and larger deployment options.

 

Wacom’s Intuos Pro Paper Edition lets artists sketch old-school

Do you miss the days of just pulling out your sketchpad and letting your creative energy flow? Well, Wacom has a new solution for you that bridges old-school paper-and-ink drawings with portable digital technology.

Wacom is at CES showing its new Intuos Pro and Intuos Pro Paper Edition pen and touch tablets. While the two products have similar functionality, the Intuos Pro Paper Edition gives artists the ability to incorporate paper into their workflow — and when not used with paper, this version will also function as a regular Intuos Pro.

The tablet allows ink-on-paper drawings to be captured and stored digitally on the Intuos Pro Paper Edition so they can be refined later on the tablet with any compatible layered raster or vector software application. This means no more scanning.

“The Paper Edition lets artists secure a paper on the device and sketch, draw or write with an real ink, analog pen, while it captures the information digitally because it is seated on our Electro-Magnetic Resonance board and stored for later use,” explains Wacom’s Doug Little.

Little also emphasizes that while the Paper Edition does function as a Intuos Pro when paper isn’t involved, the newest Intuos Pro is “thinner and lighter and features our new Pro Pen 2 (4x the pressure-sensitivity of our previous pen). It also features the same ExpressKeys for creating shortcuts and modifiers.”

Wacom Intuos ProThe new Intuos Pro is less than half an inch thick but offers the same sized active area in a smaller overall footprint. It comes equipped with anodized aluminum backing, a smaller pen stand with 10 nibs and a new pen case. Both sizes of the Intuos Pro, Medium and Large, use a TouchRing, Multi-Touch and eight ExpressKeys for the creation of customized shortcuts to speed up the creative workflow.

The Paper Edition adds a Paper Clip (to attach the artists favorite drawing paper), pressure-sensitive Finetip gel ink pen and the Wacom Inkspace App to convert drawings for use with leading creative software applications. The Inkspace App environment also allows users to easily store and share their artwork.

The new Wacom Pro Pen 2 comes with both the Intuos Pro and Intuos Pro Paper Edition. This new pen features 4X the pressure sensitivity than the former Pro Pen, delivering 8,192 levels of pressure to support a natural and intuitive creative process.

The recently released Wacom Finetip Pen, included with the Intuos Pro Paper Edition, provides smooth-gel ink. Designed for those who begin their creative process on paper, the Finetip lets users visually depict ideas that are automatically digitized. Users can also select a Ballpoint Pen as an optional purchase.

Available in medium and large models, Intuos Pro is Bluetooth-enabled and compatible with Macs and PCs. The Intuos Pro Medium ($349.95 USD) and Large ($499.95 USD) will be available this month.

Intuos Pro Paper Edition will contain added features as a bundled package to enable paper-to-digital creation. The Intuos Pro Paper Edition Medium ($399.95) and Large ($549.95) will be available this month as well.

LaCie d2 and Rugged

LaCie at CES with new Rugged Thunderbolt and d2 storage offerings

Storage company LaCie, a Seagate brand, is at CES in Vegas showing updates to its LaCie Rugged and d2 storage solutions, with the latter helping to boost storage capacity on newer laptops such as the new MacBook Pro from Apple.

The new LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C combines the Rugged’s ability to withstand the rigors of being on the road —the drives are shock, dust, and water resistant — with USB-C compatibility and Thunderbolt speeds. Users can now store even more footage, allowing them to lighten their load a bit, thanks to an HDD capacity up to 5TB. The Rugged features Seagate Barracuda. In addition, the 1TB SSD version delivers speeds of up to 510MB/s, a 30 percent increase over the previous SSD generation. With these speeds, creative pros can transfer 100GB of content in about three minutes.

Thanks to USB-C, the user can connect the LaCie Rugged drive to USB 3.0-compatible computers as well as to USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 models. Plus, with an integrated Thunderbolt cable featuring compatibility with first-generation Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2, this LaCie Rugged drive can be used with many types of computers.

The LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C drive is bus-powered for mobility and backed by a three-year limited warranty. It will come in 2TB, 4TB and 5TB HDD and 500GB and 1TB SSD capacities, starting at $249.99.

Also new from LaCie is the d2 Thunderbolt 3, which the company says is a good companion to limited-capacity SSD-based laptops and all-in-one computers. It allows expansion storage up to 10TB for pro bandwidth-intensive creative apps.

Featuring Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1 speeds through the USB-C port, the LaCie d2 drive performs very well on late-model laptops such as the new MacBook Pro — as well as on USB 3.0 computers. With capacities of up to 10TB, the LaCie d2 drive can store large video projects. It features a Seagate Barracuda Pro 7200RPM hard disk drive.

Featuring speeds of up to 240MB/s, this is a 10 percent improvement over the previous generation. Dual Thunderbolt 3 ports mean the user can daisy chain dual 4K displays, a single 5K display or up to six total LaCie d2 drives—all through a single cable connected to their computer. It’s also possible to power a compatible laptop, such the latest MacBook Pro, through a USB-C port. The LaCie d2 is backed by a five-year limited warranty.

The new LaCie d2 Thunderbolt drive will come in 6TB, 8TB and 10TB capacities starting at $429.99. The new LaCie Rugged and LaCie d2 drives will be available at LaCie resellers worldwide this quarter.

Seagate
Also at CES, DJI, makers of unmanned aerial vehicles such as the Phantom drone, and Seagate have entered into a strategic partnership. As drone cameras gain resolution and drone flight times grow longer, DJI and Seagate are focusing their efforts to securely and efficiently store, manage, download and share the hundreds of gigabytes of data that can be generated from a single drone shoot.

The companies intend to announce their first product collaboration later this year.

MPC Creative provides film, VR project for Faraday at CES 2016

VR was everywhere at CES earlier this month, and LA’s MPC played a role. Their content production arm, MPC Creative, produced a film and VR experience for CES 2016, highlighting Faraday Future’s technology platform and providing glimpses of the innovations consumers can expect from their product. The specific innovation shown in the CES VR film was a concept car — the FFZERO1 high-performance electric dream car — and the inspiration around Faraday Future’s consumer-based cars.

“We wanted it to feel elemental. Faraday Future is a sophisticated brand that aims for a seamless connection between technology and transportation,” explains MPC Creative CD Dan Marsh, who also directed the film. “We tried to make the film personal, but natural in the landscape. The car is engineered for the racetrack, but beautiful, in the environmental showcase.”

CES_Faraday_MASTER.0000725      CES_Faraday_MASTER.0000442

To make the film, MPC Creative shot a stand-in vehicle to achieve realistic performance driving and camera work. “We filmed in Malibu and a performance racetrack over two days, then married those locations together with some matte painting and CG to create a unique place that feels like an aspirational Nürburgring of sorts. We match-moved/tracked the real car that was filmed and replaced it with our CG replica of the Faraday Future racecar to get realistic performance driving. Interior shots were filmed on stage. We chose to bridge those stage shots with a slightly stylized appearance so that we could tie it all back together with a full CG demo sequence at the end of the film.”

MPC Creative also produced a Faraday Future VR experience that features the FFZERO1 driving through a series of abstract environments. The experience feels architectural and sculptural, and ultimately offers a spiritual versus visceral journey. Using Samsung’s Gear VR, CES attendees sat in a position similar to the angled seating of the car for their 360-degree CES_Faraday_MASTER.0001174tour.

MPC Creative shot the pursuit vehicle with an Arri Alexa and  used a Red Dragon for drone and VFX support. “We also mounted a Red, with a 4.5mm lens pointed upwards on a follow vehicle that allowed us to capture a mobile spherical environment, which we used to map moving reflections of the environment back onto the CG car,” explains MPC Creative executive producer Mike Wigart.

How did working on the film versus the VR product differ? “The VR project was very different from the film in the sense that it was CG rendered,” says Wigart. “We initially considered the idea of a doing a live-action VR piece, but we started to see several in-car live-action VR projects out in the world, so we decided to do something we hadn’t seen before — an aesthetically driven VR piece with design-based environments. We wanted a VR experience that was visually rich while speaking to the aspirational nature of Faraday Future.”

CES_Faraday_MASTER.0001235      CES_Faraday_MASTER.0000988

Adds Marsh, “Faraday Future wanted to put viewers in the driver’s seat but, more than that, they wanted to create a compelling experience that points to some of the new ideas they are focusing on. We’ve seen and made a lot of car driving experiences, but without a compelling narrative the piece can be in danger of being VR for the sake of it. We made something for Faraday Future that you couldn’t see otherwise. We conceived an architectural framework for the experience. Participants travel through a racetrack of sorts, but each stage takes you through a unique space. But we’re also traveling fast, so, like the film, we’re teasing the possibilities.”

Tools used by MPC Creative included Autodesk Maya, Side Effects Houdini, V-Ray by Chaos Group, The Foundry’s Nuke and Nuke Studio and Tweak’s RV.

Quick Chat: FilmLight CEO Wolfgang Lempp on HDR

FilmLight, creator of the popular BaseLight color grading system, has been making products targeting color since 2002. Over the years they have added other products that surround the color workflow, such as image processing applications and on-set tools for film and television.

With high dynamic range (HDR) a hot topic among those making tools for production and post and those who believe in HDR’s future, we reached out to FilmLight CEO and co-founder Wolfgang Lempp to pick his brain about the benefits of HDR and extended color gamut, and what we need to do to make it a reality.

Are you a fan of HDR?
Definitely. It opens up more creative possibilities, and it adds depth to the picture. Not everything benefits from looking more real, but the real world is certainly HDR. There is a certain aesthetic to dim highlights, as there is to black-and-white photography, but that is no justification to stick with black-and-white television, or with dim displays.

And consumers will appreciate the benefit of HDR too. When they walk into an electronics store and see a couple of HDR televisions among the standard screens, they will leap out as being clearly better. That is very different from stereo 3D technology, and it will drive the adoption of HDR in a big way.

So, what will it take to get HDR to consumers?
High-end cameras have been HDR for quite a while. It is just that we have compressed the output to make it look okay on standard displays. We now have the displays, and we are starting to get the projectors, too. The biggest obstacle is the infrastructure in between, and the implications regarding the proposed standards.

So there will be a time of confusion, as well as a time for bad HDR, before the dust will settle. And sadly, like with 4K and UHD, we probably end up with two different standards for film and TV. The big question at the moment is whether the least disruptive method, which uses the same signal for both standard dynamic range and HDR displays, will be all we can realistically hope for in TV at this point, and whether that is actually good enough.

Samsung’s HDR-ready KS9500 SUHD TV with Quantum dot display.

Is the SMPTE PQ standard the answer?
SMPTE 2084 — which formalizes the Dolby Perceptual Quantization (PQ) concept — is already in use and has its merits, certainly for movies where you can send the right version to each cinema. But it is a bit too forward-looking for the broadcast industry, which prefers to send a common signal to both standard dynamic range and HDR displays at home.

The existing broadcast infrastructure can be made to work with the current generation of HDR displays, and that might well be good enough for many years to come. SMPTE PQ is looking further into the future, but ironically the projection technology for cinema is trailing behind in terms of absolute brightness, so for the foreseeable future there is even less of a need to provide for that extra dynamic range.

The critical issue in the short term is banding of contours, not in the very dark parts of the image which we are all familiar with, but in the mid-range. PQ is the safer bet in that respect, but it needs a higher bit depth than the broadcast distribution channels are offering.

BBC in the UK and NHK, the Japanese national broadcaster, have put forward a proposal for a hybrid logarithmic and gamma encoding that could be a reasonable compromise for broadcasting, but it remains to be seen if it is a compromise too far when a wide variety of HDR content becomes available. It would be a shame if we end up with a long list of do’s and don’ts to make the images look acceptable.

At FilmLight, we support both standards, and if the industry can agree on something better, we will of course support that too. Our interest is in taking the technical limitations away from post and allowing people to concentrate on creativity.

HDR broadcast at CES 2016.

HDR broadcast at CES 2016.

What happens when an HDR signal reaches televisions in the home?
The real concern is set up — because to see the benefits you have to set things up correctly. And a relatively subtle shift, like extended color gamut or a not-so-subtle shift like HDR, has the capability of being badly configured.

When we moved from 4×3 to 16×9 displays, many people didn’t bother to adjust the screens correctly, so 4×3 content was stretched, making everyone looked squashed and fat. Even today, that problem hasn’t gone away completely. Whatever system is in place for delivering HDR to the home, it has to be simple to set up accurately for whatever receiving device the consumer chooses to use.

Some colorists are expressing concern about working with HDR and eye strain. Is this a serious issue?
The real world is HDR. Go outside into the sunshine and see what extended color and dynamics really means. The new generation of displays deliver only a pale imitation of this reality. Our eyes and brain have the ability to adjust over an amazingly wide range.

The serious point is that HDR should help to create more realistic, as well as more engaging and enticing pictures. If all we do with HDR is make the highlights brighter then it has failed as an addition to the creative toolset.

Dolby's HDR offering at CES.

Dolby’s HDR offering at CES.

Colorists today are used to working in a very dim environment. It will be different in the future, and it will take some time to get used to, but I think we all have faced more serious challenges.

What do you think the timeframe is for HDR?
It is already happening. Movies are out there and television is ready to go. NAB 2015 saw the gee-whiz demonstrations and NAB 2016 will see workable, affordable, practical solutions. January’s CES featured many HDR-ready displays on show, so there is real pressure on the broadcasters to provide the content.

If it is used carefully and creatively, I am very excited by the prospect, and I believe viewers will absolutely love it.

 

Randall Dark’s CES experience: Day Two

Long-time filmmaker/director Randall Dark, who is the proud new co-owner of Texas-based Bulltiger Productions, set out this week for the show of shows — CES, the Consumer Electronics Show.

He’s been walking the show floor, having meetings and striking up conversations with people on cab, bus and coffee lines. He’s also been checking out some pretty cool technology… and reporting on the atmosphere of CES.

Here is his glimpse of his second day at the show…

Today I walked over to the Embassy Suites to meet with Christopher D. Cox of Pivothead, who make wearable imaging products.  I have used his technology on a number of recent  documentaries and wanted to see what was new and exciting. He didn’t disappoint!

Curved TVs are everywhere. And as the Great Forrest Gump once said, “That’s all I have so say about that.” I saw this at the Haier booth.

One of many things CES does is honor the effort that goes into making and marketing products. The list of winners is too long to mention but congratulations to all of them.

CES booths have everything from 8K TVs to body-wear technology, which reminded me that I would be attending the formal Leaders of Technology dinner later that evening. I was hoping to wear this suit with a black tie.

I enjoyed listening to Nick Woodman, the founder and CEO of GoPro during the Leaders of Technology Dinner. Nick proves that the American Dream is alive and well. I also checked out their new toys at the GoPro booth. What I saw is just a glimpse of what’s to come.

I’ll check in again shortly with my thoughts on my third day of CES!