Tag Archives: OTT

Is television versioning about to go IMF?

By Andy Wilson

If you’ve worked in the post production industry for the last 20 years, you’ll have seen the exponential growth of feature film versioning. What was once a language track dub, subtitled version or country specific compliance edit has grown into a versioning industry that has to feed a voracious number of territories, devices, platforms and formats — from airplane entertainment systems to iTunes deliveries.

Of course, this rise in movie versioning has been helped by the shift over the last 10 years to digital cinema and file-based working. In 2013, SMPTE ratified ST 2067-2, which created the Interoperable Master Format (IMF). IMF was designed to help manage the complexity of storing high-quality master rushes inside a file structure that allowed the flexibility to generate multiple variants of films through constraining what was included in the output and in the desired output formats.

Like any workflow and format change, IMF has taken time to be adopted, but it is now becoming the preferred way to share high-quality file masters between media organizations. These masters are all delivered in the J2K codec to support cinema resolutions and playback technologies.

Technologists in the broadcast community have been monitoring the growth in popularity and flexibility of IMF, with its distinctive solution to the challenge of multiple versioning. Most broadcasters have moved away from tape-based playout and are instead using air-ready playout files. These are medium-sized files (50-100Mb/s), derived from high quality rushes that can be used on playout servers to create broadcast streams. The most widespread of these includes the native XDCAM file format, but it is fast being overtaken by the AS-11 format. This format has proved very popular in the United Kingdom, where all major broadcasters made a switch to AS-11 UK DPP in 2014. AS-11 is currently rolling out in the US via the AS-11 X8 and X9 variants. However, these remain air-ready playout files, output from the 600+Mb/s ProRes and RAW files used in high-end productions. AS-11 brings some uniformity, but it doesn’t solve the versioning challenge.

Versioning is rapidly becoming as big an issue for high-end broadcast content as for feature films. Broadcasters are now seeing the sales lifecycle of some of their programs running for more than 10 years. The BBC’s Planet Earth is a great example of this, with dozens of versions being made over several years. So the need to keep high-quality files for re-versioning for new broadcast and online deliveries has become increasingly important. It is crucial for long-tail sales revenue, and productions are starting to invest in higher-resolution recordings for exactly this reason.

So, as the international high-end television market continues to grow, producers are having to look at ways that they can share much higher quality assets than air-ready files. This is where IMF offers significant opportunity for efficiencies in the broadcast and wider media market and why it is something that has the attention of producers, such as the BBC and Sky. Major broadcasters such as these have been working with global partners through the Digital Production Partnership (DPP) to help develop a new specification of IMF, specifically designed for television and online mastering.

The DPP, in partnership with the North American Broadcasters Association (NABA) and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), have been exploring what the business requirements are for a mastering format for broadcasting. The outcome of this work was published in June 2017, and can be downloaded here.

The work explored three different user requirements: Program Acquisitions (incoming), Program Sales (outgoing) and Archive. The sales and acquisition of content can be significantly transformed with the ability to build new versions on the fly, via the Composition Playlist (CPL) and an Output Profile List (OPL). The ability to archive master rushes in a suitably high-quality package will be extremely valuable to broadcast archives. The addition of the ability to store ProRes as part of an IMF is also being welcomed, as many broadcaster archives are already full of ProRes material.

The EBU-QC group has already started to look at how to manage program quality from a broadcast IMF package, and how technical assessments can be carried out during the outputting of materials, as well as on the component assets. This work paves the way for some innovative solutions to future QC checks, whether carried out locally in the post suite or in the cloud.

The DPP will be working with SMPTE and its partners to fast track a constrained version of IMF ready for use in the broadcast and online delivery market in the first half of 2018.

As OTT video services rely heavily on the ability to output multiple different versions of the source content, this new variant of IMF could play a particularly important role in automatic content versioning and automated processes for file creation and delivery to distribution platforms — not to mention in advertising, where commercials are often re-versioned for multiple territories and states.

The DPP’s work will include the ability to add ProRes- and H.264-derived materials into the IMF package, as well as the inclusion of delivery specific metadata. The DPP are working to deliver some proof-of-concept presentations for IBC 2017 and will host manufacturer and supplier briefing days and plugfests as the work progresses on the draft version of the IMF specification. It is hoped that the work will be completed in time to have the IMF specification for broadcast and online integrated into products by NAB 2018.

It’s exciting to think about how IMF and Internet-enabled production and distribution tools will work together as part of the architecture of the future content supply chain. This supply chain will enable media companies to respond more quickly and effectively to the ever-growing and changing demands of the consumer. The DPP sees this shift to more responsive operational design as the key to success for media suppliers in the years ahead.


Andy Wilson is head of business development at DPP.

SMPTE’s ETCA conference takes on OTT, cloud, AR/VR, more

SMPTE has shared program details for its Entertainment Technology in the Connected Age (ETCA) conference, taking place in Mountain View, California, May 8-9 at the Microsoft Silicon Valley Campus.

Called “Redefining the Entertainment Experience,” this year’s conference will explore emerging technologies’ impact on current and future delivery of compelling connected entertainment experiences.

Bob DeHaven, GM of worldwide communications & media at Microsoft Azure, will present the first conference keynote, titled “At the Edge: The Future of Entertainment Carriage.” The growth of on-demand programming and mobile applications, the proliferation of the cloud and the advent of the “Internet of things” demands that video content is available closer to the end user to improve both availability and the quality of the experience.

DeHaven will discuss the relationships taking shape to embrace these new requirements and will explore the roles network providers, content delivery networks (CDNs), network optimization technologies and cloud platforms will play in achieving the industry’s evolving needs.

Hanno Basse, chief technical officer at Twentieth Century Fox Film, will present “Next-Generation Entertainment: A View From the Fox.” Fox distributes content via multiple outlets ranging — from cinema to Blu-ray, over-the-top (OTT), and even VR. Basse will share his views on the technical challenges of enabling next-generation entertainment in a connected age and how Fox plans to address them.

The first conference session, “Rethinking Content Creation and Monetization in a Connected Age,” will focus on multiplatform production and monetization using the latest creation, analytics and search technologies. The session “Is There a JND in It for Me?” will take a second angle, exploring what new content creation, delivery and display technology innovations will mean for the viewer. Panelists will discuss the parameters required to achieve original artistic intent while maintaining a just noticeable difference (JND) quality level for the consumer viewing experience.

“Video Compression: What’s Beyond HEVC?” will explore emerging techniques and innovations, outlining evolving video coding techniques and their ability to handle new types of source material, including HDR and wide color gamut content, as well as video for VR/AR.

Moving from content creation and compression into delivery, “Linear Playout: From Cable to the Cloud” will discuss the current distribution landscape, looking at the consumer apps, smart TV apps, and content aggregators/curators that are enabling cord-cutters to watch linear television, as well as the new business models and opportunities shaping services and the consumer experience. The session will explore tools for digital ad insertion, audience measurement and monetization while considering the future of cloud workflows.

“Would the Internet Crash If Everyone Watched the Super Bowl Online?” will shift the discussion to live streaming, examining the technologies that enable today’s services as well as how technologies such as transparent caching, multicast streaming, peer-assisted delivery and User Datagram Protocol (UDP) streaming might enable live streaming at a traditional broadcast scale and beyond.

“Adaptive Streaming Technology: Entertainment Plumbing for the Web” will focus specifically on innovative technologies and standards that will enable the industry to overcome inconsistencies of the bitrate quality of the Internet.

“IP and Thee: What’s New in 2017?” will delve into the upgrade to Internet Protocol infrastructure and the impact of next-generation systems such as the ATSC 3.0 digital television broadcast system, the Digital Video Broadcast (DVB) suite of internationally accepted open standards for digital television, and fifth-generation mobile networks (5G wireless) on Internet-delivered entertainment services.

Moving into the cloud, “Weather Forecast: Clouds and Partly Scattered Fog in Your Future” examines how local networking topologies, dubbed “the fog,” are complementing the cloud by enabling content delivery and streaming via less traditional — and often wireless — communication channels such as 5G.

“Giving Voice to Video Discovery” will highlight the ways in which voice is being added to pay television and OTT platforms to simplify searches.

In a session that explores new consumption models, “VR From Fiction to Fact” will examine current experimentation with VR technology, emerging use cases across mobile devices and high-end headsets, and strategies for addressing the technical demands of this immersive format.

You can resister for the conference here.

SMPTE: The convergence of toolsets for television and cinema

By Mel Lambert

While the annual SMPTE Technical Conferences normally put a strong focus on things visual, there is no denying that these gatherings offer a number of interesting sessions for sound pros from the production and post communities. According to Aimée Ricca, who oversees marketing and communications for SMPTE, pre-registration included “nearly 2,500 registered attendees hailing from all over the world.” This year’s conference, held at the Loews Hollywood Hotel and Ray Dolby Ballroom from October 24-27, also attracted more than 108 exhibitors in two exhibit halls.

Setting the stage for the 2016 celebration of SMPTE’s Centenary, opening keynotes addressed the dramatic changes that have occurred within the motion picture and TV industries during the past 100 years, particularly with the advent of multichannel immersive sound. The two co-speakers — SMPTE president Robert Seidel and filmmaker/innovator Doug Trumbull — chronicled the advance in audio playback sound since, respectively, the advent of TV broadcasting after WWII and the introduction of film soundtracks in 1927 with The Jazz Singer.

Robert Seidel

ATSC 3.0
Currently VP of CBS Engineering and Advanced Technology, with responsibility for TV technologies at CBS and the CW networks, Seidel headed up the team that assisted WRAL-HD, the CBS affiliate in Raleigh, North Carolina, to become the first TV station to transmit HDTV in July 1996.  The transition included adding the ability to carry 5.1-channel sound using Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) standards and Dolby AC-3 encoding.

The 45th Grammy Awards Ceremony broadcast by CBS Television in February 2004 marked the first scheduled HD broadcast with a 5.1 soundtrack. The emergent ATSC 3.0 standard reportedly will provide increased bandwidth efficiency and compression performance. The drawback is the lack of backwards compatibility with current technologies, resulting in a need for new set-top boxes and TV receivers.

As Seidel explained, the upside for ATSC 3.0 will be immersive soundtracks, using either Dolby AC-4 or MPEG-H coding, together with audio objects that can carry alternate dialog and commentary tracks, plus other consumer features to be refined with companion 4K UHD, high dynamic range and high frame rate images. In June, WRAL-HD launched an experimental ATSC 3.0 channel carrying the station’s programming in 1080p with 4K segments, while in mid-summer South Korea adopted ATSC 3.0 and plans to begin broadcasts with immersive audio and object-based capabilities next February in anticipation of hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics. The 2016 World Series games between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs marked the first live ATSC 3.0 broadcast of a major sporting event on experimental station Channel 31, with an immersive-audio simulcast on the Tribune Media-owned Fox affiliate WJW-TV.

Immersive audio will enable enhanced spatial resolution for 3D sound-source localization and therefore provide an increased sense of envelopment throughout the home listening environment, while audio “personalization” will include level control for dialog elements, alternate audio tracks, assistive services, other-language dialog and special commentaries. ATSC 3.0 also will support loudness normalization and contouring of dynamic range.

Doug Trumbull

Higher Frame Rates
With a wide range of experience within the filmmaking and entertainment technologies, including visual effects supervision on 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Blade Runner, Trumbull also directed Silent Running and Brainstorm, as well as special venue offerings. He won an Academy Award for his Showscan process for high-speed 70mm cinematography, helped develop IMAX technologies and now runs Trumbull Studios, which is innovating a new MAGI process to offer 4K 3D at 120fps. High production costs and a lack of playback environments meant that Trumbull’s Showscan format never really got off the ground, which was “a crushing disappointment,” he conceded to the SMPTE audience.

But meanwhile, responding to falling box office receipts during the ‘50s and ‘60s, Hollywood added more consumer features, including large-screen presentations and surround sound, although the movie industry also began to rely on income from the TV community for broadcast rights to popular cinema releases.

As Seidel added, “The convergence of toolsets for both television and cinema — including 2K, 4K and eventually 8K — will lead to reduced costs, and help create a global market around the world [with] a significant income stream.” He also said that “cord cutting” — substituting cable subscription services for Amazon.com, Hulu, iTunes, Netflix and the like — is bringing people back to over-the-air broadcasting.

Trumbull countered that TV will continue at 60fps “with a live texture that we like,” whereas film will retain its 24fps frame rate “that we have loved for years and which has a ‘movie texture.’ Higher frame rates for cinema, such as 48fps used by Peter Jackson for several of the Lord of the Rings films, has too much of a TV look. Showscan at 120fps and a 360-degree shutter avoided that TV look, which is considered objectionable.” (Early reviews of director Ang Lee’s upcoming 3D film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which was shot in 4K at 120fps, have been critical of its video look and feel.)

complex-tv-networkNext-Gen Audio for Film and TV
During a series of “Advances in Audio Reproduction” conference sessions, chaired by Chris Witham, director of digital cinema technology at Walt Disney Studios, three presentations covered key design criteria for next-generation audio for TV and film. During his discussion called “Building the World’s Most Complex TV Network — A Test Bed for Broadcasting Immersive & Interactive Audio,” Robert Bleidt, GM of Fraunhofer USA’s audio and multimedia division, provided an overview of a complete end-to-end broadcast plant that was built to test various operational features developed by Fraunhofer, Technicolor and Qualcomm. These tests were used to evaluate an immersive/object-based audio system based on MPEG-H for use in Korea during planned ATSC 3.0 broadcasting.

“At the NAB Convention we demonstrated The MPEG Network,” Bleidt stated. “It is perhaps the most complex combination of broadcast audio content ever made in a single plant, involving 13 different formats.” This includes mono, stereo, 5.1-channel and other sources. “The network was designed to handle immersive audio in both channel- and HOA-based formats, using audio objects for interactivity. Live mixes from a simulated sports remote was connected to a network operating center, with distribution to affiliates, and then sent to a consumer living room, all using the MPEG-H audio system.”

Bleidt presented an overview of system and equipment design, together with details of a critical AMAU (audio monitoring and authoring unit) that will be used to mix immersive audio signals using existing broadcast consoles limited to 5.1-channel assignment and panning.

Dr. Jan Skoglund, who leads a team at Google developing audio signal processing solutions, addressed the subject of “Open-source Spatial Audio Compression for VR Content,” including the importance of providing realistic immersive audio experiences to accompany VR presentations and 360-degree 3D video.

“Ambisonics have reemerged as an important technique in providing immersive audio experiences,” Skoglund stated. “As an alternative to channel-based 3D sound, Ambisonics represent full-sphere sound, independent of loudspeaker location.” His fascinating presentation considered the ways in which open-source compression technologies can transport audio for various species of next-generation immersive media. Skoglund compared the efficacy of several open-source codecs for first-order Ambisonics, and also the progress being made toward higher-order Ambisonics (HOA) for VR content delivered via the internet, including enhanced experience provided by HOA.

Finally, Paul Peace, who oversees loudspeaker development for cinema, retail and commercial applications at JBL Professional — and designed the Model 9350, 9300 and 9310 surround units — discussed “Loudspeaker Requirements in Object-Based Cinema,” including a valuable in-depth analysis of the acoustic delivery requirements in a typical movie theater that accommodates object-based formats.

Peace is proposing the use of a new metric for surround loudspeaker placement and selection when the layout relies on venue-specific immersive rendering engines for Dolby Atmos and Barco Auro-3D soundtracks, with object-based overhead and side-wall channels. “The metric is based on three foundational elements as mapped in a theater: frequency response, directionality and timing,” he explained. “Current set-up techniques are quite poor for a majority of seats in actual theaters.”

Peace also discussed new loudspeaker requirements and layout criteria necessary to ensure a more consistent sound coverage throughout such venues that can replay more accurately the material being re-recorded on typical dub stages, which are often smaller and of different width/length/height dimensions than most multiplex environments.


Mel Lambert, who also gets photo credit on pictures from the show, is principal of Content Creators, an LA-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA.