Tag Archives: John Ferder

NAB 2019: An engineer’s perspective

By John Ferder

Last week I attended my 22nd NAB, and I’ve got the Ross lapel pin to prove it! This was a unique NAB for me. I attended my first 20 NABs with my former employer, and most of those had me setting up the booth visits for the entire contingent of my co-workers and making sure that the vendors knew we were at each booth and were ready to go. Thursday was my “free day” to go wandering and looking at the equipment, cables, connectors, test gear, etc., that I was looking for.

This year, I’m part of a new project, so I went with a shopping list and a rough schedule with the vendors we needed to see. While I didn’t get everywhere I wanted to go, the three days were very full and very rewarding.

Beck Video IP panel

Sessions and Panels
I also got the opportunity to attend the technical sessions on Saturday and Sunday. I spent my time at the BEITC in the North Hall and the SMPTE Future of Cinema Conference in the South Hall. Beck TV gave an interesting presentation on constructing IP-based facilities of the future. While SMPTE ST2110 has been completed and issued, there are still implementation issues, as NMOS is still being developed. Today’s systems are and will for the time being be hybrid facilities. The decision to be made is whether the facility will be built on an IP routing switcher core with gateways to SDI, or on an SDI routing switcher core with gateways to IP.

Although more expensive, building around an IP core would be more efficient and future-proof. Fiber infrastructure design, test equipment and finding engineers who are proficient in both IP and broadcast (the “Purple Squirrels”) are large challenges as well.

A lot of attention was also paid to cloud production and distribution, both in the BEITC and the FoCC. One such presentation, at the FoCC, was on VFX in the cloud with an eye toward the development of 5G. Nathaniel Bonini of BeBop Technology reported that BeBop has a new virtual studio partnership with Avid, and that the cloud allows tasks to be performed in a “massively parallel” way. He expects that 5G mobile technology will facilitate virtualization of the network.

VFX in the Cloud panel

Ralf Schaefer, of the Fraunhofer Heinrich-Hertz Institute, expressed his belief that all devices will be attached to the cloud via 5G, resulting in no cables and no mobile storage media. 5G for AR/VR distribution will render the scene in the network and transmit it directly to the viewer. Denise Muyco of StratusCore provided a link to a virtual workplace: https://bit.ly/2RW2Vxz. She felt that 5G would assist in the speed of the collaboration process between artist and client, making it nearly “friction-free.” While there are always security concerns, 5G would also help the prosumer creators to provide more content.

Chris Healer of The Molecule stated that 5G should help to compress VFX and production workflows, enable cloud computing to work better and perhaps provide realtime feedback for more perfect scene shots, showing line composites of VR renders to production crews in remote locations.

The Floor
I was very impressed with a number of manufacturers this year. Ross Video demonstrated new capabilities of Inception and OverDrive. Ross also showed its new Furio SkyDolly three-wheel rail camera system. In addition, 12G single-link capability was announced for Acuity, Ultrix and other products.

ARRI AMIRA (Photo by Cotch Diaz)

ARRI showed a cinematic multicam system built using the AMIRA camera with a DTS FCA fiber camera adapter back and a base station controllable by Sony RCP1500 or Skaarhoj RCP. The Sony panel will make broadcast-centric people comfortable, but I was very impressed with the versatility of the Skaarhoj RCP. The system is available using either EF, PL, or B4 mount lenses.

During the show, I learned from one of the manufacturers that one of my favorite OLED evaluation monitors is going to be discontinued. This was bad news for the new project I’ve embarked on. Then we came across the Plura booth in the North Hall. Plura as showing a new OLED monitor, the PRM-224-3G. It is a 24.5-inch diagonal OLED, featuring two 3G/HD/SD-SDI and three analog inputs, built-in waveform monitors and vectorscopes, LKFS audio measurement, PQ and HLG, 10-bit color depth, 608/708 closed caption monitoring, and more for a very attractive price.

Sony showed the new HDC-3100/3500 3xCMOS HD cameras with global shutter. These have an upgrade program to UHD/HDR with and optional processor board and signal format software, and a 12G-SDI extension kit as well. There is an optional single-mode fiber connector kit to extend the maximum distance between camera and CCU to 10 kilometers. The CCUs work with the established 1000/1500 series of remote control panels and master setup units.

Sony’s HDC-3100/3500 3xCMOS HD camera

Canon showed its new line of 4K UHD lenses. One of my favorite lenses has been the HJ14ex4.3B HD wide-angle portable lens, which I have installed in many of the studios I’ve worked in. They showed the CJ14ex4.3B at NAB, and I even more impressed with it. The 96.3-degree horizontal angle of view is stunning, and the minimization of chromatic aberration is carried over and perhaps improved from the HJ version. It features correction data that support the BT.2020 wide color gamut. It works with the existing zoom and focus demand controllers for earlier lenses, so it’s  easily integrated into existing facilities.

Foot Traffic
The official total of registered attendees was 91,460, down from 92,912 in 2018. The Evertz booth was actually easy to walk through at 10a.m. on Monday, which I found surprising given the breadth of new interesting products and technologies. Evertz had to show this year. The South Hall had the big crowds, but Wednesday seemed emptier than usual, almost like a Thursday.

The NAB announced that next year’s exhibition will begin on Sunday and end on Wednesday. That change might boost overall attendance, but I wonder how adversely it will affect the attendance at the conference sessions themselves.

I still enjoy attending NAB every year, seeing the new technologies and meeting with colleagues and former co-workers and clients. I hope that next year’s NAB will be even better than this year’s.

Main Image: Barbie Leung.


John Ferder is the principal engineer at John Ferder Engineer, currently Secretary/Treasurer of SMPTE, an SMPTE Fellow, and a member of IEEE. Contact him at john@johnferderengineer.com.

HPA Tech Retreat 2019: An engineer’s perspective

By John Ferder

Each year, I look forward to attending the Hollywood Professional Association’s Tech Retreat, better known as the HPA Tech Retreat. Apart from escaping the New York winter, it gives me new perspectives, a chance to exchange ideas with friends and colleagues and explore the latest technical and creative information. As a broadcast engineer, I get a renewed sense of excitement and purpose.

Also, as secretary/treasurer of SMPTE, the Board of Governors meetings as well as the Strategy Day held each year before the Tech Retreat energize me. This year, we invited a group of younger professionals to tell us what SMPTE could do to attract them to SMPTE and HPA, and what they needed from us as experienced professionals.

Their enthusiasm and honesty were refreshing and encouraging. We learned that while we have been trying to reach out to them, they have been looking for us to invite them into the Society. They have been looking for mentors and industry leaders to engage them one-on-one and introduce them to SMPTE and how it can be of value to them.

Presentations and Hot Topics
While it is true that the Hollywood motion picture community is behind producing this Tech Retreat, it is by no means limited to the film industry. There was plenty of content and information for those of us on the broadcast side to learn and incorporate into our workflows and future planning, including a presentation on the successor to SMPTE timecode. Peter Symes, formerly director of standards for SMPTE and a SMPTE Fellow, presented an update on the TLX Project and the development of what is to be SMPTE Standard ST2120, the Extensible Time Label.

This suite of standards will be built on the work already done in ST2059, which describes the use of the IEEE1588 Precision Time Protocol to synchronize video equipment over an IP network. This Extensible Time Label will succeed, not replace ST12, which is the analog timecode that we have used with great success for 50 years. As production moves increasingly toward using IP networks, this work will produce a digital time labeling system that will be as universal as ST12 timecode has been. Symes invited audience members to join the 32NF80 Technology Committee, which is developing and drafting the standard.

Phil Squyres

What were the hot topics this year? HDR, Wide Color Gamut, AI/machine learning, IMF and next-generation workflows had a large number of presentations. While this may seem to be the “same old, same old,” the amount of both technical and practical information presented this year was a real eye-opener to many of us.

Phil Squyres gave a talk on next generation versus broadcast production workflows that revealed that the amount of time and storage needed to complete a program episode for OTT distribution versus broadcast is 2.2X or greater. This echoed the observations of an earlier panel of colorists and post specialists for Netflix feature films, one of whom stated that instead of planning to complete post production two weeks prior to release, plan on completing five to six weeks prior in order to allow for the extra work needed for the extra QC of both HDR and SDR releases.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Perhaps the most surprising presentation for me was given by Rival Theory, a company that generates AI personas based on real people’s memories, behaviors and mannerisms. They detailed the process by which they are creating a persona of Tony Robbins, famous motivational speaker and investor in Rival Theory. Robbins intends to have a life-like persona created to help people with life coaching and continue his mission to end suffering throughout the world, even after he dies. In addition to the demonstration of the multi-camera storing and rendering of his face while talking and displaying many emotions, they showed how Robbins’ speech was saved and synthesized for the persona. A rendering of the completed persona was presented and was very impressive.

Many presentations focused on applications of AI and machine learning in existing production and post workflows. I appreciated that a number of the presenters stressed that their solutions were meant not to replace the human element in these workflows, but to instead apply AI/ML to the redundant and tedious tasks, not the creative ones. Jason Brahms of Video Gorillas brought that point home in his presentation on “AI Film Restoration at 12 Million Frames per Second,” as did Tim Converse of Adobe in “Leveraging AI in Post Production.”

Broadcasters panel

Panels and Roundtables
Matthew Goldman of MediaKind chaired the annual Broadcasters Panel, which included Del Parks (Sinclair), Dave Siegler (Cox Media Group), Skip Pizzi (NAB) and Richard Friedel (Fox). They discussed the further development and implementation of the ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard, including the Pearl Consortium initiative in Phoenix and other locations, the outlook for ATSC 3.0 tuner chips in future television receivers and the applications of the standard beyond over-the-air broadcasting, with an emphasis on data-casting services.

All of the members of the panel are strong proponents of the implementation of the ATSC 3.0 standard, and more broadcasters are joining the evolution toward implementing it. I would have appreciated including on the panel someone of similar stature who is not quite so gung-ho on the standard to discuss some of the challenges and difficulties not addressed so that we could get a balanced presentation. For example, there is no government mandate nor sponsorship for the move to ATSC 3.0 as there was for the move to ATSC 1.0, so what really motivates broadcasters to make this move? Have the effects of the broadcast spectrum re-packing on available bandwidth negatively affected the ability of broadcasters in all markets to accommodate both ATSC 3.0 and ATSC 1.0 channels?

I really enjoyed “Adapting to a COTS Hardware World,” moderated by Stan Moote of the IABM. Paul Stechly, president of Applied Electronics, noted that more and more end users are building their own in-house solutions, assisted by manufacturers moving away from proprietary applications to open APIs. Another insight panelists shared was that COTS no longer applies to data hubs and switches only. Today, that term can be extended to desktop computers and consumer televisions and video displays as well. More and more, production and post suites are incorporating these into their workflows and environments to test their finished productions on the equipment on which their audience would be viewing them.

Breakfast roundtables

Breakfast Roundtables, which were held on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings, are among my conference “must attends.” Over breakfast, manufacturers and industry experts are given a table to present a topic for discussion by all the participants. The exchange of ideas and approaches benefits everyone at the tables and is a great wake-up exercise leading into the presentations. My favorite, and one of the most popular of the Tech Retreat, is on Friday when S. Merrill Weiss of the Merrill Weiss Group, as he has for many years, presents us with a list of about 12 topics to discuss. This year, his co-host was Karl Paulsen, CTO of Diversified Systems, and the conversations were lively indeed. Some of the topics we discussed were the costs of building a facility based on ST2110, the future of coaxial cable in the broadcast plant, security in modern IP networks and PTP, and the many issues in the evolution from ATSC 1.0 to ATSC 3.0.

As usual, a few people were trying to fit in at or around the table, as it is always full. We didn’t address every topic, and we had to cut the discussions short or risk missing the first presentation of the day.

Final Thoughts
The HPA Tech Retreat’s presentations, panels and discussion forums are a continuing tool in my professional development. Attending this year reaffirmed and amplified my belief that this event is one that should be on each broadcasters’ and content creators’ calendar. The presentations showed that the line between the motion picture and television communities is further blurring and that the techniques embraced by the one community are also of benefit to the other.

The HPA Tech Retreat is still small enough for engaging conversations with speakers and industry professionals, sharing their industry, technical, and creative insights, issues and findings.


John Ferder is the principal engineer at John Ferder Engineer, currently Secretary/Treasurer of SMPTE, an SMPTE Fellow, and a member of IEEE. Contact him at john@johnferderengineer.com.