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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.

Chatting up IBC’s Michael Crimp about this year’s show

Every year, many from our industry head to Amsterdam for the International Broadcasting Convention. With IBC’s start date coming fast, what better time for the organization’s CEO, Michael Crimp, to answer questions about the show, which runs from September 15-19.

IBC is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. How will you celebrate?
In addition to producing a commemorative book, and our annual party, IBC is starting a new charitable venture, supporting an Amsterdam group that provides support through sport for disadvantaged and disabled children. If you want to play against former Ajax players in our Saturday night match, bid now to join the IBC All-Stars.

It’s also about keeping the conversation going. We are 50 years on and have a huge amount to talk about — from Ultra HD to 5G connectivity, from IP to cyber security.

How has IBC evolved over the past 10 years?
The simple answer is that IBC has evolved along with the industry, or rather IBC has strived to identify the key trends which will transform the industry and ensure that we are ahead of the curve.

Looking back 10 years, digital cinema was still a work in progress: the total transition we have now seen was just beginning. We had dedicated areas focused on mobile video and digital signage, things that we take for granted today. You can see the equivalents in IBC2017, like the IP Showcase and all the work done on interoperability.

Five years ago we started our Leaders’ Summit, the behind-closed-doors conference for CEOs from the top broadcasters and media organizations, and it has proved hugely successful. This year we are adding two more similar, invitation-only events, this time aimed at CTOs. We have a day focusing on cyber security and another looking at the potential for 5G.

We are also trying a new business matchmaking venue this year, the IBC Startup Forum. Working with Media Honeypot, we are aiming to bring startups and scale-ups together with the media companies that might want to use their talents and the investors who might back the deals.

Will IBC and annual trade shows still be relevant in another 50 years?
Yes, I firmly believe they will. Of course, you will be able to research basic information online — and you can do that now. We have added to the online resources available with our IBC365 year-round online presence. But it is much harder to exchange opinions and experiences that way. Human nature dictates that we learn best from direct contact, from friendly discussions, from chance conversations. You cannot do that online. It is why we regard the opportunity to meet old friends and new peers as one of the key parts of the IBC experience.

What are some of the most important decisions you face in your job on a daily basis?
IBC is an interesting business to head. In some ways, of course, my job as CEO is the same as the head of any other company: making sure the staff are all pulling in the same direction, the customers are happy and the finances are secure. But IBC is unlike any other business because our focus is on spreading and sharing knowledge, and because our shareholders are our customers. IBC is organized by the industry for the industry, and at the top of our organization is the Partnership Board, which contains representatives of the six leading professional and trade bodies in the industry: IABM, IEE, IET, RTS, SCTE and SMPTE.

Can you talk a bit about the conference?
One significant development from that first IBC 50 years ago is the nature of the conference. The founders were insistent that an exhibition needed a technical conference, and in 1967 it was based solely on papers outlining the latest research.

Today, the technical papers program still forms the center piece of the conference. But today our conference is much broader, speaking to the creative and commercial people in our community as well as the engineering and operational.

This year’s conference is subtitled “Truth, Trust and Transformation,” and has five tracks running over five days. Session topics range from the deeply technical, like new codec design, to fake news and alternative facts. Speakers range from Alberto Duenas, the principal video architect at chipmaker ARM to Dan Danker, the product director at Facebook.

How are the attendees and companies participating in IBC changing?
The industry is so much broader than it once was. Consumers used to watch television, because that was all that the technology could achieve. Today, they expect to choose what they want to watch, when and where they want to watch it, and on the device and platform which happen to be convenient at the time.

As the industry expands, so does the IBC community. This year, for example, we have the biggest temporary structure we have ever built for an IBC, to house Hall 14, dedicated to content everywhere.

Given that international travel can be painful, what should those outside the EU consider?
Amsterdam is, in truth, a very easy place for visitors in any part of the world to reach. Its airport is a global hub. The EU maintains an open attitude and a practical approach to visas when required, so there should be no barriers to anyone wanting to visit IBC.

The IBC Innovation Awards are always a draw. Can you comment on the calibre of entries this year?
When we decided to add the IBC Innovation Awards to our program, our aim was to reflect the real nature of the industry. We wanted to reward the real-world projects, where users and technology partners got together to tackle a real challenge and come up with a solution that was much more than the sum of its parts.

Our finalists range from a small French-language service based in Canada to Google Earth; from a new approach to transmitters in the USA to an online service in India; and from Asia’s biggest broadcaster to the Spanish national railway company.

The Awards Ceremony on Sunday night is always one of my highlights. This year there is a special guest presenter: the academic and broadcaster Dr. Helen Czerski. The show lasts about an hour and is free to all IBC visitors.

What are the latest developments in adding capacity at IBC?
There is always talk of the need to move to another venue, and of course as a responsible business we keep this continually under review. But where would we move to? There is nowhere that offers the same combination of exhibition space, conference facilities and catering and networking under one roof. There is nowhere that can provide the range of hotels at all prices that Amsterdam offers, nor its friendly and welcoming atmosphere.

Talking of hotels, visitors this year may notice a large building site between hall 12 and the station. This will be a large on-site hotel, scheduled to be open in time for IBC in 2019.

And regulars who have resigned themselves to walking around the hoardings covering up the now not-so-new underground station will be pleased to hear that the North-South metro line is due to open in July 2018. Test trains are already running, and visitors to IBC next year will be able to speed from the centre of the city in under 10 minutes.

As you mentioned earlier, the theme for IBC2017 is “Truth, Trust and Transformation.” What is the rationale behind this?
Everyone has noticed that the terms “fake news” and “alternative facts” are ubiquitous these days. Broadcasters have traditionally been the trusted brand for news: is the era of social media and universal Internet access changing that?

It is a critical topic to debate at IBC, because the industry’s response to it is central to its future, commercially, as well as technically. Providing true, accurate and honest access to news (and related genres like sport) is expensive and demanding. How do we address this key issue? Also, one of the challenges of the transition to IP connectivity is the risk that the media industry will become a major target for malware and hackers. As the transport platform becomes more open, the more we need to focus on cyber security and the intrinsic design of safe, secure systems.

OTT and social media delivery is sometimes seen as “disruptive,” but I think that “transformative” is the better word. It brings new challenges for creativity and business, and it is right that IBC looks at them.

Will VR and AR be addressed at this year’s conference?
Yes, in the Future Zone, and no doubt on the show floor. Technologies in this area are tumbling out, but the business and creative case seems to be lagging behind. We know what VR can do, but how can we tell stories with it? How can we monetize it? IBC can bring all the sides of the industry together to dig into all the issues. And not just in debate, but by seeing and experiencing the state of the art.

Cyber security and security breaches are becoming more frequent. How will IBC address these challenges?
Cyber security is such a critical issue that we have devoted a day to it in our new C-Tech Forum. Beyond that, we have an important session on cyber security on Friday in the main conference with experts from around the world and around the industry debating what can and should be done to protect content and operations.

Incidentally, we are also looking at artificial intelligence and machine learning, with conference sessions in both the technology and business transformation strands.

What is the Platform Futures — Sport conference aiming to address?
Platform Futures is one of the strands running through the conference. It looks at how the latest delivery and engagement technologies are opening new opportunities for the presentation of content.

Sport has always been a major driver – perhaps the major driver – of innovation in television and media. For many years now we have had a sport day as part of the conference. This year, we are dedicating the Platform Futures strand to sport on Sunday.

The stream looks at how new technology is pushing boundaries for live sports coverage; the increasing importance of fan engagement; and the phenomenon of “alternative sports formats” like Twenty20 cricket and Rugby 7s, which provide lucrative alternatives to traditional competitions. It will also examine the unprecedented growth of eSports, and the exponential opportunities for broadcasters in a market that is now pushing towards the half-billion-dollar size.

 

Where warmth, technology meet: HPA offers up Tech Retreat schedule

The yearly pilgrimage to the desert for engineers and post pros, the HPA Tech Retreat, is taking place in Indian Wells, California, from February 9-13.

There will be sessions on technology and trends, a small exhibit floor, breakfast roundtables where small groups get to focus on a particular topic or tech, and mingling… lots of mingling. And for those of you coming from colder climates, there will be sunshine and warmth. Not a frozen pile of snow in sight.

Here are some highlights of the Retreat, but click here for a full schedule:

Monday, February 9
Preregistration. Physics, Optics, and Electronics of Image Sensors is a pre-retreat course offered by Charles Poynton.

Tuesday, February 10
The day-long HPA Supersession kicks off the Tech Retreat with Shift Happens: Not Your Father’s Post, led by Leon Silverman with Michael Cioni. Even as some stability returns, fundamental changes continue in the creation, finishing and distribution of content. The Supersession takes a thoughtful look at these changes and ultimately offers insight about how to be prepared for them.

After the Supersession, the Demo Room opens its doors with a cocktail reception.

Wednesday, February 11
The highly anticipated annual Broadcasters Panel returns, as well as sessions including a CES Review; A Year in Review from Mark Schubin, From Smartphones to Cinema; Extended Color Gamuts; Contemplating the Expanding Canvas with Bill Bennett, ASC alongside other leading cinematographers; the Future of Cinema and many others.

Thursday, February 12
Sessions focused on topics as diverse as Maintaining Creative Intent; The Cloud Demystified; Role of Nonlinear Coding of the Television Image from NHK Science and Technology Research Laboratories; IP or not IP; and Drones for Dummies are among the many offerings in a day filled with panels and presentations.

Friday, February 13
As the week draws to a close, compelling presentations continue with Lightfield Capture and Post Update with Siegfried Foessel; Enhancing the Creative Palette While Preserving Intent from Camera to Consumer; the SMPTE Update; and more. The day closes up with a post-HPA Tech Retreat session, How The Great Depression Led to Cloud Computing.

“The Tech Retreat is not just a conference where the latest, greatest, most important and interesting technology and topics are displayed, presented, discussed, debated and sometimes even refuted — it is the closest thing to adult geek summer camp (held in the Palm Springs winter) that one can imagine,” says Leon Silverman, president of the HPA. “Come for the topics, stay for the people who can change your life. For the past 21 years, the Tech Retreat has truly been a place to meet the movers and the shakers right before they make their moves.”

Avid adds to senior management staff

Burlington, Massachusetts — Avid has added two tech veterans to senior management positions: Rick Lowenstein has been appointed senior VP of customer success and professional services, while Mitch Weaver joins as VP of software development.

Reporting directly to Avid (http://www.avid.com)  president and CEO Louis Hernandez Jr., Lowenstein will be responsible for driving customer engagement and increasing customer service levels.

Weaver will spearhead the company’s software development efforts, reporting to Chris Gahagan, Avid senior VP of products and services.

Lowenstein brings more than 18 years of senior management experience and joins Avid from Adobe Systems where, as VP of consulting. While there he managed the company’s Americas enterprise consulting practice for all digital marketing products.

Weaver brings 34 years’ experience in leading technical operations, specializing in large systems software development, most recently as corporate VP/GM at Cadence Design Systems. He was previously president and CEO of Translogic Technology Incorporate, and a GM at both Mentor Graphics Corporation and HP.

mitch

Mitch Weaver

“These appointments are part of our ongoing efforts to develop deeper customer relationships, and to remain at the forefront of innovation with solutions that solve our customers’ most pressing current and future challenges,” said Hernandez. “We welcome Rick’s experience in leading professional services for a number of premier technology organizations, while Mitch’s track record in leading technical operations will enable us to build on our heritage of building groundbreaking solutions for the most complex workflow environments.”

 

 

Behind the Title: Mike Jackman

Jackman Headshot

Mike Jackman is a filmmaker with over 25 years of experience. He has an extensive background in post production, working for such companies as Deluxe and The Weinstein Company in addition to working freelance on numerous productions.

He is now at FilmNation and Brevity Ventures. Read on….

NAME: Mike Jackman

COMPANY: FilmNation Entertainment (www.wearefilmnation.com) and Brevity Ventures (http://brevityv.com)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
FilmNation (@filmnation) is a feature film development, production and international sales company.

Brevity (@brevityV) is a technology start-up company in the media and entertainment industry offering super accelerated transport of files to multiple destinations with simultaneous transcoding in multiple formats!

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
EVP of Post Production at FilmNation and Chief Business Development Officer at Brevity.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
For FilmNation am part of the senior management team that helps steer the company and I oversee post production and international servicing of all our titles.

For Brevity I co-manage the company, oversee business development and am active in sales.

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