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Talking future workflows and future archives

By Tom Coughlin

This year’s HPA Tech Retreat, which took place in February in Indian Wells, California, had some interesting presentations and displays, pointing the way to the future of media and entertainment. But before I dig into some general observations and an update on the future workflows and archive solutions that were on display, I will share this: You likely have already heard that the HPA is now part of SMPTE, but the more recent bit of news is the organization is changing its name from the Hollywood Post Alliance to the Hollywood Professional Alliance. Ok, now let’s get to the tech talk…

In the CES Review at the HPA Retreat, Peter Putnum pointed out that there weren’t as many TVs on display as in 2014. In fact, Toshiba had no TVs to show at their booth. 4K (UHD) TVs are approaching the price of 2K (HD) TVs. On Black Friday of 2014, 4K TVs were selling for $899. There are projections that say TVs over 50-inches diagonal will be UHD by 2016. LG was betting big on colorful OLED displays, and Panasonic and Sony had UHD Blu-ray 100GB disc players on display.

There was a whole session on advanced audio capabilities, including the use of renderers to customize individual speaker feeds to create customizable audio experiences. This could be done with object-based audio rendering that creates sound that is positional versus just directional.

Sharing & Transport of Data
In addition to advanced audio, video content handling is undergoing interesting developments, particularly related to sharing and transport of video data. There was discussion of grouping spatial objects to enable more efficient interchange of data. There is also a push for an extended color gamut or higher dynamic range as an alternative to, or in addition to, UHD video.

Pete Lude from RealD discussed High Dynamic Range (HDR) video, which gives more spectacular spectral highlights — brighter highlights and blacker blacks. This may require laser-illuminated projectors with increased luminance and improved brightness, but this also requires new screen technology.

Some claim that a richer color gamut can provide a better visual experience than just going to UHD. In a demonstration by Matt Cowan from Entertainment Technology Consultants (ETC) with a 2020 color gamut compared to DCI-P3, colors were much richer, especially the reds in my viewing.

Better Shutters
There was an interesting discussion of making better shutters for reduction of video aliasing effects. In digital cameras this is often done with software or a combination of software and hardware. Higher frame rates (120fps or higher) can allow smoother effective shuttering. This shuttering can be done on the camera or even in post-production. It was observed that a fair amount of digital storage is required to do this with high-resolution content.

The adoption and infrastructure to support viewing 4K content will increase the pressure on content creators to come up with more 4K content. This will drive technology in future workflows. As a result modern workflows are very bandwidth challenged, especially when dealing with uncompressed content. As a consequence, post work may be done with compressed mezzanine formats that may provide a near-term or mid-term bridge to an all IP-workflow in the future.

All-Ethernet Worfklow
Imagine communications was showing a demonstration of an all-Ethernet workflow in the HPA exhibit area in partnership with Fox. They said that there would be full Ethernet native gear on display at the NAB show this year, including Ethernet cameras.

Moving to an Ethernet-based networking protocol would certainly reduce the overall cost of future workflows along with the additional overhead normally associated with Ethernet networks. Presumably with an all-Ethernet workflow, iSCSI or FCoE would be used for storage SANs or a file-based NAS is used for content storage.

Saving for the Future
Archiving content is important in media and entertainment applications, and a number of technologies are competing in this market segment, including HDDs, magnetic tape and optical disc. Sony was exhibiting versions of their Petasite optical archive system with 12 Blu-ray optical disc cartridges. The discs are currently at about 100 GB but 300GB discs are expected no later than 2016, bringing total raw 12-disc cartridge capacities to more than 3TB. One issue I was told of at the show was the cost of the optical disc drives, currently in the $6K-$7K range.

Dr. Tom Coughlin, president of Coughlin Associates, is a storage analyst and consultant with over 30 years in the data storage industry. He has six patents to his credit and is the author of Digital Storage in Consumer Electronics: The Essential Guide. He also helps put together the Storage Visions Conference. You can we reach him at tom@tomcoughlin.com.


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