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I’ve Looked at “Lynn” from Two Sides Now

November 28th, 2016 | 2 Comments | Posted in Schubin Snacks


I was shocked and dismayed to read in The New York Times that in its opening weekend Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk “took in a breathtakingly low $930,000 at 1,176 theaters.” Maybe it was the
competition (which included Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). Maybe it was the timing, between a bruising election and the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. It seems to have everything one could want in a movie: war, heroism on the battlefield, family, religion, love, sex, food, exceptional vehicles, money, exotic venues, movie-making, crazy driving, sports, excess, guns, drugs, music, injury, passion, entertainment, death, philosophy, and beautiful young people, all directed by multiple-Academy-Award-winning Ang Lee. Oh, and there was also the technology.

In two U.S. movie theaters, Billy Lynn could be seen in 4K spatial resolution in stereoscopic 3D with 120 frames per second per eye and with higher-than-usual dynamic range (from brightest to darkest). That form of exhibition required new servers (to handle roughly 40 times the information of a regular movie), new projectors, and even new screens. In other U.S. theaters, it was seen conventionally (elsewhere in the director-ang-leeworld there were other possible combinations of spatial resolution, depth, frame rate, and dynamic range, not to mention sound). I have now seen both the “super” and “regular” U.S. versions (in that order). I saw the super version from near the rear of the auditorium and the regular from near the front, in both cases in the center of the row. In both cases, I attended free of charge (not for anything to do with the movie), and, in both cases, the director was there, too.

As best I can tell, everything above is factual. There has been a great deal of discussion of the sensation of seeing the movie, however, so I thought I would add my personal feelings about what I saw. As what I saw was directed, let me begin with a thought experiment. Think of your three favorite movie directors of all time. Now think of your favorite movie by each of those directors. Finally, consider what you might have thought of each of those movies had it been directed by one of the other two. If you’re like me, that last thought experiment might produce less than positive results. Different directors have different ways of doing things. It’s not possible for me to consider the technology separately from the direction, but, having seen both the super and regular versions, I can note differences.

I thought both the super and regular versions of Billy Lynn were very good movies, but I also felt they were different movies. The plot was clearly the same, but watching the super version I had the sensation of being a fly on the wall, observing the action; watching the regular version I had the sensation of watching a movie.


Seeing the super version, I had a visceral reaction. I thought that might have been due to the technology’s making the battle scenes seem more realistic. Perhaps it did, but I didn’t feel the battle scenes were that different in the regular version. Maybe they were still raising my adrenaline level; maybe, because I have never experienced military battle, I couldn’t tell which version of those scenes seemed more realistic. Football players on their field were noticeably more realistic to me in the super version, and there was noticeable (but not particularly objectionable) motion judder in the regular version, but those scenes didn’t evoke that different a sensation from me, either; I’m not a football player, and what happens on the field during the game is not central to the plot.


Rather, to my surprise, it was moments with low motion and seemingly low significant detail and low dynamic range that seemed most different to me: the love scene above, scenes in an ordinary home, in a conference room, in a dining hall, etc. Watching the super version, I felt better able to understand the emotions of the title character. And he seemed younger to me in the super version, too.


There was one scene I preferred in the regular version. It was the second scene of the movie (and the first to be shot), so maybe I wasn’t yet accustomed to the super-version look, or maybe the production team was not yet accustomed to capturing it. And there was a scene near the end of the movie that I much preferred in the super version. It was shot unusually, but in the super version the point of the unusual shooting seemed clear; in the regular version it seemed to me somewhat intrusive.

If you’re anywhere near either of the movie theaters showing the super version, I highly recommend attending.  Whatever you might think of the movie, it’s important to determine what you think of the new technology.



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HDR: The Bottom Line by Mark Schubin

September 1st, 2016 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe

This is a modified version of the original presentation given at the 2016 HPA Tech Retreat on February 18, 2016.

High Dynamic Range (HDR) imagery offers the most bang for the bit in viewing tests.  Equipment is available, and issues are being worked out.  What happens in theaters and homes, however, is a different matter.

Download: HDR: The Bottom Line by Mark Schubin (TRT 5:07)



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Wow or Woe?

July 24th, 2016 | No Comments | Posted in Schubin Cafe

SMPTE 100rgbFINAL_small

image_681x647_from_3259,1543_to_4115,2357Today, July 24, 2016. as this image from page 13 of the July 25, 1916 issue of The Evening Star in Washington, D.C. indicates, is the 100th anniversary of the first meeting of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, the group that became SMPTE in 1950 when a T for television was added. The article noted that, besides Hubbard (then secretary of the Bureau of Standards), other speakers at that meeting in the nation’s capitol included a professor from George Washington University and someone from the U.S. Patent Office. Perhaps most significant, however, was the last line: “The next meeting is to be in New York October 2.”

It’s not that there was something special about the date or the city; it’s that the Society was very peripatetic. After New York came Atlantic City, then Chicago, New York (again), Rochester, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Montreal, and Dayton, all within the Society’s first five years. In the next five, it added Buffalo, Boston, Ottawa (Canada), Roscoe (New York), and Schenectady, with few repeats.

hpa_tech_retreat_uk_2016_heads_to_heythrop_park_resortI’m a “Life Fellow” of SMPTE, “Fellow” by selection and “Life” because I’m old and have long been a SMPTE member. When I began attending SMPTE’s annual conventions, they alternated between Hollywood and New York, but there was also an annual winter television conference. In odd numbered years it eventually settled in San Francisco, in even ones in other cities: Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Key Biscayne, Montreal, Nashville, Seattle, Toronto—even New York. As SMPTE has gotten older, it doesn’t seem to want to move around as much (or maybe potential attendees don’t). The annual convention is now just in Hollywood. Another annual conference, Entertainment Technology in the Connected Age, is also in California, as is the now-SMPTE-affiliated HPA Tech Retreat. SMPTE’s annual Future of Cinema Conference is slightly past the state line in Las Vegas. There are also SMPTE conferences in Australia and, as of this year, an HPA Tech Retreat in the UK, but, as far as the U.S. is concerned, California and Las Vegas seem to be it for national events.

TVT 2015 BBTBOf course, there are also SMPTE section meetings. The winter television conference was originally organized by the Detroit section, in conjunction with other nearby sections. Of late, some sections have been having their own longer conferences — one or two day “boot camps” in New England and Toronto and what the mayor of Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, named “Bits by the Bay” (2015 version shown at right), organized by SMPTE’s Washington section.

Two big topics have been dominating those regional conferences of late: a transition from the serial digital interface (SDI) to internet protocol (IP) and another transition from conventional HDTV to what might come beyond (higher spatial resolution, higher frame rate, higher dynamic range, wider color gamut, etc.). For a presentation at a single, national conference, one could easily imagine any SMPTE member paying travel expenses and conference fees. To do presentations at all of the regional conferences would seemingly require the support of a manufacturer or service provider with a point of view. I attended all of the regional conferences in the previous paragraph, and, indeed, most of the presentations were by people employed by manufacturers; I’m pleased to be able to report, however, that corporate viewpoints were kept to a minimum, and even those presentations with the strongest viewpoints were chock full of information.

Boot Camp VII

Hugo G_Presntation_June 2016 trimmedConsider the SMPTE Toronto Section’s Boot Camp VII. As shown above, it was nominally a two-day conference, with a cookout the evening before. But the cookout was followed on the same evening with a presentation at the Rogers Centre stadium (formerly called the SkyDome) on the latest work by Dome Productions on a transition to Ultra-High Definition (UHD), including a mobile-production truck. Many have suggested that a UHD mobile unit would have to use IP interconnection technology, but the Dome presentation explained why they’d actually chosen to stick with SDI. UHD SDI connections can entail four three-gigabit (3G) SDI cables or a single 12G. That’s enough for pictures 3840 pixels wide by 2160 scanning lines high, maybe with higher dynamic range (HDR) and wider color gamut (WCG) to boot, but doubling the frame rate, too, would seem to require 24G SDI. Is such a thing even possible?

Nemo side detailOne presentation on the conference’s second day, from John Hudson, director of strategic technology and international standardization at Semtech, suggested that 24G SDI has long been in the planning stages. Of course, other presentations showed how a video facility might move to IP. There’s a lot of work involved either way. There’s also a lot of work involved in the transition to what comes after HDTV. Color-imaging guru Charles Poynton explained, for example, a practical problem with WCG. He pointed out that the exact color of the popular animated fish, Nemo (portion shown at left), is outside of standard color gamuts. And, if some sort of simple conversion from WCG to ordinary color is done, the scales on Nemo’s skin could disappear. In other words, Nemo would cease to be a fish.

03_production_areaThen there was one of the last presentations of the conference (the 20th), that of Brian Learoyd, engineering manager of Rogers Sportsnet. He told about the tremendous effort involved in launching a UHD channel. After figuring out how to get it up and running on time, he was called into a meeting and informed that, instead of one UHD channel, those in charge wanted four. For the one, Rogers Sportsnet got content from Dome’s new facilities. For the other three, HD content was upconverted. A panel that followed, on which Learoyd participated, explained how Rogers could get away with such upconversion; the difference isn’t all that noticeable.

Another panelist, Matthew Bush, president of Triangle Post in Toronto, and a big fan of the beyond-HDTV technologies, explained working on a UHD project with HDR and WCG. They showed the result to their client, who didn’t seem to think it was a big deal until offered a side-by-side comparison with the ordinary HD version. Then it was considered a wow.

As SMPTE heads into its second hundred years, it has developed and is continuing to develop the standards to smooth the woes of the transitions to IP and beyond-HD imaging. The society has members around the world working on everything from entertainment to medical imaging to motion pictures from deep outer space. A “centennial gala” is planned in conjunction with the annual conference in Hollywood in October. But the local sections do a heck of a good job of education, too. In my opinion, they’re a big wow.

SMPTE Centennial Cake trimmed

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NAB 2016 Wrap-up

June 8th, 2016 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe

Recorded on May 25, 2016 at the SMPTE DC “Bits by the Bay,” Managing Technologies in Transition at the Chesapeake Beach Resort & Spa.

TRT: 33:00 (52 MB)

Download link: NAB 2016 Wrap-up


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What Will Be at NAB? Consider IBC

April 17th, 2016 | No Comments | Posted in Schubin Cafe


SoftPanel Autocolorautocolor demoLike every other NAB show, the upcoming 2016 one will likely have lots of innovations. One to which I’m looking forward is the new “autocolor” button on SoftPanels LED lights. Each can measure the ambient lighting and adjust its output to match, whether it’s an incandescent table lamp or daylight streaming in a window.

I’m eager to see other innovations in other booths. But, for an idea of the major themes at the convention, there’s no preview like the previous fall’s International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) in Amsterdam. Cinegy brought the DeLorean time machine of Back to the Future to the show because 2015 was the year to which it brought the travelers in the second movie of the series. But, in some ways IBC 2015 seemed more “Forward to the Past.”


Consider, for example, the format wars. Remember competing videotape formats and HDTV structures? Format wars are back. Cinegy has been pushing IP (internet protocol) connections instead of SDI (serial digital interface) for some time, but there wasn’t just one version of IP for television at IBC. NewTek, for example, introduced its open NDI (network device interface) at the show.

That’s for connecting devices. Squeezing their data through an IP pipe is a different issue and one with its own format wars.Higher spatial resolution (4K) seems to demand some form of bit-rate reduction (“compression”), preferably of a mild type (“mezzanine level”) so that it won’t affect image quality in production and post-production. TICO could be found at many booths (“stands” in IBC lingo), but so could many other options.

TICO cropped

Higher spatial resolutions were the rage at IBC 2014. At the 2015 version, more attention seemed to be paid to higher dynamic range (HDR), which had its own format wars. The Philips version, requiring just 35 bytes per scene (not per frame or per second) was shown in one dark room (with the lights turned on for the photo below).

Philips cropped

There were also many sessions about HDR, some covering HDR in movie theaters. Peter Ludé of RealD noted that their scientists separately measured the reflectivity of auditorium finishes (walls and carpet), seating and people in typical theaters. The results were that the people were the biggest contributor to light backscatter to the screen. He quipped, therefore, that, for best results, HDR movies should be shown in empty auditoriums.

There were cutting-edge technologies even for ordinary HDTV, from the BBC’s “Responsive Subtitles” (which increase comprehension by appearing with the speeds and rhythms of speech) to GATR’s inflatable portable satellite antennas. The Fraunhofer Institute, which at NAB showed the ability to re-light scenes in post thanks to their camera array, at IBC showed how tracking shots could be done without moving a camera.

Below is a composite shot, the scene outside the window added in post.


It looks like there was a camera move in the background, but, as the freeze in the video below indicates, the motion was all done in post production.


20150911_164307What might Franhofer show at NAB 2016? What other goodies will be on the NAB show floor?

We’ll soon know, but right now, it’s like the World War II German encryption machine at the Rambus IBC stand: an enigma.

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The Bottom Line

January 26th, 2016 | No Comments | Posted in Schubin Cafe


Like many other innovations, high-dynamic-range (HDR) imaging can bring benefits but will require work to implement. And then there’s the bottom line.

HDR’s biggest benefit is that it offers the greatest perceptual image improvement per bit. Different researchers have independently verified the improvement, and it theoretically requires no increase in bit rate whatsoever.  In practice, to allow both standard-dynamic-range (SDR) TVs and HDR TVs to be accommodated with the same signal (and because not everyone keeps the appropriate amount of noise), the bit rate might increase a small amount — perhaps 20%.

Viewing Tests

Above are comparisons of viewer evaluations of higher spatial resolution (e.g., going from HD to 4K) at left, higher frame rate (HFR) in the middle, and HDR at right, with the vertical scales normalized. The distance from the top shows the improvement. To achieve the improvement that HDR delivers with a zero-to-20% increase in bit rate, HFR would need a 100% increase or more. Going to 4K from HD can’t even approach the HDR improvement, but, if it could, it would seem to require more than a 1600% increase in bit rate. HDR is the clear winner.

That’s one piece of HDR good news. Another is that it can deliver more colors separately from any increase in color gamut. It also allows more flexibility in shooting and post production. And it doesn’t appear to require any new technologies at any point from scene to seen.

Below is an image presented at the 2008 SMPTE/NAB Digital Cinema Summit. It was shot in a Grass Valley lab using the Xensium image sensor. The only light on the scene came from the lamp aimed at the camera at lower right, but every chip on the chart is distinguishable. From lamp filament to darkest black, there was a 10,000,000:1 contrast ratio, more than 23 stops of dynamic range. And, on the viewing end, TV sets have already been sold with HDR-level light outputs. New equipment might be needed, of course, but not new technologies.


That’s the good news. Getting everyone to agree on how HDR images should be converted to video signals, how those signals should be encoded for transmission, and how SDR and HDR TV sets should deal with a single transmission path are among the issues being worked out. They’ll be discussed at next month’s HPA Tech Retreat. And then there are interactions.

hue shift with increased luminanceSean McCarthy of Arris offered an excellent presentation on the subject at the main SMPTE conference last fall. Appropriately, it was called “How Independent Are HDR, WCG [wide color gamut], and HFR in Human Visual Perception and the Creative Process?” Those viewing HDR-vs.-SDR demos have sometimes commented that image-motion artifacts seem worse in HDR, suggesting that HDR might require HFR or restrictions on scene motion; McCarthy’s paper explains the science involved. It also explains how color hues can shift in unusual ways, becoming yellower above certain wavelengths and bluer below as light level increases, as shown in an excerpt from an illustration in McCarthy’s paper above at right (higher light level is at top).

Then there’s time.  McCarthy’s paper explains how perceived brightness can change over time as human vision adapts to higher light levels. And there’s also an inability to see dark portions of an image after adaptation to bright scenes. “In bright home and mobile viewing environments,” McCarthy notes, “both light and dark adaptation to [changes] in illumination may be expected to proceed on a time scale measured in seconds. In dark home and theater environments, rapid changes going back and forth from [darker to lighter light levels] might result in slower dark adaptation.” In other words, after a commercial showing a bright seashore or ski slope, viewers will need some recovery time before they can perceive dim shadow detail.

Billiards_ballsHDR also brings concerns about electric power.  It’s often said that the high end of the HDR range will be used only for “speculars,” short for specular reflections, like glints of lights on shiny objects, as shown on these billiard balls, from Dave Pape’s computer-graphics lighting course. If so, an HDR TV set would be unlikely to need significantly more electric power than an SDR TV set.

Samsung SUHDTV_UHDA_Main_2 (2)Those snow and seashore scenes, however, could need a lot more power if shown at peak light output. At right is a scene shown in promotional material for a Samsung HDR-capable TV, with bright snow, ice, and clouds. Below is a section of the technical specifications of the Samsung SUHD JS8500 series 65-inch TV. As shown below, the “typical power consumption” is 82 watts, but the “maximum power consumption” is 255 watts, more than three times higher. The monitor used in Dolby’s HDR demos is liquid cooled.

Samsung 65-inch SUHD specs cropped

All of the above are issues that need to be worked out, from standards and recommended practices to aesthetic decisions. And working such issues out is not really new. Consider those motion artifacts. Even old editions of the American Cinematographer Manual included tables of “35mm Camera Recommended Panning Speeds.” As for power, old TV sets from the era of tube-based circuitry used more power even with smaller and dimmer pictures. But then there’s the bottom line, the lowest light level of the dynamic range.

uhd_alliance_uhd_premium_logo_headerConsider the HDR portion of the requirements for the “Ultra HD Premium” logo shown above that Samsung TV. According to a UHD Alliance press release on January 4, to get the designation, aside from double HD resolution in both the horizontal and vertical directions and some other characteristics, a TV must conform to the SMPTE ST2084 electro-optic transfer function and must offer “a combination of peak brightness and black level either more than 1000 nits peak brightness and less than 0.05 nits black level or more than 540 nits peak brightness and less than 0.0005 nits black level.” The latter is a ratio of more than a million to one.

The high end of those ranges is beyond most current video displays but achieved by some. Again, new equipment might be required but not new technology. And the bottom end seems achievable, too. Turn off a TV, and it emits no light. Manufacturers just need to be able to have black pixels pretty close to “off.”

Ma8thew TV (2)What the viewer sees, however, is a different matter. At right is an image of a TV set posted by Ma8thew and used in the Wikipedia page “Technology of television.” The TV set appears to be off, but a lot of light can be seen on its screen. The light is reflected off the screen from ambient light in the room. Cedric Demers posted “Reflections of 2015 TVs” on The lowest reflection listed was 0.4%, the highest was 1.9%. Of course, that’s between 0.4% and 1.9% of the light hitting the TV set. How much light is that?

Luxury-holiday-letting-Hyeres-Le-Mas-des-iles-d-Or_10 (2)At left is a portion of an image of the TV room of a luxury vacation rental in France, listed on IHA holiday ads. The television set is off. It shows a bright reflected view of the outdoors. It looks very nice outside — possibly too nice to stay in and watch TV. But, if one were watching TV, presumably one would draw the drapes closed. If the windows were thus completely blocked off and not a single lamp were on in the room, would that be dark enough to appreciate the 0.0005-nit black level of an Ultra HD Premium HDR TV?

It would probably not be. What’s the problem? For one thing, the viewer(s).

Consider a movie-theater auditorium. When the movie comes on, all the lights (except exit lights) go off. The walls, floor, and seats are typically made of dark, non-reflective materials. Scientists from the stereoscopic-3D exhibition company RealD measured the reflectivity of auditorium finishes (walls and carpet), seating, and audiences and concluded that the last were the biggest contributors to light reflected back to the screen (especially when they wear white T-shirts). Discussing the research at an HDR session in a cinema auditorium at last fall’s International Broadcasting Convention (IBC), RealD senior vice president Peter Ludé joked that for maximum contrast movies should be projected without audiences.

Sony World Cup 4K to Vue WestfieldLudé went a step further. Reflections off the audiences are problematic only when there is sufficient light on the screen. So, he joked again, for ideal HDR results, the screen should be black. At right is an image shot during a Sony-arranged live 4K screening of the 2014 World Cup at the Westfield Vue cinema in London. The ceiling, the walls, the floor, and the audience are all visible because of light coming off the screen and being reflected.

Now consider a home with an Ultra HD Premium TV emitting 540 nits. The light hits a viewer. If the viewer’s skin reflects just 1% of the light back to the screen and the screen reflects just 0.4% of that back to the viewer, there could be 0.0216 nits of undesired light on a black pixel (it’s more complicated because the intensity falls with the square of the distances involved but increases with the areas emitting or reflecting). That’s not a lot, but it’s still 43.2 times greater than 0.0005 nits.

A million-to-one contrast ratio? Maybe. But maybe not if there’s a viewer in the room.

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The Schubin Talks: Next-Generation-Imaging, Higher Dynamic Range by Mark Schubin

August 25th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe, Today's Special


Considered the biggest improvement available, using high dynamic range can make productions easier as shaders will have less to do and subjects moving from sunlight to shadows will be easily visible. Should this be what broadcasters hold out for? Or are there things about HDR that can make it tricky if not done correctly?

Other videos in the series include:

The Schubin Talks: Next-Generation-Imaging is presented by SVG, the Sports Video Group, advancing the creation, production and distribution of sports content, at

Direct Link (179 MB / TRT 16:38):
The Schubin Talks: Next-Generation-Imaging, Higher Dynamic Range


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The Schubin Talks: Introduction to Next-Generation-Imaging by Mark Schubin

August 11th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe, Today's Special


This series of video presentations by Mark Schubin is designed to help broadcast and media professionals better understand three key concepts that are changing the way content is created and delivered.

This introduction looks at the technical enhancements that can make video look better. It includes a brief overview of the three topics to be covered in the series:

The Schubin Talks: Introduction to Next-Generation-Imaging is presented by SVG, the Sports Video Group, advancing the creation, production and distribution of sports content, at

Direct Link (264 MB / TRT 22:56):
The Schubin Talks: Introduction to Next-Generation-Imaging


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NAB 2015 Wrap-up by Mark Schubin

June 13th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe

Recorded May 20, 2015
SMPTE DC Bits-by-the-Bay, Chesapeake Beach Resort

Direct Link ( 44 MB /  TRT 34:01):
NAB 2015 Wrap-up by Mark Schubin


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Where Are We Going, & How Did We Get Here (The Future) by Mark Schubin

May 19th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe

Recorded during “An Evening with Mark Schubin” at the SMPTE New England Section, Dedham Holiday Inn on May 14, 2015.

We’ve sort of made it into the era of digital cinema and HDTV. What’s next? 4K? 8K? higher frame rate? higher dynamic range? wider color gamut? more immersive sound? direct brain stimulation? Will we still need lenses? How about cameras? Will this list of questions ever end? As just one example, Mark promises to show pictures from flying cameras that don’t fly (or even exist). He also promises to explain why more contrast demands more frames per second.

Direct Link (109 MB / 1:11:28 TRT):
Where Are We Going, & How Did We Get Here (The Future) by Mark Schubin


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