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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.”

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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.

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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).

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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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UHD: Beyond the Hype

January 5th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe, Today's Special

Recorded November 12, 2014, NAB’s CCW+SATCON, Javits Convention Center, New York.

With CES 2015 beginning tomorrow, Mark Schubin asks: What do viewers appreciate most about UHD? Higher resolution, frame rate, dynamic range? Wider color gamut? More immersive sound? What do those mean for production, post, and distribution? Can more become less? Follow the beyond-HD journey from scene to seen.

Direct Link (66 MB / 1:02:20 TRT): UHD: Beyond the Hype

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“…Not in Our Stars…”

April 17th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Schubin Cafe

 

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A number of noteworthy events took place the week of April 6. Following the publication of former-President Jimmy Carter’s book A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, current-President Barack Obama issued an executive order and a presidential memorandum to try to reduce inequality of pay between men and women. The annual equipment exhibition of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) opened, and at the show Atomos introduced its Ninja Star, probably the smallest, least-expensive professional high-definition video and audio recorder ever. Was there a connection?

In much of the world, the status of women has greatly improved in a short time. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, women aren’t yet permitted to drive a car, let alone vote, but even in the United States it’s been less than 100 years since women were first allowed to vote in national elections.

Change continues. My flight to Las Vegas to attend the NAB show was piloted by a woman. When I deplaned, I saw a recruitment poster for the Las Vegas Police Department featuring a female officer. NAB’s Technology Summit on Cinema was presented by the Society of Motion-Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), whose president and executive director are both women, and the summit’s presentation on human vision came from a woman who probably had more advanced degrees (in fields ranging from theoretical astrophysics to neuroscience and psychology) than any male at any part of the event.

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I attended an off-site technology demo run by a woman and featuring a female engineer. On the show floor, as I looked at a routing switcher and commented on its competition, a knowledgeable person gave me her detailed technical opinion about why her company’s products were superior.

On the other hand, as we walked down one of the exhibition’s aisles, my colleague Deborah McAdams, executive editor of TV Technology magazine, mentioned to me that there appeared to be an increase in “booth babes” this year. Having attended NAB shows every year for more than four decades, I had to try to put 2014 into its proper historical perspective. Magic-Mike-poster_event_mainCertainly, there were more “booth babes” in some previous years, but had they increased recently? Perhaps.

A “booth babe” is not synonymous with a woman in an exhibit booth. In addition to engineers, salespeople, product managers, corporate officers, and, of course, buyers, such women could include models used by camera, lens, and even lighting-equipment manufacturers to show the quality of their imagery. There are also “spokesmodels,” people who can memorize and eloquently deliver scripted oration — so well that it’s only when you ask a question that you realize they didn’t design the products.

I suppose it’s conceivable that a “booth babe” could even be male, though McAdams had a hard time imagining such a possibility; maybe one of the men in the movie Magic Mike might do. A “booth babe” is a person, typically scantily clad, intended to draw people into an exhibit by sexual attraction.

Apr9_ShowFloor_BlackmagicSometimes attraction — sexual or otherwise — seems desperately necessary. Portions of the show floor were crowded (see Blackmagic Design’s booth at left, even on the show’s last full day), and others were desolate (see Connected Media World at right, even on the show’s opening day, even with the registration area immediately adjacent).

So perhaps Unified Video Technologies (UNIV) can be forgiven for trying to attract visitors to their booth with women in shorts (and shirts, sneakers, and boxing gloves) taking swings at each other in a miniature boxing ring at the periphery of their exhibit. Not even their battling “booth babes” (click the image for a larger view), alas, drew a crowd.

Atomos_Ninja_Star_NAB2014_Magnanimous_Me_161315167_thumbnailAtomos was different. They weren’t located in a desolate section of the least-visited exhibit hall; they were in the center of the Central Hall, visible from Panasonic’s exhibit, a short walk from Sony’s, close to the toilets and food concessions — in short, in just about a perfect location. And their products were not insignificant attractions on their own. The aforementioned Ninja Star, for example (shown at right), has a list price of just $295! Other relatively inexpensive Atomos products shown could record beyond-HDTV signals, display images in accurate color, and convert between different signal types. Lest that not be enough to attract show-goers to their exhibit, the products were advertised on seemingly every public-area screen, from the farthest parking lot to the main lobby.

There’s more. If, somehow, all of the above were not enough to attract you to their exhibit, those advertising displays also mentioned that the company would raffle its more-expensive products daily. As might be expected, there was a crowd that extended across the aisle and in front of other exhibits. There were some young women at the periphery of the crowd scanning badges and giving out raffle tickets, but it was a fully clothed man (and not a Magic Mike type) who drove the crowd into a pre-raffle frenzy, having them shout cheers that could be heard throughout the Central Hall.

20140408_181005Then, after the crowd had already gathered, a woman rose to the stage. Her job was to draw the winning raffle tickets. She was dressed in a black bikini bottom but no top, though her skin had been painted.

Frankly, few in the crowd seemed to care. When the raffle was over, the crowd dispersed, though the topless painted woman was then available to pose for pictures (my apologies for the shaky-cam image to those of you who blow it up).

Did the Atomos topless-“booth-babe” gimmick help them sell more products? Or did some wonder whether products requiring such a gimmick weren’t good enough to attract customers on their own?

Having once attended a clothing-free computer-graphics conference in a Colorado hot-springs pool, I have no concern about nude bodies. But “booth babes” make me think about how far we have yet to go.

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The Light Fantastic

August 26th, 2012 | 1 Comment | Posted in Schubin Cafe

Here are some questions: Why is the man in the picture above holding radioactive sheets of music? What is the strange apparatus behind him? What does it have to do with Emmy awards given to Mitsubishi and Shuji Nakamura this January? And what is the relationship of all of that to the phrase “trip the light fantastic”?

Next month the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) in Amsterdam will reveal such innovations in media technology as hadn’t yet appeared in the seemingly endless cycle of trade shows. At last year’s IBC, for example, Sony introduced the HDC-2500 three-CCD camera. It is perhaps four times as sensitive as its basic predecessor, the HDC-1500, while maintaining its standardized 2/3-inch image format.

Other cameras have other image formats. Some popular models use CMOS (instead of CCD) image sensors with sizes approximately the same as those of a 35-mm movie-film frame. Some are even larger than that. The larger sizes and different technologies can mean increased sensitivity. Increased sensitivity, in turn, can mean less light needed for proper exposure. But that doesn’t necessarily mean fewer lighting instruments. As shown in the diagram at right, from Bill Fletcher’s “Bill’s Light” NASA web page (http://grcitc.grc.nasa.gov/how/video/video.cfm), a typical simple video lighting setup uses three light sources, and increasing camera sensitivity won’t drop it to two or one.

Perhaps it’s best to start at the beginning, and lighting is the beginning of the electronic image-acquisition process. Whether you prefer a biblical or big-bang origin, in the beginning there was light. The light came from stars (of which our sun is one), and it was bright, as depicted in the image at left, by Lykaestria (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_sun1.jpg). But, in the beginning of video, it wasn’t bright enough. The first person to achieve a recognizable image of a human face (John Logie Baird) and the first person to achieve an all-electronic video image (Philo Taylor Farnsworth) both had to use artificial lighting because their cameras weren’t sensitive enough to pick up images even in direct sunlight, which ranges between roughly 30,000 and 130,000 lux.

There are roughly 10.764 lux in the old American and English unit of illuminance, the foot-candle. Candles have been used for artificial lighting for so long that they became part of the language of light: foot-candle, candlepower — even lux is short for candela steradian per square meter. General Electric once promotionally offered the foot candle shown at right (in an image, used here with permission, by Greg Van Antwerp from his Video Martyr blog, where you can also see what’s written on the sole, http://videomartyr.blogspot.com/2009/01/foot-candle.html).

As long ago as the middle of the 19th century, when Michael Faraday began giving lectures on “The Chemical History of a Candle,” candles were very similar to today’s: hard cylinders that burned down, consuming both the fuel and the wick, and emitting a relatively constant amount of light (which is how candle became a term of light measurement). Before those lectures, however, candles were typically soft, smoky, stinky, sometimes toxic, and highly variable in light output, at least in part because their wicks weren’t consumed as the candles burned. Instead, the wicks had to be trimmed frequently, often with the use of candle “snuffers,” specialized scissors with attached boxes to catch the falling wicks, as shown at left in an ornate version (around 1835) from the Victoria and Albert Museum. This link offers more info: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O77520/snuffers-j-hobday/.

Then came electricity. It certainly changed lighting, but not initially in the way you might think. Famous people are said to be “in the limelight.” The term comes from an old theatrical lighting system in which oxygen and hydrogen were burned and their flame directed at a block or cylinder of calcium oxide (quicklime), which then glowed due to both incandescence and candoluminescence (the candle, again). It could be called the first practical incandescent light. It was so bright that it was often used for spotlights. As for the electric part, the hydrogen and oxygen were gathered in bags by electrolysis of water. At right is an electrolysis system developed by Johann Wilhelm Ritter in 1800.

Next electricity made possible the practical arc light, first used for entertainment at the Princess’s Theatre in London in 1848. In keeping with the candle theme, one version (shown at left) was called Jablochkoff’s candle. But its light was so harsh and bright (said to be brighter than the sun, itself), that theaters continued to use gas lighting instead.

Like candles and oil lamps before it, gas lighting generated lots of heat, consumed oxygen, generated carbon dioxide, and caused fires. Unlike the candles and oil lamps, gas lights could be dimmed simultaneously throughout a theater (though there was a candle-dimming apparatus, below, depicted in a book published in 1638). But gas lights couldn’t be blacked out completely and then re-lit without people igniting each jet — until 1866, that is. That’s when electricity made its third advance in lighting: It provided instant ignition for gas lights at the Prince of Wales’s Theatre in Liverpool.

Actually, there was an earlier contribution of electricity to lighting. In 1857, Heinrich Geissler evacuated the air from a glass tube, inserted another gas, and then ran a current through electrodes at either end, causing the gas to glow. As shown at right in a drawing from the 1869 physics book Traité Élémentaire de Physique, however, Geissler tubes were initially used more to provide something to look at rather than providing light for looking at other things (click the image for an enlargement). They were, effectively, the opposite of arc lights.

The first practical incandescent electric lamps, whether you prefer Joseph Swan or Thomas Edison (or his staff) as the source, appeared around 1880 and were used for entertainment lighting almost immediately at such theaters as the Savoy in London, the Mahen in Brno, the Palais Garnier in Paris, and the Bijou in Boston. At about the same time, inventors began offering their proposals for another invention: television. As the diagram at left (from the November 7, 1890 issue of The Telegraphic Journal and Electrical Review), of Henry Sutton’s 1885 version, called the “telephane” (the word television wouldn’t be coined until 1900), shows, however, the newfangled incandescent lamp wasn’t yet to be trusted; the telephane receiver used an oil lamp as its light source.

When Baird (1925) and Farnsworth (1927) first demonstrated their television systems, the light sources in their receiver displays were a neon lamp (a version of a Geissler tube) and a cathode-ray tube (CRT) respectively, but the light sources used to illuminate the scenes for the cameras were incandescent light bulbs. Baird’s first human subject, William Edward Taynton, actually fled the camera because he was afraid the hot lights would set his hair on fire. Farnsworth initially used an unfeeling photograph as his subject. When he graduated to a live human (his wife, Elma, known as Pem, shown at right) in 1929, she kept her eyes closed so as not to be blinded by the intense illumination.

The CRT, developed in 1897 and first used (in a version shown at left) to display video images in 1907,  is also a tube through which a current flows, but its light (like that of a fluorescent lamp) comes not directly from a glowing gas but from excitation of phosphors (chemicals that emit light when stimulated by an electron beam or such forms of electromagnetic radiation as ultraviolet light). But, if it’s a light source, why not use it as one?

Actually, the first use of a scanned light source in video acquisition involved an arc light instead of a CRT. As shown below, in a 1936 brochure about Ulises Sanabria’s theater television system (reproduced on the web site of the excellent Early Television Museum, here: http://www.earlytelevision.org/sanabria_theater_tv.html), the device behind the person with the radioactive music at the top of the post is a television camera. But it works backwards. The light source is a carbon arc, focused into a narrow beam and scanned television style. The large disks surrounding the camera opening, which appear to be lights, are actually photocells to pick up light reflected by the subject from the scanned light beam.

Unfortunately, the photocells could also pick up any other light, so the studio had to be completely dark except for the “flying spot” scanning the image area. That made it impossible to read music, thus the invention of music printed in radium ink on black paper. The radium glow was sufficient to make out the notes but too weak to interfere with the reflected camera light.

Of course, the studio was still dark, which made moving around difficult. Were it not for the fact that the phrase “trip… the light fantastick” appears in a 1645 poem by John Milton, one might suspect it was a description of such a studio. The scanned beam of “the light fantastic” emerged from the camera, and, because it was the only light in the room, everyone had to be careful not to trip. Inventor Allen B. DuMont came up with a solution called Vitascan, shown below in an image from a 1956 brochure at the Early Television Museum: http://www.earlytelevision.org/dumont_vitascan_brochure.html

Again, the camera works backwards: Light emerges from it from a scanned CRT, and photomultiplier tubes pick it up. This being a color-television system, there are photomultiplier tubes for each color. Even though the light emerges from the camera, the pickup assemblies can be positioned like lights for shadows and modeling and can even be “dimmed.” It’s the “sync-lite” (item 7) at the upper right, however, that eliminated the trip hazard. Its lamps would flash on for only 100 millionths of a second at a time, synchronized to the vertical blanking interval, a period when no image scanning takes place, providing bright task illumination without affecting even the most contrasty mood lighting. In that sense, Vitascan worked even better than today’s lighting.

Vitascan wasn’t the only time high-brightness CRTs were used to replace incandescent lamps. Consider Mitsubishi’s Diamond Vision stadium giant video displays. The first (above left) was installed at Dodger Stadium in 1980. It used flood-beam CRTs (above right), one per color, as its illumination source, winning Mitsubishi an engineering Emmy award this January.

In the same category (“pioneering development of emissive technology for large, outdoor video screens”) another award was given to a Japan-born inventor. Although he once worked for a company that made phosphors for CRTs, he’s more famous for the invention that won him the Emmy award. It’s described in the exciting book Brilliant! by Bob Johnstone (Prometheus 2007). The book covers not only the inventor but also his invention. It’s subtitled Shuji Nakamura and the Revolution in Lighting Technology.

Nakamura came up with the first high-brightness pure blue LED, followed by the high-brightness pure green LED. Those led not only to LED-based giant video screens but also to the white LED (sometimes created from a blue LED with a yellow phosphor). And bright, white LEDs led to the rapid replacement of seemingly almost all other forms of lighting in many moving-image productions.

Those who attended the annual NAB equipment exposition in Las Vegas in April couldn’t avoid seeing LED lighting equipment. But they might also have noticed some dissension. There was, for example, PRG’s TruColor line with “Remote Phosphor Technology.” Remember the “pure blue” and “pure green” characterizations of Nakamura’s inventions? If those colors happen to match the blue and green photosensitivities of camera image sensors, all is well. If not, colors can be misrepresented. So PRG TruColor moves the phosphors away from the LEDs (the “remote” part), creating a more diffuse light with what they tout as better color performance–a higher color-rendering index (http://www.prgtrucolor.com/content/remote-phosphor).

Hive, also at NAB, claims a comparably high CRI for its lights, but they don’t use LEDs at all. Instead, they’re plasma. They’re not plasma in the sense of using a flat-panel TV as a light source; they’re plasma in the physics sense. They use ionized gas.

Unlike Geissler tubes, however, Hive’s plasma lamps (from Luxim) don’t have electrodes. The tiny lamps (right) are said by their maker to emit as much as 45,000 lumens each and to achieve 70% of their initial output even after 50,000 hours (about six years of being illuminated non-stop).

If they don’t have electrodes, what makes them light up? Luxim provides FAQs here http://www.luxim.com/technology/plasma-lighting-faq, which describe the radio-frequency field used, but Hive’s site, http://www.hivelighting.com/ gets into specific frequencies. “Hive’s lights are completely flicker-free up to millions of frames per second at any frame rate or shutter angle. Operating at 450 million hertz, we’re still waiting for high-speed cameras to catch up.”

 

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Alternative Content for Cinema (mp4), NAB, April 15, 2012

April 30th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Today's Special

Alternative Content for Cinema
NAB, Las Vegas, NV
April 15, 2012

MP4: Alternative Content for Cinema
690×540
24.3 MB
TRT: 22:14

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Panasonic 3D Camcorder: Show Us the Money

February 12th, 2010 | 2 Comments | Posted in 3D Courses, Schubin Snacks

In the 3D-in-the-Home “supersession” at next week’s HPA Tech Retreat, one presentation is titled “Are You Nuts?”  I thought of that at today’s Panasonic pre-NAB press conference.

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Panasonic's $9900 BT-3DL2550 monitor uses passive cross-polarized glasses

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The Tiny AW-HS50 HD switcher includes a multiviewer

Let me emphasize from the outset that I was not thinking about Panasonic in the “nuts” category.  As best I could tell, no one from the company lied, which is my highest praise at press conferences.  No one avoided questions.  There was legitimate news (such as an inexpensive P2-to-USB adaptor, two tiny HD switchers, and a small HD pan-tilt-zoom camera optimized for IP networks).  I also think Panasonic builds good equipment.

panasonic_fullhd_3d

No, the people I thought were nuts were some potential customers for something the company sort of unveiled at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES), an integrated (one-piece) 3D camcorder (shown above) to be delivered this fall at a list price of $21,000.  Panasonic said it had received thousands of inquiries about the product, some seeking to buy it sight unseen.

It was those blind-faith customers that I think are nuts.  Here’s why (and also why I said Panasonic only “sort of” unveiled the product at CES):

The camcorder has twin zoom lenses.  What is their widest angle?  Their tightest?  Panasonic representatives at the meeting didn’t avoid the question; they said it hadn’t been determined yet.

The camcorder will be capable of some amount of stereoscopic convergence.  How much?  Again, it has not yet been decided.  Also undecided, for this one-person, compact camcorder, is whether or not there will be any mechanism to tie convergence to focus.

One Panasonic representative did point out that the spacing of the lens centers is smaller than that of an adult human’s pupils and will not be getting bigger.  Based on a rough measurement I made, it appears to be about 57 mm.  That puts an outer limit on the maximum diameter of the lenses, which, coupled with the fact that the system uses 1/4-inch-format image sensors, means it will not be the most sensitive camcorder on the market.

When a journalist at the press conference inquired about using the camcorder for cinema content, a Panasonic representative emphasized that it had those 1/4-inch-format image sensors.  He got high points from me for that answer.

tiny camcorderSo what is the intended market?  At $21,000, it seems priced too high for most consumers.  At CES DXG showed a pocket-sized $400 3D camcorder (shown here to the left) with a 3D viewfinder (something Panasonic’s AG-3DA1 lacks), albeit non-HD and with much smaller lens-center spacing.

In the professional, HD realm, 3D-One offers four 3D camcorder models, all with nominal adult-vision lens spacing, 3D viewfinders, larger image sensors, and specified lenses and convergence.  Their CP-20 is shown below.  I wrote about them here in September: http://schubincafe.com/blog/2009/09/walkin-in-a-camera-wonderland/

3D-One CP-20

At the press conference, Panasonic indicated receiving inquiries ranging from dental to military applications, including sports.  But a 57-mm lens-center spacing doesn’t lend itself to long-distance 3D shooting in a sports venue.

So, who is really interested in buying what Panasonic says will be a made-to-order product?  At the press conference, the company announced a way to find out.  Starting today, they will accept orders for this device of unknown optical capabilities, but each order is to be accompanied by a non-refundable $1000 deposit.

Panasonic hopes to learn much from this first-generation product.  Maybe we all will.

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