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Parting Thoughts from Las Vegas

As we bid farewell to the 2011 International CES, we close with some general observations from the ETC reporting team…

Las Vegas was crowded – really crowded. If the national economy is slow to recover, there was little evidence of it in the Nevada desert. CEA estimates that about 140,000 people attended the show (more than last year and on par with pre-recession levels), and the state of the industry is showing strength. CEA’s Gary Shapiro estimates that consumer electronics spending will show a 6% increase for 2010, to $180 billion, and will rise an additional 3% this year, to more than $186 billion.

If we had to sum up this year’s show in 10 words, they would be: smart, connected, apps, 3D, 4G, gestural interfaces, tablets, tablets, and tablets.

The word that appeared around every corner of this year’s show floor was ‘smart’ – from banners and new product lines to marketing slogans and more. There was no escaping it, as it seems manufacturers now recognize the need to simplify consumer control over the dizzying array of available devices and services.

‘Connected’ everything was another star of the show, especially in regards to television and related services: search, discovery, VOD, and way too many apps to fathom. In fact, it was a challenge to spot a TV that wasn’t connected to Hulu, Netflix, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, Yahoo! – you get the idea.

CES presented the connected TV as the center for our new multimedia-driven homes. We saw Hubs, Dashboards, Media Links – all designed to address these needs.

This CE connectivity is reliant upon high-speed networks and we heard a lot in terms of 4G and LTEVerizon, T-Mobile, and others showcased their recently launched networks and collection of tablets and smartphones designed to leverage new speed and efficiency. We found the Motorola Atrix 4G compelling, an Android-based phone featuring NVIDIA’s dual-core Tegra 2 chipset, support for AT&T’s 4G network, and a very interesting laptop dock.

We saw 3D in record abundance – from 3D mobile and 3D gaming to new autostereo displays and a wide selection of prototype and market-ready 3DTVs and laptops.

Sony and Panasonic are sticking with active-shutter, while others – including LG, Toshiba, and Vizio – are touting the benefits of new passive 3D models. Passive displays are being produced at a more reasonable cost and many find passive polarized to be more comfortable. Additionally, the weight of the glasses is an improvement, and they work better over eyeglasses.

For those who believe donning plastic glasses may become the primary obstacle to consumer adoption, a number of autostereo displays were on hand, some that showed real promise and others that were less than impressive.

In terms of gestural interfaces, Microsoft Kinect is already breaking sales records, but the real story here is how gesture technologies will be used beyond video games. PrimeSense showed a system that wirelessly links the PC and TV, enabling access to content from a controller-free 3D system. Imagine what ‘connected’ TV will be like with set-top boxes featuring gesture recognition.

If there was a single breakout star this year, however, it would be tablets.

The Motorola XOOM turned a lot of heads in Vegas. The Android-based device (CNET’s ‘Best of Show’ winner) is one in a growing number of tablets targeting the burgeoning iPad market. Reactions were also positive for the 4G BlackBerry PlayBook which, unlike most of the iPad competitors, does not use Android, but will run on the BlackBerry Tablet OS.

Another tablet not using Android is Samsung’s Sliding PC 7. It runs on Windows, and is a touch-screen device with its own slide-out keyboard. Larger than an iPad but smaller than many Netbooks, it could be the hybrid that many have been hoping for.

We have much more to discuss, especially in regards to cloud-based content hosting and delivery services (i.e. UltraViolet), connected TVs and Blu-ray players with 2D-to-3D conversion capabilities, and more – but we’ll save those thoughts for our post show report which should be available within the next week.

Thanks for reading the blog for this year’s CES coverage. A special thank-you to ETC’s sponsors who make our work possible. Until the next show…

KC Blake, Sarah Blake, George Gerba, Carolyn Giardina, Bryan Gonzalez, Bob Lambert, Michael Lei, Phil Lelyveld, Jack Lerner, Edie Meadows, Nick Nero, Paula Parisi, Adrian Pennington, Rob Scott, David Wertheimer, Joyce Yi

Digital Distribution Standard IMF lands at SMPTE

While media convergence and related “smart” CE devices/services take center stage at CES, Hollywood is taking important steps toward addressing the digital production and distribution of media content.

The Hollywood tech community – under leadership of the major studios and the ETC@USC – published its Interoperable Master Format (IMF) in 2010, a proposed voluntary specification designed to serve as a standard digital distribution master. Recently, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) announced the creation of an IMF working group to move forward with standardizing the format.

CES continues to showcase an increasingly expanded array of connected, over-the-top, CE devices and platforms. Now more than ever, content creators are faced with the challenge of making media available via television, the Internet, mobile devices, gaming platforms, and more (not to mention HD, 3D, and Digital Cinema). Eliminating the reliance upon multiple forms of physical media to meet these needs, while successfully managing the growing number of file formats, will help streamline this process for Hollywood and, in the long run, help foster an improved experience for consumers.

Read more on this from Carolyn Giardina’s article in The Hollywood Reporter.

ETC has a page explaining the goals and background of the IMF project.

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Studio Technology Leaders Dinner 2017

The Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California held its 2017 Studio Technology Leaders Dinner at NeueHouse in Hollywood. Sponsored by Western Digital, HGST and Equinix, the event honored former Sony Pictures CTO Spencer Stephens with the Bob Lambert Technology Leadership Award. The evening featured a panel of studio execs discussing new directions in film production, and a screening of “Wonder Buffalo,” the third R&D short produced under the auspices of ETC@USC’s Project Cloud to explore and test next-generation production processes. 

“Wonder Buffalo,” a coming-of-age story, was made possible through ETC’s 2016 Technology Award to filmmaker Christine Berg, who wrote the script with Simon Shterenberg.

The duo developed the project at the Writers Guild Foundation’s Veterans Writing Project, with the support of Disney/ABC Television Group, Warner Bros., NAGRA Kudelski Group, Technicolor, 8i, Realtra, Equinix, Sony Electronics, Amazon Web Services, the Creative Visions Foundation, The World Building Institute and the USC School of Cinematic Arts. It was also executive produced by Erik Weaver, HGST global director of M&E strategy and market development and former head of ETC’s Project Cloud.

ETC executive director Ken Williams noted that the short tested not only cloud production and post production technologies, but was also processed entirely in HDR, and tested volumetric capture, photogrammetry, ambianic sound and interactivity, via a room-scale virtual reality component. “Wonder Buffalo” was shown at Sundance and invited to SXSW.

Williams (below left) presented the Bob Lambert Technology Leadership award to Spencer Stephens (below right), whose early career involved data communications and photography.
ETC_Williams_Stephens_AwardStephens joined Disney TV Animation in 1997, as the company transitioned from traditional to digital production. He later joined Chris Cookson’s Technology Operations at Warner Bros., ultimately building the 4K production capability for Warner’s Motion Picture Imaging post house, which he then ran. He followed Cookson to Sony Pictures where he became CTO. He’s left Sony, but is not retired.

Walden Pond chief executive Wendy Aylsworth, a previous Bob Lambert Technology Leadership awardee; Sony Pictures Home Entertainment senior vice president Richard Berger; and former Sony Pictures Technology president Chris Cookson all spoke about Stephens’ achievements.

“If I’m in a crisis, I want Spencer by my side,” said Berger. “The scope of his knowledge knows no bounds.”

Stephens thanked Williams, the ETC board and Dean Elizabeth Daley of the USC School of Cinematic Arts for the award, and Cookson for hiring him twice. He also recalled his close connection with Lambert, who recommended him for the Disney job and then introduced him to Cookson.

Last, ETC hosted a panel of studio executives, including 20th Century Fox CTO Hanno Basse, Sony Pictures Entertainment CTO Don Eklund, Paramount Pictures EVP Anthony Guarino, Warner Bros. Technology EVP Justin Herz, Walt Disney Studios CTO Jamie Voris and Universal Pictures CTO Michael Wise. Moderated by Williams, the panel addressed pain points in the production process, significant opportunities opened up by technology, and how studios are handling change.

Panelists described the challenges of handling thousands of VFX shots from multiple cameras with differing resolutions, color spaces and formats, and putting it all together under increasingly tight deadlines. They noted that “Wonder Buffalo” has helped to shine a light on the issues, which also include the sheer size of files and massive number of deliverables. They also identified security as a “huge issue.”

New technologies have produced automated workflows and enhanced global creative collaboration, as well as significantly accelerated real-time rendering. Panelists noted that physical media isn’t going away any time soon, and that consumers are the big winners in an era in which there are so many platforms and distribution is not getting in the way of finding and enjoying content.

They also underlined that the studios have gone through many technology changes over the decades and that their resilience in managing change bodes well for the future, even as viewers redefine entertainment.

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