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SMPTE New York Conference

Enough time has passed to see the event in retrospect, and the last remnants of
the annual Thanksgiving turkey are gone, so it is time to touch on the
highlights of the annual Fall SMPTE Conference, which was held this year at the
Marriot Marquis Hotel in New York City.

The title of the conference could have been, "If This Is The Future, It Isn't As
Bad As We Thought!"  No earth-shaking pronouncements were made, but a great deal
of essential progress has been made in the esoterica of DTV and HDTV since last
year.  In most respects, things are coming together very nicely.  HDTV
production and post may not be cheap yet, but it sure is do-able.  From being
only a theoretical possibility last year, the 1080p/24 mastering format appears
to be all but finalized, and practical equipment will still be available for it.

In telecine, four machines were on display, and the irony was, all were flying
spot types!  The first one I looked at was the "upgrade" version (an euphemism
for what is essentially an entirely new telecine assembled on a Rank Mk. III
chassis) of ITK's Millennium Machine.  The images excelled in just about every
way one could ask, which comes as no surprise from ITK.  What was surprising was
that it was the first time the machine had ever been hitched to a daVinci "2K"
color corrector--and the controls all worked!  (Due to the lack of a suitable HD
serializer, the video channel of the "2K" was bypassed.)  Of course, there were
some things that needed finishing up, but expect this telecine to be a major
player in the field very shortly.

ITK also displayed the cabinet and transport of a full-blown Millennium Machine.
Based on the same technology as the "upgrade," the deck and support structure
embodies several design concepts that could not be implemented on the other
machine.  Such features include a newly redesigned optical path with PECs that
are four inches in diameter (!), motorized gates with continuous motion
sprockets to move the film instead of a capstan, and 70mm capability (with an
optional gate).
It also happens to be one of the handsomest telecines ever designed.  ITK says
they'll have a lot more to show by NAB2000
(or is it NAB00?  If you glance at that quickly, it looks like the name of the
besieged planet in "The Phantom Menace," which greatly resembled Las Vegas.
Could this only be coincidence?!?)

The other two telecines were Cintel products.  The C-Reality (with Pogle) looked
absolutely beautiful.  Cintel demonstrated their "Diffuse Collector," which is a
very specialized optical filter (actually, they give you a set of four different
ones) that corrects light rays that have been diffracted by dust and scratches
on film.  You simply place an appropriate filter in a special holder that goes
in the light path just before the beam splitters.  The light transmission is cut
down a bit, but the filters do indeed work as advertised on dust and base
scratches.  The loss of light through the filter is not much of a problem
because the C-Reality is so quiet to begin with, and has so much range, that you
just open it up a bit and you're ready to go.

The C-Reality goes a lot further into the data domain now than it did last year.
It can output data directly in RGB 10-bit log format, saving a conversion step
down the line (think of it as predigested data for your workstation).  Future
possibilities being talked about include a Cintel-integrated SGI Octane server
and disk drives, a colorist-friendly interface, and the ability to do full
resolution scanning at more than 20 FPS.

Cintel also brought along a Rascal.  The machine shown was a prototype and it
had a few issues outstanding, but it was running film and making pictures under
command of a daVinci "2K."  A basic, no-frills HDTV telecine might not be
everybody's cup of tea right now, but I think high def will soon come down to
earth, and a cost-effective workhorse like the Rascal could be in big demand a
year or two from now for HD dalies, budget pictures, and 16mm TV series that
will inevitably be exhumed from the vault for yet another run.

I know I have not even begun to touch on the papers or the other exhibits at the
conference, but it simply wouldn't be possible to do justice to everything in
this forum.  It looks as though the means will soon be available to treat video
as data from wherever it originates to the living room TV screen.  There are
many advantages to this type of architecture, and it is a safe bet that the
distinction between "video" and "data" will eventually be gone.  Dave Bancroft
of Philips gave a paper on virtual telecine, and daVinci showed some steps in
that direction with Sierra DDRs.  While it seems likely that virtual telecine
will catch on for some applications, my opinion is that there are a few fairly
large chunks missing from the puzzle right now, like, what's the business model
for an all-data video facility when all your clients want videotape?

The Telecine Fun Night, hosted by Options International, was a happening event.
Most of the New York crowd was there, along with colleagues from just about
everywhere else.  Many thanks to Options and the other sponsors of the Fun

Best regards,
Christopher Bacon

Disclaimer: Opinions stated are my own.  Not affiliated with, or compensated by
any of the companies mentioned above.

Thanks to Seamus O'Kane for support in 1999
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