There was an introduction to the display set-up in the auditorium before the next presentation began. Chris Mullins of Sony Digital Cinema came on-stage to tell us about the projector, which was a Sony SRX-R515DS lamp-based model. Sony was also showing a laser projector, the VPL-GTZ270, in a separate area called the Innovation Zone; Mullins recommended using this for grading content.
Sony’s projector was throwing images onto a RealD Ultimate screen, said Bobbie Andrews of RealD. We had met him at CineEurope in June (RealD Promises ‘Breakthrough’ in Screen Technology), and so nothing that he said was new to us. Finally, we were treated to a demonstration of the Dolby Atmos audio, we watched a clip from Imagine Dragons’ Smoke & Mirrors live show in Toronto. The sound quality was stunning – like being in the crowd.
The talk led into a panel titled ‘Ultra Everything’. This was moderated by Richard Welsh (Sundog Media Toolkit). The panelists were Steve Beres (HBO), Cynthia Slavens (Pixar), Andy Quested (BBC) and Kate Wendleboe (BT Media Broadcast).
Welsh began with a quick audience survey, asking, “Do we need more resolution?” He asked the same about colour, frame rate, dynamic range and immersive audio. Mostly people agreed – everyone (bar one man) said yes about dynamic range – but even after the Atmos demonstration, people were unconvinced about audio.
Beres said, “We only have so much bandwidth – what if we focus on the wrong thing?” It is important to understand whether a given technology will benefit the content. “It should be easy for us [the attendees] to understand, as we’re the content creators.” HBO is primarily a steaming company, and streaming in UHD is harder than it looks. These technologies must give the audience something beneficial, and cannot feel like they have changed the visual language of the content – people must feel that they are watching the same show, with or without more dynamic range, resolution, colour, etc. HBO is now a particularly keen advocate of immersive audio, after testing it on Game of Thrones, as it is more easily reproducible in the home.
Wendelboe added that BT “needs everything to plug together… The moves to ultra everything was technology-driven at first, but now consumer demand is there”.
Welsh asked about standards, and to what extent they are helping or hindering post production. Quested said that standards are important, as they provide a framework on which “your changing technology” can sit. For instance, he said, people have always wanted brighter and more colourful images, but it’s not just about more brightness – it’s about telling a story with that brightness. The BBC recently recorded a show for More 4, where the lighting budget was “Two candles, and a torch to find the camera”.
Slavens said that we (the industry) are now at a point where are asking smaller cinemas to adopt, and in some cases finance, these new technologies, so we need to be “cheerleaders”.
Quested made a point about bandwidth. Wendelboe said that the industry needs to make sure that there is that infrastructure globally to support itself. Beres said that it’s about managing “the pipe.” He added, “We have to figure out how to best use the pipe and how to provide the best picture. Do UHD, HDR and object-based audio make sense in a world of limited bandwidth? We need to work out where we’re going to get the best return. This is why we’re indexing a little higher on things like HDR than UHD” (HDR requires less bandwidth than any of the other ‘better pixels’ enhancements – TA).
Wendelboe added that BT is seeing some broadcasting customers more interested in HDR than UHD, even for sporting content – it is useful when half the pitch is in shadow, for example. Beres closed out the discussion on bandwidth by saying, “[More] resolution is fine, but colour and brightness directly hit our visual system – we are night-time hunters.”
What about elements like frame rate, asked Welsh? Quested noted that BBC R&D had found that the human eye stops perceiving motion blur and judder at 700fps (“You can tell that these are engineers,” he said!). However, some motion blur is required to make content look real. In computer-generated content, the BBC manually adds motion blur to make CGI content match the real world.
Slavens said that high frame rate (HFR) is an interesting concept, but there are inherent pipeline issues. Pixar’s animation software, for instance, runs at 24fps and that cannot be changed without a massive amount of work.
In audience questions, someone asked if the 120fps Ang Lee content shown at NAB was a good thing – only one person in the audience did not think so. Slavens said that, for a younger generation of content creators, HFR might be the cinematic image that they know.
Quested returned to the topic of bandwidth. “We do 24fps because that’s the way we’ve always done it and we’ve never needed to change. However, spectrum is now getting tighter, and we need to change things.” Doubling frame rate doesn’t mean doubling bandwidth, he noted – it is a relatively efficient way to improve image quality.
Speaking of new content creators, said Beres, we are less likely to see an existing creator make the first big VR film than we are to see someone who’s completely new to the work – the workflow will be so completely different. Quested said that there is some discussion about VR, and whether it needs 8k per eye.
Briefly touching on HDR again, Quested said that bus stops will be a “big market” for these displays. Slaven complained that no reference HDR display exists yet.
An audience member asked, “As recommended viewing distances become shorter with higher resolution, is this what the director intended?” We have had an explosion in screen size, said Quested. About 10 years ago, the BBC determined that we sat around 2.7m from our TVs; another survey 18 months ago found that we sit about 2.67m from our TVs – despite the increase in screen sizes!
Returning to frame rate, someone asked, “Why not produce in HFR and give customers the choice of what to watch?” Beres contended that it was the creative’s decision, not that of the post-production team. They may choose to use a lower frame rate for a reason.