With 15 speakers covering a wide range of topics in three hours, the EDCF Global Update session at IBC brought cinema professionals from around the world up to speed with the latest business and technology developments
At IBC in September, Dave Monk, EDCF’s CEO welcomed very nearly 200 delegates to a packed Emerald Room at the RAI. There was a packed line-up — first up was EDCF president David Hancock who provided a review of the state of the world-wide industry, starting by explaining how cinema sits in the media landscape. The business has seen more change within the past 10 years than throughout its 100+ years history and he brought the audience up to date with the latest stats (167,000 screens globally, more 3D screens than 2D, 44,000 3D screens in China, $38Billion box office with $8Bn from 3D). Immersive sound is now in around 3,700 screens and use of laser projectors is growing. Around 5,000 laser-phospor projectors are in use and some 400 screens have RGB lasers. ‘Experiential cinema’ is growing, with 4D and motion seating increasingly popular.
David discussed the importance of the social and leisure aspects of cinemagoing, explaining the need to balance areas of innovation to deliver enhanced experiences. In a bullish conclusion he explained how segmentation into different types of cinema targeting different audiences will lead to further growth. Some forecasts suggest that in five years perhaps 144 completely new cinemas with up to 1,000 new screens are due to open, of which 20% will be in the boutique/neighbourhood category.
The SMPTE DCP rollout
Toby Glover from Deluxe Technicolor outlined the SMPTE DCP tests in different European countries, giving information about the successful work in Netherlands, Scandinavia, Iceland and Russia, singling out Gofilex, MPS and Unique for all their organisational and technical help. He went on to give the detail of the tests in the UK and Ireland — 1,025 cinemas had agreed to take part in the tests with 208 sites responses so far. Toby predicted that 3,874 cinemas in Europe will have completed the tests by the end of 2017, with a further 2,101 in France completing tests shortly after, to be followed by Spain, Germany and Italy. So far virtually all the technical issues that had been raised had been solved by updating software and firmware in projectors, servers and TMS.
On the theme of SMPTE DCPs, Ben Ritterbush of 20th Century Fox provided valuable details about the transition in North America, explaining it has taken nearly a decade to make the change because distributors had a long-standing fear of catastrophic failure if the DCPs didn’t work. He discussed legacy hardware issues, problems with TMS incompatibility and the sheer unawareness of many small cinemas in the US. The results of testing were very encouraging, with very few problems and absolutely no reports of dark screens. For early tests 200 back-up hard drives were provided, but only seven were needed. Just two related issues were raised in the latest phase of testing that involved 3,100 screens showing the 2017 Fox movie Snatched.Again, simple software and firmware updates solved minor issues. Ben concluded that a rapid move to SMPTE DCP releases is now feasible, with planning, and that several big titles will be released in North America in this format by the end of the year. Fox plan on doing away with dual inventory during 2018. Other studios are working toward the same goal. He warned if you want to see the next Avatar you must be SMPTE compliant!
Disney is also targeting solely SMPTE DCP distribution in 2018, expanding this to South America and the Asia-Pacific regions quickly. Some speakers confirmed that most of issues in tests in Europe related to problems with subtitles. Toby Glover agreed that wrapping subtitles in MXF sub files is causing some problems, and that they are focusing on solving these.
Richard Philips from Arts Alliance Media discussed ‘Exploiting CPL metadata for a connected future’, showing how this could offer new opportunities to move to fully automated cinema operation. He showed how too many versions of content are currently available — for Inside Out there were 23 UK specific CPL versions. The distributor had to prepare 351 different CPLs in total. He showed how the currently used Digital Cinema Naming Convention is used — it is not the best, but we currently have to live with it. The move to SMPTE DCPs will include use of a standardised CPL metadata, including a composition playlist, additional composition metadata and guidelines.
As one example Rich showed that the current Film Title field only has room for 14 characters, which can lead to confusion, whereas the new version will allow for full titles and be easier to use and read. The eventual aim is to achieve a machine-readable unique identifier which could lead to full automation of scheduling and playout. The EIDR, the Entertainment Identifier Registry, is a global unique identifier system for a broad array of audio-visual assets for movies and television. Such a system, with the SMPTE DCP, could allow for automated DCP assembly and KDM fulfilment.
On automation, Richard Welsh from Sundog media, discussed ‘How you get more for less’, explaining how micro services can optimise cinema operations. He stressed the need to consider security issues when using cloud services for things like playlist generation, showing how generation of hundreds of playlists in a short time drives costs down and makes full automation practicable. The difference between service and technical models is now blurring, and different versions can be automated by gluing together cloud-based micro-services.
The DCP over time
Eyvind Ljungquist from Unique Digital gave a history of how electronic distribution of DCPs has developed since 1997, when hard-drive distribution was the norm, through broadband point-to-point first seen in 2005, to 2012 when broadband was ‘just good enough’ to today when his company and others are providing what he described as ‘gold standard point-to-point’, although he did say that we are still waiting for the wider rollout of fibre. Broadband delivery offers a financially sensible package with peace of mind that comes from knowing your content has been delivered intact, with everything hash protected and guaranteed to playout on demand. Unique is pushing ahead across Europe, and, rather more provocatively, Eyvind suggested its broadband delivery system is ready to open the door to shrinking delivery windows.
The commercial benefits…
Three manufacturers’ presentations from Tom Bert of Barco, Brian Claypool of Christie and Mark Kendall from NEC brought the audience up to date with claimed advantages of the manufacturers’ latest laser projector products and plans, and led to numerous questions about conflicting requirements of high brightness and high contrast and the different cost and performance compromises tobe considered when buying new kit.
Julian Pinn introduced the 4cine.io system (described in Cinema Technology, September 2017). This idea of ‘Cinema Audio Conforming in the Cloud’ has many potential uses, but as far as cinema audio is concerned it uses three specialist techniques (mix-extraction, analysis, and cinematic-remapping) to analyse virtually any non-cinematic audio mix (could be two-channel stereo initially intended for TV, for instance) to provide a 5.1 /7.1 version for cinema, which has been optimised to preserve the original creative intent of the sound creators.
A major use of the system will be to improve audio that accompanies Event Cinema productions, which may originally have been optimised for TV or an auditorium playout system. Regular live event patrons know that the sound accompanying drama or opera productions can sometimes sound not quite right in the cinema, sometimes manifesting itself as ‘woolly’ dialogue or unbalanced sound mixes. Julian explained how 4cine.io analyses final audio mixes to identify compatibility issues that might impact the playback experience in cinemas. He described the workflow used to produce a cinema version conformed to relevant industry standards for perceived loudness, and explained how the original stereo intent can be faithfully reproduced across the wide cinema audience seating area. You can only truly judge something when you have tried it for yourself, so one remark from a 4cine.io customer summed up the success of the system: ‘It sounded as if it was mixed in 5.1’!
Andy Maltz, of the Science and Technology Council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, outlined work they are doing. The Academy Color Encoding System (ACES) has effectively become the industry standard for managing colour throughout the life-cycle of a motion picture, solving production, post-production and archiving problems that arise with the variety of digital cameras and formats. ACES 1.0 was the first production-ready release of the system and is used widely. Andy began by asking ‘Is there life after ACES 1.0?’ He explained how they are currently building enhancements and extensions to support various workflows. Higher Dynamic Range, HDR, is a major focus. ADX, the Academy Density Exchange encoding system, can pull more detail and colour out of film negatives, but the industry still needs to decide on how to use the expanded palette.
The ACES HDR starter pack includes output transforms for images at 1,000, 2,000, and 4,000 Nits, and Andy said that the Academy realises the need for standardised tone curves so that pictures appear the same on different display devices. They are currently exploring issues in HDR re-mastering, and use of immersive sound systems. Work is ongoing on a number of SMPTE standards relating to ACES work. Andy showed a clip from the 2017 digitally remastered version of the Glory Film Company’s short 35mm Cinemascope film The Troop, processed using the ACES system, highlighting some of the related features of the images. He finished by encouraging everyone to look at www.acescentral.com where all the available tools are free!
The Facility List Message
John Hurst of CineCert described the latest work on “Facility List Messages” (FLM) for use in Digital Cinema systems. The FLM delivers digital certificate information between exhibition sites, KDM distributors, and/or content owners. The FLM carries information identifying and describing a device and providing the details of its digital cinema certificate. It is based on the format specified in SMPTE 430-3 and uses XML to represent the D-Cinema Digital Certificate information specified in SMPTE 430-2, secured using standardized XML encryption. Current standards work includes ST430-15 and ST430-15.
For exhibitors and distributors a key advantage will be the ability to register automatically the details of equipment (a server, for example) when it is changed, so that shows aren’t lost when KDMs don’t match due to last-minute equipment changes. Such an operation depends upon having extensive databases of information about cinemas. Work at CineCert aims at being able to send KDMs by email to individual screens, not just cinemas. They are developing a system to track status of a KDM and enable the sender to know the film has been ingested and is working properly .
Mats Erixon, Media System Specialist at the Community Hub Foundation explained how he currently teaches remote production and fibre-based communication on TV-Media education courses at universities. He has implemented bi-directional societal services for culture and education over local, national and international networks, mostly in the Nordic market. His key message was ‘use your fibres!’. He explained how he has set up an experimental network to allow remote 4K image editing and distribution. Switching and mixing video and sound signals completely in the IP domain is possible if latency can be kept low, but Mats said there are still parts of the puzzle to be resolved — no totally IP-based system yet exists. They are looking at live theatre and drama, the aim being to be able to cut and render live signals on the fly to allow collaboration at distances of up to 1,000kM.
The Foundation cannot afford the costs of dealing with high-end production values, so they are experimenting with use of simple static cameras (with 5.1/7.1 sound) to cover cultural events made available, via fibre, to a range of audiences. Costs are low, perhaps €4,000 for technology to get such shows to a range of regional audiences. The Foundation plans to use fibre networks to distribute locally produced cultural and educational events, and they would like cinemas to be the places that people go to attend them. Mats stressed it is not pictures and sound alone, but ‘presence’ they want to achieve. The Foundation has started with music teaching for pupils in rural areas. Two-way fibre means teachers and pupils can work together easily. Trials showed that HD can be acceptable from images off a 5m-wide stage, but 4K is needed to bring ‘presence’ to images from larger stages. Bi-directional communication is essential, hence the need for a fast network. The Foundation expects to connect some 30 schools in Scandinavia shortly, and Mats left with the message ‘Join our project to bring varied content and wider audiences to your cinema!’
Radoslav Markov from Audio Video Orpheus in Bulgaria talked about full colour gamut projection, explaining that the launch of the Rainbow Gamut Alliance was aimed at by-passing current discussions on ‘wide color gamut’ to develop the ultimate ‘Full Color Gamut’. He explained that the system in development will allow projection of more than 95% of the IEC colour triangle. Extra colour gamut information is used in the camera, scanning, mastering and projection stages, and extra colour information attached to the DCP as additional metadata. This can be used to control the projection process, using modified projectors. 16-bit colour is required throughout the system. The system uses the latest developments of lasers, quantum optics and photonics, and represents a considerable development in colour science technologies. Radoslav described the basic imaging techniques —each pixel on the imaging chip has a filter, with each pixel covering a different primary colour. Effectively, multi-spectral chips provide XYZ encoding for every pixel. In these days when xenon projectors are being regarded as passé by some, Radoslav said that sunlight or xenon lamps provide the best illumination for full-spectrum display. Join the alliance at www.fullcolorgamut.xyz
Co-operation is the key
David Hancock closed the session with a look at the current work of the EDCF. In 2017, EDCF has held an Annual Convention, organised an LA Studio Tour, taken part in ISDCF sessions at CineEurope and CinemaCon, and he said that current work organising SMPTE DCP testing in Europe is a good example of how co-operation can lead to great things. He invited new members to join the EDCF and reminded members of the forthcoming Annual Convention to be held at Barco’s ‘One Campus’ in Belgium.