The Future of Ultra-HD: A Recent SMPTE Meeting Update

The following article was originally published on NoFilmSchool here.

UHD

Recently, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) organized a meeting to review the standardization for Ultra High-Definition Television (UHDTV). The need for standards is especially important since shipments of ultra high-def TV sets are expected to reach four million units by 2017.

Before attending the meeting, I reviewed the committee’s thorough report on their findings thus far. One of the more impressive facts is that the range of colors UHDTV can display encompasses nearly “twice the colors perceived by humans or that can be captured by a camera.”

Two standards are actually being developed. Simply called UHDTV1 and UHDTV2, the easiest way to distinguish them is by their frame dimensions. UHDTV1 would have a 4k resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels whereas UHDTV2 would have a whopping 8k resolution of 7,680 x 4,320 pixels. The standards would contain 10 and 12 bit depth, with chroma subsampling options at 4:4:4, 4:2:2 and 4:2:0. 8 bit, as well as interlacing and fractional framerates, would be discarded. The likely base framerate would be 120 frames per second, due in part that 120 is divisible by many popular framerates such as 24, 30, and 60. At such a high framerate, the “flicker fusion threshold,” a technical term for image flicker, would be greatly reduced.

This all seems like a great step forward. However, at the meeting I attended, it was clear there are numerous issues that confront the emerging technology. I spoke with John “Pliny” Eremic, an active member of the SMPTE Standards Community who now works at HBO. As former post-production manager at Offhollywood and co-owner of the first two shipping RED cameras, he’s been poised at the cutting edge of the video frontier for some time. Pliny says:

UHD is about more than spatial resolution. The areas where [the Standards Community is] looking to push the image are dynamic range, peak luminance, wider color gamut, temporal resolution meaning framerate, and spatial resolution.

To Pliny, the most important of these is dynamic range, and I tend to agree. Increasing only the resolution would do nothing to improve the image without also increasing the other aspects of the image, a detail consumer TV and camera manufacturers often seem to forget. Pliny goes on:

If you want to display more colors, there are certain colors you can’t hit unless you have a higher peak brightness. If you have higher peak brightness overall, the flicker fusion threshold actually changes. So an image that looks constantly illuminated when you are at 100 nits [a unit of measure for luminance], if you crank it up high enough, suddenly that same image looks flickery. Now you have to increase your refresh rate just to maintain the status quo of appearing constantly illuminated. If you have wider dynamic range on the display you’re going to need more bits to cover it to not get banding in things like skies and gradients. So all these things need to move in unison.

UHD

Besides considerations relating to image quality, other issues pertain to the physical cabling that carries the signals. As of now, a 6G-SDI cable is unable to transport a 4k video signal running at 60 frames per second at 12 bit in 4:4:4 color space. Two of them can’t even do it. To bandage the situation, more cables would need to be added into the pipeline, something that SMPTE board member Bill Miller considers unsustainable.

During his presentation at the SMPTE meeting, he delves into further detail to clarify some of the points in the report, and states we need new SDI technology that is capable of more data throughput, or an improvement in the image compression technology. Higher framerates are necessary, he says, and illustrates this visually with a high-motion image shot at 100 frames per second and the same subject at 50 frames per second.

UHD samsung

The 100 frames per second image is crisp. There’s even text in the image that can be read due to the video running at a higher shutter speed. The 50 frames per second image looks like the same motion-blurred image we’re accustomed to seeing in a movie clip. Miller maintains that if we’re not going to end up with a crisper image after we increase the resolution, what’s the point?

More frames means more data, and with 8k cameras shooting up to 72 gigabits per second, this data management soon becomes serious. The challenge is on for countries like Japan, who want to broadcast the 2020 Olympics in 8k.

As insurmountable as these issues seem, it’s prudent to consider them now to establish solid standards before hardware is developed and built. It will help ensure that technology is properly implemented and systems are integrated with a complete production pipeline that ends with a greatly enhanced viewing experience.

2013 International Drug Policy Reform Conference Highlights Increased Support For Deregulation

This article was originally published in the International Digital Times here.

 

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I’m packed inside a crowded elevator at the Sheraton Downtown Denver, Colorado’s largest hotel. As the car races down and settles onto the concourse level, someone in front of me remarks, “These drug guys are really serious.”

He’s referring to the attendees of the four-day Reform Conference that collects advocates from all corners of the globe to discuss sensible drug policy reform.

Speaking to thousands gathered in a cavernous conference hall, the opening speaker remarks, “Colorado was always the Mile-High City…even before marijuana reform.” The Centennial State, being on the forefront of recent marijuana legalization, is a fitting place to hold the summit. Beginning in January of next year, it will be legal to purchase marijuana in Colorado and Washington for recreational purposes as part of Amendment 64 and Initiative 502, respectively.

Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) that organized the conference, takes the stage to deliver a rousing, passionate speech delivered with such conviction that cheers burst from the audience. “We’ve hit the tipping point on marijuana. Fifty-eight percent of our citizens say it’s time to legalize it,” he says, citing a recent Gallup poll that shows the plant has gained increasing widespread acceptance since 2001, when only a third supported legalization. Our relationship to cannabis has changed from even five years ago, as evidenced by the recent boon of medical marijuana.

“There are three types of people here,” says Nadelmann, referring to the assembly of people gathered for the speech. “There are those who use drugs responsibly. Then there are the people that hate drugs, who’ve seen the horrors of drug addiction firsthand. And then there are those who don’t give a damn about drugs, but don’t want a war permeated on racism and increasing prison populations.”

A conference based on advocacy groups and public outreach needs this kind of fire if it’s going to affect real change. The reform movement isn’t about legalizing drugs so we can sit zonked out on the couch unable to move. It’s about fewer incarcerations for minor drug offenses. It’s about providing information about illicit substances to partygoers so they can be taken more responsibly. It’s about providing clean needles to addicts so they are less at risk of contracting or spreading HIV.

One might think the conference is comprised of Burning Man burnouts and acid casualties left over from the nineties rave scene. Rather, the turnout has brought together professors from Ivy League institutions, law enforcement officials against drug prohibition, concerned mothers against the drug war, and libertarians and conservatives that maintain they should have the freedom to do what they want to their bodies. It’s an enormous cross-section of people, perhaps because the issue cuts across many lifestyles, at the center of it all being basic human rights, many of which have been eroded over time by the pointless slog of Nixon’s War on Drugs.

The conference addresses the complex issue of how we interact with illicit substances through intellectual discourse. Some of the varied topics discussed involve the politics of drug research, challenges in dealing with the United Nations, harm reduction, and how the legalization of psychedelics may be a very different journey than the one for marijuana. A vendor area outside the panel rooms hosts a plethora of advocacy groups, many of which have lengthy reports free for the taking. With staples of the scene such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) but also lesser-known groups like Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), the Harborside Health Center cannabis dispensary, and Good Chemistry, there is a lot of information to soak in. There are several film screenings as well as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) sessions provided in tandem with the conference.

I attended a similar conference in Oakland earlier this year organized by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), an organization at the forefront of developing legitimate experiments on various psychoactive compounds sanctioned by both the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This conference is more research-oriented than Reform, and is centered on single speakers explaining recent findings in their clinical trials. One such study concerns MDMA, or Ecstasy, which has sparked recent concern in the news as the current party drug. Researchers at MAPS are finding the substance, which began as a therapeutic drug, has enormous value in a clinical setting for helping war veterans deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. LSD (“acid”) and Psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) have been administered to terminally ill cancer patients to help ease their end-of-life anxiety. Ayahuasca and Ibogaine have been utilized to cease smoking in people inhaling over a pack a day, and most recently, concerned parents petitioned for permission to use a marijuana tincture to treat their five year-old son’s seizures.

These kinds of research seem to suggest drugs may have some uses given the appropriate context. Substances traditionally thought of as harmful could be thought of as potential tools for understanding ourselves as well as treating a range of maladies. Prohibiting alcohol during the 1920s and 30s led to an increase in mafia activity and an underground criminal market. It is no historical secret that alcohol continued to be consumed in large quantities. Similarly, drug prohibition has not been shown to cease usage. The lack of information and safety, compounded with an uncontrolled black market fueled by existent consumer demand, leads to more indirect victims of the drug war. This was most recently seen in the tragic deaths at the Electric Zoo Festival in New York City, deaths that might have been prevented if the users were informed of the composition of the substances they were taking. Decriminalization and regulation of scheduled substances points to a better way of interacting with narcotics. The Transform Drug Policy Foundation has helped launch this conversation by publishing an exhaustive report titled “After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation” which discusses five possible regulatory scenarios of varying restrictiveness that could provide better alternatives than the systems currently in place. These are modeled after regulatory systems for more societally acceptable substances, such as alcohol, tobacco, and prescription medications.

Though marijuana distribution will soon become a reality for the denizens of Colorado, there is still a lot of work for improving public policy and generating public awareness. During the conference, a victory march for Amendment 64 was organized through the 16th Street Mall, the main strip of retail stores and restaurants in downtown Denver. As conference attendees shouted for “No more drug war,” it reminded me that while there was progress, the battle was far from over. Still, the amendment is a testament to how social mores can change if the right message, coupled with accurate information, is put behind it. The comment the observer in the elevator made about “drug guys” being serious is true, because these are issues worth being serious about.

On the final day of the conference, Nadelmann again rallies his troops by showing a video shot by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union covering the conference. I’m surprised by how quickly the film came together; it’s surreal to be watching an event I’m still attending.

The conference concludes with Ira Glasser, the Board President of the DPA and former Executive Director of the ACLU. As if echoing my sentiment from the march, he states that, “We haven’t won yet. This isn’t because it’s only two out of fifty states, but because it’s one issue of many.” Speaking in a slow, thoughtful voice, he continues, “This isn’t the beginning of the end, but it just may be the end of the beginning.”

Colorist/Editor profile on PostPerspective

Originally published on PostPerspective here.

Meet the Colorist/Editor: Tristan Kneschke

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NAME: Tristan Kneschke

COMPANY: New York City-based Exit Editorial (www.exitedit.com)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
My one-man company provides offline editorial services and specializes in color grading. I have a fully mobile DaVinci Resolve kit that I messenger around town in cases for clients without resources to put together their own system.

I set up at their facility as a way of simplifying the workflow so that editorial changes can happen in tandem, or my client can jump into a meeting nearby while I continue to work.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
CEO, Founding Editor and Colorist

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
In addition to performing the work of an editor and colorist, I act as my own producer, which means there’s lots of schedule balancing every week. Since my set-up is mobile I coordinate pick-up and drop-offs with messengers. If I need to set up for a job, I arrive at the facility to get everything arranged the day before so that in the morning the client and I can focus on the work without any technical issues.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I regularly meet people who don’t understand what a colorist does. I tell people that it’s similar to Photoshop retouching, but for the moving image. If I have the opportunity to demo the system in front of them, I love watching them discover the magic of what’s possible.

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A recent Nissan spot.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The most exciting aspect is a job I’m really psyched about. I love working with great creatives who exhibit good taste and improve the project. Some days can be what I call a “battle for the reel,” but every once in a while all the stars align and the work becomes more than the sum of its parts.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
I spend more time than I’d like hounding late payments.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I think mysterious things happen at night. While I love my job and wouldn’t trade it for anything, I also have a life outside work, and it’s great to reconnect with the people that enrich my life on a weekly basis.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I would likely be writing or be involved with music. I do both on the side now.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION? HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
My mother is a photographer and my dad is an electrical engineer. So being a colorist combines the two aspects I’ve inherited from my parents, which is artistic attention to detail coupled with a technical-minded way of studying things. I pursued the film industry because it balances these two characteristics perfectly.

I originally went to school for music, but then found I enjoyed directing films. When I got my first internship at a post house I realized I preferred that, and color grading developed out of a desire to improve the work I was cutting at the time.

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Colgate with Kelly Ripa

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I’ve been working on jobs for Holiday Inn, Amazon, Target, Victoria’s Secret, Royal Caribbean and Colgate.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My control surface (The JL Cooper Eclipse) for coloring is a must, it makes me much faster and prevents carpal tunnel! A Wacom tablet provides quicker responses than a mouse, and my Nord synthesizer because it makes the sickest sounds. Sometimes it’s just fun to see what kind of crazy stuff it can make.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
In addition to postPerspective, I regularly follow news on Feedly and another industry blog, NoFilmSchool.