Sunday, June 29, 2014

3D Film Conversion in 2014-2015

3D Film Conversion - New Challenges

Originally published in CIO Review
To the naysayers proclaiming the demise of 3D, I respond by informing them that eight out of the top ten highest grossing films in 2013 were 3D, with six of those films being converted from 2D-to-3D. The fact is 3D continues to bring in very attractive box office revenue numbers. Consequently, the major studios are not about to abandon 3D releases and leave incremental ticket sales on the table. With that in mind, this year the industry will be releasing more 3D films than ever and 3D will start to have a dramatic influence on other industries including advertising, television broadcasting and visual display markets. As a leader in 2D-to-3D conversion services, the following article leverages our expertise to take a closer look at the 3D industry and further examine IT challenges and solutions.
"With a 4K production pipeline plan in place VFX and conversion studios must be able to handle 4 times the amount of data as high definition"
2D-to-3D Conversion Industry
The conversion industry has matured to the point where the short list of major players have it figured out and have developed advanced pipelines. While each new film brings with it unique technical challenges, there are few—if any—surprises that negatively influence a converted film. One of the most significant features of any conversion pipeline is flexibility. Pipelines need to be sufficiently adaptable to take on smaller projects such as commercials or movie trailers. The less pipeline stages and related specialist hands that smaller projects require, the greater the profit margin. Each feature film project typically goes through the same series of processes, requiring robust asset and production management tracking and control.

The increased bandwidth and storage required for Ultra High Definition (UHD) and in the future, High Dynamic Range (HDR) will create new technical challenges for visual effects facilities and 3D conversion houses. UHD was again a buzzword throughout the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show. However, it was HDR TVs that really won attendees over. HDR displays a wider gamut of color and it’s considerably brighter than a normal TV.  It comes much closer to the way our eyes see color.  The whole image is enhanced to the point where it looks “photo real.” Over the next year, we’ll see these technologies develop and start to infiltrate all aspects of the media sector.
A general mandate in the industry is to have a 4K production pipeline in place. That means that VFX studios must be able to handle 4 times the amount of data as high definition, and when you add another image representing a second eye in 3D conversion, it creates an 8K challenge for servers and render farms. Many of the large industry players, like Legend3D, have already developed or are in the process of developing 4K pipelines in anticipation of future studio demands.
The Global Workflow
Today all of the major conversion companies are consolidating operations in territories like Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, where they are finding the most attractive government subsidies. With the price-per-minute cost of conversion continuing to go down, many of the major conversion vendors are also finding it necessary to outsource work, primarily to India, as a means of remaining competitive by supplementing their operations in tax incentive havens. This global approach is essential for budget management but has placed significant emphasis on the logistics of moving huge amounts of data in the most secure fashion. According to Legend3D Director of IT Anthony Lopez, “While there are clear advantages to outsourcing work worldwide, you always need to be vigilant and committed to the efficiency of how you move data to ensure that your global teams have timely access to their work.”

The Art of Selecting Partners
Partnerships with storage providers and software vendors are essential to the success and viability of visual effects companies serving entertainment studios. The conversion process requires state-of- the-art software and complex storage facilities to keep high-profile operations running smoothly and accessible 24/7.
To achieve this, it’s recommended to research skilled vendors who offer the flexibility to customize services to fit your exact needs. Ultimately, you want a partner that introduces added efficiencies, understands your business and can match your exact needs with minimal changes required to your current IT processes.

Parting Thoughts
Given the rapidly changing technology industry and fast-paced demands of the media sector, it’s pivotal that IT departments in this business stay one step ahead of the curve and are always dialed into the latest trends and upcoming technologies.
The bottom line is that 2D-to-3D conversion is continuing to thrive within the Hollywood community. The playing field has changed considerably and strategic outsourcing for cheaper labor and tax incentives is playing a significant role in bringing the cost of conversion down. Conversion companies must continue to advance their technologies to stay ahead of the curve and remain a market leader. One cannot minimize the importance of a strong Director of IT and a cohesive IT department, along with strategic partners, to both accommodate challenges and handle the logistics of moving data around the globe in a timely and secure way.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Amazon 3D Smartphone Could Revolutionize Cell Phone Display Screens

Amazon Smartphone: 3D Retina Technology Could Revolutionize Cell Phone Display Screens

on June 18 2014 1:33 PM Originally Published in International Business Times
Audience wearing 3D glasses watches a Kraftwerk show

When rumors began to circulate in recent weeks that the June 18 Amazon event would in fact be a launch party unveiling the e-commerce company’s new 3D smartphone, the tech world responded with a collective shrug. Hollywood has spent decades working to convince TV and movie audiences that 3D is a thing of the future, if only people were willing to wear a pair of plastic blue-and-red glasses.
Developers and film veterans wondered out loud why the future-focused Amazon, which has teased drone delivery and sparred with struggling book publishers, would try to go down the same path along which so many others have failed. But a 3D phone might actually be crazy enough to work, and possibly be successful enough to change consumer expectations about new products.
Dr. Barry Sandrew – a technology patent owner and the founder, CTO, and COO of Legend3D, which converts 2D video into 3D format – said a smartphone, if developed the right way, could be the perfect entry point for a public ever hungry for a flashy new device.
“I believe that residual stigma attached to 3D came not from bad theatrical 3D conversions but from the consumer electronics industry, which introduced 3D TV too fast and with too much hype,” he said in an email to IBTimes. “Consumers were not ready because there was simply not enough content to make the purchase of a 3D TV worthwhile. In addition, I think it’s clear that the requirement of wearing 3D glasses became a negative issue – due primarily to influence from the media.”
To replicate “Avatar’s” success, and avoid the fate of a colossal flop like “Step Up 3D,” Sandrew said Amazon has no choice but to properly utilize autostereo (a concept that essentially boils down to glasses-free 3D viewing). This technology requires customers to “position themselves within a sweet spot in front of the image so that an overlaid sheet of corrugated ridges accurately refract reflected light to the appropriate eye,” Dr. Sandrew explained.
Advertisers have found success with this “sweet spot” when installing a 3D sign into a casino lobby, for instance, where someone approaching a sign would see it as blurry only to stare directly at it and find a bright, imaginative sign. An Amazon 3D phone could find the same success, with customers having little choice but to stare directly at their screen to use it.
“When applied to single users devices like smartphones, tablets and even laptops, the sweet spot limitation is not as much of an issue because the user typically positions their head in front of the display and can move the device backward and forward from their eyes to get an optimized stereo effect,” Dr. Sandrew went on.
As 3D TV developers have learned the hard way, the autostereo challenge could still be insurmountable for larger screens. Designers would need to conceive of some way to replicate that sweet spot for people sitting in different areas while looking at the same screen in a room.
“I’ve seen some decent quality autostereo video and images on smartphones such as the discontinued HTC 3D phone and I’ve seen adequate autostereo on a handful of tablets that are just making their debut in the market,” Sandrew said. “However it’s been clear that the technology has a long way to go before it can be considered a solid consumer product – that is, hopefully, until now.” 

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Fate Of Theatrical Exhibition in the Digital Age of TV

How Movie Theaters Will Get Their Mojo Back

                             Also published in Wired Innovation Insights - June 13, 2014

In a recent interview conducted by TheWrap I discussed how advances in home entertainment display technology will very likely trump today's movie going experience. Indeed, the next generation of home entertainment TVs will not only have greater spatial resolution and 3D, but they will also include High Dynamic Range (HDR) which significantly opens up the color gamut from 8 bits per color to 10 or 12 bits per color.  This increases the range and shades of emitted color from 36% of the CIE color space to almost 76%, creating a viewing experience that more closely mimics the color resolution of the human eye.

Advances in Digital TV Require New Standardization Specs

The latest advances in digital TV technology have spawned a new standard called Rec 2020 which is intended to replace the old Rec 709 High Definition (HD) TV standard set back in the '90's.  Rec 2020 establishes standards for 4K and 8K resolutions, which are 4 times and 8 times the resolution of our current HD TVs respectively, various high frame rates (HFR) up to 120 frames per second, as well as significantly greater brightness, up to 40 to 50 times the brightness of contemporary TVs along with an accompanying increase in contrast. Of course, most big screen TVs will also feature immersive 3D that requires passive glasses. As I stated in The Wrap interview, these dramatic innovations in home entertainment will most certainly pose a competitive advantage over our neighborhood multiplex and megaplex theater chains because our home TVs will eventually offer a far superior visual experience.

Standards In Screen Projection Will Become Essential To The Survival Of Theaters 

Xenon Bulb
I'm not including IMAX in this discussion of advanced digital TV's competitive advantage against theatrical exhibition because they are already going the direction of laser projection.  The value chain of IMAX has always been and continues to be unique to that particular format, providing an optimum standardized viewing and audio experience. But traditional theaters often do not adhere to a single standard for their exhibition screens. Entertainment professionals mandate that theatrical exhibition of first run feature films should always be projected at a minimum of 6 ft lamberts but all too often, the projector bulbs in movie theaters are either set considerably lower, often at 3.5 ft lamberts or less and/or the bulbs have not been adequately maintained or switched out at the end of their maintenance life cycle. Cost is most often the factore in suboptimal theatrical exhibition. There is often a desire by the exhibitors to maximize bulb life by turning them down in brightness. The problem with this practice is that it invariably affects the movie going experience in a negative way. This is most true in 3D theaters where the 3D glasses further reduce the brightness of the projected image.

Does This Signal The Death Nell For Theater Exhibition?

Despite future advances in TV technology, theatrical exhibition of feature films will not go the way of the dinosaurs. In reality nothing could be further from the truth.  Theatrical exhibition will continue to thrive, but only if theater owners recognize early on that advances in digital TV technology will eventually cut into their margins. This should force them to reexamine the quality of their feature film viewing experience rather than simply concentrating on ancillary income streams from online loyalty campaigns and food concessions. The value chain of theatrical exhibition has to be refocused on the essential and historical value proposition of movie going–creating a unique viewing experience that justifies traveling to a theater and paying the price of a ticket to see a first run feature film.

As a consequence, I believe that exhibitors will have no choice but to upgrade their theaters with the latest laser projectors that will serve as a solid foundation for future advances in theatrical display.

Toward that end, the dawn of the Laser Projector for theatrical exhibition is upon us. High resolution, high dynamic range, 3D laser projectors being developed by Christie, Barco, NEC and others increase the projected brightness of a feature film from 3.5 ft lamberts to 14+ ft lamberts and both gamut and saturation will be far superior to current exhibition standards. If anything, I believe traditional theaters equipped with laser projection should be able to offer IMAX a run for its money. 

Will We See A Further Consolidation of Theater Chains?

We've seen the theater industry in the U.S. change considerably over the past two decades.  The age of the downtown family run theater has long past. If they have survived at all, these single screen theaters have typically been transformed into art houses.

The neighborhood theaters found it impossible to compete with the suburban and mall multiplex and megaplex theater chains which tend to draw audiences from 4 to 5 times the distance depending on the population density. With the coming of the next generation of TVs threatening to cut into the margins of literally all theatrical exhibition, I believe the critical yet costly requirement to upgrade to laser projection will force a greater consolidation of theater chains where only the best capitalized will thrive.

Will Feature Film Release Schedules and Distribution Continue To Collapse?

Feature film release schedules might change considerably because of the advances both in home and theatrical display devices. There are really two populations that need to be served–audiences who have the resources to purchase the latest TV and prefer to watch first run feature films at home and those who, because of personal preference or various economic and/or social reasons prefer to watch feature film releases in the theater.
We're already seeing simultaneous releases where first run feature films released into the theater are also offered on TV as day and date on-demand services. As the distinction between home theaters and multiplexes eventually diminish, I believe that simultaneous day and date streaming of first run feature films to the home will become the norm.

In Conclusion

I see the exciting and dynamic future of home entertainment display devices a necessary wake up call to theatrical exhibition owners. There will come a time in the not too distant future where the survivability of theater chains, facing looming technological superiority of the home entertainment market, will depend on their timely move from antiquated xenon bulbs to the superior technology of laser projection. While the upfront installation costs of laser projection are significant, the long term economic gains from the draw of larger and newer audiences as well as the savings in terms of labor and maintenance will more than justify the expense over time. As a result everyone wins.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

3D TVs - Too Much Too Fast Says Founder of Legend3D

‘Home TV Experience Will Soon Be Superior To Theater’Originally Published in The Wrap
LOS ANGELES, June 7, (RTRS): Hollywood will unleash 70 movies in 3D next year, the biggest year yet for the format, according to Barry Sandrew, the founder of 3D conversion company Legend 3D. While the number of movies released in 3D dropped 20 percent in 2014, Sandrew rejects any suggestion that 3D has slumped. “We’re looking at 2015 being the most 3D-heavy year ever,” Sandrew told TheWrap.

We can thank the international market for that, as countries like China build 3D movie theaters at an astounding clip. Hollywood leans on 3D and IMAX to differentiate the experience of watching a movie in a theater from what you can get at home — and charge more for it to boot. Sandrew told TheWrap the home experience will soon be “superior” to the theater, and studios will have to consider releasing their biggest movies everywhere at once.

Will you be able to watch “Transformers 6” at home while others see it in theaters? Possibly.

“Studios now release movies worldwide all at once and while rare, films such as "Noah" are  released internationally in 3D before being released in the U.S.; we thought that would never happen,” Sandrew said.

TheWrap spoke with Sandrew about watching 3D movies at home, why so much 3D is bad and the future of his company.

Question: You guys are a film company, but you want to talk about TV. Why?

Answer: Once high-dynamic range and 4K come to fruition in TV it will do what the theaters have always feared. It’s going to create a far superior experience at home relative to the theater. That’s always been the fear of exhibitors. People said color TV would be the end of theaters; obviously it didn’t have an effect. It’s still a huge industry.

But once we have these elements, HDR and 4K, it will be a better experience. This will force exhibitors to upgrade to laser projection.

Q: What is HDR?

A: Normally we only see 35 to 46 percent of the full color space. With high dynamic range you get almost 76 percent. It brings TV to the point where it really mimics the way we see; if you’ve seen it, you would feel you can’t do without it. It’s a brighter image.

With these improvements to the home viewing experience, will that lead to a decline in the theater going population? If we had HDR in 4K, it would be a far superior experience to going to a theater.

Q: Are there 4K TVs that are also HDR?

A: No, that will take a while to implement. We’re several years away. While 4K is very impressive, the mantra right now in the industry is 'we don’t want more pixels, we want better pixels.' When it comes down to it, that will be the future standard.

If you show someone a 4K TV, they won’t appreciate the resolution. You have to have a large TV and you have to sit closer to the TV. That bothers me. If you’ve seen an HDR TV, it doesn’t matter if you’re 15 feet away; it’s instantly a superior experience.

Q: Is there a timetable for the widespread adoption of TVs with these technologies?

A: It’s happening now, but people don’t realize it. The reason 3D didn’t take off is the consumer electronics industry shoved it down everyone’s throat. It was too much too fast. Now they play down the 3D, but it’s still there. If you want to buy a quality big screen TV, chances are it will be 3D-ready.

Q: So if I got buy a TV, it will come with 3D?

A: You'll know it; you’ll have glasses with it. You may not use it, but eventually you will.

Q: When can we watch 3D at home without the glasses?

A: We’re very far from seeing autostereo or glasses free 3D on our home TVs. It really irritates me that confusion remains in the industry regarding the status of autostereo.  Some consumers are actually delaying their purchase of 3D TVs because they think autostereo is already here or imminent.  The truth is, glasses free TV is neither here nor imminent. In fact I consider the technology inherently flawed for TV viewing because the observer has to be positioned precisely within a narrow sweetspot in front of the display device in order to appreciate the 3D effect.  This is less of an issue for single person display devices such as Amazon's announced autostereo 3D smartphone. Amazon's smartphone could be successful because it features eye tracking.  Eye tracking will adjust the position of the sweetspot to correspond with the position of the observers head.  Of course this requirement limits the number of people that can correctly see the 3D effect on a single device.  Consequently eye tracking of several people sitting in front of a TV is impractical.

Q: Most people are not eager to throw on 3D glasses at home, but if people start watching 3D TVs, what is the benefit to Legend?

A: The work we are creating will look superior at home and on TV. The studios haven’t been concentrating on TVs yet because there isn’t an installed base. Once its there, the focus will be greater. Hopefully well see TV shows in 3D. We’re also going to be a move to do catalog titles like “Top Gun” and “Little Mermaid.” Those are fantastic conversions, and there are so many titles that would be great in 3D.

Public sentiment seems to have shifted against 3D, but PricewaterhouseCoopers just issued a report saying the market for 3D has stabilized.

What do you think will happen?

2015 will be the biggest year yet for 3D movies with 70 movies. We’re looking at 2015 being the most 3D-heavy year ever. If you look at 2013, eight of the ten highest-grossing films were 3D. If you look at the all-time box office, the top seven movies were all released in 3D.
Only if you count the “Titanic” re-release.

Yes, so six. For 2014, the top 9 movies are all 3D. Internationally 3D is much hotter than it is in the U.S.