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Exciting Technology & Direct Connection: CinemaCon 2012 – Feature

CinemaCon, like its namesake Showest before it, has always been about exciting the theater owners with new technology and product meant to get them pumped for their direct connection to the customer. While the textures of this year from “Life Of Pi” to “Skyfall” provided some interesting visions, none was more discussed or contested like the footage that Peter Jackson showed of “The Hobbit”, shot at 48fps, which only a year or so after the acceptance of 3D and the near conversion to full digital, takes the string up one more notch. It is all about what you show.

Paramount Heading into summer, Paramount opened the con by honoring Dwayne Johnson with the “Action Star Of The Decade Award” with studio head Rob Moore calling him “franchise viagra”. Johnson, with his textbook charm along with director John Chu, best known for the”Step Up” films, introduced a dexterous element of scenes from the film which both showed humor and drama. Next, Tom Cruise, in a taped greeting from the set of “Oblivion” [directed by Joe Kosinski] in Baton Rouge, spoke before showing scenes from “Jack Reacher” directed by Christopher McQuarrie whose last helming outing was “Way Of The Gun”. Two scenes adapted from the graphic novel distinctified “tone” which Cruise mentioned in his opening remarks. Rob Moore then turned the stage over to Jeffrey Katzenberg who, after a great year with “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Puss In Boots”, brought “Madagascar 3” and “The Guardians”. The third entry into the “Madagascar” franchise showed almost 15 minutes of the opening optimizing new animation techniques since the last one in the series with Chris Rock coming on stage saying that it was the best so far adding that some parts were “trippy” which reflected in a circus montage. “The Guardians” based on a children’s book is a completely different animal using “myth” and “belief” to approach its subject matter with an edge and texture. Chris Pine who leads the cast as the voice of “Jack Frost” spoke about the key in the character to finding “the center”. Interestingly, the whole time he was speaking, all of his remarks also applies everything he sees in this character to James Kirk for which he is currently shooting the sequel to “Star Trek” as. The ending of the presentation did not disappoint with Sascha Baron Cohen making his second public appearance as “The Dictator” complete with girls and soldiers in tow and walking through the crowd. After throwing some zingers on stage as is his MO, Cohen as the character angled out Katzenberg as the other “dictator” in the room before announcing (which most thought as a joke) that the film would be screening at 11pm up the Strip and that it was not a threat before he exited with great fanfare as Katzenberg kissed his ring.

Warner Brothers The texture of Warner Brothers relies in being able to follow up the powerhouse of Harry Potter. While the arrival of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp to introduce an extended trailer of “Dark Shadows”, it was Christopher Nolan talking about shooting almost a 1/3 of his “Dark Knight Rises” in IMAX that offered a stemming view of a brooding dark conclusion so much so that Adam Shankman who showed an extended trailer of “Rock Of Ages” including the first bit of Tom Cruise singing threw a “you fucker” line at Nolan because of how unbelievable bad ass it was. Director Jay Roach then talked about the balance of political “broo-haha” in regards to  his new film:”The Campaign” starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. However it was moving into fall that offered the most interesting view with the first glimpse of footage from Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” in 3D which Luhrmann explained in a taped message from Australia allows you to see the actors shine without any visual effects. Lastly, Peter Jackson introduced in 3D from New Zealand, the first footage of 48 frames per second from “The Hobbit”. Like seeing “Avatar” for the first time, it takes some getting used to because it is a completely different movie experience in terms of perception with Jackson showing distribs around 10 minutes of footage. One piece in particular showing Gollum’s face very close to camera shows the distinctiveness of this frame rate as do flying shots (like those seen in the original trilogy). Another one very specific to the changing viewpoint of the immersion of the technology is when Gandalf is alone in the catacombs. The depth of the shot makes you think you are actually there though the process does retain an almost HD camera quality in terms of perspective which is rather hard to describe.

Disney Balancing out with the texture of brand specifications from Warner, the Mouse House used the cross structure promotion with Marvel, Pixar and Dreamworks to fuel the fire. Marvel presented a short clip from “The Avengers” intermixing Iron Man, Thor and Captain America with bone-crunching sound followed directly with the announcement of Thor II and Captain America II before Marvel President Kevin Feige showed a small clip leading to the production of Iron Man III which begins production in North Carolina later in the month. Progressing into Dreamworks, the aspect of “People Like Us” starring Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks (and directed by Alex Kurtzman of “Star Trek” and “Fringe” frame) capitalizes on the studio’s penchant for more novel based forms. “Lincoln” which makes its distribution stateside through Fox, was also mentioned, without texture of a trailer likely to be seen at Fox’s Presentation two days later. Disney Pictures itself started quietly with sleeper quality textures of the stop motion film “Frankenweenie” directed by Tim Burton which does contain odes to Brad Bird’s “Family Dog” episode of “Amazing Stories” and definitely suburban angles of “Edward Scissorhands”. “The Odd Life Of Timothy Green” starring Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton seems more reminiscent of Disney fantasy/morality films of the 70s like “Pete’s Dragon” depending on the tone of the eventual picture. “The Wonderful World Of Oz”, which just completed filming just a couple weeks ago, boasts a great pedigree in director Sam Raimi re-teaming with his “Spiderman” villain James Franco as the titular character here. The story details unearthed by the director speak to an interesting betrayal in the story of sorts centering around Mila Kunis’ character which fuels the intentions of what happens in the world. The footage shown dictates a mixture of sets, which producer Joe Roth identified as Detroit, as well as some interestingly created background CG mattes which might or might not be the final textures. Conversely, Jerry Bruckheimer was brought out by current live action film prexy Sean Bailey after a short live stage bit about Kermit wanting to be the Lone Ranger and Miss Piggy wanting to be the Good Witch in Oz. Entertaining for sure. Bruckheimer spoke of them shooting in Arizona with Johnny Depp coming out and speaking as well. Depp made reference to that fact that “I just saw a frog and pig out here. Did anybody else see that?” When asked about Tonto, Depp deferred in a show of modesty saying, kindly, that he wants the theater owners to see it when it is done. With no footage to speak of for the title with the exception of a photo, details are still scarce. John Lasseter, head of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, came out next to discuss his slate. “Wreck It Ralph” is a non-Pixar film which is interesting in its own right following a bad guy in an 8-bit video game stuck in an arcade. Lasseter spent a good ten minutes setting up the premise and characters before showing the first ten minutes of the film. John C. Reilly, who spoke about trying to improvise during the recordings with sometimes co-star Sarah Silverman, gives a definite heart to the character. A specific “bad guys anonymous” scene represents this with a dexterity and tongue-in-cheek element replete with visual gag cues. Representing beyond and speaking into the Pixar mode, the announcements in terms of new structures (beyond “Monster University”) border on more esoteric which might be undeniably groundbreaking with one being “The Last Dinosaur” with only a silhouette of a brachiosaurus present and another one that can be encapsulated as “Journey Into The Mind” but probably not in the “Fantastic Voyage” way. Finally, as a perspective of a film which has been interestingly placed without any real knowledge of it, Lasseter unspooled nearly a half-hour of “Brave” which follows the exploits of a tomboyish princess in the highlands of Scotland. While interesting echoes of Robin Hood play through especially when the heroes take disguise, what does seem to ring through. which was not prevalent before as much in the other Pixar movies (because this is inherently a human world), is the reactions of the animals and others in a more realistic way which was a hallmark of say “Beauty & The Beast”. It shows how the feature animation side of Disney is being impacted by Lasseter. While not at the full potential of Disney because of responsibility to the shareholders, he is pushing the bar in subtle ways as he can.

Filmmaker Forum: Martin Scorsese & Ang Lee Whenever you get Martin Scorsese in the room, the perspective becomes one of a film class which is interesting when he is speaking to a roomful of theater owners. The impact of “The Hobbit” footage at 48fps had been ringing for about 24 hours and everybody had an opinion on it, both good and bad. This forum was more about 3D with Scorsese’s “Hugo” pushing the barrier last year in terms of serious filmmakers from a dramatic point of view. Ang Lee, mostly known for his more direct non-genre dramas (but Oscar-winning fare) recently immersed himself in 3D for his Christmas release “Life Of Pi” which many said to be “unfilmable” (and for good perspective reason). While it is interesting to see these men discuss the virtues of this medium, it almost feels like they are behind the ball because the technology is moving so fast. Before the discussion began, a sample of 120fps technology was shown. The eye cannot see, for what is being said, beyond 60fps. The footage here was more smooth gliding elements but the separation dictates the depth. This is one thing that did interact in terms of the Scorsese/Lee discussion because lighting becomes even more of an important structure which Lee said drove him mad in certain respects on “Pi”. Scorsese reflects that the I/O, which determines depth in 3D, was something he and his cinematographer Robert Richardson constantly toiled with on “Hugo”. He however said it was one shot when Sascha Baron Cohen is staring down into the camera with his dog in forced perspective that gave him chills because it showed what the technology was capable of doing. Lee, still in the midst of figuring everything out on his movie, spoke on the essence of using water since a lot of his movie takes place in the ocean. The Taiwanese government ended up building him a massive tank but the camera was the first to use a housing to shoot 3D actually underwater. Neither had seen “The Hobbit” footage so they could not comment though Scorsese seemed visibly intrigued at everyone’s reaction. He compared it to a movie he showed to his daughter, her school friends and some of their mothers at his home in New York recently. It was from back in the 30s where the aspect ratio and the color changes during the film (much like “Wizard Of Oz” in some respects). People, he said, spoke the same way about color. It is just something that will eventually, after growth spurts, become a mainstay. 3D took a little longer but eventually is having its day.

Sony While franchises seem to pile on with respect to the Sony brand, the intention seems to reflect that bigger is better quality. While “MIB 3” and “Total Recall” showed extended structures in 2D, it is interesting to perceive their eventual release.The time travel perspective of Men In Black does not quite have its plot direction set in the footage shown but the humor, as always, plays dry and loose with Josh Brolin doing a spot on impression that you would almost think that Tommy Lee Jones is doing the voice over. “Total Recall” oddly enough recreates an almost deja-vu situation because the set ups in terms of plot device to the original are eerily similar with a swig of “The Fifth Element” thrown into the mix. The world is intense and Kate Beckinsale, melding a character that mixes Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside from the original, is bad-ass especially in an extended foot chase sequence that just screamed with adrenalin yet felt wholly original. The intention of what Douglas Quaid is being accused of here is played a little more than conjecture. “That’s My Boy” looks to bring Adam Sandler back to full resolution after the misfire that was “Jack & Jill” but the man experiments with comedy (albeit more low brow) much like Will Ferrell but with more success on an ongoing basis. This is an R-rated romp that has textures of “Little Nicky” but with more curse words and breasts. Sort of like Billy Madison grown up. It looks hilarious because Sandler’s character can go nuts because Andy Sandberg takes on Adam’s usual role with aplomb. It should kill for sure. And as the announcements proved, “Grown Ups 2” is around the corner a summer from now. “The Amazing Spiderman” also seems to be trying to find its footing. The hardest thing in rebooting the franchise is selecting the right tone and space within which to set it. The humor and action shown here is seeking a balance for sure and the scale surely feels much bigger than the last franchise. Andrew Garfield’s approach is more aloof at times though Emma Stone stabilizes the structure. Denis Leary as the police captain who sees Spiderman as a threat will bring some added tension and the more comprehensive view of Lizard Man promises interesting feelings but it all contains relevance in heart depending on the end product. “Resident Evil: Retribution” shows Paul W.S. Anderson pushing the 3D ideals but the mythology is getting extremely deep. However as long as Milla Jovovich can wield a sword and guns with fire blazing behind her (with extended I/O mind you) people will flock. The final perception allowed was a first look at the Bond film “Skyfall” directed by Sam Mendes. The teaser is dark with overcast skies and dark rooms. It seems almost built like a brainwash sequence. The music is rumbling and has tendencies of foreboding much like “Road To Perdition” which gave chills. Granted it gives no perspective of overall story but the tone indicated feels much like “The Dark Knight Rises”: a dark humor that mixes with tragedy.

20th Century Fox With two summer films that hang on the precipice with different elements at stake, the ideas are humming. With “Prometheus” and a bang up viral campaign, director Ridley Scott seems to know what he is doing. The extended trailer showing the landing sequence onto the planet in its full glory has a dexterity and industrial feeling that only Scott can do. “Alien” DNA plays heavily into the trailer from the ship to the Space Jockey. The blood letting definitely paints it well. It looks phenomenal on the big screen. “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” I have been interacting with over the past couple months. It is a near idea that is perched between real life and genre which is always a hard sell. Director Timor Bekmambetov has the chops to make it happen and the new footage plays to more the historical basis and less of the acrobatics which may be a conscious decision. “Neighborhood Watch” is another interesting amalgamation with Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill moving into an alien invasion hybrid comedy where they become defenders of their community, swilling beer and taking no bullshit. It is interesting but the line being walked is a tightrope. The final perception to be mentioned on Fox’s upcoming slate is “Life Of Pi”, Ang Lee’s 3D epic to be released at Christmas. Lee showed one sequence and one scene from the film to show what he is trying to do. What comes across for sure is a necessity to use 3D as a storytelling mechanism of immersion. The sequence involves the marooning of the lead character on the ocean and the sinking of the freighter he is traveling on. At first it seems almost simple but the single long takes show a deeper thought at work. Like “Titanic” in a way but more intimate, Lee’s camera follows the actor (picked from a worldwide casting search) underwater trying to save his family who is trapped in the water below deck. The 3D camera picks up the bubbles which gives a much more real feel. Pi, the lead character, ends up on a life raft which a zebra (there are a lot of animals on the ship) jumps onto. The perspective of that and then a Bengal tiger (an integral part of the story) jumping on as well while rain is pouring down, makes on realize that there is a lot of stuff going on technically here. One of the most beautiful shots comes around this point where you can see the sinking ship lingering below Pi in an overhead shot with its lights still on. He disappears below the surface and you get a sense of scale. When 3D starts to be used for this kind of thing (which Cameron embraces as well) is when you will get some killer stuff. The other scene Lee showed is very reminiscent of “Old Man & The Sea”. You can tell at a point it is in a studio stage while Pi and The Tiger fight over their food of flying fish along with tuna that sail into the boat. It has that aspect of Anthony Quinn and the primal fight. The tiger (which is probably CG but it is so seamless as not to be believed) blows Aslan from “Narnia” out of the water with its reality.

CinemaCon, showing new advances, continues to challenge theater owners and, by extension, audiences by trying to keep up with changing technology and rights conversion which, while exciting, always seems to come with a bit of apprehension but ultimately interest.

IR First Look: WAR HORSE [Disney/Dreamworks]

Disney just provided IR with this new behind-the-scenes still from “War Horse” directed by Steven Spielberg and due for release in late December 2011.

3D Innoventions & IP Revolutions: The 2010 Consumer Electronics Show – Feature

The stagnancy of the consumer electronics business can be referenced to a recessed economy globally for sure. But the key becomes an aspect of freshness. The 2010 CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas tends to prove that. Three years ago, the angle of 3D was being played with (albeit in a smaller way by Texas Instruments through their DLP brand). With the hype and now the overwhelming success of James Cameron’s “Avatar”, everyone is form is rushing to get on the boat and put some real money behind it. This was to avail most at Sony’s press day conference with one of its heavy hitters as revealed by Sir Howard Stringer, head of Sony Corporation globally.

Innoventions Before the press interaction begins prior to the first day of the show, the Innoventions reception is supposed to be able to highlight those new items that will intensify the presence of mind. What was available did not stand out despite a necessity of presence with both storage and 3D lingering in the background. Sensio was pushing their element of 3D with Vizio which was reflected in their apps store which was later eclipsed by Samsung’s announcement of similar outlay. The SD Association was showing their perceptions of the next couple years within the ability of SD cards to reach capacities of 1TB within 5 years but with no true accessibility yet to back it up. Pop Box also seen is just one of the many set top boxes attempting to bring new content into the home. However the universality of the apps process will have to come to play because not every manufacturer can create their own content pipeline.

OnStar w/Volt Recruited by girls in white shirts after the martinis of Innoventions had permeated flowed the wanton traveler into a nearby room hued in blue. There, Onstar proceeded to highlight their new technology for the Chevy Volt, a fully electric car. What the company was presenting was the ability of their new app on the Droid phone to control every facet of the car including watching where the charge is from a nearby angle, unlocking the door and otherwise controlling many amenities of the vehicle’s use.

Pioneer Starting off the essence of the ensuing press day within the Sands Expo on the cusp of The Venetian, Pioneer (formerly regarded as a leading consumer front facing home entertainment manufacturer) is now entrenched more fully within the automotive high-end industry with a focus on audio. The introspection of MusicSphere, one of their new technologies, takes the angle with a touch screen using “its own facets to control itself”. Their Pandora system will be interlinking MusicSphere with the other car systems but lacks full interactive application. Another interim of this UI is based within the use of Pioneer’s new Eco Tracking device which allows people to see the efficiency and impact of their vehicle. However, Karen Rubin, Director Of Product Planning at Pioneer, says that that the system does not retain or transmit back GPS locations in an effort to maintain the privacy of the customer. Voice recognition is also built into the touch screen functionality optimizing Bluetooth but such intents where not readily made until questioning.

Casio The smaller electronics manufacturer, specifically known for its watches (among other things) highlighted its propensity for high burst camera functionality which was touched on by founder Kazuo Kashio in his opening remarks. John Homlish, EVP of Sales & Marketing, then proceeded to focus on the Elixim line of cameras which allows (within a point and shoot [the EX-FH100 model] high speed photo bursts as well as high speed movie recording within 10x optical zoom. Another new product within the sect is their new digital picture frames which allows, with the use of both Wi-Fi and SD Connectivity, the ability to alter photos (especially using the high burst functionality) within artistic styles like gothic, oil painting or Faustian. It accomplishes this using a snapshot-to-painting conversion technology optimizing Adobe Flash playback to keep the file size down. On the digital projector front, Frank Romeo, director of that division, introduced a high brightness mercury free projector (Green Slim) that can illuminate over 20,000 hours without a bulb change or even a dim reduction.

Samsung Within a packed house, Samsung showed its leadership within the digital space introducing new 3D ready LED and LCD HDTVs. The LED 9000 is only .3 inches thick which is the thickness of a pencil with the LCD only .1 inches thicker. The metal sheen allows it to reflect light in an organic way. CEO Tim Baxter announced the initial play forward in terms of intent with Samsung Apps intending to make the interacting of Wi-Fi and internet plausible (although there was no intention of full internet interactivity – more just within the function of apps [which essentially act like widgets]). However this announcement was further verified by the revealing of a co-branding deal between Samsung, Technicolor and Dreamworks Animation. Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO Of Dreamworks Animation, who has been a major proponent of 3D technology, came out in a show of support, saying that all Dreamworks’ animated movies will be authored in 3D. This process confirmed the essence of Samsung being the best to optimize this element. Katzenberg seemed quite impressed by the LED set that was less than 1/2 an inch thick marvelling at its briskness. Fredric Rose, CEO Of Technicolor, was also there delivering the first Blu Ray 3D disc of “Monsters Vs. Aliens” to Baxter. The Blu Ray Association only adopted the standard for the 3D discs a month ago so this prototype was straight off the line. The first abilities of these new discs should be seen entering into the marketplace next fall. In an additional arena, the Samsung E Paper Book Reader announced a deal with Google Books adding full access to their public domain book structure that numbers over 1 million.

Sony As the bustle of the convention center was bracing itself together, Sony waited to sally forth its wares. Sony recently, instead assuming the role of an electronics manufacturer, has been relating more to content integration although its professional Red Camera has been making a distinctive leap among filmmakers. Sir Howard Stringer, with his jovial and sardonic way (which makes him a fresh voice among his competitors) emphasized the extreme importance of 3D among the Sony brand. A heavy looking jib crane was perched alongside the audience with nare a thought to its actual functionaity. Sir Howard had people place on their 3D glasses through which they saw some projected concert footage of Jimi Hendrix. Stringer said that Sony had just made a deal with the Hendrix estate to optimize alot of his material in 3D including never-before-released footage. The next surprise Stringer introduced was Grammy award winning artist Taylor Swift, who is arguably one of the hottest tickets around. Swift confirmed that she is working with Sony Electronics within its 3D optimization to expand her empire and theirs. She states that she “always got cameras with me and laptops” and that this technology “lets me take everything I get to see” adding that “fans are always cutting edge”. She then proceeded to perform a song with her band that was being shot by the requisite jib camera (which turned out to be 3D) that broadcast live behind her as she was playing demonstrating a fully practical application of the technology in the real world. After the interlay of this performer, who needed to jet because she was attending The People’s Choice Awards that night, Sir Howard stood onstage with his trademark grin joking “maybe you’ll call us cool again…who knows?” He then went on to discuss the advent of Sony’s new deal with Discovery and IMAX to create a fully 3D network to optimize the possibility of what these enterprises have been able to capture, mostly within their wild and natural life divisions. Sir Howard also relayed that they will be doing a concert with Kenny Chensey called “Summer In 3D” to be shot exclusively with Sony 3D cameras. In addition, they will be opening a 3D technology center at the Sony compound in Culver City, California which will also be integrating live action technology. In even more advancements, they are also co-opting with CBS in the first 3D research outlay headed by David Poltrak and headquartered at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. After all this, Sir Howard then brought out George Bodenheimer of ESPN to announce that they are working closely with them in also creating the ESPN 3D Network. Sony is sponsoring this venture, which is very interesting considering that ESPN is owned by Disney which is Sony’s main competitor and also is owned in part by Apple. Interesting. In terms of upcoming sporting events that Sony will be integrating in 3D include shooting the FIFA World Cup in South Africa (and producing a concurrent 3D Blu Ray) as well as the Sony Open on Oahu in Hawaii. The PS3 is also adhering to the 3d space with Sir Howard announcing that the firmware on the console will be 3D upgradable to play 3D movies and games (although one will need a TV optimized with 3D hardware in order to view it).

Stan Glasgow, CEO of Sony Electronics, began introducing some of the new hardware additions bringing some of the focus back to actual engineering highlighting Sony’s new “Monolithic” designs permeated by the NX 800 which uses LED backlighting technology. The design has basis but, in all actuality, it is not as engaging as Samsung’s comparative TVs in their functionality. In terms of Blu Ray outlay, the Vaio continues with its proliferation of Blu Ray drives but it was the 400 disc Blu Ray changer that was unveiled that seemed the workhorse though few seemingly would be able to afford it. On the personal front. Glasgow also introduced the Dash which is a personal internet viewer you can use by your bed. Despite this, emphasizing the ability to update your Facebook status using widgets from your bed distinctly sounds like overkill. Sony also finally decided to embrace the SD card format in addition to their Memory Stick Duo Technology indicating that future Cybershot and Handycams will be interactive with SD elements in the future. This builds on the additional announcement of 17 new models of camcorders including a prosumer model with progressive scan which are optimized by Sony’s R Cemos sensors. The new digital cameras also have the capability for Transfer Jet which is a high speed data transfer technology between cameras which simply strikes as a faster form of infrared from years ago. The pocket introduction is Sony’s answer to the popular Flip cam called “Bloggie” which is a small personal video camera that can instantly update to a blog. Adding on this point, with every manufacturer pushing their pliability of being green, the Vaio Eco Edition Network has a body made out of recycled DVDs and CDs and a carrying case made from recycled plastic bottles and includes only a digital users manual.

Wrapping up the extension of Sony within the networked world highlighted by the PS3, Kazui Harai, the President of Sony Networked Products, spoke on the essence of the expansion of the Playstation Network to over 2700 film titles and 16,000 TV Episodes in the current year but with no intention to its optimization. Harai also announced the formation of Sony Network Entertainment, headed by Tim Shaff, former replaced head of Sony Connect & Sony Media Software, who will report directly to him.

Show Floor Possibilities One of the most striking interims on the floor was the revealing of Panasonic 3D Prosumer Video Cam which uses odjulating lenses to line the images together in terms of the multiple layers. The real world demo in full view in Panasonic’s booth shows the first step in making this technology mainstream by allowing filmmakers to use it without the weighing price of something like the Red. This model, due to launch next September, will have a retail price of $21,000. LCD TVs, many of them 3D, as evidenced by LG, are getting representative of thinner progression while every system seems to function with its own app program with Samsung in all actuality leading the charge. HD Radio, the progressive cousin of satellite radio, warrants adoption but without an intent for its inclusion in terms of amenities and possibilities its adherence in the marketplace seems moot.

DivX TV Launch – Moon @ The Palms With the advent of companies such as Vizio and Samsung using the set top hardware to push their apps baseline into different directions, it would make sense that the reverse would be true. DivX which has been on the forefront of encoding mechanisms from the very beginning would be a natural applet beyond something like Quicktime to tackle this aspect of content in a visible strain. While a very good idea, the motivation of the idea will be decided ultimately by hardware in the Internet TV revolution and not software. The smoothness of the video and the variety of content in the beta shows promise but it all becomes about the gateway with multiple possibilities available. DivX might be able to overcome obstacles in this way without a major cooperative deal. The launch party held atop the Palms Fantasy Tower with spins by Danny Masterson was an elegant and fun persistence of time with multiple running demos and exceptional music which really made the groove. The party was the way a good launch should be where the material speaks for itself but is not overwhelmed by the function itself.

MPEG Industry Forum This inside panel discussion on the expansion and possibility of video signal brought forth new progressions in transmission technology. Different forays of companies speak to different strengths and weakness. The first approached was AT&T’s U-Verse technology which has been intending itself since the advent of IPTV in 2005 and was represented by Paul Whitehead, executive director of video planning. Just this year, AT&T added 24 Megabit data service which is available in 116 markets in 22 states with enabled remote video access via iPhone which itself has gotten over 250,000 downloads of the app. New aspects of the service include sports multi-view. Whitehead says that AT&T looks at 3D as an exciting advancement especially with the possibility of a true UI on a set top box. The big question becomes aspects of specified structure like emergency alert systems in addition to the add-ons, closed captioning and ad insertion problems. One way to assess the challenges of integration which AT&T is currently doing is adaptive streaming which will be limited to certain points of customer need. In the future, adaptive streaming, Whitehead said, will change based on what is happening with the network since with adaptive, there has to be multiple encodes of everything which dictates that there is still a role for managed networks.

On a different view, Jim Kutzner, chief engineer for the Public Broadcasting Service, takes a more statistics based stance. PBS with 169 member licenses is working on a next generation interconnection system. Right now they are operating on a MPEG 2 video signal with a AC3 audio feed. They hope to enhance their output to MP4 but funding is locked though they see the progression in the next 6 years to a new standard. In terms of 3D, Kutzner says PBS sees 3D as discussions within the organization in the future although there are no current plans. The overall intent within the structure right now is planning original productions and then worrying about delivery as a case of problem solving.

As a matter of circumspect, Ajay Luthra, Sr. Director at Motorola, has a more practical view of the overall situation. He was one of the founders of the m.264 standard. He explains that success requires working business models but that standards certainly help. The key issue is interoperatability. The negative side of standards comes about when too many people are working on any given problem. The ultimate deal breaker, he says, is the money part of intellectual property rights. The expectation in terms of expansion this year is to address the aspect of adaptive and net streaming which is a tough nut to track in terms of mp4 licenses. As far as his perspective of 3D TV, he cautions that what we are seeing in the current market is low-res meaning that it is a stacked image using an mp4 AVC. The non-standard version comes in how you re-stack these images. He says that Motorola expects the final to be MBC based with full resolution. The next progression would be each eye seeing full HD which requires translation into the 1080 system. In terms of input, HDMI will solve the problem in terms of integrating this to set top boxes. The trick is that AVC is based on the integration of half horizontal and half vertical lines. Ultimately with 3D, the setback is that all UIs have never been standard thus commercial insertion of 3D might be a long time coming based possibly within a PPV system. The second incarnation to follow then will most likely include MPEG 2. The question will become ‘Do you want to do real time on-the-fly transcoding’ which will require immediate scaling of the image.

To balance these statements, Yuval Fisher, CTO of RGB Networks, says that digital program insertion is working in broadcast standards but PC delivery is still non-existent. 3D TV, he says, is heaven and hell for vendors at the same time. In terms of the problems of ad insertion as mentioned by Whitehead of AT&T, Fisher cites EBIF (enhanced tv binary interchange format) which is available on millions of current set top boxes that will allow for local insertion.

Bringing the aspect of a major distributor perspective in Microsoft, Christine Heckart, General Manager of Marketing and Business Development Of Entertainment, cites Microsoft Media Room as the comparative to AT&T’s U-Verse App. Her perspective is the necessity of “bucketing the future” in terms of distribution and consumption. The reality, she says, is that TV will be distributed over IP…”no question”. The first web pages we saw 10 years ago were “like brochures”. The new inlays are like TV in 1951. The truth, according to Heckart, is that shows on television don’t take advantage of the fact that they are on IP which is a two-way network meaning, in her estimation, that the “experience is unexplored and untapped”. She introduces the perspective of “The Cloud” DVR. Using this term, which Microsoft coined, you can download content through “the cloud” to your phone. This fact is what, she says, will change consumption dramatically. The TV will become all about layers. The Apps that are now being introduced are the “tip of the iceberg”. What developers are starting to realize is that advertising takes the consumer out of the experience. The standard should be the ads at the beginning while everything else is product placement. There needs to be what she calls an overall “shotgun approach” because the outward audience is fragmented. The key to making this work is open developers environment (which sounds kind of interesting considering Microsoft’s stance on this point vs. Mac). The reality is that all these evolutions are about money and what can motivate it. This is what causes change in the value plain. She admits that Microsoft has alot of different things it has to get done under “different wrappers” and that they “don’t always know what to bet on at the time” because of “meet-the-market requirements”.

To offer balance, George Huang of Huawei Corp. suggests that the relevance of all involved incorporates some of the trends which are becoming more consistent. The access here is contemplated in terms of wireless while consumption is decidedly based on demand. Operators are vindicated by the idea of being completely video centric but the reality (Huang cites Dubai as a truism) is that all the focus is purely on the business model. The question is how do you get media partners to work more directly with each other. The challenge becomes how to shorten the time from idea to market while keeping the cost down. The ultimate key is how to be mindful of the three “clouds”: internet, living room and digital.

Integrating the thoughts into conclusion, Theirry Fautier, Sr. Director of Convergence at Harmonic, explains that the first step of IP was getting it done. Now the idea is “how to compete”. The beauty, he says, of an IP network now is that you can publish to a device without knowing what it is or where it’s going. The reality is that the more you load a network, the more you have to invest in it.

CES this year was bombasted with the possibilities of 3D and the consumer implications, both in console and set top box application. The reality rests in the fact that there are intersections and kinks to be navigated on the way to enlightenment.

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