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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Reflections on IBC 2011

Reflections on IBC 2011

So IBC 2011 has come and gone.   The International Broadcast Conference (IBC), in Amsterdam, has always offered a comfortable venue for examining new trends in the Broadcast and Media space, meeting opportunities with current vendors to discuss upcoming products, enhancements and roadmaps, examination of their competitors and the chance to catch up with colleagues, old friends and new friends (preferably over Belgium beer)…..  

IBC  has always seemed to be a more accessible venue than NAB,  which is chaotic at best.   Having said that,  there were 50,462 people in attendance and thousands of vendors featuring their products and services.

Technology implementation is always a systems integration endeavor where there is no guidebook, formula, blueprint, plug and play option, or “single right” solution.  Instead, it’s a challenge in the midst of changing business imperatives, customer demands, and technology  requirements (e.g.  handling the constant barrage of new camera formats, etc. from a workflow perspective).  The end result, if the industry is playing right, is a richer and more competitive consumer experience.  That makes venues like IBC critically important.

From a high level, some of the current trends include: 

3D Film and TV – From a production perspective, 3D has arrived.  The trend has been  to develop cameras, rigs,  processing equipment,  and automation to make “good” 3D production more ubiquitous.  Two of the industry icons and proponents of good 3D participated at this year’s IBC; namely Steve Schklair and Vincent Pace.   Steve’s company 3Ality, has acquired a major R&D firm and is now known as 3ality Technica.  Steve demo’d his array of software products which mitigate, through software automation,  the dangerous production mismatches, misalignments,  errors and edge violations which are not easy to avoid and contribute to “bad” 3D.  Bad 3D results in viewer headaches and nausea… Good 3D contributes to an awesome consumer experience.  

Vincent Pace has teamed up with James Cameron (who I must plug, is now a National Geographic  Explorer  in Residence,  in addition to his sideline as an iconic Film Director ).  They are urging the industry to adopt a unified 2D/3D production approach and they’re facilitating their vision through their R&D efforts and products via the Cameron-Pace Group (CPG).   They are developing technologies, in conjunction with several vendors, that are smaller, lighter, easier to use and smarter, through the use of automation.   CPG’s focus is currently on the UK 3D sports market.

Steve made an important point that software and technology can replace non-creative functions of the stereoscopic  (3D) process.  The Stereographer ( ) is a creative function.  The stereographer controls depth, consistency of depth and the creative aspect of depth…….The stereographer will not be replaced by automation.     Steve also quoted a telling statistic; 80% of the TV sets shipped next year will be 3D enabled.

James Cameron put in appearances at several places at the IBC.

According to Cameron, his vision of simultaneous 2D/3D production is the only way to stimulate the market to develop much-need original 3D content, and, in turn, spur 3D TV set sales. Previously, the cost of producing 3D has been prohibitive for everyone but a fortunate few who are being sponsored by TV set manufacturers.

“We’re on a relentless path to grow the 3D business,” said Cameron, at the Grass Valley IBC press conference. “We’ve been in the 3D game for 12 years now. We are so excited about what’s happening right now [with 3D] but it’s a little bit daunting staying ahead of the rapid rate of technology change, so we have to have powerful alliances with people that are major players in broadcast who will be able to fulfill this future and supply the kind of quality 3D that people enjoy.”

Second Screens and Multi-platform TV -  As can be seen at CES, tablets were everywhere.  There is an industry consensus that the second screen will be disruptive, but everyone is trying to figure out their monetization model.  Just as publishers are struggling with paywall models and premium content versus free content, broadcasters are struggling with TV Everywhere and the associated business and technology challenges.   The goal is to enable media organizations to schedule and manage sophisticated multi-platform, non-linear services such as video on demand (VOD), over-the-top (OTT) TV and catch-up TV on a multitude of devices.  All the top vendors, including Harmonic, Miranda, Harris and Pilat Media introduced products to facilitate this endeavor.  Similar to the publishing industry, a lot more work and innovation needs to take place in the area of User Experience (UX) design.

Beyond HD – 4K acquisition has been around for a few years now (four times the resolution of HD).  4K to the home will become a reality in the relatively near future.   To push the limits, NHK has been pursuing 8K to the home, namely Super Hi-Vision.  It’s moving from the NHK labs to commercialization at a surprising rate.  The NHK demo at IBC on a 120 foot screen was breathtaking.   Along with the BBC, NHK will offer a public display of Super Hi-Vision at the 2012 London Olympics.

Open Source Software Platforms – Kaltura is an open source media platform based on LAMP software technologies.   Kaltura’s competitive space is with the likes of Brightcove, Ooyala, etc.  They offer a SAS model (Software as a Service) which is fully hosted in the cloud or a free open source offering which tends to lag the developments offered by Kaltura by 6-9 months.   An impressive 120K web sites have implemented Kaltura’s technology.

Lightworks introduced their open source NLE on a windows platform.  They’ll be coming out with their open source craft editor on a Mac platform in December.

Broadcast and Media Standards efforts -  the Advanced Media Workflow Association, the European Broadcasting Union and SMPTE came together to develop a standard for configuring an SOA ( ) that would allow each manufacturer's equipment to talk to each other. The effort stems from the vendors' realization that,  due to R&D cost efficiencies,  their next-generation products will be predominantly software based and operate best in this type of networked environment.

Archive – Sony showed their impressive optical disk archive technology which is intended to displace LTO data tape technology.  They are designing 12 optical disks in a single cartridge with multiple layers to yield a 1.5TB cartridge which is fully backward compatible as they improve the layering.  (Note: LTO data tape is only backward compatible for 2 generations).   One of their interesting design criteria’s is that the cartridge must float in water and playout afterwards.   Their first product will be introduced at IBC 2012.  It will take a few years to be cost competitive with LTO data tape but the life span of this product will change the archive marketplace.

Apple – Final Cut Pro X was not visible, which confirms the industry wide dismissal of this product as a professional NLE tool..    Thunderbolt however was ubiquitous.  Thunderbolt is a new I/O interface (ala USB) offering 10 Gbps throughput.  Matrox,  Blackmagic Design,  AJA,  G Technology and others showed their product enhancements leveraging the Thunderbolt interface.

This is a brief summary of some of the highlights from IBC.   The IBC dailies can be viewed at for those hungry for more information.

Please tell me if you would like a deep dive on any of these subjects for a future blog.   One thought, given the discussion on 3D, is a post on how 3D actually works… It involves a fascinating trickery in the brain….stay tuned….

IBC Venue - RAI Convention Center

Sunday, September 4, 2011

HTML5 - Beyond the Hype

HTML5 is the latest “technology” which is being hyped in the industry.  The danger with hyping a promising technology, or in this case, a programming language, is that expectations and perception become unrealistic, as the challenges and risks are ignored.   Part of the HTML5 perception, fueled by the huge growth of Apples iPad and iPhone, is that HTML5 is simply a flash player replacement.   It’s a lot more and it has implications for the web, for mobile/tablets, for gaming and for framework platforms.   Understanding the pros and cons, as well as the current state of the standard and browser implementations, and the various features of HTML5, is the key to successfully incorporating it.

The W3C HTML5 standard has been under development since the early 2000’s.   It’s not due to be finalized and tested until 2014.  At that point it will include tags and API’s for improved interactivity, multimedia and localization.  It will allow websites to behave more like rich desktop apps, incorporating video, complex interactivity and data as well as greater compatibility with multiple devices such as tablets and smartphones.  The hope is also to free reliance on plug-ins such as Flash, Quicktime and Silverlight.  The standard offers access to local storage via API's and in the case of mobile, to GPS.   This means that web based applications can achieve the same functionality and performance as native apps.   This will be a game changer in the mobile and gaming industry.

The state of browsers as it relates to HTML5 compatibility is mixed.  Although the HTML5 standard has not yet been ratified, several of its features have already been widely adopted by browsers like IE, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox.  The following web sites do a great job of detailing browser compatibility against HTML5 and CSS3 features:

A key feature of HTML5 are <video> and <audio> tags which makes the HTML5 standard codec independent (possibly because early consensus on a standard could not be achieved) but leave it to the browser vendors to standardize on codecs, which is not happening.  This is a problem. 

More than a year ago, Vimeo and YouTube announced that they were moving to support the HTML5 video tag.  Vimeo and YouTube chose to rely on the patented and ubiquitous H.264 video encoding, rather than an unencumbered encoding like Ogg Theora. This means that the <video> pages on those sites will not work with Firefox.   Vimeo and YouTube understand that reliance on proprietary plugins for video is the problem on the web. Mozilla believes that reliance on patent-encumbered formats is a problem on the web.   As usual, standards efforts inevitably spawn divergent paths to the detriment of everyone.  To help confuse the playing field, Google is supporting WebM based on VP8 compression.  In spite of this confusion, according to MeFeedia, by Feb. 2011, 63% of web videos were compatible with HTML5, primarily via H.264 video.   Having said that, Google has dropped support of H.264 from it's Chrome browser..   Confusion and battles.....

For a comprehensive HTML5 video player chart refer to this site:

Another feature of HTML5 is the Canvas Object, which allows for Flash-like animation in Javascript.    The latest browsers offer web developers a local database for caching which improves performance.   Improved forms, more sophisticated layouts are also features of HTML5.  There’s no need to wait until the full standard is ratified to adopt an HTML5 strategy but there is a need to know which elements are mature and compatible with which browsers.      The following site details 28 “must know” HTML5 features :

Several vendors are developing tools and application platforms to leverage HTML5 and in some cases provide workarounds for functionality which is not yet available via the draft standard.  An example of this is a former Apple exec who founded Strobe.  They have created a beta platform for HTML5 apps delivery on multiple platforms.  Another example is Adobe Edge which is a design tool for animated web content which leverages HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript.

It may take years before HTML5 can tackle more rigorous data processing tasks like video editing, but companies are leveraging features of HTML5 today, especially where browser support is available.   HTML5 adoption is more about evolution.  It’s coming and it will evolve over time.  Will HTML5 allow the web to supplant native applications?   We’ll see…  likely so..   Much more on this subject going forward as the landscape will grow and change over the next year.    

What are your thoughts, experience and beliefs regarding HTML5?  

The next post will provide highlights of the IBC (International Broadcast Conference) in Amsterdam from Sept. 8 through the 13th

Moving graffiti art in New York City