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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

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