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Trend Roundup from NAB 2019

By Debra Kaufman

NAB has seen quite a few changes in the media and entertainment landscape since it was founded in 1923 as a radio organization. In the intervening years, it has both weathered and provided a forum for wrenching changes from analog to digital, digital to file-based, SDTV to HDTV to Ultra HDTV, 4K and 8K, satellite and cable, and others.

But will it survive streaming? The answer to that question is ATSC 3.0, which was on display at NAB 2019. ATSC 3.0 allows broadcasters to become streaming entities with an IP network, and to offer more immersive content — HDR, higher resolution, high frame rates, wide color gamut – as well as live TV on mobile devices. The road to ATSC 3.0 becoming a reality has been a long one. The Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) called for next-gen proposals in 2013, the same year that Netflix began streaming “House of Cards,” its first original series.

Seven years later, at NAB 2019, a coalition of broadcasters called Pearl TV announced the rollout of ATSC 3.0 to 40 markets by the end of 2020. Comprised of Cox Media, Graham Media Group, Hearst Television, Meredith Corporation, Nexstar Media Group, Scripps Media and Tegna, Pearl TV chose Phoenix, Arizona’s four TV stations as a test market, said managing director Anne Schelle. She noted that surveyed consumers identified sports, high-quality audio/video and a modernized programming guide as some of the features that they want from ATSC 3.0. In San Diego, California, KPBS associate general manager Bruce Rogow explained how Dolby and Verance conducted tests at his station on enhanced dialogue delivered through the Internet, a boon for anyone who has trouble distinguishing dialogue amidst ambient noise.

ATSC 3.0 wasn’t the only standard under discussion at NAB 2019. The Academy’s ACES committee had a “Birds of a Feather” session to update attendees on the group’s latest work. Chair Annie Chang called on heads of working groups to describe progress on the Common LUT Format (CLF), ACESclip and the Input Device Transform (IDT) feature. The committee is also looking at simplified RRT, parametric output transform, parametric dim surround support, and production-ready reference implementation, including interchangeable programmatic LMT and IDT formats. The committee is also working on improved end-user documentation and a gamut management fix for the purple fringe problem. ACES 2.0 is due out in 2020, but Chang reminded the group that the work can’t move forward without the participation of the community.

Another session took a look at the need for interoperable distribution and preservation standards. CineCert co-founder/chief technology officer John Hurst emphasized the importance of IMF “in the context of libraries and archives,” especially since it “exists for servicing at scale.”  In the ASC’s Motion Imaging Technology Council, advanced data management subcommittee chair Jesse Korosi described how that organization wants “a consistent checksum type and location and consistent information within the checksum, as well as a chain of custody record.” At USC’s Entertainment Technology Center, project lead Seth Levenson oversees three groups developing standards, on blockchain, cloud platform/VFX and archiving in the cloud. MovieLabs senior vice president Craig Seidel described his company’s MovieLabs Digital Distribution Framework that “represents a consensus of studios, retailers, streaming platforms” for multiple platforms and includes internationalization, localization and accessibility.

Unveiled at NAB 2019 was the proposal for a standard for immersive content. The newly formed Immersive Digital Experience Alliance (IDEA) is developing its Immersive Technology Media Format (ITMF), due to be released sometime this year. The goal is royalty-free specifications for all immersive media formats, including light field technology, VR, AR, immersive displays, gaming and six degrees of freedom content. CableLabs, Charter Communications, Light Field Lab, OTOY and Visby are founding members.

With the eventual rollout of 5G networks, production and post in the cloud also got serious attention. Much of the talk has been political as countries vie to be “the first” with 5G services and the U.S. government tries to block China’s Huawei from selling its gear to 5G operators. But at NAB, it was all about practical tools and case studies. In a session led by Western Digital global director of M&E marketing Erik Weaver, Equinix, Google and Wasabi described cloud services they hope will be improved by 5G networks. At the moment, everyone agreed, production and post take place in environments that are a hybrid of cloud and on-premise tools. Google M&E cloud solutions architect Adrian Graham noted how the cloud has enabled a trend in motion picture production. “[It’s] an increasingly global enterprise,” he said. But Technicolor chief technology officer Bob Eicholz observed that, if not managed appropriately “which is difficult to do,” the costs of working in the cloud can be “massive.”

It wouldn’t be NAB without another bump up in resolution, and 2019 didn’t disappoint. The 8K Association held a daylong seminar on 8K, and several manufacturers announced 8K capabilities, including Blackmagic Design which went all 8K and cameras from Sharp and ZCAM. NAB 2020 is likely to be an evolution of all these themes, whose trajectory we’ll be able to follow throughout the year.

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