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What to Look Forward to at the 2018 HPA Tech Retreat

Have a look at the online program for the upcoming 2018 HPA Tech Retreat, and you’ll find it describes perhaps the most-comprehensive ever look at IMF, in-depth analysis of the greatest potential change in cinema since the advent of projected movies, the many “flavors” of HDR, making movies mesh with all cultures, blockchain for “the biz,” what’s what in Washington, detecting modified video in the age of fake news, and—what?—binge viewing vs. 3D(?!?!).  I can’t wait to see what actually gets presented!

Huh?  As the “program maestro” of the event, I’ve seen every submitted proposal, both the ones that made the cut and the many more that didn’t.  So how can I say I’m looking forward to learning what actually gets presented?  It’s because the proposals, no matter how detailed, don’t always indicate what gets revealed.

Consider an HPA Tech Retreat presentation by Belden’s Steve Lampen some years ago on cable performance.  You’ve probably seen photos of beautiful rack wiring, with perfectly spaced cable ties.  Lampen showed one of those and contrasted it with the worst imaginable pile of garbage, with kinked, crumpled coaxial cable, bad splices, and even unconnected stubs.  Then he showed performance tests.  The pile of garbage beat the beautiful lacing hands down.  Then he explained why (it was those evenly spaced cable ties).  All of that came from a simple proposal on cable performance.

That wasn’t the only time my jaw dropped at an HPA Tech Retreat presentation.  There was, for example, the time a security expert set up a WiFi router in the room and revealed what everyone’s laptop and smartphone was indicating about its owner simply from “connect automatically” instructions.  Or the time an executive from a secretive network revealed its plans at the annual broadcasters panel.  Or the time someone from the U.S. military’s National Imagery and Mapping Agency actually zoomed in on moving satellite images of the Denver Broncos’ stadium and did some automatic targeting calculations.  Or the time everyone in the room got a large LCD monitor to disassemble to learn how it works.  Or the time there was a demo of a microphone with a laser-like cursor-steerable pickup beam.  Or the time there was a metadata breakfast roundtable surrounded four layers deep.  Or the time a movie-chain president said his company had found salvation in live opera and lounge chairs.

So, what presentations am I wondering about at the 2018 HPA Tech Retreat?  All of them.

The fun starts Monday with a TR-X (Tech Retreat eXtra) seminar.  The title says it all: “Everything You Thought You Knew about Artificial Intelligence in M&E and What You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know.”  Last year’s TR-X was on virtual reality and ranged from discussions of the details of camera angles and stitching down to the basics: Where does a VR cameraperson hide when shooting in every direction at once?

Tuesday is the Super Session on “snowflake” (no two alike) workflows, because everything seems to be getting ever more different: aspect ratios, spatial resolutions, brightnesses, black levels, color gamuts, frame rates, etc.  I’ll have a bit more on those differences in a moment.  It was at last year’s Super Session, incidentally, that I learned about live opera and lounge chairs saving cinema.

Tuesday is also when the Innovation Zone opens; it’s the HPA Tech Retreat demo area, and I never know what I’ll find there.  Panasonic introduced their Varicam at an HPA Tech Retreat; Sony introduced its OLED monitors and SR Memory.  The camera attitude sensor used in Star Wars movies, a system for making and distributing targeted advertising, full-color full-motion holograms—they were all shown at HPA Tech Retreats, sometimes long before they were exhibited anywhere else.

One theme area of this year’s Innovation Zone will be IMF Central.  IMF is the Interoperable Master Format, a way of dealing—maybe automatically—with all of those snowflake differences.  Not only does HPA now have its own IMF User Group, and not only will different groups use IMF to deal with different versions of the same content in the Innovation Zone, but there will also be at least three IMF breakfast roundtables each day and a massive international IMF session in the main program on Wednesday morning, with the BBC, the North American Broadcasters Association, studios, networks, manufacturers, SMPTE, and more.  There will also be later sessions touching on IMF.  I suspect even IMF experts will learn plenty.

That’s a way of dealing with technical differences and even such international concerns as different languages of subtitles.  But what about cultural differences?  When I was in Madagascar, I was told that what is considered taboo in one part of the island might be considered mandatory in another.  Yet Pixar’s movies seem to be successful worldwide.  How?  I’m looking forward to finding out.

I’m also looking forward to a range of opinions on what might be the greatest change in movies since the invention of projected sequential photographs: direct-view cinema.  One problem with high dynamic range (high contrast) in theaters is that the screen is designed to reflect light.  It reflects the light from the projector, of course, but it also reflects the light from illuminated exit signs and the light that bounces off my white T-shirt after leaving the screen.  Direct-view screens don’t need to reflect anything.  They can be both brighter and darker than projection screens.  But is that necessarily a good thing?  I’m looking forward to the range of opinions expressed at the advanced-cinema technology session.  It’ll also explore variable frame rates and even more ways of dealing automatically with some of those snowflake differences.

What’s going on in Washington?  What’s the latest in consumer electronics?  The speakers making those presentations come back every year, but their content changes.  If something happens early on Wednesday, they’ll tell us about it minutes later; I try to do the same in my technology year in review.  Speaking of consumer electronics, one of the hot trends in TVs seems to be high dynamic range, but there are multiple “flavors.”  HPA president Seth Hallen has gathered them onto a single panel to reveal what’s what.  Is that enough?  Cinematographers will present their views of what’s necessary in another panel, followed by a look at the latest developments in the Academy’s work in the area.

What about remote and mobile production, and does artificial intelligence play a role there?  I’m eager to learn at another panel, which will be followed by the story of how CNN covered the Great American Eclipse live in virtual reality.  Do cryptocurrencies matter for “the biz”?  Kodak stock (the financial kind, not the film kind) soared after they made an announcement recently; find out why, first with a look into the underlying technology and then from the founders of Aspera, who’ve started a new company using that technology.  Then a panel will tackle budget wars, followed by a session on a seemingly newer potential moneymaker, eSports.

The last day of the 2018 HPA Tech Retreat might be the most amazing.  How can we tell if video has been modified in this era of “fake news”?  Learn from the Department of Defense.  The 2018 Winter Olympic Games will be taking place during the HPA Tech Retreat, but they’ll be covered in a Friday breakfast roundtable; so will high-speed motion control (there will be other amazing roundtables each day).  Virtual cinematography, perceptual fatigue (and not just for 3D and VR), “the singularity,” and our future 20 years out will all be covered in Friday sessions.

Then there’s that bizarre “binge viewing vs. 3D.”  If you attended CES or the NAB show some years back, you might have said, based on the predominance of exhibits, that the next big thing in television was stereoscopic 3D.  Meanwhile, there was a next big thing in television, but it was binge viewing.  Why did we get it so wrong?  Are we continuing to get it wrong?  Can we take steps to get it right?  The top executive of the Digital Production Partnership, which revolutionized standards in the UK (and is doing so in North America, too), plans to tell us what we can do.

I don’t think his plan involves artificial intelligence.  Neither does my brief post-retreat treat on voice synthesis, though it will explain why the HAL 9000 artificially intelligent co-star of 2001:a space odyssey (released 50 years ago) did what it did as its thinking capacity was being shut down.  I’m told there will also be one or more artificially intelligent version(s) of me at the 2018 HPA Tech Retreat, of which people will be able to ask questions.

I’m looking forward to learning what I’ll say.


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