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Recent Blog Posts in May 2012

May 30, 2012
  Dolby Fidelity Forum 2.0 follow up
Posted By Daniel Restuccio

SAN FRANCISCO - Professionals have been using digital, plasma, LCD and LED flat screens to display film and television output for years, yet when it came to color correction, no flat-screen technology was as good as a Grade 1 CRT. That is until now. Last year Dolby officially released the Dolby PRM-4200 Professional Reference Monitor, the first non-CRT display technology that actually exceeded specifications put forth by the European Broadcast Union (EBU).

The EBU maintains and publishes a standards recommendation document for reference monitors with Grade 1 being the highest standard. Dolby was invited by the EBU to provide the PRM-4200 for measurement and comparison against their Grade 1 specification. "We were very pleased to learn from the EBU that the Dolby PRM-4200 was the most accurate monitor ever measured," says Bill Admans, Dolby director of production and post solutions. "It was a great validation for the development team.  It means we accomplished what we set out to do."

Subsequently, the EBU updated their color accuracy, black level performance and contrast standards based on the Dolby PRM-4200 monitor. "The EBU also chose the Dolby PRM-4200 as the standard reference monitor for their recent compression codec testing because of its ability to display pixel perfect images," notes Admans (pictured, below).

At NAB 2012, Dolby released a software update for the monitor. It includes support for 48 frames per second content. "48fps was recently added to the SMPTE (SMPTE 428-1-2011) and DCI standards specification documents. Whereas, 60fps has been part of the specifications for many years," notes Admans.  Other feature updates include expanded support for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Academy Color Encoding Specification (ACES) workflow, which is required for mastering feature films, and Image Systems Nucoda 3D LUT support to help with color-managed workflows.

Dolby also introduced their Display Calibration Services. Worldwide, Dolby can dispatch a technician to make sure that their monitors maintain the most precise color accuracy and true black levels. "This can reduce the cost of ownership for monitors," explains Admans, "by removing the need for facilities to own expensive calibration equipment."

Some of the media that has been graded using the PRM-4200 include the feature films The Social Network, Apocalypse Now (remastered Blu-ray disc),  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and  Mirror Mirror, as well as three Superbowl commercials and the BBC One series  Sherlock.

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May 25, 2012
  Dolby Digital's 'Brave' new audio world
Posted By Daniel Restuccio

By Daniel Restuccio

SAN FRANCISCO - At the Dolby Fidelity Forum 2.0 in San Francisco last week they demonstrated a host of evolutionary audio and video technologies for Blu-Ray mastering and digital theater design that are destined to make the digital cinema experience in theaters and at home more immersive and engaging. 

Craig Eggers, senior manager of Dolby Laboratories' consumer electronics partner marketing division, said that the forum was a chance to show Dolby's vision and get feedback from enthusiasts and media journalists. Dolby wants the Hollywood community to know that they bring value to content creation by providing the latest advances in lossless audio. Bringing new audio and video technology to market is a "collaborative process" and they are a "significant partner," not just a company that invents things.

Some of the highlights of the forum included: 

Dolby True HD

Advanced & Dolby Media Producer: Dolby's new streamlined Media Producer software now features a 48k to 96k upresing capability called Dolby True HD Advanced that noticeably enhances the audio experience of sound mastered at 48k. This brighter, more robust audio image available in stereo, 5.1 and 7.1 Surround, is particularly improved by the removal of the "preringing" artifact in that occurs in 48k production. Dolby's upresing process uses a unique apodizing filter that shifts the artifact temporally and restores a clearer tonality to the sound. Most noticeable in high-energy action sequences, the results are also still distinct in softer dialogue driven dramatic scenes.  



Some of the post houses that have upgraded to the new mastering technology include Deluxe Digital Studios, Giant Interactive, Mi Casa Multimedia, POP Sound and Technicolor. While Dolby views this as value added it still remains to be seen if the post houses will charge studios extra for this advanced feature in Blu-ray title post production. 

Dolby Atmos

Historically, Dolby has consistently raised the audio fidelity bar with Dolby SR in the 1980's, Dolby 5.1 and Surround EX in the 1990s and Dolby Surround 7.1 in 2010. In 2007, a major exhibitor approached Dolby wanting to know what the future of sound was going to be, said Stuart Bowling, Dolby senior worldwide technical marketing manager. "They were in the process of defining what the premium experience would be in their theaters." It quickly became clear that the next step would be a radical evolution rather than an incremental improvement. Hence, Dolby built on the foundation of their lossless digital 7.1 technology and re-conceptualized the listening experience to create Atmos, a totally immersive soundscape environment.  



Atmos adds to the 7.1 configuration additional left and right speaker arrays above the listener with the potential to configure a theatrical sound environment with a total of 64 speaker feeds. 

To take full advantage of the infinite design potential Dolby created new Pro Tools plug-ins that allow the creation of 128 "objects."  These "objects" are discrete sounds that can be spatially localized with incredible precision and panned in a near seamless spherical space. During playback the objects "trigger" in realtime, dynamically balanced to the number of speakers in the theatrical space. The actual experience is so charmingly innovative that it totally reorients your perception of what movies should sound like. 

Dolby is assisting Disney/Pixar and Gary Rydstrom at Skywalker Sound with the audio post production on Brave, the first feature/animated feature movie using this technology. The Stag screening room at Skywalker has been upgraded to 41.3 speakers and the Atmos technology for the mix. 

Plans are in progress for Brave to exhibit in 15 theaters in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. The newly re-branded Dolby Theatre at Hollywood and Vine, home of the Academy Awards broadcast, is being upgraded into a showcase Dolby Atmos theater. The 3,400-seat space could potentially be ready for the June 22th Brave premiere.
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May 22, 2012
  Follow-up: KRK KNS 8400 headphones review
Posted By Luke Harper
By Luke Harper
Owner
Audio Altimeter
Minneapolis

So you may remember that six months ago I reviewed the KRK KNS 8400 headphones (http://www.postmagazine.com/Publications/Post-Magazine/2011/October-1-2011/Review-KRK-KNS-8400-headphones.aspx). Since they were a new product, I was curious about their longevity under the duress of normal operational life. To that end, I gave them to someone who is even harder on equipment than I am: my little brother (pictured below). He's a sysadmin neckbeard gamer guy that lives in Australia and spends a hilarious amount of time in headphones. He beats the hell out of personal electronics as a matter of course.

Q. Hey Ben, how are the headphones holding up?
A. Good mate, good, yeah. I've knocked them about, dropped them, let them live in an over-crowded messenger bag...

Q. How about the left ear? And the cord?
A. Everything works great. I've tripped over the cord, pulling it out more than once and there's no lasting issues...

Q. Any buzz or distortion or anything?
A. Nah. They sound fine.

Q. How about comfort for REALLY extended periods of time?
A. Well, I can do about five hours in them before the top of my head gets a bit sore. That's about it.

Q. Thanks bro.
A. No worries, mate.

Continue reading "Follow-up: KRK KNS 8400 headphones review" »

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May 04, 2012
  REDucation-X: The next level
Posted By Daniel Restuccio


By Daniel Restuccio

The five-day intensive Red camera training, called REDucation, is headed to the next level with the four-month-long REDucation-X, the first Red "alternative" to traditional film school training for the next generation of moviemakers. 

The logic, says Red's Ted Schilowitz (pictured being interviewed for Post-TV at NAB), is that feature films, commercials and "everything in between" are shot with Red cameras.  In addition, post production with Red files is happening all over the world, so Red has created a streamlined way to REDucate yourself "if you are a student coming straight out of high school or wanting to reorient your career."

REDucation started in July of 2009 as an "experiment," recalls Schilowitz. "The cameras were a new force in the industry" and Red noticed to there was an intimate relationship between production and post production to truly understand the capabilities of the camera. "You don't really separate the two, it's one thing." 

Hence REDucation was conceived. 

The first classes were held at Los Angeles Center Studios in downtown Los Angeles and covered production and post production. They had around 50 students from all over the world. "There were students from Australia, New Zealand, South America, Europe, and all over the continental United States," shares Schilowitz. 

They ran the five-day intensive course once every three months, mostly in Los Angeles and then expanded to New York and London. The content evolved to include Red Epic and Red Scarlet, as well as the Red One. Post production evolved as well.  "When we started there was no Red Rocket," says Schilowitz, referring to the accelerator card that makes realtime playback and transcoding of Red files possible. Now they cover stereo production and as well as more in-depth post topics such as stereo post, color science and the different digital intermediate processes for television, features and commercials. 

As they watched the REDucation classes becoming more successful, a revelation occurred. Says Schilowitz, "If you look at the pace of technology, and pace of the motion picture industry that we live in now what people want is a way to immerse themselves in the most relevant technologies and get themselves out into the working world within a few months."

REDucation-X will cover the entire workflow, from concept through completion and distribution. The goal, continues Schilowitz, is that you walk out with all the relevant skills to develop a project, produce a project, "get it through editing, see it through finishing and then get it up on a big screen for millions of people to see." 

Students will work with the same high-level production and post production technology that is used on feature films and television. Industry professionals will teach many of the classes. 

The four-month course costs $15,000. Applications are being taken now until May 31st on the Red site. (http://www.red.com/learn/reducation-x/reducation-x-2012)  

The first class size is limited to 20-25 students and will run from October 1, 2012 - January 25, 2013.  
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May 02, 2012
  Pre-archive preservation and post-archive production
Posted By Joshua Ranger
I think we can all agree that, while a pleasant theoretical diversion, the auteurist theory of media production is, in practical terms, bunk. Too many other people have a hand in a work's production for one person to take full credit. Likewise, no single person is entirely responsible for the management and preservation of a production's assets. There are too many links in the chain from conception to archive where decisions must be made, problems may occur, and decisions catalogued.



That said, however, I have to admit that in most organizations I've worked with, whether an institution or a studio, the content creator and content user wings don't really care much for the archives. Not that they don't care about preserving and accessing materials, but cultural differences and resource competition between these groups contributes to greater friction than should exist among people with the same end goal - the long term ability to easily access and use the audiovisual materials they create.

Certainly these different groups face different challenges and may have a different perception of the pathway one needs to follow to reach that goal. For a content creator, this means having materials close at hand and easy to work with, focusing on the end goal of a distributable project that may be on a deadline of a few hours. For the archivist - or collection manager, traffic manager, production assistant, or whomever in a company/studio is tasked with taking care of assets - there is a greater focus on creating catalog records or finding aids which are searched or consulted to find the exact (or general) location where the object is stored, retrieving the object, and providing access to a user, sometimes in a matter of minutes, hours, or (unfortunately) days. The archivist (I'll continue to use this as a broad term to keep things simple and avoid cornucopious lists) also needs to enable and execute strategies that ensure the preservation of the objects in question, strategies which are not always conducive to the righthere rightnow needs of production.

The great difficulty with audiovisual materials is the lack of findability and accessibility that arises due to poor documentation (often inherited at the point of deposit to the archive) or technical hurdles such as lack of playback equipment. This results in major backlogs in identifying content and a basic inability to provide access. That creates a situation in which potential users feel that archives are black boxes where materials go to die and archivists feel overwhelmed by piles of tapes they cannot play or even accurately describe. No wonder content creators feel it's better to just keep everything close at hand, even if they themselves do not recall what the asset contains or no longer have the capacity for playing it. And no wonder archivists wish everyone would just settle on one format and pleasepleaseplease write some basic information on the case or in a spreadsheet. Please.

The day-to-day, in the weeds nature of organizational politics and internal jockeying aside, I have seen these kinds of behaviors create serious issues for companies, ranging from legal settlement to lost opportunity. The common denominator in all is an inability to reasonably and affordably dig out of the mess created. Very often this results from an inability to define or keep in mind the long term value of their materials beyond the initial point of documentation or distribution. We all know the popular success stories where people did plan ahead: Desilu Productions retaining filmed copies of (and future rights to) "I Love Lucy", essentially creating the syndicated rebroadcast market...Neil Young's retention of his master recordings, unreleased live material, and other documentation, assets that are seeing fruition in his Grammy-winning Archives Vol. I box set...Disney's decades-long cottage industry (pre-home video boom) rereleasing films to theatres, and then in the early video market pushing a "We're opening up the vaults for a limited time" marketing approach.

We know these, but what about the stories where organizations faced greater struggles? A few years ago I worked with a large federal government department to establish an inventory of their textual, visual, and audio assets that had been created and stored in worldwide locations over the past 60+ years. The archives had struggled with managing the wide range of formats and standards used as there were no organizational wide guidelines on format selection and documentation. As a result they had trouble efficiently fulfilling access requests. More recent changes meant that things were greatly improving, but today's content creators preferred to retain their copies rather than deposit them. 

During the inventory I heard many stories about assets that were lost or simply thrown away during the frequent office moves the creator departments made; about people running out of storage space, not knowing what they had, or not having the equipment for playback anymore; and about creators feeling overwhelmed by having to manage so many tapes or files. In quantifying the massive number of assets and digging up "lost" collections that needed reformatting and preservation work, the administration itself was overwhelmed by the budget and personnel that would be required to perform this previously hidden and unaddressed work. Having failed to gain buy-in to or enforcing guidelines and processes in the past, they faced a situation where budgets would need to be compressed into a handful of years rather than spread out as a simple part of daily operations had they been addressed earlier.

In my archival training we were constantly told to document everything because what-will-happen-if-you-get-hit-by-a-bus-tomorrow-and-all-the-information-about-your-collections-was-in-your-head.  Go ahead and chuckle, but currently I'm working on a project for a New York City performance hall with 70 years' worth of concert and event material. Sadly, the audio engineer in charge of the recordings was in an accident and died on the way to work two years ago. For those two years, the collections sat, gathering more dust in their storage area and continuing the march to decay. The organization knows they have valuable content, but they had no idea how to tell what it was or how best to take care of it. So it sat, getting worse and, equally important, not able to be used to support the promotion of the organization's storied history or help fulfill its institutional mission. And once again, a preservation project is driven by a crisis mentality rather than through reasoned planning.

Though the discussion of these topics often devolves into a blame game, there is not a single party at fault here. Rather, balkanization at the department level, a lack of communication about expectations and abilities, and an unwillingness to compromise over what is possible or what is a priority (I must have this...I would like to have this...In an ideal situation I would love to have this...) in collaborative requirements lie at the core of these conflicts.

An aspiring auteur should have a knowledge of the various contributing roles to a production so they understand the impact of certain decision points and how to ask for or understand the creative/practical approach of those collaborators contributing at those points. Likewise, creators and caretakers need to understand the basics of each other's needs and roles so they can better ask for or support those needs and avoid the conflicts that hurt all points of production and preservation. Preservation not as a bug in amber, but preservation as planning ahead to enable continually usable assets for future productions or opportunities. Longevity is not an accident, but a result of healthy maintenance of all aspects of an individual or organizational body.

Joshua Ranger is Senior Consultant with AudioVisual Preservation Solutions.
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