Published by: Larry Bloomfield & Jim Mendrala
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Tech Note - 033
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goes to the Movies -
The Digital Presentation
of Star Wars - The Phantom Menace
By: Jim Mendrala
pictures started near the end of the 19th century. In 1927, people
went to see Al Jolson star in one of the first talkies "The
Jazz Singer". Then in 1935 color brightened the silver screen.
By the early 1990's digital sound tracks gave us a look into the
June 18, 1999, what is considered to be the first few awkward steps
for electronic cinema where taken. The digital premiere of George
Lucas's "Star Wars - The Phantom Menace" was viewed at
four theaters in the United States - two on the East Coast and two
on the West Coast. The theaters on the East Coast are the Loew's
Meadow 6 Theater in Secaucus, NJ and the Loew's Route 4 Theater
in Paramus, NJ. On the West Coast, the digital presentations are
at the Pacific's Winnetka-21 Theater in Chatsworth, CA and the AMC-14
theater in Burbank, CA.
Kodak film print of Star Wars was also running in the same theaters
so you could go between auditoriums and compare film vs. E-Cinema.
was there on 6/18 in the AMC-14 at 1:30 when the lights were lowered
and the presentation started. A lot of Star Wars fans were in the
audience as well as a lot of people in the industry. The DLP Cinema
and THX logos stood out and looked superb. Cheers went up when the
trailers were over and the green background Motion Picture Rating
clip finished. (You know the one that says this film is rated "PG".)
Then it went to black and the "Star Wars" logo came on
the screen. It stood there on the screen rock solid and had a kind
of three dimensional look. No weave, no flecks of dirt, no scratches.
It looked great. The sound of the spacecraft, in outer space, sounded
you might call me an idiot but in the interest of science my wife
and I viewed the various presentations all day the next day Saturday,
June 19, 1999. What I saw I could right a book on but I will condense
what I saw and give you some of the highlights.
We arrived in line at the Pacific's Winnetka-21
Theater in Chatsworth, CA. When it was our turn to purchase our
tickets. I said to the girl behind the window, "What's the
difference in size between the "Big Screen" and the digital
screen size.” She said she didn't know. I asked her to please find
out? She picked up the phone and called the "booth" and
asked "Does anyone up there know what screen size Star Wars
is projected on and what size is the digital presentation screen."
After she hung up she said that no one knows the size other than
one is bigger than the other. I asked here to check with the manager.
It was 10:30 a.m. and there wasn't anybody behind us. The show didn't
start for another 15 minutes. She came back and said the big screen
is about 4 ft. wider than the small screen. I said okay we want
the digital presentation of "Star Wars". We then proceeded
to the theater, showed our ticket stubs and walked into the auditorium.
The seating was "stadium seating".
to a paper handed out by CineComm, the screen was said to be 47
ft. x 27 ft.. The projector was a Hughes/JVC model 12K projector.
The throw from the projector to the screen was 77 ft. The image
aspect ratio on the screen was 2.35:1. The brightness was said to
be about 11.6 foot lamberts. The audio was uncompressed 6 channel
In order to be fair in the evaluation, we
sat at an approximate 40 degree viewing angle. This was verified
by using an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper and holding it up to my eye
and aligning the far end corners of the page with the left
and right edges of the screen. This put us in the middle about 3
rows from the back of the Pacific Winnetka-21 auditorium. It was
obvious that in this theater most people sit less than three screen
heights from the screen.
screen was a flat screen and it is claimed to have a gain of 2.0.
This is probably correct as the projected image had a “hot spot”
in the middle and was dark on all four corners. The higher the gain
of the screen, the more pronounced is the “hot Spot”, so much for
watched the movie from beginning to the bitter end. The last credits
list the ones who were involved in the E-Cinema work. (The film
print does not include these people.)
film was transferred in two formats at Modern Video/Film in Glendale,
CA and evaluated at IVC (International Video Conversions) in Burbank
on a large screen in what was once part of the famous Lockheed "Skunk
Wars has a lot of special effects in it. It is said that about 80%
of the movie has effects. 20% of the movie does not have any effects
but half of that was shot using a HDTV camera. All of the images
from film and the HDTV camera were digitized and composited on SGI
machines at 2K resolution. Then the 2K files were output to a film
recorder to create a color corrected Inter Positive (IP). That IP
was used to make the film prints and another identical IP was generated
to be transferred to HDTV for the "Digital Presentation".
The IP was transferred on two BTS Spirit telecines. One transferred
the IP image directly to a Panasonic HD D-5 tape machine in 1920
x 1080 at 30i. The other Spirit output the IP image using only 1280
x 1024 out of the 1920 x 1080 HDTV raster. Remember the IP film
is in scope with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
HD D-5 tapes were then sent to Industrial Light and Magic (ILM)
and the data was transferred to a Pluto Technologies HyperSPACE(tm)
High Definition Digital Video Recorder. It is ideally suited for
use to record and playback the Hi Def signals. It uses 20 18 GB
hard drives in the array and can store up to three hours of an HD
D-5 compressed digital bit stream.
6 (5.1) channels of uncompressed audio were transferred to a Tascam
MMR8 Digital Disk Recorder at THX and was the source of audio for
the theaters playback. The audio was kept in sync to the video via
each theater, a film projector was run one minute behind the electronic
presentation so that if the electronic projector failed, the show
could still go on. However the lamp for the film projector was not
turned on. The sound of the movie projector running could be faintly
heard at the back of the auditorium. This also theoretically made
it possible in the morning for the projector techs do a split screen
and match the film print. Of course no one is allowed into the theater
during setup so it is only speculation. (I suspect the Hughes/JVC
techs used this to set up their projector as it matched the contrasty
film print very closely.) Kodak said the print was on their new
Visions Premičre high contrast print stock.
the theaters with the Hughes-JVC projector, the Pluto server was
played back into a D/A converter to convert the bits back to an
analog signal and fed to the projector. The HDTV 1920 x 1080i signal
at 30 frames per second had the 3:2 sequence so that the projector
could run interlaced with no flicker. On the monologue crawl the
letters had a twitter on the top and bottom of the letters as they
moved up on the screen and there was interline twitter noticed on
the credit crawl. Space ship flybys and pans all exhibited the 12
cycle judder that is caused by the 3:2. Most people are so familiar
with the judder that only a few commented about it being objectionable.
viewing the “Pure Digital” Star Wars presentation we then watched
the Star Wars on film. The film was very similar to the electronic
presentation but without the the 3:2 judder. A scratch was seen
and a some dust and dirt particles were scattered throughout the
film. After the film ended we went to the AMC-14 in Burbank California
for the Digital 7:30 p.m. screening of Star Wars.
TI projector had a look all of its own and more faithfully matched
the IP for detail in the blacks. The projector appeared to be sharper.
The TI projector was fed from a Pluto server by playing the bits
directly into the projector. The bits were matrixed digitally back
to RGB then de-gammaed, as the DLP engine requires a linear gamma
response curve to drive the DMD mirrors. TI uses 12 bits to accomplish
the transformation. The 3:2 was also removed so that the image on
the screen was a true 24 (23.98) frames per second. The monolog
crawl and the credit crawl both looked the same as the projected
film. No interline twitter. Pans and space craft fly byes were smooth.
on the Hughes-JVC was more saturated and matched the film print
closely, TI on the other hand looked very natural and the color
saturation was more like real life and much easier to view. This
brings up the question "Is it real or is it film?” I think
I prefer the more natural look, as it doesn't detract from the story
I said, in the Pacific Winettka-21 theater the screen was 47 ft.
x 27 ft., so to sit three screen heights back, one had to sit in
the third from the back of the theater. The viewing angle in the
center of the Pacific Theater auditorium was only about two screen
heights. The closest row was only about 14 ft. from the screen and
the viewing angle there was absurd. At the AMC-14 theater in Burbank
the screen was slightly smaller but to obtain the same viewing angle
of 40 degrees it was possible to sit about the middle of the theater
where the stadium seating ended and the flat seating area began.
This theater was designed more like a "shoe box". One
could sit as far as 5 screen heights back and as close as 1 screen
height in this theater.
in the movie an HDTV camera was used to record a couple of scenes.
Most thought it was the sequence were the Jeddi tends to Skywalkers
wound and collects a blood sample for analyses. Dave Schenullie,
THX says that you can't tell the difference between the film and
the HDTV scenes. Only Lucas knows which scene(s), and he's not telling.
waiting in line to see the 4:30 p.m. digital presentation at the
AMC-14 in Burbank, a couple of teenagers were telling their friends
that “Yeah, Star Wars is being shown in Sony Digital. They use a
DVD, man!” I found this interesting because Sony didn’t have anything
to do with the presentation but the Walkman crowd thinks that anything
digital must be Sony or Dolby. So much for brand names.
in my opinion, on a scale of 1 (best) to 3 (worst),
film scored a number 3.
CineComm Pure Digital presentation using the Hughes/JVC projector
scored a number 2.
the “Number 1” went to TI’s Totally Digital Projection.
Theater goers are not left out
to demonstrate that the captioning process can keep up with Hollywood's
release schedule, WGBH quietly completed captioning and made audio
descriptions for “Star Wars - The Phantom Menace” in just four days
captioning for hearing impaired movie-goers and audio descriptions
for the sight impaired are available in three specially equipped
theaters. They are in Sherman Oaks, CA., Seattle, WA and Atlanta,
GA. According to WGBH five more theater sites are scheduled to be
set up for the Star Wars run. General Cinema manages all of these
theaters. Theaters at a number of science museums and at Disneyland
and Disney World are also equipped for one or both of these services.
who want to see the captions borrow "Rear Window" shiny
acrylic panels that reflect the lighted captions, which are displayed
backwards on 10-foot-wide arrays of light emitting diodes (LED's)
in the back of the theater. The reflectors are mounted on goosenecks
that attach to viewers’ seats. Descriptive audio is broadcast to
users' earphones. Both systems were developed through WGBH's Motion
Picture Access Project (MoPix).
a system developed by Digital Theater Systems (DTS) the captions
and descriptions are recorded on a CD-ROM and played back in sync
with the film, just as the theater's multi-channel audio is played
back from separate DTS disc. Equipping a theater is estimated to
be about $15,000, according to WGBH.
MoPix technology was first used in 1997 for the Hollywood releases
of "The Jackal" and "Titanic".
Subj: Still Stirring the Satellite Pot
By: Larry Bloomfield
There will be 11 members of the House of Representatives
serving on the joint Senate/House conference committee charged with
finalizing satellite legislation. As when we sent out the original
letter to the Senators, you are encouraged to send one to the eleven
House members stating your points of view. They are (with
their e-mail address):
Tom Bliley (R,
Billy Tauzin (R, La.), Congressman Tauzin
does not have an e-mail address
Mike Oxley (R,
John Dingell (D, Mich.), John.Dingell@mail.house.gov
Ed Markey (D,
and to work on
limited sections of the bill,
(D, Va.), Rick.Boucher@mail.house.gov
Henry Hyde (R,
(R, N.C.), Howard.Coble@mail.house.gov
(R, Va.), Bob.Godlatte@mail.house.gov
(D, Mich.) John.Donyes@mail.house.gov
(D, Calif.). Howard.Berman@mail.house.gov
The House conferees
will join the eight Senators who were appointed to the a few weeks
Several of the conferees come from rural areas
where interest in this matter is of great importance to them and
their constituency. It is expected that the conference committee
is expected to have preliminary meetings before July 4. More
than 20 legislators signed a letter, originated by Sens. Max
Baucus (D, Mont.) and Craig Thomas (R, Wyo.) encouraging legislators
working on the new bill to include language that will ensure local-to-local
service for rural satellite television subscribers.
Subj: HDTV Dominated
by Jim Mendrala
At the InfoComm
trade show, held June 10th thru the 12th, in Orlando, FL, an event
that traditionally has been oriented toward business products, consumer
HDTV stole the show. The famous "Shootout for large venues
was done in the 16 x 9 format, a departure from the old and
x 3 aspect ratio. It is no surprise that InfoComm attendees are
excited about HDTV. Until now the cost for large displays have been
very high but because the consumer market volume is expected to
be much larger it should drive the cost down.
plans for 42W plasma HDTV sets. Texas Instruments (TI) unveiled
a 720 x 1280 version of its Digital Light Processing (DLP) chip.
NEC said it would be shipping HDTV 50 W plasma monitor for the commercial
market in July of this year. JVC said it's readying 2 rear-projection
HDTV sets based on Hughes-JVC's Direct Drive Image Light Amplifier
(D-ILA) technology for delivery in early 2000.
an SXGA (1,280x1,024) projector with 2,300 lumens brightness was
displaying Discovery Channel footage.
TI said it will
be supplying 1,280 x 720p DLP chip with 700:1 contrast ratio and
400 lumens brightness to Hitachi and Mitsubishi rear-projection
HDTV sets due in late 2000 (See TVD May 24 p11), but has no immediate
plans yet for 1080 x 1920 version. TI's decision to develop
for 720p was based on the fact that that format, in combination
with chip-based technology, has a higher effective resolution than
1080i CRT technology. The new widescreen 0.7 "chip for rear
projection will be produced using a 13.8-micron pixel size that
TI is expected to start in volume this fall. TI so far has used
17-micron technology for the Digital Micromirror Device (DMD) and
the new process will decrease gap between pixels to 0.7 microns
from the present 1-micron. They will also shrink the present 6-transistor
SRAM down to 5 transistors as the company moves to a more compact
design. First application for the new 13.8-micron technology will
be 4-6-lb. single-chip projectors that are expected to start shipping
asked when TI will do 1920 x 1080 Paul Bredlove told me "When
it starts to make business sense."
delivers 1080 images at 1,365x1,024 resolution using a 0.9"
chip based on D-ILA technology. D-ILA technology has largely been
limited to front LCD projectors so far, but
JVC is expected
to have single-chip-based 30W rear-projection set for commercial
use next year.
a version of the D-ILA projector that boosted brightness to 1,500
lumens from the present 1,000 lumens and showed prototype with a
400:1 contrast ratio. Contrast ratio will be increase to 650:1 later
this year and 1,000:1 within 12 months according to a Hughes-JVC
spokesperson. Current resolution may be raised to 1,600 x 1,200
as an "interim step" in 2000 on the way to a goal of 1920
x 1080 or more, according to Engineering VP William Bleha. JVC plans
to ship 2 HDTV sets based on D-ILA technology in by early 2000.Lineup
is expected to consist of rear-projection TVs with single D-ILA
chip, although it was unclear whether sets will have built-in HD
In achieving higher resolution, D-ILA will be
able to handle 1080 with a 48 kHz refresh rate making it a direct
competitor to TI's DMD. Hughes-JVC will retain an exclusive
on the D-ILA technology once brightness moves past 1,500 lumens
and instead will sell light engines to allow OEM customers to develop
their own products. Although current suggested retail pricing on
D-ILA projectors remains at $17,500, street tags have fallen into
$9,000-$12,000 range and will reach parity with standard XGA LCD
models within the year.
point of view
By: Dermot Nolan
>>> firstname.lastname@example.org <<<
(Ed Note: There's no secret that the Editorial
Staff here at the Tech Notes staff have had our run-ins with the
ATSC high priced help. It appears that we are not the only
ones. The following is a response to one of their typically
tempestuous clandestine attacks on someone who disagrees with them.
It is printed here with the author's permission. We will afford
ATSC equal space in which to respond.)
Dear Mr. Tanner:
about the relative merits of COFDM (including DVB-T and ISDB) and
ATSC is based on ten years of study of these transmission systems.
I first saw COFDM
demonstrated as part of the NTL SPECTRE project in 1991, a precursor
to the first commercialized COFDM system from DVB, and became convinced
that once fully commercialized COFDM would be the natural route
forward for digital terrestrial television. The analysis of the
prospects for ATSC vs. COFDM is guided on the basis of consumer
viability, economics, international evidence, legacy antenna reuse,
the operational results, spectrum efficiency, and a detailed appraisal
of the technological offers.
about the commercial prospects for COFDM is shared in many OECD
industrialized countries such as the European Union States, Australia,
India, New Zealand and Singapore to name but a few. I understand
other countries are likely to choose COFDM in the near future.
Indeed in the
only two countries, Australia and Singapore, which conducted independent
laboratory and field trials of ATSC, DVB and ISDB (Singapore only),
DVB-T defeated ATSC across a broad range of selection criteria and
the conclusion of these ground-breaking trials was that DVB-T performed
better than ATSC. There is no escape for ATSC from these systematic
trials conducted by many other people throughout the world.
Broadcasting Group trials in Baltimore, MD could well be a precursor
to an official head-to-head in the United States. This could prove
illuminating for many US broadcasters, regulatory agencies and other
parties with an interest in successful DTV businesses and the ultimate
closure of analogue NTSC service whilst preserving consumer access
rights and free over-the-air television.
If ATSC is the
best system, what can it have to fear from a comparative trial on
its home turf?
You ask for whom
I work? :
I am a Director
and the owner of the media and telecommunications strategy consultancy,
Telecommunications and Broadcasting Services, based in the UK.
We have international
clients in the broadcasting, consumer electronics, computing, satellite
operator and telecommunications industries .AT THIS TIME, we do
not directly represent any organization, broadcaster, manufacturer
or government with a vested interest in the outcome of the ATSC
vs. COFDM standards selection. Further, AT THIS TIME, we have no
in any sector.
In 1998 a number
of clients in various industry sectors, including North American
owned companies, engaged us to assess the market prospects for ATSC
in several supply chain areas which led to my direct interest in
the future prospects for ATSC. I have conducted many studies on
digital television throughout the world including, when employed
by Coopers & Lybrand (now Price-Waterhouse-Coopers), the economic
study 'The impact on consumers of the proposed Council Directive
on the adoption of standards for satellite broadcasting of television
signals' which was influential in undermining the analogue HD-MAC
HDTV strategy proposed for Europe in 1991. At the time I took the
controversial view that digital television was the way ahead in
Europe and that (analogue) HD-MAC HDTV did not support a viable
business model for investors, and should therefore be abandoned.
I am unfazed by controversy if the economics of any technological
proposition manifestly do not stack up. In the case of ATSC history
appears destined to repeat itself I fear.
I have executed
studies on digital terrestrial television (as well as many other
industries) throughout the world since 1992 and co-authored a major
published report on Digital Terrestrial Television in Europe a couple
of years ago.
My interest in ATSC vs. COFDM is personal, the
opinions expressed are my own, and as an owner I enjoy full autonomy
to express my opinions independently. This enables me to raise many
issues in the current US DTV problem which others would either not
be sanctioned by their employers to articulate in a public forum
or would feel uncomfortable to speak out on. Private emails
and telephone communications from senior management in leading North
American broadcasters in recent days indicate that the concerns
articulated are very widely shared and that a raft of major issues
are about to enter the public domain.
As a matter for
the record my overall take on ATSC is that it was a first generation
DTV system which has now been superseded by modern second generation
DTV systems such as DVB-T and ISDB which better serve consumer requirements.
The DVB system
is gaining critical mass and will be used in many parts of the world,
and an economic assessment is that ISDB will likely be preempted
by DVB-T before ISDB can be fully commercialized.
The case against
ATSC is, in my view, as follows:
1 The standards
setting process was a supply side fudge between conflicting broadcasting,
consumer electronics, computing and telecommunications industries.
A set of market and commercial requirements, which were flexible
and future-proof, were not adopted (cf. the DVB process). This led
to the overlooking of absolute fundamentals including reception
on all classes of existing antenna system and in all normally encountered
2 The adoption
of eighteen separate emission formats in effect means there is no
emission standard. This leads to cascading supply side diseconomies
of scale and scope throughout the chain from content origination,
through studio centers, to set-top boxes. (A heated debate on emission
formats on the Internet underscores this observation.)
3 It is a first
generation DTV system that has now been superseded.
4 The 8VSB transmission
standard is the Achilles heel of the ATSC system at the consumer
A DTV system
requiring 30ft masts, rotors, which denies widespread legacy antenna
reuse, which abolishes seamless channel zapping for non-collocated
DTV stations, which cannot provide quality indoor antenna reception,
which fails with flutter, cannot handle 0dB echoes and severe multipath
situations common in all our cities is dead in the water.
The US consumer
will not buy it: the evidence speaks for itself in the sales of
ATSC STB's believed to be under 10k units since last November and
the absence of widespread off-air demonstrations in downtown retail
8VSB is not a viable commercial replacement for
the current NTSC service meeting the needs of the US broadcasting
industry in the next century. Failure by 8VSB to replicate
indoor antenna access to free-to-air television afforded by NTSC
service means that, politically, NTSC service
will not be discontinued
because of the electoral uproar which will inevitably occur.
5 The prime application
envisaged for ATSC is HDTV:
This is not a
self-funding business proposition for free-to-air broadcasters in
which no additional revenue streams can be derived from advertisers,
and there is no incremental charging mechanism for consumers.
6 ATSC does not
support mobile digital television applications:
This will, in
my humble opinion, be a multibillion dollar industry worldwide.
Other countries such as Germany and Singapore see this as a major
competitive renaissance for terrestrial television in heavily cabled
markets. It now appears that the BBC will lobby for UHF spectrum
to be allocated for mobile
either before or after analogue terrestrial services are terminated
in the UK.
The United States
risks cutting itself off from a mobile DTV future through retention
of a museum piece DTV transmission standard.
7 ATSC is not
currently interoperable with digital cable or satellite, there is
no API/EPG in place, and no conditional access capability is in
place. The rival DVB system already has all these elements in place,
which explains its worldwide popularity.
8 There is no
interactive services/Internet capability in place unlike the rival
DVB cable, satellite and terrestrial systems.
9 When systematically
evaluated in head-to-head laboratory and field trials against rival
DTV systems in third-party 'nonaligned' countries ATSC is rejected
by those countries.
that ATSC is not seen as a world-beating DTV system in countries,
which carry out independent and impartial assessments.
10 Consumer response
in the US to ATSC has been very weak. How many TV's with ATSC tuners
built-in have been sold and how many stand-alone ATSC STB's have
been sold since November 01 1998?
11 ATSC is being
preempted in US digital television markets by cable and DSS/Echostar.
The two satellite operators are selling around a quarter of a million
units monthly: no reception issues there to confront US consumers.
This compares with perhaps 10000 ATSC STB's sold since November
01 1998 according to some estimates.
12 The FCC has
authorized COFDM for use in LMDS, MDS, MMDS, and digital ENG
that appear to
be enthusiastically adopted by those operators.
These are all
terrestrial systems operating at higher frequencies than VHF/UHF
which encounter the same multipath impairments in urban and mountainous
The next logical
commercial and economic step in a rational world would be for the
FCC to sanction COFDM for DTV side-by-side with 8VSB. I wonder what
would happen then...
I concur with
the views expressed by William Schreiber (which appeared in an Internet
forum on 06/10/1999), in Mr. Roger Stanyard's new report: 'Is ATSC
America's HD-MAC Fiasco?' and with those reported in the Singapore
Digital Television Technical Committee report on rival DTV systems,
Annex B, page six that 'with regard to the development of the standards
and system we felt that the DVB and ISDB use a technology that has
more room for growth than the dated technology used in the ATSC
These very diverse
perspectives may now serve as the epitaph for ATSC and 8VSB.
and Broadcasting Services
(Ed Note: In closing, please check out the SCRI
web page. We appreciate their posting these Tech Notes --
The DTV Tech Notes are published for broadcast
professionals, and others, who are interested in Electronic Cinema,
DTV, HDTV, etc., by Larry Bloomfield and Jim Mendrala. News items,
comments, observations, opinions, etc. are encouraged and always
welcome. Material may be edited for brevity. DTV Tech Note
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