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% Larry Bloomfield & Jim Mendrala

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July 4, 1999

DTV Tech Note - 033

Independence Day Edition


           Talent does what it can  -- Genius does what it must!

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Subj: Digital goes to the Movies -

The Digital Presentation of Star Wars - The Phantom Menace

By:   Jim Mendrala

Motion 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 digital future.

On 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.

The 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.

I 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 great also.

Now 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".

According 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 (5.1) sound.

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.

The 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 screen uniformity.

We 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.)

The 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 Works".

Star 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.

The 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.

The 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 time code.

In 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.

In 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.

After 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.

The 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.

Color 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 as much.

Like 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.

Somewhere 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.

While 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.

So, in my opinion, on a scale of 1 (best) to 3 (worst),

The film scored a number 3.

The CineComm Pure Digital presentation using the Hughes/JVC projector scored a number 2.

And the “Number 1” went to TI’s Totally Digital Projection.


Handicapped Theater goers are not left out

Rushing 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 last month.

Closed 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.

Patrons 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).

Using 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.

The 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, Va.),

Billy Tauzin (R, La.),  Congressman Tauzin does not have an e-mail address

Mike Oxley (R, Ohio),

John  Dingell (D, Mich.),

Ed Markey (D, Mass.),

and to work on limited sections of the bill,

Rick Boucher (D, Va.),

Henry Hyde (R, Ill.),

Howard Coble (R, N.C.),

Bob Goodlatte (R, Va.),

John Conyers (D, Mich.)


Howard Berman (D, Calif.).

The House conferees will join the eight Senators who were appointed to the a few weeks ago.

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 InfoComm

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

inefficient 4 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.

Fujitsu detailed 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.

Proxima's using 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

widescreen DLP 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 by late

summer. When asked when TI will do 1920 x 1080 Paul Bredlove told me "When it starts to make business sense."

Hughes-JVC already 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.

Hughes-JVC unveiled 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 decoder.

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.


Subj: Another point of view

By:    Dermot Nolan   >>>  <<< 

(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:

My certainty 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.

This certainty 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.

The Sinclair 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 North

American clients 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 consumer environments.

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 level:

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 outlets.

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

DTV services 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.

This indicates 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 areas.

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 system'.

These very diverse perspectives may now serve as the epitaph for ATSC and 8VSB.

Yours Sincerely,

Dermot Nolan, Director

Telecommunications 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 articles may be reproduced in any form provided they are unaltered and credit is given to both the DTV Tech Notes and the originating authors, when named.  If they are to be used by a publication that normally compensates their writers, please contact us first.