Published by: Larry Bloomfield & Jim Mendrala
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By: John Fode >>> firstname.lastname@example.org
(Ed Note: The
responses are by Jim Mendrala)
I enjoyed your excellent article on your (Jim
Mendrala's) experience of the Film & Digital Projections of
Phantom Menace. I was present at the Burbank AMC along with
others in our industry at the Friday 1:30 PM opening show (Digital
Projection). I thought it was terrific.
Q: Was the data presented
to the TI in 1280x1024 ?
JM: The data was presented
to the Texas Instrument projector from the Pluto Technologies server
via a SMPTE 292 High Definition Standard Digital Interface or HD-SDI.
The displayed data was formatted within the center 1280 x 1024 pixels
of the available 1920 x 1080. An anamorphic 1.9:1 projection
lens was used to project the squeezed anamorphic image onto the
screen and un-squeeze the image.
I certainly saw no lack of
picture quality or details. I sat directly in the middle about
3-4 screen heights back. I also saw the Film release about
2 weeks prior, but only watched about 45 minutes before leaving
(Too many kids in the audience, and I did not particularly enjoy
the movie itself).
Q. The Pluto server delivered
at 24 fps?
JM: The Pluto server delivered
the data at 30i fps. The 3:2 pulldown was removed at the projector
through the use of time code. The data was recorded so that
all "A" frames fell on time code 0's and 5's. The
time code was feed to the projector so that only the original 24sF
frames would be used. Synthetic frames derived from 3:2 pulldown
were discarded. The TI projector then reconstructed the segmented
fields back into the original 24p frames.
Q. I saw no flicker.... Was
it doubled to 48 fps, or tripled to 72 fps?
JM: Actually each individual
pixel was turned on and off using a form of Pulse Width Modulation
(PWM) and the mirrors switched on and off at around 50,000 times
Q. The end credits looked
noticeable soft. How much better can we expect Digital Projection
to get (Other than less expensive)?
JM: Yes, the end credits were
noticeably soft. This was also true on the film print.
The electronic cinema credits were at the absolute end and they
Q. In what areas can we expect
it to get better?
JM: I think the resolution
and colorimetry will get better. Today the resolution is limited
by the projector and the colorimetry is limited by the masking parameters
used in the telecine whose output is tailored to SMPTE 240M specifications.
Pixel bit depth is already at 10 bits log or 1,024:1 contrast range,
so I don't expect much improvement in this area.
Q. I am a bit confused with
the issue of aspect ratio.... You wrote: "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." If I divide 47/27, I get a factor of
approximately 1.74. Pardon my ignorance, but how do you derive 2.35:1?
JM: The screen aspect ratio
is one thing. The image displayed is another. The 2.39:1 aspect
ratio image was projected in the 2.35:1 format onto the 1.74:1 screen.
Black velvet masks were brought in from the top and bottom so that
it looked like the screen was tailor made for the presentation.
John, I hope
this answers your questions.
Subj: Lead, Follow or get out of the way!
By Larry Bloomfield
The cable industry has done a fine job of convincing
the American public that they are the only source of television
signals worth considering. Over the years, they have been
responsible for building codes, CC&Rs in fancy neighborhoods
and the list of their intrusions into our lives goes on. Go
back twenty or thirty years and look around at the rooftops of most
any American town and it looked like a porcupine on aluminum steroids.
Slowly, but surly, the TCI's, Cablevisions, Falcons etc. began offering
additional services which the average viewer wanted, but was unwilling
to put up a 10-12 foot satellite dish and it's associated equipment,
to receive. I'm not telling you anything you probably don't
already know; there just aren't many TV antennas poking their directors,
reflectors and driven elements into the sky to capture the signals
of local TV stations anymore and those that are still up are usually
This scenario has caused the tuner industry to
all but atrophy. Until a small tuner company in Plano, TX
came onto the scene a while back, not much has been done to improve
tuners in any way over the years. (Check out www.Microtune.com,
Microtune's web page.) I've seen older TV sets with more receive
abilities then many of todays's super big screen behemoths.
The incentives have just not been there. Why put bucks into
making a better tuner when cable has been dumping tons of signal
into the back of subscribers TV sets? The set manufacturer's
are in business to make money. There aren't too many successful
Don Quixote's in business. Cutting costs is part and parcel to their
corporate bottom lines. There just hasn't been any challenge.
The sad part to all of this is that cable's overall
performance has deteriorated to the point that you can usually get
a better signal off the air than from the local copper signal peddler.
When you haven't got anything to compare with, viewers have grown
accustomed to the increasingly poorer and deteriorating performance
of cable. Thank God for Direct-to-Home (DTH) Satellite services
which should go a long way to give them some competition.
This is not said as a cantankerous comment, but rather in the spirit
of fostering good old Yankee competition. Isn't that what
has built our country in the past?
In addition to DTH, there are a number of things
that should be giving cable a wake up call. (DTH is digital.)
If we can ever get the various issues of modulation settled, digital
television promises to bring crisp clean pictures into our homes
once again either over the air or via cable, but the latter has
some unresolved issues.
It doesn't take a seafaring salt to realize that
the cable industry is still adrift with no direction when it comes
to resolving what is becoming "The Cable TV Digital Dilemma."
Many in the broadcast industry have hoped that something positive
would come out of the cable industry's big Chicago whoop-tee-do,
the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) convention back
in June, but the expected commitment to deliver OpenCable specifications
for retail-ready advanced digital set top boxes (STBs) was not forthcoming.
This is an important issue to broadcasters.
The latest surveys indicate that nearly 80 percent of all television
sets get their signals from one kind of cable service or another
and time is running out. With an FCC deadline of July 2000,
someone's got to burn the midnight oil and stop the lollygaging
so the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) needed to for the
interoperability of the STBs can be developed. These APIs
are crucial to the industry. If not in place on time the ripple
effect will impact the arrival of interactive services for everyone.
In a letter dated July 1, 1999, signed by Consumers
Electronics Manufacturers Association (CEMA) President, Gary Shapiro
to FCC Chairman William Kennard, CEMA expressed its concerned.
Shapiro promised the FCC Chairman that will every effort is being
made to "reach agreement with the National Cable Television
Association (NCTA) by October 31, 1999 on the necessary technical
and operating specifications for digital receiver-ready cable systems
and cable-ready digital receivers." Shapiro also said:
"We also will work to complete "build-to" standards
based on the agreement by the end of 1999." More than
just a few hope this is not just more political smoke and mirrors.
Two of the biggest players in the behind-the-scenes
tug-of-war have been, none other than Microsoft Corp. and one of
their bigger of several nemesis, Sun Microsystems, Inc. It is generally
accepted here in the Silicon Valley that each of these two software
giants have sought to promote their own software varieties for television
sets attached to anything, let alone cable. Microsoft's "It's
ours -- all or nothing" track record does not help to promote
a congenial platform where everyone can contribute to the cable
STB brew. Sun, one of the few in the software industry who
can stand up to Microsoft, doesn't have a much better track record.
There is no question that a decision of this
magnitude has to be made carefully and it takes a lot of consultation
and decision-making. A cooperative effort on everyone's part
would be ideal, but a pie-in-the-sky concept in these neck-of-the-woods.
Cooperation is a nearly forgotten or unheard of concept in the boardrooms
of San Jose, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, and the other contributing communities
to the Silicon Valley megalopolis. The road to define software
specifications, that would meet industry OS-agnostic and CPU-agnostic
principles, should be an easy one. There is no shortage of
talent available in this part of the country, but corporate egos
are usually the greatest impediment to progress.
There is little doubt that the high-priced help
in cable industry are not letting all this happen without some serious
consideration from their standpoints. Cable operators have
a lot to lose if they cannot come up with something by the rapidly
approaching deadline. First their sanctioned territorial monopolies
may be confronted with the god-awful concept of competition.
There are those who wouldn't shed much of a tear should that happen.
Just think: offering the consumer a choice. How novel!
CableLabs chief technical officer, Richard Prodan
told regulators that the software aspects of the OpenCable spec
are a "high priority." Prodan expects there should
be some sort of standard established by the end of this year, and
rightly so, but voices from the PC and consumer-electronics industries
are not quit as optimistic, saying it may take a year or more to
sort out the various issues.
We look to our digital brothers for answers,
but Silicon Valley is young and undisciplined. It's time for
the computer and software geeks there and elsewhere to wake up and
get to work before noon. Perhaps then they can then get some
work done or be available when the rest of the electronics industry
is conducting business. It's also nice for them to be in their offices
before most of the rest of the United States is headed home for
the day. Then there is the issue of learning about the industries
who need their cooperation to move on to new technology.
Living and working in the Silicon Valley certainly
has been an experience for this broadcast engineer. It is
not difficult to emphasize with others in our broadcast industry
who try to get things done only to run into very well camouflaged
roadblocks. The lack of understanding for the applications
that non-computer industries need is appalling. Typical of
this is the software company I recently worked with who were attempting
to develop a product for the broadcast industry. By the numbers,
nearly all of the some 85 people who were writing the software had
never stepped foot into a broadcast facility, let alone understand
how it worked.
STBs in Trouble
In light of all this, it is not difficult to
understand why it has become necessary for the cable industry's
business expectations for OpenCable-compatible digital set-tops,
to dramatically shift during this past year. Discussions with
many of the STB designers and projections for impressive specifications
and applications for the first wave of the new generation of STBs
that could fully get things going for the two-way cable infrastructure
have all but been scrapped for now. The current genre of STB
specification dictates nothing more than a plain-vanilla box with
an electronic programming guide (EPG) for digital pay-per-view and
not much else.
It was expected that with the deregulation of
STB ownership by the FCC, droves of new features would attract a
whole new market for this kind of device, but it is not difficult
to see why this has just not happened. The public will not
pay the several hundred dollars for an STB that does little more
than give them what they already have. As Alan McCullough,
president and chief executive officer of Circuit City Stores Inc.
(Richmond, Va.) has said on several occasions, retailers want something
with competitive functionality to sell that encompasses more than
just basic functionality.
Don't look for
all the fancy bells and whistle features expected to be part of
the bi-directional digital cable business from STB makers as they
are few and far between. Referring back to the days, a couple of
years ago, when Open Cable first saw the day of light, James Bonan,
vice president of new-business development for the Consumer Audio/Video
Products Group of Sony Electronics Inc., says the industry is "right
back where it started - defining what interactivity means and what
it needs to do."
When you leave the door open, don't be surprised
at who might come in. With the acquisition of TCI cable by
AT&T, there comes to the table a whole new bunch, who play ball
a different way. With all this inactivity and to keep its
head above water, it doesn't come as any surprise that the industry
has to reassess its definition of interactive TV. One concept
that snuck in the door with AT&T is a concept called voice-via-cable
touted as the wave of the future by cable's newest "big"
AT&T chairman C. Michael Armstrong, has been
very clear about what AT&T plans to do with all its subscribers:
sell them local, long-distance and international telephone service
(de ja vue) along with Internet access on the side. If you've also
observed which cable companies AT&T has gone after, they've
been those that have concentrated subscriber bases that lend themselves
to AT&T's plan. Nearly every one of the AT&T acquisitions
are volume focused and will provide lots of subscribers in the more
densely populated areas. Admittedly this gives cable a solid
and dependable monthly income by providing a single source for "all"
home external electronic services. One cannot help but ponder,
where's Judge Green when you need him most?
Nothing has been said so far about the consumer
who wants more than just an STB with OpenCable compatibility.
For the consumer electronic companies that build terrestrial digital
television, cable and Internet devices, the concerns go much farther
than how to build the OpenCable compatibility into the set.
Concerns must be addressed relative to maintaining the integrity
of devices based on the dissimilarity of the various platforms.
In addition to the two software opponents mentioned
earlier, the API debate has split the remaining part of the industry
into two factions. In truth, if the two sides lineage is traced
back to its genesis, you'd find the same two competitors at the
bottom of all this. One side wants Java Virtual Machine-based
interoperability for advance digital STBs and terrestrial digital
television sets. The other faction wants to achieve a common
content spec across cable, satellite, terrestrial and Internet transmissions.
The Java group is synonymous
with Sun Microsystems and a few cable operators, with a host of
consumer-electronics companies under the Advanced Television Systems
Committee (ATSC)'s DTV Application Software Environment (DASE) group.
The group is forging key elements now for a common Java TV API for
cable and terrestrial TV.
group is led by the supporters of the Advanced Television Enhancement
Forum (ATVEF), which was founded by none other than Microsoft, Intel
Corp., and a number of media companies. Go figure!
The crux of the issue is the scalability of interactive
data services. Broadcasters whet to NAB '99 looking for ways to
help pay for the transition to digital television by finding solutions
in the area of Datacasting. Not many had their expectations
satisfied. Depending on the complexity of the programming
and execution environments designed for TV data broadcasting, the
emerging datacast spec will profoundly affect next-generation TV
receiver and set-top architectures. It would be best for broadcasters
to continue their supplications to "the Force" in hopes
their prayers are ultimately answered.
If all this isn't enough, probably the best of
the hidden agenda beyond the API battle for some is Microsoft's
emergence as a power ball within the cable industry. If you
have been following the financial pages of your local newspaper,
let's hope the editor was astute enough to pick up on the story
about the deal between Microsoft and AT&T to deploy up to 10
million Windows CE-based cable STBs over the next five years.
Laurie Priddy, senior vice president for advanced
technology at AT&T Broadband and Internet Services, the part
of AT&T headed up by former TCI big-shot Leo Hindery, insisted
that her company's deal with Microsoft will "absolutely not"
affect the industry's debate on OpenCable issues. "The focus
on middleware allows each cable operator or consumer-electronics
company to choose its own OS," she said. At this point
of development, no one appears willing to sacrifice that flexibility.
Remember that compromise is doing something that neither party wanted
make Microsoft happier than to have the cable industry standardize
on a product that would reprise their track record with DOS &
Windows, but now in the cable TV industry. On the other side of
that coin, major cable operators are very paranoid about letting
Microsoft control anything.
says that we'll eventually see a series of API recommendations,
but the new API will almost have to take into account currently
in use legacy APIs.
With the deadline rapidly counting down, perhaps
cable could take a lesson from its big brother television and strike
up arrangements like RCA-NBC once had or more recently CBS-Mitsubishi.
Perhaps the saddest part of this whole story
is the FCC's roll or should I say non-roll. Instead of helping
resolve these issues, the FCC will continue to press the cable and
consumer-electronics companies, telling them they should try to
work out their digital television/cable compatibility issues.
This should be no surprise as we all know that picking up a pencil
to help with something of this sort might give one of those governmental
bureaucrats a hernia.
Instead of being
the FCC of a bygone era; the FCC that helped develop the American
broadcast industry into the technically finest on the planet; that
helped the industry when issues of this import and magnitude, came
up, they will most likely take their typical "wait and see
posture while the ship bobs aimlessly around.
The FCC is supposed to be the stewards of the
public airwaves. It is sad! This is the same FCC that has
evolved from a fine, respected governmental organization into the
money grubbing pawns and puppets of governmental bean counters who
are deathly afraid of their own shadows when it comes to setting
technical policy and standards. Like every other nautical vessel,
perhaps all antenna structure should be required to display two
black balls dangling from their mast. It means we're underway
with no away.
Hollywood Be Satisfied With HDTV?
By Jim Mendrala
With all the
hoop-la surrounding the digital presentation of George Lucas's Film
"Star Wars - Episode I, The Phantom Menace" and the Miramax
film "The Ideal Husband", Disney is readying "Tarzan"
for digital projection at several venues.
Starting on July
30th, the "Tarzan" film will be shown at AMC's Pleasure
Island multiplex at Disney World outside of Orlando, FL. The film
will also be projected digitally at AMC's Media Center North 6 in
Burbank, CA and at the Edwards Irvine Spectrum complex in Irvine,
CA. All will be using Texas Instruments' DLP Cinema projector.
Details are scarce
at this time, but it is rumored that the theater playback will be
from a Pluto Technologies Server using the Panasonic HD D-5 compression
format that compresses the picture 4:1. Uncompressed 5.1 channels
of audio will be played in sync from an MMR8 just like the "Star
The major difference
with the "Tarzan" movie is that it was created and animated
on computers. It is also rumored that instead of doing an HDTV film
to tape transfer from an Inter Positive (IP) like "Star Wars"
and "The Ideal Husband", the computer generated images
(CGI) will be down converted directly from the digital CGI files
to the 1280 x 1024 pixels within the 1920 x 1080 HDTV raster.
Now, since the
broadcasters are having second thoughts about HDTV DTV transmission
in the ATSC 8-VSB (8 Vestigial Sidebands), and Sinclair Broadcasting
is advocating testing COFDM (Coded Orthogonal Frequency Division
Multiplexing) as an alternative RF transmission standard, Hollywood
seems to be satisfied to run digital HDTV film to tape transfers
for the theaters.
This is a shame
because HDTV was designed for the home on screens that could be
as big as 10 ft. wide by 5.6 ft. high. (Floor to ceiling is 8 ft.
in most homes today and room depth is about 15 to 20 ft.)
The few of us
that have seen DTV HDTV projected onto a big theater screen know
that the images are okay for those that sit three or more screen
heights back. But for those theaters that have big screens and stadium
seating, and the back row of seats in the theater are only 3 screen
heights back, HDTV digital projection leaves a lot to be desired.
less of an importance as one gets further from the screen. An HDTV
1920 x 1080 image is okay for viewing at three or more screen heights.
However, at less than three screen heights, the image is soft. At
around two screen heights, the pixels start to become obvious. At
one screen height, all you see are pixels.
Pixels are fixed.
They don't move. Film grain however is random; it moves from frame
to frame, sort of like dithering. The eye tends to average out the
grain, and the detail in the image is more readily seen. Film typically
resolves about 55 line pairs per millimeter (lp/mm). HDTV digitally
projected by a projector with 1280 x 1024 pixels is just barely
able to resolve 20 lp/mm. That's less than half of what a typical
35mm film print can resolve.
At this time,
electronic cinema is in its infancy. The infant has not even started
to walk yet. It seems that Hollywood would want to start with a
clean slate and address the problems within the theater environment
and come up with a system that exceeds the 100 year old film system
that we use today.
It is true that
digital projection is cleaner, i.e., no dust and dirt. It has more
saturated colors. There is much less weave. Focus is more consistent.
There are no scratches. Sound is clearer. However, the one thing
that is lacking is a sharp sparkling picture that stands up in the
theater environment like the 35mm image.
Subj: A military
strength ATSC antenna system from a not so retired observer
By: Nicholas Bodley
>>> email@example.com <<<
(ED Note: The results of several 8VSB tests have
shown the need for tall, large, rotating antennas for any measure
of successful reception. This new subscriber addresses this
issue with an interestingly different and humorous prospective.
Just think what you'd have on your roof if the military where to
design your antenna structure.)
your DTV tech newsletter (a happy find!) from a Web search. Although
I'm retired, I still find the ATSC/COFDM situation to be fascinating
as well as sad. Through unusual circumstances, I was in D.C. last
Sept. or so for the NAB gathering, and became aware of the situation
firsthand. It seems to be The Dirty Big Secret of US DTV.
antennas, and often-big ones, are needed for 8VSB. My background
in naval gun fire control, where multi-ton gun mounts require fast,
accurate position servos to keep them on target with a rolling and
pitching ship, as well as recoil of twin and triple guns that tries
to rotate the mounts, made me propose a spoof: Have reinforced antennas
rotated by high-torque position servos; assume that they are pointed
to the desired azimuth in about 1/4 second with about 1 degree of
arc accuracy (guesses).
The reinforced towers for these could cost $thousands,
and might have problems with zoning; the servos might draw peak
powers enough to dim the lights. Eventually, the servo cost might
be brought down to a few hundred dollars. Accumulators for electro-hydraulic
servos are unlikely. Of course, the surfer's channel selector
hardware would contain antenna-angle data for each non-co-located
don't expect to see a news report about a chimney being twisted
apart by excessive channel surfing. I can, however, imagine an animated
cartoon showing just that happening. Done well, it could be quite
funny, except to ATSC advocates.
Regards, Nicholas Bodley
Subj: Broadcast / Pro Video Facilities
Show Increasing Usage of Video
(Ed Note: The
following SCRI note is our way of saying thanks for them letting
us use their web site.)
According to SCRI's recent Broadcast / Pro Video
Industry Trends Report ('99-2000), the majority of broadcast and
production facilities are already using local area networks - currently
about one in seven (68.4%), going up to eight in ten by the year
2000. With 12.4% of facilities unsure, the actual penetration of
LANs is likely to be even higher. "As production and
broadcast facilities gear up for full digital production and transmission
environment, the use of video networking has shown a concomitant
increase" commented SCRI's Research Director, Des Chaskelson.
provides manufacturers with a roadmap of the shifting Broadcast
and Professional Video Marketplace as we move into the new millennium.
The report tracks all the key technology issues, like DTV, video
networking and transport, video formats, equipment budgets and production
activity trends, incidence of traditional and new video applications
like webvideo and CD-ROM and DVD Production."
ED Note: We have several stories that wouldn't
fit into our limited 30,000 characters and spaces. If you
have anything to contribute, we'll be glad to include it in our
#35, which will be coming out sometime this week.
The Tech Notes are published for broadcast professionals,
and others, who are interested in Electronic Cinema, DTV, etc.,
by Larry Bloomfield and Jim Mendrala. We can be reached by either
e-mail or land lines (408) 778-3412, (661) 294-1049 or fax at (661)
294-0705. News items, comments, observations, opinions, etc. are
encouraged and always welcome from our readers; material may be
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