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HPA: Mapping the Future, One Pixel at a Time

HPA: Mapping the Future, One Pixel at a Time

HPA: Mapping the Future, One Pixel at a Time
Posted: Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I love the HPA Tech Retreat. It is the most thought provoking conference of the year, one where you're guaranteed to learn something new, meet interesting people and get a preview of the ideas that will shape the future of the industry. Here are the six most interesting things I learned this year.

  1. Collaborating competitors can affect opinions

At this year’s HPA Tech Retreat, I had the honour of presenting a paper with John Pallett from Telestream. Despite the fact that our products compete in the market place, we felt it important to collaborate and educate the world on the subject of fractional frame rates. 30 minutes of deep math on drop frame timecode would have been a little dry, so we took some lessons from great comedy double acts and kept the audience laughing, while at the same time pointing out the hidden costs and pitfalls of fractional frame rates that most people miss. We also showed that there is a commercial inertia in the industry, which means the frame rate 29.97i will be with us for a very long time. In addition to formal presentations, HPA also features breakfast round tables, where each table discusses a single topic. I hosted two great round tables, with John as a guest host on one, where the ground swell of opinion seems to be that enforcing integer frame rate above 59.94fps is practical, and any resulting technical issues can be solved – as long as they are known.

  1. I will never be smart enough to design a lens

Larry Thorpe of Canon gave an outstanding presentation of the design process for their latest zoom lens. The requirements at first seemed impossible: design a 4K lens with long zoom range that is light, physically compact, and free from aberrations to meet the high demands of 4K production. He showed pictures of lens groupings and then explained why they couldn't be used because of the size and weight constraints. He went on to show light ray plots and the long list of lens defects that they were battling against. By the end of the process, most members of the audience were staring with awe at the finished lens, because the design process seemed to be magical. I think that I will stick to the relative simplicity of improving the world's file-based interoperability.

  1. Solar flares affect your productions

We've all seen camera footage with stuck or lit pixels and, like most people, we probably assumed that they were a result of manufacturing defects or physical damage.  Joel Ordesky of Court Five Productions presented a fascinating paper on the effects of gamma photons, which, when passing through a camera’s sensor, cause the sensor to permanently impair individual pixels. This is something that cannot be protected against unless you do all of your shooting underground in a lead lined bunker. Joel presented some interesting correlations between sun spot activity and lit pixels appearing in his hire stock, and then showed how careful black balance procedures can then reduce the visibility of the issue.

  1. UHD is coming – honest

The HPA Tech Retreat saw a huge range of papers on Ultra High Definition (UHD) issues and their impacts. These ranged from sensors to color representation to display processing, compression, high frame rates and a slew of other issues. I think that everyone in the audience recognised the inevitability of UHD and that the initial offering will be UHDTV featuring resolution improvements. This is largely driven by the fact that UHD screens seem to be profitable for manufacturers; soon enough they will be the only options available at your local tech store (that’s just good business!). The displays are arriving before the rest of the ecosystem is ready (a bit like HDTV), but it also seems that most of the audience feels better colour and high dynamic range (HDR) is a more compelling offering than more pixels. For me, the best demonstration of this was the laser projector showing scenes in true BT2020 wide colour range. First we saw the well-known HDTV Rec.709 colour range and everything looked normal. Next up was the same scene in BT2020 – and it was stunning. Back to Rec.709, and the scene that looked just fine only seconds before now appeared washed out and unsatisfactory. I think HDR and rich colors will be addictive. Once you've seen well-shot, full color scenes, you won't want to go back to Rec.709. The future is looking very colourful.

  1. Women are making more of an impact in the industry (Hooray!)

There were three all-women panels at this year's HPA, none of which were on the subject of women in the industry. This was a stark contrast to the view of women in the industry as shown on a 1930s documentary of the SMPTE Conference, where men with cigars dominated the proceedings and women were reduced to participating in the chattering social scene. This contrast was beautifully and ironically highlighted by Barbara Lange (Executive Director of SMPTE) and Wendy Aylesworth (President of SMPTE 2005-2015), who hosted their panel in bathrobes with martini glasses, while explaining the achievements of the society over the year. If you haven't yet contributed to the SMPTE documentary film project or the SMPTE centennial fund, it's time to do so now. These funds will help support the next, diverse generation of stars.

  1. IMF and DPP are a symbiotic pair

One of the most interesting panels was on the Interoperable Mastering Format (IMF) and the Digital Production Partnership (DPP) interchange format (and yes, this was in fact one of my panels!). One format’s purpose is to distribute a bundle of files representing several versions of one title. The other is designed to create a finished, single file with ingest-ready metadata, where the file can be moved to playout with virtually no changes. Both formats have a strong foothold in the life cycle of any title and are likely to form the strongest symbiotic relationship as we move into the future. One thing that I pointed out to the audience is that the DPP has done a huge amount of work educating UK production and postproduction houses about the change management that is required for file-based delivery. They have written a wonderful FREE guide that you can download from their website.

All in all, the HPA Tech Retreat is a wonderful event with so much information flowing that it takes weeks to absorb it all. I must confess though, that one of the highlights for me was being able to cycle up the mountain every morning before breakfast. It meant that I could go back for seconds of all the wonderful cake that was on offer. Happy days!

Until next time – don't forget about our UHD webinar, happening today. If you didn’t sign up in time, drop us a line at and ask for a re-run. The more people that ask, the more likely that we'll do it!

Posted by Bruce Devlin

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