Mr MXF thinks the future is bright


Bruce Devlin TV-Bay Magazine
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I have had the good fortune to spend some time with students at Southampton Solent, The University of Surrey, Ravensbourne and Godalming College in the last few weeks. Although student numbers are down on the technology courses, enthusiasm is high and the passion for the broadcast and media industry is evident in the eyes of the stars of tomorrow.

That is important to me and it should be important to you. By the time 2016 ends, we will be on the slippery technological slope that I believe will lead to the re-invention of everything we know about media delivery to the public. I'm not just talking about the move from terrestrial broadcasting to OTT, it's more fundamental than that.

When IP replaces SDI as a professional transport medium we will see new ways of making programs appear that rely on the bidirectional loose-coupling nature of the IP pipe - effectively separating the binding between cable and TV resolution that we have lived with since the 1940s. I probably don't have the imagination to change my production style to take advantage of this, but the young students that I've been talking to will finally be free of the shackles of the past to make programmes in the way they currently interact with on social media.

The end-to-end signal chain has increased the number of pixels on a couple of occasions since the 1940s, but today we are seeing a complete re-invention of what is possible. Cameras can shoot with more stops of dynamic range than the eye can see. Standards are coming into existence to allow that dynamic range to travel from the camera to the screen so we can finally see detail in clouds and monsters in shadows in the same scene. Wide color gamut and High frame rate mean that creatives can choose the frame rate, resolution, dynamic range and create a unique "look" that is just not possible today.

Object based sound and immersive sound fields are now a reality requiring more processing and better metadata, not to mention people in the field to experiment with ways to use this technology in all the genres from movies to sports to daytime cookery. Well, ok maybe daytime cookery won't be a big driver for immersive audio, but I bet second screen recipe and shopping applications will find a niche there that won't exist with Hollywood movies.

And then there's Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, 360 TV and all the other buzzwords for taking lots of camera feeds and allowing you to move your head and have the impression that you're "really there". I don't know where the money is, but I know that there will be a profitable niche somewhere. Maybe even a big niche.

Every piece of equipment and software in the chain will be affected in some way by this explosion of new technology. This is going to need a lot of young, enthusiastic and bright engineers to roll out over the next couple of decades. The future really is BRIGHT (and no, that wasn't an HDR joke).

BUT. And it's a big but. Broadcast engineers are aging and retiring. Student numbers going into the technology side of Film & TV are down. Personally, I don't think it's a problem of the Universities, it is starting earlier than that. Secondary schools and even Primary schools cut back on sciences because they're expensive to teach. Media science is seen as exotic and parents don't want their kids to take the subject because they don't see or understand the opportunities and the guaranteed employment for the foreseeable future.

Today's class is about the future and we're all responsible for making it better. If you are at a parents' evening in the next 6 months, don't be embarrassed about being a media engineer - do the opposite and be REALLY enthusiastic and let that passion out. Join SMPTE and help us educate the next generation or just let people know that being a smart science / engineer type is actually kind of cool - no matter what Trump says.

The future's bright ¦ but only if we have the engineers to keep it that way.


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Contributing Author Bruce Devlin

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