The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers(R) (SMPTE(R)), a leader in motion-imaging standards and education for the communications, media, entertainment, and technology industries, has successfully concluded the third Entertainment Technology in the Internet Age (ETIA) conference, this year titled "The Race Is On!" From June 16-17 at Stanford University near Palo Alto, California, the conference drew experts and delegates to explore past, current, and future technology requirements for delivering a compelling entertainment experience on the Internet.
"Once again, ETIA packed a tremendous variety of information, ideas, issues, and potential solutions into a two-day event," said Pat Griffis, education vice president at SMPTE and ETIA 2015 conference program chair. "Delegates appreciated not only the rich array of conference sessions but also the ample time allowed for discussion and networking."
The need to drive standards for higher-quality video and audio, the tension between OTT and traditional content delivery methods, and the question of streaming versus purchase continued to be central themes at the ETIA conference, while topics ranging from security, new techniques for encoding and optimizing bandwidth, and advances in virtual and augmented reality technology were also addressed.
Griffis launched the conference by discussing how "more, faster, and better pixels" can help to improve the quality of content distributed over the Internet -- and by reinforcing the need for new standards based on current technology and consumption habits. Scott Miller of Dolby Laboratories provided a technical deep dive on a replacement for legacy gamma encoding that more accurately corresponds to the human visual system when considering high dynamic range (HDR) imagery. This technical approach, which is called a Perceptual Quantizer or "PQ," has been developed and standardized by SMPTE as ST-2084. Lars Borg of Adobe contributed an example of how high dynamic range considerations could be applied to a content creation workflow. The ensuing panel discussion focused on where intent resides in the workflow, and whose responsibility it is to implement the final rendering of a scene onto the viewers' display.
Panelists from Netflix, Warner Bros., Sony Pictures Entertainment, Ericsson, Harmonic, and Ateme addressed the tradeoff between quality, quantity, and cost when distributing entertainment content, focusing on considerations such as optimal video compression techniques and formats, as well as the growing adoption of ultra high definition (UHD) 4K TV and the relative value of more and better pixels in the home-viewing environment.
Keynote presenter Neil Hunt, chief product officer at Netflix, reflected on challenges Netflix has faced in delivering ever-better content despite limited bandwidth. Pointing to Netflix's one million active 4K members, he suggested that the Internet is poised to become the leader in standards, and he continued to discuss the company's embrace of HDR, its wish for a closed-loop calibration system that guarantees viewing conditions, its hope for further progress in high-frame-rate (HFR) capture and rendering, and its work to achieve 480p quality at less than 250 Kbps for mobile devices -- lowering both users' data and battery usage. Hunt also noted that the Netflix media workflow is virtual, with massive amounts of encoding done in the cloud.
Hunt joined Todd Collart of Deluxe OnDemand and Phil McKinney of CableLabs for a discussion about various methods of storing and delivering high-quality streaming content to consumers. A panel led by Charlie Jablonski, a SMPTE past president and Fellow who most recently worked with OnLive, proceeded to explore how Web content viewing and delivery -- and much greater intelligence about what's being watched, by whom, and how -- are affecting the way viewers are monetized. Scott Brown of Nielsen offered insight into the company's perspective on the current and future state of conventional TV viewing, as well as its expansion into monitoring and measurement across on-demand and digital media platforms via the Web.
A panel of experts and executives from Jaunt VR, Immersion Corporation, Columbia University, Meta, and THRED updated delegates on the state of virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) entertainment, examining strategies, techniques, and technologies for creating realistic VR/AR experiences and describing the possible nature of those experiences.
A special evening event dedicated to security featured speakers from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), MaxPlay, Prime Focus Technologies, Independent Security Evaluators, Amazon, Aspera, and OnLive representing a wide variety of perspectives. The panel made it clear that cyber security has become a business issue that must be actively addressed at the corporate level and went on to discuss threat identification, making some eye-opening revelations about personal and corporate data vulnerabilities, and concluded with a conversation about best practices in securing enterprises.
A panel discussion on second-screen and nonTV-screen connectivity featured experts from nScreenMedia, Akamai, Accedo, Net2TV, and LG Silicon Valley Lab, who touched on how and when various devices are used to view streamed content, progress in simplifying the caching and distribution of content in many streaming and compression formats, app development for the wide variety of connected TVs, customization of experiences depending on the viewing platform and device, and strategies for attracting developer support and enabling smart TVs to play content designed for numerous platforms.
A session on consumer ownership failed to find consensus as to what the future holds, but panelists from nScreenMedia, Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem's Ultraviolet, Western Digital, and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment offered a wealth of data describing consumer trends in buying physical digital content, subscribing to streaming services, and investing in purely digital content.
Legal expert James Burger, partner at Thompson Coburn LLP, walked delegates through some of the Federal Communications Commission's recent decisions on net neutrality, explaining that the commission has stipulated that owners of networks should not control lawful consumer access and not discriminate against content providers with restricted access to their network.
While most of the panel examining audio-over-the-Web focused on the creation and transmission of pieces of audio entertainment, Phil Hilmes of Amazon Lab126 spoke to the importance of how audio is played for the consumer. He suggested that cloud-based preprocessing based on the specific listening scenario, and improved device design featuring elements including sensors, could help to characterize the local listening environment and help to ensure optimal playback.
A complete wrapup of ETIA 2015 will be published in the July/August issue of the SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal on at http://journal.smpte.org. More information about SMPTE is available at www.SMPTE.org.