NAB2007 heads to a new dimension

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When Buena Vista decided to launch its latest computer-generated, family-themed film "Meet the Robinsons" in 3-D last month, it -- like the film's subject matter -- was a trip into the future. Buena Vista placed the movie on roughly 650 3-D ready digital-cinema screens worldwide, which marked the largest number of screens for a 3-D d-cinema release to date. But it wasn't quite as easy as dropping off the files in the projection booths: The company had to create eight different file formats to accommodate the d-cinema equipment currently used for 3-D display. That, on top of the different languages required for worldwide release, meant the company had to generate 42 separate packages.

Such a scenario is not likely to help create a steady flow of 3-D d-cinema releases from the studios.

"It's very time-consuming and expensive to create all of the versions to play on all those different screens throughout the world," says Walt Disney Studios vp production technology Howard Lukk. "We really need to get some standards set around 3-D -- if nothing more, at least the file-delivery format."

Establishing such technical standards for digital cinema, particularly those needed for 3-D feature releases, figures prominently in the National Association of Broadcasters Digital Cinema Summit, presented by conference partners NAB, the Entertainment Technology Center at USC and the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. The event is just one of a number of conferences that kicks off NAB2007, which runs Saturday-Thursday in Las Vegas and looks poised to top 100,000 attendees.

While this event remains the annual convention for the National Association of Broadcasters, the scope of the confab has grown to reflect production, delivery and exhibition of motion pictures, the Web, mobile content and other such areas. "As digital technologies bring the various sectors of the entertainment industry closer together, the Digital Cinema Summit grows more germane to our NAB audience," NAB vp science and technology John Marino says.

Many attendees will have their attention on the film industry's transition from an analog film delivery and exhibition format to digital. As the industry starts the conversion, the many business, technical and creative issues that have arisen will be spotlighted during the summit.

Already having an impact on these topics is 2-D d-cinema standards work, from technical development to establishing creative workflows.

But from a business perspective, a growing number of stakeholders believe that 3-D is a killer app for evolving digital delivery and exhibition systems. A flurry of announcements during the past couple of months regarding new technologies and content-creation initiatives underscored this point. Enter the need for delivery standards.

"People are touting 3-D as the killer app that will make digital cinema go, but I think if the 3-D community doesn't come together and create some standards in the next year, they could potentially kill a new genre," says Wendy Aylsworth, vp technology at Warner Bros. Technical Operations and chair of the SMPTE DC-28 d-cinema committee.

"Digital cinema makes 3-D much simpler to do (compared with film), but 3-D distribution is unique from 2-D distribution," she adds. "The 3-D world has many proprietary systems out there. If 3-D companies don't come together and select standards, it leaves the studios in a position where they have to create different masters from different theaters."

Last year, the SMPTE DC-28 committee published a large portion of its d-cinema standards, and those are now in use. The standards -- which Aylsworth will update at NAB -- are being reviewed by the International Standards Organization, reflecting efforts to create global standards so that d-cinema packages can be screened anywhere.

"This has been highly important in terms of establishing one method of distributing a film," Aylsworth says of the SMPTE's work. "On the 2-D side, we are able to take one master -- 2K or 4K -- and distribute it to any theater, and (that theater) can play the file domestically. Internationally, we are almost there -- about 80%."

D-cinema for 2-D theaters has been a topic on the radar for quite some time. When interest in 3-D began developing, the SMPTE DC-28 committee formed a 3-D ad hoc group, which is a part of DC-28 and is already at work on 3-D standards with manufacturers.

Within the industry, there is hope that standards will be set swiftly -- in a perfect world, before October, when 3ality Digital Entertainment's U2 concert film, "U2 3D," is slated to open. And that's far from the last picture scheduled for digital 3-D release: Paramount plans to open Robert Zemeckis' animated "Beowulf" in November, New Line's "Journey 3-D" is scheduled to open in August 2008, and James Cameron's "Avatar" for Fox has a 2009 release date. The small number of features that are actually in production could help grow the movement; at this still-early stage, much more production remains largely in discussions.

Following are other highlights to watch at NAB this year:

* David L. Wolper, executive producer of the 1977 miniseries "Roots," is scheduled to receive the NAB Distinguished Service Award.
* NBC's "Meet the Press," network television's longest-running program, will be inducted into the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame at the Television Luncheon; host Tim Russert will accept the award.
* Rick Dees will be inducted into the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame during the Radio Luncheon, sponsored by ASCAP.
* David Eun, vp content partnerships at Google, will be the keynote speaker for a supersession called "The Revolutionizing Impact of Broadband Video."
* Real D president and co-founder Joshua Greer will be one of the speakers at "3D Movie Making -- New Dimensions in Film Production."
* Christopher J. Cookson, president of technical operations at Warner Bros. and chief technology officer for Warner Bros. Entertainment, will give the Digital Cinema Summit's keynote address.
* The American Society of Cinematographers will present "Shoring Up the Digital Pipeline -- The ASC Blueprint." Up for discussion: digital production and post workflow, metadata and color consistency. Scheduled speakers include Lou Levinson, senior colorist at Hollywood-based Post Logic Studios; David Stump, ASC; and Glenn Kennel, vp and general manager at Hollywood-based LaserPacific Media Corp.
* The NAB Post/Production World Conference, which will feature keynote sessions with editors Steven Rosenblum (who will discuss the bicontinental editing workflow used on 2006's "Blood Diamond") and James Thomas (who edited last year's "Borat" and will discuss the blending of elements of reality television and mockumentary used to make the film).
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