Futuring High Framerates

September 2012

Futuring High Framerates

The subject of high frame rates (HFR), 48 and 60 frames per second (fps), for both image acquisition and for projection, has enjoyed significant press of late.

Its three most dominant proponents, Jim Cameron, Peter Jackson and Doug Trumbull, all share the goal of providing better images, especially for 3D content with the primary intent to deliver an even more compelling theatrical presentation.  Given their collective stature, combined with their respective track records, it is a concept that is bound to take hold and potentially set the stage for others to adopt.

This is not the first time that filmmakers have attempted to create and distribute content using the technique.  Mr. Trumbull, inventor of the Showscan process many years ago, used 60 fps on 5 perf 70 mm film.  The images were stunning both for ridefilms and for flat screen movies.

But as with many technologies, as we pointed out a few months back in Searching for the Grail, entrepreneurs develop products and services that are great, and right on conceptually, but often they are just ahead of their time.

That does not make the concept wrong.  The time and general conditions have to be right and I now postulate that the time may be right for high frame rate production and distribution.  The wide adoption of digital image acquisition and the continued roll out of digital cinema projection in the global theater network may make this a reality.

Based on some of the lessons learned in the transitions from analog to digital and from standard definition to high def, it will take many years, however, to gain traction and to become widespread.  It is all going to depend on what occurs in the meantime and if the theaters can keep pace.

The entire display industry is going through seismic shifts, shifts that are anticipated to dramatically change the entire viewing experience, from smartphones and tablets to big screen theatrical venues.

Thus, it is going to be difficult for theater owners to keep up with the image quality of the next generation of consumer displays, so HFR should be attractive in terms of keeping them a step ahead.

It is not going to be easy.  So, let’s look to the future and consider what this might entail.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, forthcoming from Peter Jackson and distributor Warner Bros. was shot in 48 fps.  A limited number of select theaters in the US and presumably elsewhere will project the movie on modified digital cinema projectors.

It has been reported that theaters do not plan to increase ticket prices for the presentation.  That is smart given the public’s current reluctance to shell out upcharges for 3D movies.  That business model could use some tweaking, but that is a topic for another day.

When The Hobbit was screened at CinemaCon, the annual distribution/exhibition trade show and conference in the spring, reactions were mixed.  There were, of course, the obvious positive reactions as to the steadiness and sharpness of the pictures, but there were also negative press reports, about the images being too much like TV and video.

Interestingly, when digital cinema was initially deployed 8 – 10 years ago, some complained that the image was too sharp, too steady, not a grainy look as celluloid.  Yet, the rollout of digital cinema marched forward.  Today, many of us would find watching a movie on film to be annoying and out of our “norm.”

High frame rates, in time, will become the norm, but it will take some time, perhaps another 8 – 10 years or more, before it is a common practice for both 2D productions and 3D, with 3D ultimately being auto stereo.

From a pipeline point of view, camera technology, digital storage, computing power and bandwidth are all on a trajectory to enable content producers to access the tools needed for creation and delivery of the final product to the theaters and in turn to the home.

Theater equipment will most likely be the biggest delay factor and it may also be the one that prompts the biggest changes.

In the future, servers at the theater level will potentially require a transition, if servers at the theater even survive long term, as the delivery and storage moves to the cloud.

Each year at CES we see larger displays such as the massive 85 inch Sharp 8K LCD TV that may be deployed in 2013.  Sony recently released a 4K TV aimed at the consumer market.  With these two products in mind, it is easy to extrapolate to what will occur in the long term.

Thus, it is “down the road” that the biggest changes will occur at the theater.  In time, the projection systems and screens used today will be replaced by a colossal LCD or a similar or future display technology.

Looking ahead the theaters will install 40, 50, 60 and 80 foot electronic displays.  While it will take time for the electronics manufacturers to reach that level, the signs are there now with the Sharp 8K display, the Sony 4K TV, the pending rollout of 4K projection and the potential for ultra HD.

This next generation of projection/display will not be widely adopted in the short term since theaters are still in the digital conversion cycle and many of the financing arrangements are 8 – 10 year payouts for the theaters.  We are not even mid way through that cycle globally.

And there will not even be much of a transition until it can be proven that there will be sufficient content available.  It is even possible that the home entertainment center will see the new display technologies even before they are available to theaters.

As for the “video” look noted by the early viewers of The Hobbit HFR presentation, by the time the theaters are ready for the transition, there will be an entire generation of viewers for whom plasma, LCD and related display technologies are the norm.  Theater presentations will just be larger.

High frame rates and transitioning to new theater equipment are almost inevitable.  The consumer is always longing for better and this will provide it, in whatever frame rate or display format wins out.

The key issue is if the only difference between home viewing and in theater is size.

Observations from Siggraph 2012

Siggraph 2012 was in Los Angeles making it convenient for local companies and their employees to attend. Notwithstanding the location, attendance was 21,212, “off 5.9% compared to the 2010 Los Angeles show and down 25.4% from the 28,432 who showed up in downtown L.A. in 2008.”

In the mid 90s, when there was a major frenzy with companies attempting to capitalize on the growing demand for computer graphics and related technologies, attendance was significantly higher.  The industry has since experienced a major consolidation as the frenzy faded away and companies that could not survive the onslaught have exited the marketplace.

That said, there were many interesting booths at Siggraph 2012, including a multitude of companies showing virtual reality, 3D printing, all forms of mocap, (performance and facial capture, etc.) along with the usual software and hardware vendors and, of course, the job fair.

Siggraph 2013 will be in Anaheim.  While not in downtown LA, the location should not be a major attendance detractor.  It will be interesting to see what the numbers will turn out to be as changes continue within the global industry.

As for The Shindler Perspective

Variety’s 3D Summit – Once again I will be moderating the Wall Street panel.   This year’s title is Challenges Amidst Elevated Expectation – The Public Point of View.  Given the current state of 3D, this panel promises to generate a lively discussion.

Panelists are Chris Yewdall from DDD, Richard LaBerge of Sensio, Rich Ingrassia from Roth Capital Partners and Stephen Kovach from Vine Alternative Investments, LLC.

Variety’s Multi Screen Summit – My second panel is OTT Delivery To Bring Content to the Consumer on Any Screen for the Multi Screen Summit being held concurrently with the 3D Summit.

Panelists include Chris Yewdall, CEO, DDD, Michael Pachter, Research Analyst, Wedbush Securities; Marcus Liassides, Executive Vice President, MySpace and Alki David, CEO, FilmOn.

The Summits will take place at Hollywood and Highland on September 19 & 20.  My two panels are on September 20.

Readers of this newsletter can get a 25% discount by using MSINV when registering.

Digital Hollywood – With fall around the corner, Digital Hollywood is almost here.  My panel this conference is Cross-Platform Content – Analysts and Investment: A View from the Street – From Tablets and SmartPhones to 3D TV.  It will be a breakfast event at 7:45 AM on Tuesday, October 16, 2012.

As the anywhere, anytime concept continues its unrelenting march toward even greater penetration, and with original content becoming a major factor from the next networks of Amazon, Hulu, Netflix and You Tube, there will be plenty of timely and future thinking topics to discuss.

Confirmed panelists are Tom Adams, Principal Analyst at iHS Screen Digest; Jeffrey Logsdon of JBL Advisors; Michael Pachter Managing Director, Equity Research Wedbush Securities; and Ron Richards, Head of Strategic Business Advisory Services, Merriman Capital.

The Speaking Engagements page of our web site will include the latest editions to the panel participants.

Trends in the Marketplace and Other

Under the heading of never looking back, according to Forbes Magazine on July 25, 2012, the sale of old records, i.e. catalogue titles, outsold current titles by several million.  This is the first time that this has occurred and it is the concept of the long tail front and center.

On a somewhat similar note, All Access reports, through the CEA Smart Brief, that “Revenue from music downloads and Pandora, Spotify and other services this year is on track to reach $3.4 billion in the U.S., narrowly edging a projected $3.38 billion in CD and vinyl sales, according to Strategy Analytics. Worldwide, digital music in three years’ time will outsell CDs and records, Strategy Analytics is projecting.”

Comics reflect reality is a concept I often discuss and post on at various sites.  Given the above regarding music, Dagwood went to a music store in this strip from June 25, 2012.   Check it out.

For those of you who are no more handy than I am when it comes to the use of a hammer, saw and other tools of the trade, you will enjoy this Ballard Street

For more trends in the marketplace, never looking back, thoughts on news items, forthcoming speaking engagements and comics reflect reality, follow me on Facebook, LinkedIN, Twitter and Google +.   Click the links below for access.

Roberta and I wish our friends, clients and prospective clients well.

For The Shindler Perspective, Inc.



Marty Shindler

Chief Executive Officer


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