Hi tech Hollywood

WHILE LAST WEEK’S Superhighway Summit in Los Angeles trumpeted its potential, the information superhighway is about as vacant of entertainment industry vehicles as the newly remodeled Santa Monica Freeway between Fairfax and the 405 .

One of the most promising sections of the superhighway is the Internet, which could, if USC’s Entertainment Technology Center has its way, revolutionize the way the entertainment industry gathers information. USC expects the system to be up and running by February.

The Internet, which was developed by the Defense Dept. several decades ago, is a worldwide network of thousands of computers, all containing libraries of data. It was also one of several online services, along with CompuServe and America On-Line, that proved a lifeline to tens of thousands of people within Los Angeles who turned to computer online services for help and firsthand information after Monday’s Northridge quake.

With long-distance telephone service spotty, many of those with electricity, a modem and a local telephone line found that they could call local telephone numbers that gave them access to online networks not crippled by the disaster. The Internet logged as many as 3,000 users worldwide within hours after the quake.

On calmer days, an Internet user can cruise the digital highways, tapping into a multitude of databases. And with 40 million people on the Internet currently, that makes for a lot of available information and a reason why USC’s Tech Center wants to start offering services and information to Hollywood through the system.

According to David Belson, the project manager of the Tech Center’s integrated studio project, an effort is currently being made to get the major studios and others up and running on the Internet. The center, which is sponsored by Warner Bros., Viacom, Paramount and Apple, is developing its own software that will allow Hollywood to tap into the Internet through USC’s system and gain access to all available databases.

Internet applications for Hollywood are almost endless. Since the system can store graphic images, the USC entertainment industry database could contain single frame images of various locations from anywhere in the world. With the press of a few keys, a location manager could view and ultimately download any image for consideration.

Another area would be the storage of stock film and TV footage, which, thanks to various compression techniques, can now be seen on a computer screen. The system could also allow searches for crew members with specialized qualities.

“If you were looking for a person that’s an expert on a certain type of costume or special effects, this would be a great way to find them,” Belson said.

The USC database will also be able to provide information regarding breaking developments in technology, an area of vital importance to the entertainment industry. Belson has been in discussions with Paramount, Universal, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. and said they are considering riding the Internet express.

PROPERTY RIGHTS: Intellectual property rights is turning into a hot topic. It’s increasingly easy to electronically pirate copyrighted works without licensing the material, and the music world appears to be one of the main victims of the new high-tech problem.

For example, after recently taking on artists who “sampled” other musicians’ work without paying license fees, songwriters and music publishers now face the fact that computer bulletin boards, such as CompuServe, are making available computerized MIDI files that millions of subscribers can download. MIDI files are computerized information — usually an exact arrangement of a popular song — that can be played through a musical synthesizer.

While CompuServe, which is owned by Ohio-based H&R Block, is making millions in online fees, they have not been paying license feesfor “broadcasting” any of these copyrighted songs. Now, in what could be one of the first tests of intellectual property rights in multimedia and interactivity, music publisher Frank Music has sued CompuServe for copyright infringement. Although the suit only covers the firm’s “Unchained Melody,” which was downloaded by CompuServe members, it is a class-action suit that will involve millions of dollars and hundreds of songwriters and publishers.

“I don’t care how quickly you follow these things, they are way ahead of you, ” said songwriter George David Weiss, president of the Songwriters Guild of America, which is monitoring the situation along with ASCAP and BMI. “As soon as we stop it in one area, something new is invented and we have to go after them.”

According to Weiss, who’s penned such hit songs as “Can’t Help Falling in Love,””What a Wonderful World” and “Too Close for Comfort,” the songwriters and publishers feel that they should be paid the same 6.2 cents royalty they get for records.

MOVIES ON THE PC: One of the most promising innovations in the multimedia world is the ability to play full-motion movies on a computer. And while great advances have been made, most observers admit that onscreen movements still seem jerky and below the quality of a projected film image. Just as it’s proving important to high-definition TV, compression is seen as the answer for improving the look of video on the PC.

Without compression, a full-length movie would need over 160,000 megabytes, or about 250 CD-ROMS, which isn’t practical.

There are several techniques, including one developed by the Joint Photographic Experts Group. By eliminating certain information from the visuals and reducing redundant color values, a file can often be compressed to one-tenth its original size.

Another technique, developed by the Motion Picture Experts Group, eliminates redundant information in adjacent frames of a filmed image. The group standard is the one currently being used by Philips on CD-I machines for playback of full-motion CD-ROM films.

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