Disney digital guy seeks format to preserve media on all platforms

With digital files making tapes obsolete and new video platforms seeming to spring up every week, creating masters for all those platforms has become a thorny problem.

“In the old days, we’d have to make a master, put it on tape, store it on a shelf. But we’re trying to get away from making individual masters for all these distribution channels. We just can’t keep up anymore,” said Howard Lukk, Walt Disney Studios VP of digital production technology.

Lukk has been spearheading a volunteer team working on the Interoperable Master Format project for USC’s Entertainment Technology Center. Lukk said the IMF means to creating a single format that can be used to share masters among various facilities and to create deliverables for pretty much every viewing platform except cinemas.

“These things are always a no-brainer from a 10,000-foot level, but the devil is always in the details,” Lukk said.

In this case, he said, the difficulty is striking a balance between interoperability and flexibility. A strictly defined specification might have great interoperability, letting the master work on many devices and standards, but might not be able to adapt to future innovations.

After the better part of two years, the project is moving toward conclusion. Lukk hopes to have a specification that can be turned over in the spring to SMPTE, which would write standards implementing it for the industry.

The ETC has been so impressed with Lukk’s efforts that last month the org gave him its first Technology Leadership Award.

“Many industry initiatives that have been led by the ETC, such as the digital cinema lab or the 3D home lab or the IMF format, have been led largely by individuals from within the member companies,” David Wertheimer, executive director and CEO of the ETC, told Daily Variety.

Since the IMF is an especially important project for the ETC, Wertheimer said, “Howard was a natural choice for the first award.”

Most consumers have yet to upgrade their TVs to full 1080p hi-def, and U.S. broadcasters aren’t even transmitting in the format yet, but the next generations of super-sharp screens are in the pipeline. Stores already carry 3D TVs, Toshiba demonstrated 4K flatscreens at January’s consumer electronics show, and next up appears to be Super Hi-Vision, which offers 16 times the pixels of HD (7680 x 4320 to be precise). Radio Netherlands Worldwide reported the BBC transmitted a concert in the format to Tokyo, with Japan’s NHK providing the Super Hi-Vision technology. The RNW report said the Beeb intends to test Super Hi-Vision at the 2012 Olympics and NHK plans to be broadcasting in the format in 2020.

That would put some pressure on the the movie business to improve its capture and projection systems rather quickly or risk lagging behind television. Jim Cameron and others have been asking for higher frame rates. That might be a good place to start. On the other hand, since Super Hi-Vision has more resolution than 35mm film, it could become the standard for movies, too.

Bits & Bytes

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david.cohen@variety.com

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