And the Winner for Best Tech in Hollywood Goes To… (Guest Column)

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Awards season in Hollywood has become a rite of passage in celebrating the arts for its creativity and ingenuity. And while some of the more technical categories like visual effects, sound mixing and cinematography usually receive short shrift, technology promises to change the way studios both on the big and small screen create, distribute and market their content.

We’re at an inflection point in the media industry today. Content consumption behaviors continue to evolve in a media landscape that has become increasingly fragmented. According to a recent study by FX Networks, 487 original scripted shows aired last year. That’s up more than 150% from 15 years ago.

With more choices for consumers, media companies and platforms are in a fight to cut through the clutter and grab the attention of consumers. And it can all start with the experience. Providing more access to content, burnishing existing technologies and developing new and innovative solutions will help meet these new challenges. And by layering in additional tech capabilities brick-by-brick, media companies will be able to fill these gaps that make the consumer experience even better.

That might explain why Silicon Valley has increasingly become a major player in Hollywood. Whether it’s platforms like YouTube or streaming services like HBO Go, tech is flipping the script in how people watch movies and TV shows. And the proof is in the pudding. Netflix picked up its first ever Academy Award nomination for a feature film this year while Hulu and Amazon received numerous awards at this year’s Golden Globes.

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With more choices for consumers, we’re seeing many upstarts challenge the status quo in Hollywood by offering consumers more comprehensive experiences that provide consumers with instant gratification and quality content.

So in the spirit of the awards season, I bring to you my nominees for the technology that promises to upend Hollywood while offering more quality experiences for consumers.

And this year’s nominees are:

Visual Effects – Modern movie making has been completely transformed using digital visual effects. The seamless integration of digitally created objects, creatures and characters into live action shots in post-production has gotten so good that movie-goers can no longer differentiate between the parts of a scene that are shot live and those that are added digitally. There’s simply no comparison between Dick Van Dyke and his dancing penguins in Mary Poppins and the charging mechanical rhinos in Black Panther. These shots require the combined efforts of hundreds of digital artists using incredible software with millions of lines of code operating on massive super-computers to create, edit, and render.

HEVC Video Compression – We have become accustomed to having extraordinarily high-quality video content at our fingertips on a wide variety of devices wherever we go. This would not be possible without the extraordinary video compression technology called HEVC. Video content keeps getting more data intensive with higher definition (now up to 8K), wide color gamut, high dynamic range, and more frames per second. Moving the massive quantities of video data that we consume across high-speed internet, cellular and WiFi networks would be impossible without compression technology that makes the files as much as 200X smaller than their native size. The latest generation of compression technology, called HEVC, doubles the compression rate over the prior generation. Without it, we’d have to chose lower quality video or else our networks would literally grind to a halt.

Voice Control – To control our viewing experience, voice control is now becoming widely available and increasingly proficient. We will soon throw away all of our remote controls and use our voices to find all of our content and control our viewing experience. No more hunt-and-peck to find the movies and shows we want, just say the title, the genre, or the name of an actor and you’ll be presented with a list of all of your viewing options which you will also select with your voice. To pause, rewind, or fast forward a movie, you’ll no longer search for the remote between your couch cushions in a dark room. Just say the command and your viewing experience will be completely under your control.

High Dynamic Range Video – If you watch an old movie, or a new movie on an old TV set, you’ll notice how washed out everything looks when compared with the best new content on a high quality modern TV. TVs that are capable of displaying content with High Dynamic Range are demonstrating picture quality improvements that we haven’t seen since the leap from Standard Definition to High Definition. HDR can be difficult to describe, but you’ll certainly know the difference when you see it. Video content is brighter and has much more vivid colors. The HDR standards are capable of displaying a much wider range of luminosity from the blackest blacks to the brightest whites, and much wider color gamut with more than a million unique color gradients. If you haven’t seen HDR yet, it’s worth a trip to your local TV store and may finally give you a compelling reason to upgrade your old HD TV. High quality digital TVs are quickly approaching the human perceptual limit across all dimensions, and HDR technology makes difference in that is impossible not to notice.

Object Based Audio – If you’ve been to a recently upgraded movie theater lately, then you’ve heard the latest innovation in audio technology called Object Based Audio. The old days of stereo and multi-speaker surround sound are being replaced with a new audio technology that requires a different way of capturing, mixing and presenting movie audio. With Object Based Audio, each sound is captured as a separate object that can be precisely located as it moves through three-dimensional space. In the theater, up to 64 speakers are used to recreate the sound in its precise location relative to the audience. If you saw the movie Dunkirk, you can hear the planes as they fly overhead and the bullets whizzing by your head so clearly that you almost feel like you should duck. This amazing audio technology is now headed for the home theater, and even the headphone market and will bring hyper-realistic audio to a wide range of video experiences.

Media companies need to be tuned-in to how consumer behaviors are changing in today’s digital world. The technology race among media companies is only beginning. Will it have a Hollywood ending? Stay tuned to find out.

Arvin Patel is the chief intellectual property officer at TiVo.