JVC’s Take on 4K

There was once a time when 4K resolution, or at least the claim of 4K, was special. Sony was possibly the first to produce a projector, in their SXRD range, while Dalsa‘s 4K Origin camera was probably the first just-about-fieldable camera that significantly exceeded the resolution of HD video. With the F65, Sony finally has a camera to match their projector, but it’s no longer a sparsely-populated market. JVC recently showed both its 4K camera and projector products at a demo at the Soho Theatre in London. The combination has a lot of resolution and the projectors are frankly rather nice, but they’re an odd coupling, at opposite ends of the price spectrum.

While the F65 was announced some time ago, JVC’s first releases of information regarding a 4K camera probably predate the Sony offering. JVC’s GY-HMQ10, is of course a much smaller, lower-end and cheaper device, even given the competitive pricing Sony have mooted for F65. Much as it’s very likely to be the cheapest 4K camera in the world on release, though, this does create some challenges for JVC. Lens quality is a concern given that mere HD cameras, at a quarter of the output pixel count, often struggle to land enough resolution on their sensors with consumer-priced glass. There are issues of storage, and of processing power given that JVC’s camera is a single-chip Bayer device like more or less all of the other 2K-plus cameras that exist.

None of this is really news, though, so let’s think for a moment about what 4K is actually for. It’s a number cited a lot by people interested in matching or exceeding 35mm film, but it’s a sad fact that neither the photochemical nor digital-intermediate processes were ever capable of putting more than about 2K on screen, after all the duplication. The very best, slowest, 35mm negative has been measured at around 6K in laboratory conditions, but whatever you think of digital cinematography, it is unavoidable that D-cinema systems lose far less in the journey from the camera to the screen. As such, digital cinema probably only strictly needs 2K acquisition to equal what film has ever done.

With regard to glass, a lot of people are shooting on the relatively low-cost 4K cameras that are now available, but using lenses decades old. Much of this glass isn’t as sharp as the sensors with which it is paired, and while in some cases that is something that’s desired and looked for, it does question the idea that ever more pixel count is always useful. There’s also the argument as to whether a single Bayer sensor that’s 4000 pixels wide is really a 4K imager at all. It certainly doesn’t have the resolution of a device that would have been called a 4K film scanner or a 2K high-definition video camera with three image sensors and a color splitter block. Any single-chip camera has an RGB output that’s 67% interpolated guesswork, unless, like the F65 or Canon’s C300, the sensor oversamples the image by something like twice.

Even if you work around all this, though – if you shoot F65 with the best lenses, project it with Sony’s SXRD projector, and view it from one screen height away – how short-sighted do you have to be before it all becomes pointless? Not very. The average small-town projectionist has historically struggled to get the most out of a 35mm print, and I also fear the viewing public, who often can’t tell the difference between the ads and trailers that are in 3D and those that aren’t, will not be willing to pay more for 4K. Certainly not on the basis that it’s visibly any better than the 2K DCPs they’re watching at the moment, although I think that the situation with 3D proves that a proportion of people can be programmed to want something regardless of its actual merit. 4K as an origination format may make more sense, inasmuch as there should no longer be a concern about acquired resolution and the flexibility in post is a plus. Anyway, in the long term, until F65 there wasn’t really a 4K camera out there that you couldn’t argue about on some level, and nobody outside a dailies screening room, on a feature shooting very slow 35mm stock on excellent lenses, had ever actually seen a 4K image.

JVC’s GY-HMQ10 is another “4K” device that has a single 4K image sensor, and it is a consumer-targeted camera with a fixed lens that produces visible chromatic aberration that’s many pixels wide at the corners of the 4K output. It’s also a ½ inch sensor, tiny for one that has so many photosites on it, so other characteristics of the image are compromised – dynamic range is far from outstanding. All of this was made extremely obvious at the demo simply because the output of this poor little camera was being blown up by an excellent projector to an image twelve feet wide which I could stand a foot from.

All of this has been true of small prosumer cameras for ages, though. None of it stopped them from being used for higher-end work than perhaps would have been expected. Whether that really applies to the new JVC camera, where the resolution that makes it special is compromised by lens problems, remains to be seen.

There are interesting things being done, though. JVC’s camera deals with 4K as quad-HD, 3840 by 2160, for the very simple reason that the camera records the image – or will when released – on four SD cards in parallel, each using the 35Mbps codec that’s an off-the-shelf component for JVC. They intend to ship software to stitch these four streams back together to produce a single file for postproduction. This slightly Rube-Goldberg approach is presumably a side-effect of the desire to get the thing shipping quickly, but it does have the interesting implication that the 4K output has an aggregate bitrate of 140Mbps. This is a lot for HD if not 4K, and scaling the result to HD should make for a pleasantly  artifact-free image. It might even mitigate noise sufficiently to allow more cautious exposure, making that tiny, clippy sensor look much better. These measures might take the thing from being a fairly mediocre 4K camera to being a pretty reasonable HD one, for its size and cost.

In the prototype I saw, there were four HDMI outputs, each transporting one quarter of the image to the  DLA-RS4000U projector, continuing the quad-HD approach of the storage subsystem (although the projector offers a slightly more generous 4096×2400 resolution). Much as the camera is clearly targeted at the lower end of the market, the projector is a much higher-end piece of gear. Some 2K projectors use the fantastically named “wobulation” technique to achieve a slightly sharper image with better fill factor, but this thing is the real deal. There are three of JVC’s large 30mm D-ILA chips – the component which actually imposes the picture on the beam of light – and a proper 4K RGB output. The image is bright as a result of the Xenon lamp – wattage not given, although the entire device is rated at 825W – and the large effective F-number given by those big chips.

D-ILA, along with Sony’s SXRD and others, is a term for a liquid-crystal-on-silicon device, effectively a modulated mirror that places the LCD element on a polished metal surface as a reflective rather than transmissive controller of light. As such the liquid crystal device is bound directly to a comparatively large lump of metal that is easy to heatsink. LCoS can therefore tolerate an impingement of light that would cause a transmissive LCD to burst into flames, and can therefore use higher-density polarizing layers and produce higher-contrast images. The performance is not quite as good as DLP, but it is cheaper and can be easier to manufacture at high resolution. A few years ago JVC’s DLA-HD2K was the first consumer display that I saw successfully evaluated by Filmlight’s extremely fastidious Truelight calibration system, which would completely refuse to calibrate conventional TFT devices on the basis that the black level was too poor. It is not necessarily unreasonable for JVC to promote its D-ILA range as grading reference displays.

The demo I’ve seen of the LCoS projector and quad-HD camera combination are unscientific, and it is difficult to divorce my concerns about dynamic range from the knowledge that Japanese manufacturers actually seem to like their cameras like this. The Canon DSLRs, as both still and moving image devices, suffer a default colorimetry setup that tends to clip highlights harshly. The prototype camera that JVC is currently showing is far from complete, and I have no idea what, if any, control will be available over its contrast and brightness curves, or what may be intrinsic characteristics of the sensor. Other ambiguities are created by the combination of a low-end camera and a high-end projector, so it’s difficult to be unequivocal about the performance of either. What’s certainly true is that from F65 at the top end of the market to JVC at, well, not the top end, getting something that you can at least claim is a 4K camera is about to get a lot cheaper.

I’m just not sure whether that’s really necessary.

Original article: http://www.btlnews.com/crafts/camera/jvcs-take-on-4k/

Academy Announces Scientific and Technical Awards

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that eight scientific and technical achievements represented by 28 individual award recipients will be honored at its annual Scientific and Technical Awards presentation at the Beverly Wilshire on Feb. 11.

Unlike other Academy Awards to be presented this year, achievements receiving Scientific and Technical Awards need not have been developed and introduced during 2011.  Rather, the achievements must demonstrate a proven record of contributing significant value to the process of making motion pictures.

The Academy Awards for scientific and technical achievements are:

Technical Achievement Award (Academy Certificate)

To Andrew Clinton and Mark Elendt for the invention and integration of micro-voxels in the Mantra software.

This work allowed, for the first time, unified and efficient rendering of volumetric effects such as smoke and clouds, together with other computer graphics objects, in a micro-polygon imaging pipeline.

Scientific and Engineering Award (Academy Plaque)

To Radu Corlan, Andy Jantzen, Petru Pop and Richard Toftness for the design and engineering of the Phantom family of high-speed cameras for motion picture production.

The Phantom family of high-speed digital cameras, including the Phantom Flex and HD Gold, provide imagery at speeds and efficacy surpassing photochemical technology, while seamlessly intercutting with conventional film production.

To Dr. Jürgen Noffke for the optical design and Uwe Weber for the mechanical design of the ARRI Zeiss Master Prime Lenses for motion picture photography.

The Master Primes have achieved a full stop advance in speed over existing lenses, while maintaining state-of-the-art optical quality.  This lens family was also the first to eliminate the magnification change that accompanied extreme focus shifts.

To Michael Lewis, Greg Marsden, Raigo Alas and Michael Vellekoop for the concept, design and implementation of the Pictorvision Eclipse, an electronically stabilized aerial camera platform.

The Pictorvision Eclipse system allows cinematographers to capture aerial footage at faster flying speeds with aggressive platform maneuvering.

To E.F. “Bob” Nettmann for the concept and system architecture, Michael Sayovitz for the electronic packaging and integration, Brad Fritzel for the electronic engineering, and Fred Miller for the mechanical engineering of the Stab-C Classic, Super-G and Stab-C Compact stabilizing heads.

This versatile family of 5-axis camera and lens stabilizers allows any standard motion picture camera to be fitted into the open architecture of the structure.  The system can be quickly balanced and made ready for shooting platforms such as helicopters, boats, camera cars or cranes.

To John D. Lowry, Ian Cavén, Ian Godin, Kimball Thurston and Tim Connolly for the development of a unique and efficient system for the reduction of noise and other artifacts, thereby providing high-quality images required by the filmmaking process.

The “Lowry Process” uses advanced GPU-accelerated, motion estimation-based image processing tools to enhance image quality.

To FUJIFILM Corporation, Hideyuki Shirai, Dr. Katsuhisa Oozeki and Hiroshi Hirano for the design and development of the FUJIFILM black and white recording film ETERNA-RDS 4791 for use in the archival preservation of film and digital images.

Specifically designed for laser film recording and widely used in the industry today, the high-resolution FUJIFILM ETERNA-RDS 4791 film stock is an important step in protecting the heritage of the motion picture industry.

Academy Award of Merit (Oscar Statuette)

To Franz Kraus, Johannes Steurer and Wolfgang Riedel for the design and development of the ARRILASER Film Recorder.

The ARRILASER film recorder demonstrates a high level of engineering resulting in a compact, user-friendly, low-maintenance device, while at the same time maintaining outstanding speed, exposure ratings and image quality.

Portions of the Scientific and Technical awards presentation will be included in the Oscar ceremony.

The article in its entirety can be see at www.btlnews.com




Like every boy growing up I had childhood crushes on the first women I saw which, being the 70’s, were on television shows and in movies. I think my first infatuation was with Lieutenant Uhura on the original Star Trek television series. Sure, I watched it for all the reasons all the other kids did—phasers, photos, aliens, the U.S.S. Enterprise and the great writing—but I was always on the lookout with any episode that featured Uhura doing anything other than opening hailing frequencies in the background.

Episodes like The Trouble with Tribbles (#44), The Gamesters of Triskelion (#45), and Plato’s Stepchildren (#65) were enjoyable solely on the grounds we got to see Uhura with more than her usual six lines.

Easily on par with any of today’s most beautiful starlets.

Contender – Production Designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein, Albert Nobbs

When I ask production designer, Patrizia Von Brandensteinwhat her mindset is when she begins a period project she immediately answers, “Terror.”

It needn’t be. Patrizia (she’s earned first-name treatment) is a legendary production designer who has demonstrated extreme comfort and dexterity working in any decade in any century in just about any place on Earth.

In Albert Nobbs, she’s designed a closely constricted world in poverty-stricken Dublin, circa 1894, for a hotel headwaiter who is a woman masquerading as a man. The role is a tour de force and a longtime passion for Glenn Close who first played Albert off-Broadway some 20 years ago, and persuaded Patrizia to join her quest to make the film when they were together in Australia in 2000 filming South Pacific for ABC. “Her storytelling was so compelling, and I got intrigued,” Patrizia says.

The two stumped across Europe (Budapest, Berlin) the next summer seeking a locale and talking to financiers about the story of a woman so afraid of falling into poverty and so traumatized by early life events, that she takes on the identity of a man. “It’s an Irish story and once we reached Dublin we knew it couldn’t be done anyplace else,” Patrizia says.

She demurs when asked if Close sought her participation as an inducement to producers, but her filmography was surely an attraction: three movies with director Mike Nichols, including two starring Meryl Streep (Postcards From the Edge, Silkwood); and four films with Milos Foreman, including Goya’s Ghosts, in which Patrizia offered her take on 18th century Spain.

She’s covered New York at the turn of the 20th century (Ragtime) and Chicago in the 1920s (The Untouchables), receiving Oscar nominations for both films.

She’s done 1930’s New York City (Billy Bathgate); 1950’s Louisiana (All the King’s Men); 1970’s Cleveland (Kill the Irishman); and New York again in what was then present-day 1987 (Working Girl).

Recently, in three years (2008-11) she designed 20th century Russia (The Last Station), the present-day Outer Banks of North Carolina, and created a jet-setting take on the present day for Bradley Cooper (Limitless).

Of course she’s best known for her lush depiction of Mozart’s 18th century Vienna in Amadeus, which won her the Oscar for best art direction.

“I guess I’ve been around,” Patrizia admits. “My husband says I can order dinner in 12 languages.”

Producers and directors came and went from Albert Nobbs, but the project didn’t come together until last year when director Rodgrigo Garcia (Passengers, Things You Can Tell by Looking at Her) and his production team came on board.

Approaching the 19th century, Patrizia says, “I didn’t know the specifics of Dublin, but if you have a curiosity about a place and time, and a grounding in history and social culture, you can discover what you need to know.” She researched newspapers, diaries and old flyers as she recreated Albert’s Dublin.

But the key was finding Cabinteely House, a three-story stone house built in 1769 with “wide hallways and multiple runs of bedrooms along those halls, a big, square kitchen and a big back yard surrounded by a stone fence.” The building has been owned and preserved by the Irish government for nearly 100 years.

Asked if it was difficult to work in a 240 year-old building, she says, “It is absolutely more difficult working in a building like that than on a stage,” but with a budget of 6-million euros (well under $10 million at the time) building stage sets was not an option, she says.

The building was used for multiple sets, most of them interiors within the hotel where Albert lives and works, including the set that most defines him, his bedroom. Patrizia created it from a 3rdfloor attic, partitioning it in half, limiting it to one small window and a little fireplace. “Because Albert has no life, it was important that we make his room as plain as possible, keep it stripped down and bare. We eliminated everything that could have been a distraction, leaving just a bed and the candle and the money (hidden) in the floor.”

That said, the textures alone of the coarsely woven fabrics on the thin bed linens, especially the pillow case which stands out in one particular scene, hold the eye longer than one would have imagined through Close’s restrained performance.

“That’s all in contrast to the relatively densely decorated interiors throughout the Victorian hotel,” she says. “The hotel has seen better days,” but the look nevertheless derives from a time when everything from carpets to woodwork to furnishings, was far more detailed and ornate.

When she first landed in Ireland, she “was overwhelmed with how many myriad colors of green could possibly exist,” she says. It stayed with me and I wanted at least a little green in every set, with some of them being very green indeed. It makes for lots of very cool backgrounds,” which is appropriate for Albert’s world, “and then when you do include a brilliant spot of color, there is a warmth to it, and it means something,” she says.

The only set that allowed Patrizia to throw open some space, as well as her purse strings, was a tea shop specializing in chocolates where Albert goes on an extraordinarily stiff date. The opulence of the setting, the brightness of the tablecloths and place settings, the height of the ceiling, the commotion of the patrons and the staff, all provide a devastating contrast to Albert’s smallness and containment; it’s a great example of filmmakers at the top of their game working brilliantly in concert with an actor giving a magical performance, to create a stunning movie moment.

It’s been more than 20 years since Patrizia’s last Academy Award nomination. It may be an uphill climb for her here because even though Albert Nobbs takes place in a period whose visuals often scream for attention, the film’s look is by necessity tremendously restrained. The degree to which Patrizia is recognized this season will be in proportion to her peers’ willingness to recognize excellence not in the one more thing added, rather, in the last thing taken away.

The article in its entirety can be see at www.btlnews.com