Panorama Labs' breakthrough technologies to brighten the future of digital entertainment

"Panorama Labs, the company pioneering digital entertainment technologies, announced today that it has achieved significant breakthroughs in the areas of magneto-optics and fiber-device technology that promise to revolutionize the way images are projected and displayed. Panorama Labs’ technologies will dramatically improve the quality and economics for a wide range of existing product categories from large-area flat-panel displays to theatrical and consumer projectors, head mounted “virtual reality” goggles, and handheld electronic games.

Because Panorama Labs’ magento-photonic technology uses sub-wavelength, nano-scale structures to directly switch pixel brightness, the switching speed is in the region of 15 nanoseconds--1,000 times faster than current technologies such as plasma and DLP, and one million times faster than LCD. This not only improves image quality due to a wider range of grey scale, and elimination of motion artifacts, but is also important for anti-piracy efforts and 3-D video.

The most significant impact of the increased switching speed—in sheer dollar value—may be in assisting the motion picture industry’s campaign against piracy, which generates estimated losses of $9 billion a year. Panorama Labs’ technology fast switching speed is expected to enable manipulation of frame rates and image sequencing, preventing a usable screen image from being captured by camcorders.

“The industry has been crying out for a hardware solution that is faster than, and can run circles around the CCD chips found in all camcorders. A more nimble shutter speed in a smart digital projector virtually ensures that in theatre camcorder pirated films won’t see the light of day,” said Sutherland Ellwood, founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Panorama Labs. “The software alone is not sufficient to the task, but with our hardware we think the industry will be looking at a “silver bullet” solution to this major problem.”

The switching speed will also dramatically enhance the quality of projection 3-D images, creating an unsurpassed theatrical experience. Panorama Labs technology will be able to project 3-D images at sufficient brightness without requiring that exhibitors install special expensive screens and without creating an uncomfortable visual experience for the viewer."


Draft DCI Compliance Test Plan

In February 2006, DCI contracted with the Fraunhofer Institute to create a Compliance Test Plan (CTP) for the DCI Digital Cinema System Specification, version 1.0. Fraunhofer has delivered the initial version of the CTP to DCI, but it has not been completely validated.

DCI has created a redacted version 0.9 of the CTP, removing certain detailed procedures deemed sensitive to maintaining system security, but retaining the test objectives of the redacted tests to indicate intent.

DCI is currently exploring ways to further refine and validate the current draft of the CTP, which can be downloaded using the link below.

This is a draft document that is a work-in-progress.

Zodiac: solving tapeless mysteries

"The hunt for the Zodiac Killer is the subject of Director David Fincher's latest film. Fincher's previous directorial work includes Alien3 (1992), Se7en (1995), Fight Club (1999) and Panic Room (2002). He is currently at work filming The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with the Grass Valley Viper.

Like Michael Mann (Collateral, Miami Vice), Fincher is a fan of the Grass Valley Viper digital cinematography camera. The Viper system captures scenes similar to a digital still camera in the raw mode, with three 9.2-megapixel Frame Transfer CCD sensors at a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. A characteristic of the Viper is its FilmStream mode, which retains the image fidelity as an unprocessed, 10-bit log 4:4:4 signal.

When Mann used the Viper system on Collateral, he chose to shoot using the camera's VideoStream mode and record to Sony HDCAM SR tapes. Fincher opted for a totally tapeless workflow. In fact, Zodiac will be the first major Hollywood digital film with a totally uncompressed, tapeless path from production to the creation of a digital intermediate master.

By staying uncompressed until a film negative is struck after the DI grading, the image quality will theoretically rival or surpass the image quality of camera film negative scanned at 2K resolution (2048x1556 pixels).

Like Fincher, Angus Wall is not a typical film editor. In 1992, Wall and Linda Carlson founded Rock Paper Scissors, a West Hollywood creative editorial house known for its commercial work for such clients as BMW, HP and Nike. Later, in 1997, they set up visual effects house A52.

"With David's support, Rock Paper Scissors was able to design and set up the postproduction workflow for Zodiac. If technology is only as good as the people working it, we had 'the perfect storm' on Zodiac. Andreas Wacker brilliantly designed the data workflow and wrote the software to make the whole thing work. Joe Wolcott created budgets and provided the liaison with S.two, Thompson, Camera House and production. Assistants Wyatt Jones, Pete Warren, Brian Ufberg and Brad Waskewich did their usual jobs, plus what the labs, neg cutters and finishing houses are normally supposed to do. I can't say enough about their efforts. And David really went to bat for us to be able to do it."

Wall discussed the postproduction methodology on Zodiac. "On set, Viper footage was recorded to S.two DFRs. These are essentially fast hard drives that store footage as uncompressed DPX sequences [and hold more than three times the number of minutes as a 35mm film magazine]. These drives were shuttled to editorial and loaded onto an Apple Xsan. Two copies of these files were archived to LTO-3 media for backup."

"A stringent verification process was performed to make sure there was no data corruption in either archive," Wall continues. "With film, if frames are damaged, you can cut around or repair them; if a [data] file is corrupt, you may have lost the entire take or worse. It's a binary world. In many ways, copying and verifying files is one of the most critical aspects of this workflow. The LTO cartridges really became the equivalent of the camera negative, because once the data was verified, the D.Mags were [erased and] sent back to the set for reuse. Since we were in effect acting as the lab, we had to be able to turn the D.Mags around and generate dailies on the same sort of nightly schedule as a film lab working with 35mm negative."

In FilmStream mode, because there is no video signal processing in the camera, the 10-bit log output appears flat and with a pronounced green cast when viewed on a monitor. DPs and directors will often add lookup tables (LUTs) so that the preview footage viewed on the on-set monitor approximates the look that will be added to the images during postproduction.

"We created nine LUTs with David using Final Touch software for on-set and dailies use. After verification, the footage was processed for editing and dailies. We used Apple's Shake to down-res the DPX files to QuickTime movies using the DVCPRO HD codec; this process included rendering the applied color correction from these LUTs. We called this 'shake and bake.' Andreas created a script that preserved the metadata of these files, essential for tracking them through the database he designed and for various other uses such as the later conform. Our render farm was the six G5s used to edit. In the second week, when David went to two cameras, Mac Minis were added to handle the extra load. To stay tapeless, the secure PIX [Project Information Exchange] system was used to post dailies online and later to post review versions of picture and sound."

From our conversation, it was obvious that Wall had to deal with more than the typical amount of footage for a feature. Fincher shot the equivalent of almost three million feet of 35mm film, deleting about half of that on set and keeping just his selected takes--an important aspect of a digital production workflow. According to Wall, "In total, David's 'printed' takes amounted to 18,220,156 frames. That's around 210 hours of footage."

Nevertheless, Wall was happy with Zodiac's tapeless workflow. "This approach offers great opportunities in terms of efficiency and simplicity. Once you remove the linear component of film or tape, scaling is made much easier. Efficiencies are realized by dealing with files, and it's environmentally friendlier, since there is no chemical component and there are fewer expendables."
Wall completed the first assembly of Zodiac two weeks after production had wrapped and spent a total of 11 and a half months editing the film. The first assembly, based on the 190-page script, was about three hours long. The final length is projected to be under 2:40.

Rock Paper Scissors has been involved in the finishing as well. "Andreas wrote software to do the 'virtual conform.' This takes XML from Final Cut and pulls the relevant uncompressed files from the archives using an LTO tape robot. For the first test screening, Iridas was used for color correction. The resulting uncompressed file sequences were rendered in Shake for use in Final Cut. There, the picture was double-checked, titles and sound were added and the whole thing output to D5. The final DI is being done at Technicolor, which will use the conformed, uncompressed file sequences for final grading."

Those who've checked out the Fincher profile on Apple's Web site know that Angus Wall is a strong proponent of Apple's Final Cut Pro. "Multi-clip sequences were really the tipping point for me. In Zodiac, there's a scene that takes place on a TV talk show. David had DigiBeta camcorders placed in the three old studio camera bodies. Each of these recorded the scene and the footage was later upconverted to HD in Final Cut. The monitors in the control room were bluescreen, so we were able to comp the DigiBeta camera shots into these monitors. This allowed us the flexibility of controlling what image needed to be in the monitors. David covered the scene with three Vipers as well, giving us six multi-cam streams of HD running in real time. That's pretty amazing. Most of the final composites were completed in Shake. In all, there are hundreds of shots--lots of split screens--that were done in Shake, many in-house."

As we wrapped up the interview, Wall shared his thoughts on Final Cut Pro. "Rock Paper Scissors is now all-Final Cut, and that transition happened in about six weeks. Everyone simply warmed to it as a better way. I prefer the interface because it's more customizable and flexible. On Zodiac, we cut with 30- and 23-inch Apple displays, and it was great to be able to have several timelines up and to move pieces of the interface around where we wanted them. Our Apple Power Mac G5s were equipped with AJA Kona 2 cards, so David could see the cut on a 65-inch plasma screen in HD resolution. I like that Final Cut is resolution-agnostic. You don't need any specialized gear to work with HD inside the computer, so it really embraces newer technology. Besides, it's what the 'cool kids' are using. [Laughs.] Seriously, most of the film students are learning it in college, so they come out familiar with the interface already."
As more directors investigate the options offered by a tapeless, file-based workflow, movie fans will get a chance to see new ways of storytelling wrapped in some of the best looking footage to ever hit the screen. The economies that this kind of workflow will offer ensure that more directors than ever will be able to tell those stories."
On set digital acquisition workflow