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The Importance of Great TV/Video Hardware

In several unique ways, it’s a great time to be a content producer/distributor, especially if you are a studio stakeholder or someone connected with the advertising industry. 

Plus, with more and more remarkable movies, TV shows, and even online streaming content coming from those content makers to users’ video monitors, smart phones, tablets and smart TVs everywhere, it’s quite easy to conclude “…quality content…that’s the core reason why the world loves motion pictures and video so much.”

Yet, to think it through properly, some real credit also has to be given to the technical and hardware sides of the video equation. Indeed, it’s frequently a real chicken and egg dilemma…what comes first, and what is more important to the experience… the software, or the hardware to show it on?

In recent months, French-owned and French-based Technicolor (formerly known as RCA and Thomson Consumer Electronics) has unveiled two particular developments that go a long way toward improving the look and visual feel, as well as the availability, of whatever it is that makes it in front of the world’s billions of TVs, and billions of computers (and other portable screens of every size and found everywhere today). Technicolor is helping to develop both objective standards, and content access performance mechanisms, that help the industry and the consumer to get more out of their respective hardware and software investments.

Technicolor describes itself as a “Technology company known for its technology.” Among Hollywood folks, Technicolor is well known for behind-the-scenes technology, such as color correction, sound, special effects, and more recently, streaming. The VP, Technologies Licensing, for Technicolor is industry veteran, Ed Thompson.

In late July, I had the opportunity to view those two creations, and meet with the Technicolor folks, in the form of offerings from the two separate Technicolor-affiliated companies, Portrait Displays and Marseille Networks.

This article updates that Santa Clara, Calif. visit with recent Technicolor interviews and additional developments.

Color Accuracy + Portrait = Certification

The core idea behind Technicolor’s alliance with Portrait Displays, is that of a certification process. This means a technology and practice whereby eventually every screen possible displays the same quality of video as was originally intended by the studio or any other video maker. This certification standard is especially important for, and intended for, the display on every type of screen of every variation of color.

Portrait Displays describes itself as “…the premier Application Software Provider (ASP) of customized display software to computer and display manufacturers throughout the world.” The Technicolor-Portrait relationship involves Portrait featuring the software, and Technicolor reaching out to the applicable Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), encouraging them to get their products properly certified.

What the new Technicolor certification process accomplishes is to allow viewers to match the display capability with the content, so that what is viewed more accurately represents the originally-produced content. On the movie or TV show side of the business, video standardization and improvement is deemed critical to viewer appreciation.

Put more technically, the concept is one whereby, “The content has a certain range of colors embedded in the content and we want to replicate the display capabilities by reproducing accurately that same range of colors,” explained Thompson. Technicolor and its partners refer to this process as one of allowing the viewer to experience a more accurate color gamut. A company that receives certification assures the buyer/user that its products and services reach certain thresholds when it comes to that full color spectrum and wider color gamut (and thus, presumably, better video and TV).

Using examples, when someone sees a jacket that a wardrobe designer made “bright (and bold)  red” for a TV character the author and the director intended to look just that way in “bright (and bold) red” – in order to add emotional relevance -- the experience has to be that of “bright (and bold) red,” no matter what screen it is displayed on, in order for that viewer to get what the makers of that content truly intended. To show the same jacket as washy red, or orange, or God knows what else, oftentimes is the beginning of ruining the particular experience. Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine and see that “washy (and dull) red” is not the same character as “bright (and bold) red.”

And, importantly, on the advertiser side, not only is the right shade of red important when a woman looks online, or sees a video selling a pair of shoes, it becomes even more important in the actual implementation of that order. Put another way, when those purchased shoes arrive at her doorstep, they need to be the actual color that she ordered (otherwise, she is dissatisfied, which means a lot of hassle returning the shoes that were not what she wanted, and everyone loses).

Thus, the value of video quality certification not only gains importance, but ultimately becomes almost obvious. Indeed, one wonders why it wasn’t done on a mass scale before now. Plus, the thought is that “young millennials” who are buying expensive TVs and similar display devices are “buying less and having it last longer,” so they want value and quality more than previous generations.  Knowing that a product is certified in this manner allows them to get that much sooner toward that sought-after value and quality, reason Technicolor and Portrait. 

HD TV + Marseille Networks = Upscaled 4K

Marseille Networks is a semiconductor company that makes the advanced silicon processor chip that converts video that is HD, into Ultra HD video, the latter of which is also known as 4K. That process is called “upscaling.”

Indeed, in the words of Technicolor’s Thompson, “Marseille is a Silicon Valley company that helped solved this dilemma” [of chicken and the egg…and of which comes first…great devices to watch great content, or great content needing great devices to truly enjoy the experience?]. This is critical because although most content shot in Hollywood these days is done so using 4K cameras, it is delivered to consumers in HD-or-lower quality, which means most consumers lose the enhancement originally intended. Note’s the Marseille Networks website, “…the challenge is to transform this legacy content into a full 4K Hollywood movie theater experience direct to the consumer’s living room.”

The reason that upscaling is so important these days, and why Technicolor sees a market here, is because currently, more often than not, a lack of 4K content accompanies those amazing new screens.

Thus, if Technicolor can work with companies like Marseilles Networks to create more 4K content in the home, then more screens get sold to watch 4K. It’s a great chicken and egg solution…whichever comes first.

The core concept is that upscaling makes the content viewed more immersive and beautiful, so that the upscaled HD content from the blu-ray player is indistinguishable from content produced originally in 4K. This immediately brings more 4K content into the ecosystem, so as to support the purchase of more 4K-capable devices.   

Thus far, Toshiba has been the first video-based company to sign up for the new Technicolor-Marseille chip/process, and has begun deploying it in Toshiba’s new blu-ray players. Technicolor reports that “Customers like the new 4K upscaling capability in some part because the chip made by Marseilles is so easy to drop into the blu-ray player hardware. Plus, the cost, footprint, and power consumption are small.”

Bringing It All Together In The Digital Decade

Opined video industry expert, Marc Beckwitt…”It’s all about enhancing consumer acceptance of the new 4K format.” Beckwitt is a former Technicolor VP who worked closely in and around the new 4K environments until quite recently, and is now a VP of partnerships for Dallas, Texas-based Prodea (Prodea provides what is calls is a “Managed Services Platform for Service Providers, that delivers next-generation applications and services to its customers on any device, in any location, and at any time”). 

Having moved in this direction viewing-wise, my only hope is that at this point Technicolor by itself, or with an ally, can start finding ways to better standardize and thus improve the audio delivery of one device or one TV relative to another.

Finally, as industry professionals start thinking about and prepare for the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas early next month, these two developments -- chips by Marseille Networks for the upscaling of video content, and the certification of video content by Technicolor and Portrait – give most attendees, and certainly including studio stakeholders or someone connected with the advertising industry, a unique up-front understanding of what’s ahead and what’s important to TV and video equipment (and therefore, content), as we rush further into our Digital Decade.

Jimmy Schaeffler is a telecom author and chairman and CSO of the Carmel-by-the-Sea-based streaming, broadcast, pay TV/video and consumer electronics consultancy, The Carmel Group (