My head is still dizzy from all of the HD info I attempted to cram at yesterday’s HD Expo at the Peterson Automotive Museum in downtown L.A. Where to begin?

How about beginning with the part after the end, which is the future, which was a panel called “HD and Beyond…” The panel was row of nine pale guys, probably what prompted the crack from a dude behind me about ‘The Last Supper’. If there was a Judas-figure on the panel, it was rebel filmmaker Christopher R. Coppola, who at one point seriously wagered that film would be dead in 50 years.

On a panel that includes legendary cinematographer Allen Daviau (E.T., The Color Purple, Bugsy), them’s fightin’ words. It is perhaps telling that no one offered to take him up on the wager.

Read on about the future of movies and movie-making…Other members of the panel were Michael Bravin, Chief Technical Officer at Band Pro; Mark Chiolis of Thompson Grass Valley; Josh Greer, inventor of the new 3D projectors used by James Cameron and Disney’s Chicken Little; Tom Fletcher, a pioneer in the robocams used for sports television; Vince Pace, the President of Pace Technologies, known for their underwater solutions, (and cinematographer of James Cameron’s 3D documentary Ghosts of the Abyss); Panasonic bigwig Russ Walker; and moderator Dan DiPaola.

Much speculation centered around the future of theatrical exhibition with high-resolution digital projectors, especially Josh’s new 3D technology. Where old analog 3D was a pain and a half, this new one works like a charm. Yes, you still have to wear glasses (the kind with differently-polarized lenses for each eye) but they are working on that. Unlike the current popular IMAX (big, expensive film) or old anaglyph (red/blue) which required two perfectly aligned and synched projectors, this new technology projects the images for both eyes from a single projector. And it does so at the incredible frame rate of 144 frames per second. Even split between each eye, that’s got film beat by 48 fps. I can’t wait to see it; I reserved my Chicken Little tickets as soon as I got home. (UPDATE: Read my review of Chicken Little and the 3D technology.) The camera package for shooting in Real D’s 3D format weighs 33 lbs. That may sound like a lot, but I think is lighter than the IMAX cameras that were lugged up Mount Everest.

The panel applauded Josh’s work installing the special projectors in 89 theaters in just 109 days in preparation for the Chicken Little roll-out. Because the projectors are also backwards compatible with 2k resolution DCI standards (newly minted), they were an easier sell to theater owners who desperately want to get in the digital projector game, but are justifiably worried about obsolescence. With talk of 4k projectors (4 times the resolution of 2k) in the air, the panel went so far as to speculate about 18k projectors. At that point, I think, digital may actually have greater resolution than 70mm film.

Panasonic’s Russ Walker announced that Panasonic is getting into the projector business, currently manufacturing a 1.5k projecter with “an affordable 2k” in development. Michael Bravin speculated that these new projectors would lead movie theaters to show live concerts or even football games, with four angles all visible at once in super-high resolution. Or, it went unspoken, in 3D.

Talk of resolution kept returning to talk of film vs. digital. Josh Greer pointed out that it’s almost moot, since nearly all Hollywood movies go through a Digital Intermediate (DI), a new color-timing process where high-res scans are made of each frame for digital manipulation before output back to film. Disney, he said, is releasing all their movies in a digital format from now on, since they are having DI’s done anyway. Still, he said, pound for pound film is still the best archival format. Coming from a pioneer like him, that was a powerful statement.

Everyone on the panel believed that the NFL’s HD broadcasts are pushing HD in the consumer market toward the tipping point. (To anecdote: It’s why my brother got an HD set.) Christopher Coppola weighed in to balance the high-end panel with an indie filmmaker point of view. It makes no sense, he said, to shoot on anything other than HD if you’re going straight to video, broadcast or cell phone/iPod. He’s trying to create a network of mom-and-pop theaters that will form a market that is entirely separate from Hollywood, a low-budget filmmaking market akin to Nollywood.

The panel also glanced at piracy, responding to an audience member’s question (and obvious concern). They seemed confident in the present encryption schemes (in the new SDI standards) but Josh Greer had the last word with: “Nothing is truly secure.”

Digital Projectors Projection
Dimensionalizing (3D Conversion)
A Piracy Rant

Report #2: Pro Cameras
Report #3: Cool Stuff