This week in Hollywood, the Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers (SMPTE) hosts its annual conference, where many of the leading experts in the field gather to discuss, debate and share insights into the current state-of-the-art in media technology and where it is headed next. This year’s event is a bit more special than usual however, as it is the society’s 100th anniversary.
In 1916, C. Francis Jenkins and a group of like-minded engineers gathered to incorporate what was originally named the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (this was 20 years before the BBC launched its television service) with a mission of furthering the “…advancement in the theory and practice of motion picture engineering and the allied arts and sciences; the standardization of the mechanisms and the practices employed therein; and the maintenance of a high professional standing amongst its members.” It is a goal that the society has lived up to – its standards are a fundamental part of the TV and media eco-system and its members represent and develop the community at large.
SMPTE’s 100 year journey both drove and traced the extraordinary growth of moving pictures, in both their ‘movies’ and television forms, and the cultural impact they have had and continue to have today. The technical complexity that hides between the events captured on a cameras lens and the screen of a viewing device, including the myriad of distribution systems that occupy that space in between, is only possible because of the shared knowledge, and technical interoperability that SMPTE and other standards and trade bodies have enabled.
As we move forward, the once independent, specialist technologies and distribution networks that served cinema and broadcast television are merging with those built around the internet and the ubiquitous Internet Protocol (IP). SMPTE continues to play a critical role in shaping that convergence, by producing standards that embrace IP delivery but ensure the specific needs of media are fully accommodated. It also drives the standards that are bringing improved image quality under the UHD banner such as Higher Spatial Resolution (HSR, such as 4K), Higher Dynamic Range (HDR), Higher Frame Rates (HFR) and Wider Colour Gamut (WCG).
All of those topics will be discussed during this week’s event, as we both look back at 100 years of development and look forward to newer ways to experience media such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). In a world where many people carry sophisticated cameras and displays in their pockets (and on their heads), where the medium of moving pictures has changed how we understand and experience the world around us, it is easy to forget about the remarkable work that organisations such as SMPTE have done to make it all possible.
The pace of change and technological development during the past ten years alone has been remarkable and it is very hard to imagine how it might look in 100 years from now, just as today’s world would seem extraordinary to C. Francis Jenkins and his colleagues back in 1916. But we can assume that SMPTE will continue to influence and shape that future and we should celebrate its past. On January 1st, my colleague at Ericsson, Matthew Goldman, will become President of SMPTE and I look forward to working with him and the rest of the SMPTE community on shaping the start of next 100 years.
Steve Plunkett, Chief Technology Officer, Broadcast and Media Services