ISDCF did not meet in February, but will meet again in early March. The two primary topics on its agenda will be the April Plugfest, and…audio (again). But there are sparks of interest elsewhere, as well, including field testing of forensic marking.
One would think that the chairman is sadistic to bring up the subject of audio, after closing it off so successfully last meeting. If there is a problem with the revised 16-channel Interop audio format, it’s the confusion that will occur with the introduction of SMPTE 429-2 Annex A audio configuration labels in the Interop format.
The success of Interop audio has always been due to its lack of sophistication. That lack of sophistication left the door wide open for SMPTE to improve upon, thus configuration labels, channel labels, and soundfield labels. But there could be issues when this new sophistication is brought to Interop.
Some server manufacturers have made it their modus operandi to play the Interop DCP whether packaged correctly or not. This may seem sensible as it allows the movie to play, so long as the mistakes were small. But it also encourages more bad packaging. Once the rules are relaxed, the spiral only goes downward. Such behavior will cause problems with labeled audio.
The question has come up as to what to do if the configuration label isn’t recognized? Generally, this means that the machine doesn’t know which audio format was packaged. Could it be 5.1, or 7.1DS, or 7.1 SDDS, or was the default 16-channel format intended? If wrong, then the wrong audio will likely come out of the surround speakers. There are reports of accessibility channels HI and VI-N coming out of surrounds in IMAX houses…just to show that such problems are real. Your author’s position is that nothing should happen if the configuration label isn’t recognized. If the DCP is wrongly made, then the DCP should be fixed. We can’t count on highly technical personnel to be present in the cinema to rewire one’s way around the problem.
But that answer doesn’t work for server manufacturers intent on playing the DCP, regardless of mistakes. This will be a point of discussion in the upcoming ISDCF meeting.
The April Plugfest will be conducted much like the last one. The goal is to test for interoperability with SMPTE DCP, and the focus has been on open and closed captions. However, in the last Plugfest, two server manufacturers volunteered to run all of the test material on their machines. The goal was to use that opportunity to check the test material itself. In that test, only Doremi was able to play the majority of test material correctly. Most machines failed multiple segments of the aptly named Fox “killer reel.” It’s hoped that we’ll see better performance in the next round.
Forensic marking in the cinema of both picture and sound is an important tool for tracking piracy. Some players, however, have made it into the field with this capability turned off or disabled. Civolution, the technology provider behind forensic marking, introduced a field test unit. However, it appears that well-known test content is now desired, perhaps so that first release content isn’t used as guinea pig. This discussion is hoped to yield some fruit in the upcoming meeting.