Sunday, December 10, 2017


  • Thursday, Jun. 8, 2017
SMPTE publishes key reports on Time Code standard
Howard Lukk

SMPTE®, the organization whose standards work has supported a century of technological advances in entertainment technology, has published two documents, the Time Code Summit Report and the Material eXchange Format (MXF) Time Code Study Report. Both reports offer valuable insights into how the SMPTE Time Code™ standard (ST 12-1 Time and Control Code) can evolve to serve as a more useful tool in media production.

“SMPTE Time Code is used extensively throughout production and postproduction. With the evolution of media technology since its introduction in 1975, it is showing its age in some areas,” said SMPTE director of engineering and standards Howard Lukk. “We are exploring ways to improve Time Code. The results of the Time Code Summit Report provide a better understanding of the drawbacks in its current use, in and beyond the conventional audio/video community, and of the direction we need to take in developing a new standard. At the same time, we’re using the MXF Time Code Report to clarify Time Code in MXF and how facilities can work with it more efficiently.”

The Time Code Summit Report presents the methodology and findings of surveys performed at the Time Code Summit, a series of focus groups held in London, New York, and Los Angeles. The report summarizes user requirements that must be addressed by any new Time Code standard, particularly the proposed Time Labels standard to address the radical changes brought about by the industry’s integration of Internet Protocol (IP), the push to higher and variable frame rates, and other factors testing the limits of the existing Time Code standard. The report also includes an explanation of the study effort, the survey questions asked and answers provided, and the dialogue that occurred at each summit.

The MXF Time Code Study Report focuses on the current usage of Time Code within the MXF file format. Since the creation of MXF in 2004, Time Code has been stored within MXF files in many ways — sometimes as metadata, and sometimes as actual Time Code values from a tape or stream. This report is the result of two years spent investigating current MXF Time Code practices and documenting findings. The report considers applications that need to write MXF files with Time Code and applications that need to read MXF files containing Time Code. It examines the three core requirements highlighted by the study group: MXF should be able to store multiple Time Code values per frame, and they should all be identical; store multiple Time Code values per frame, though they may be from different sources and have different values; and include the appropriate Time Code in audio-only files.

Both SMPTE reports are now available here

  • Tuesday, Jun. 6, 2017
SIGGRAPH 2017 VR Village sets lineup
The VR Village will feature "Neurable: Brain-Computer Interfaces for Virtual and Augmented Reality"

SIGGRAPH 2017, the world’s leading annual interdisciplinary educational experience showcasing the latest in computer graphics and interactive techniques, will host a highly diverse array of new Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) projects from around the world during its upcoming annual conference. SIGGRAPH 2017 marks the 44th International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, and will be held July 30–August 3, 2017 in Los Angeles.

A relatively young program within the SIGGRAPH conference, VR Village  features VR and AR installations that are both content-driven and highly interactive. The venue offers attendees the ability to explore the fascinating potential of brand-new VR and AR formats for shared experiences, engaging audiences, and powering real-world applications in health, education, entertainment, design, and gaming.

While previous years’ VR Village contributions included art, real-world applications, and simulations, the 2017 program focuses on diversity — both of the storylines featured within the projects as well as the diversity of creators and producers who are presenting content.
Denise Quesnel, 2017 VR Village chair, said, “Our jury selected content for this year’s VR Village that would be ‘hands-on’ and that focuses on the experience itself rather than the technology. In this way, we will be offering conference attendees the chance to explore the capabilities and functionalities of each project in context. Projects that include performative elements and social experiences will be featured, along with multi-user experiences that are highly collaborative.”
Quesnel added, “We made a conscious effort for diversity – we tried to normalize our content to be as diverse as possible. We believe that diversity in content, and diversity of contributors, helps facilitate perspectives and opportunities that are of great benefit to attendees. The experiences that will be seen at this summer are not only outstanding examples of VR and AR, but can only be experienced in SIGGRAPH’s unique VR Village space.”

Highlights of the 2017 VR Village include:

Neurable: Brain-Computer Interfaces for Virtual and Augmented Reality 
Ramses Alcaide, Adam Molnar, and Michael Thompson of Neurable
The product of neuroscientific insights and advanced machine learning, Neurable interprets user intent, bringing new degrees of freedom to virtual and augmented reality. It poses the question: “What if you could use your brainwaves to control your computer and virtual environment?” This installation does just that.
Out of Exile   
Eren Aksu of Emblematic Group
“Out of Exile” is the true story of Daniel Ashley Pierce, who was violently attacked by his family when confronted about his sexual orientation. The room-scale VR experience is a powerful parable of the hostility faced by many in the LGBTQ community.
“Emblematic Group does incredible work in the realm of VR journalism, and drawing attention to underrepresented communities and their stories. Emblematic
Group participated in the first VR Village in 2015, so it is great to see their team back at SIGGRAPH 2017,” said Quesnel.  
Digital Playgroundz: Demonz I.
Jakub Roček, Daniel Gregor, Ordřej Prucha, and Josef Kortan of
Digital Playgroundz is an interactive and augmented-reality system that displays large-scale applications on flat surfaces (walls) in various spatial configurations, with no limits on the number of users or size of the interactive area. 
Coming all the way from Prague in order to premiere a custom interactive and multi-user experience at VR Village, the folks at make not only incredible art, but their own innovative technology to create scalable experiences.
Terrence Masson, School of Visual Arts; Ken Perlin, New York University; Daffy London; and, Laura Dohrmann
HOLO-DOODLE is a VR hangout that brings the VR experience of being a naughty robot killing time to life. The attraction makes its world premiere at SIGGRAPH 2017.
Quesnel noted, “This team is made up of some CG and interactive techniques all-stars, and it really shows in the vision of this project. Personally, I’ve never
seen anything quite like the social, creative, and technically proficient experience they are demonstrating. This is going to be incredibly original and unique for SIGGRAPH attendees.” 
IRIDiuM+: Deep-Media Storytelling With Non-linear Light-Field Video
Maggie Kosek and Kenny Mitchell, Disney Research, Edinburgh Napier University, The Walt Disney Company; Babis Koniaris, David Sinclair, and Fraser Rothnie, Disney Research, The Walt Disney Company; 
Lanny Smoot, Disney Research
This presentation depicts techniques and the creation process of a deep-media immersive experience with synchronized tactile, audio, and light-field visual techniques to realize a non-linear story in virtual reality.
“I feel this work by Disney Research not only demonstrates the state of where immersive realities are today, but IRIDiuM+ aptly presents what the future can be,” said Quesnel. “This multi-sensory experience is incredibly inspiring, combining remarkable new techniques with brand-new, non-linear storytelling.” 
Registration for SIGGRAPH 2017 is now open. Pass levels with access to the VR Village include: Full Conference, Select Conference, and Exhibits Plus.

  • Tuesday, Jun. 6, 2017
Goldcrest Films upgrades asset formatting with Blackmagic Cintel Film Scanner
A Goldcrest Post bay
FREMONT, Calif. -- 

Blackmagic Design has announced that Goldcrest Post has utilized a Blackmagic Cintel Film Scanner for a major restoration project to upgrade asset formatting for all of Goldcrest Film’s prestigious library titles, which were scanned to Ultra HD 4K and remastered in 2K.
Led by Goldcrest’s CTO Laurent Treherne, the project involved remastering 16 of Goldcrest Film’s titles, including “Dance with a Stranger” (1985 ), “Absolute Beginners” (1986 ) and “White Mischief” (1987). “With an increase in the number of OTT services there is a growing demand for high quality film originated content,” Laurent begins.
Treherne goes on to explain that as well as meeting the clients’ demand for 4K quality content, the Cintel Film Scanner allowed Goldcrest Film to keep the restoration workflow within the group. “As with any restoration, we knew the project would entail numerous challenges. They included locating suitable source elements, repairing damage, identifying reference images for color grading and re-versioning picture and sound files into formats suitable for the modern consumer. The versatility and speed of the Blackmagic infrastructure helped us to address those challenges.”
A dedicated DaVinci Resolve workstation was set up alongside the Blackmagic Cintel Film Scanner in order to create a standalone, single workstation pipeline that would not impact on Goldcrest’s DI work. The film elements were inspected and cleaned in laboratory conditions, then each reel was scanned in 4K onto a dedicated high speed storage volume and conformed and reframed to 2K.
The files were dustbusted and then graded in DaVinci Resolve Studio. Finally the Goldcrest team rendered the DSM archive and the HD deliverable. “We deliver in HD ProRes HQ 422, as that’s the delivery requirement for multi title library distribution deals, however Ultra HD 4K is increasingly a consideration for clients, so it’s an important requisite, certainly for future sales strategies,” explains Treherne.
The Cintel’s performance has been incredibly beneficial from the outset of the project, in particular how the scanner was able to work with negative film splices. “What’s impressed us the most from day one has been the scanner’s performance with negative film splices. What would jump in the gate of other scanning devices simply flows through the Cintel without a hitch. This represents a considerable time and cost saving over standard workflows which tend to require numerous shot stabilization fixes to address such artifacts.
The Blackmagic workflow for scanning, conforming and grading is straightforward, flexible and a low cost way of approaching remastering whether used as a standalone scanner with a single operator, or in conjunction with complementary scanners,” concluded Goldcrest Post’s managing director, Patrick Malone. “We’ve been impressed by how much detail we’ve gotten from some of the more challenging 35mm picture elements, and the quality and speed of the Ultra HD scan from both negative and print have been excellent.”

  • Tuesday, Jun. 6, 2017
Breakthrough Entertainment tabs WCPMedia Services for content delivery
Breakthrough Entertainment is using WCPMedia Services to deliver television series through the cloud, including “Anne of Green Gables.”

Global studio Breakthrough Entertainment has transitioned to a completely cloud-based delivery system through WCPMedia Services for the delivery of its premium content to clients; major networks and digital channels around the world.

As a distributor and production house Breakthrough has a catalogue of over 40 feature films and 4,000 television episodes including such popular titles as the L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables trilogy, David Rocco’s Dolce Vita and The Adventures of Napkin Man. The Toronto based studio began using WCPMedia’s cloud-based platform earlier this year to deliver content to broadcasters around the world. The company is now using WCPMedia to deliver shows each month to broadcasters on six continents.

“WCPMedia gives us a powerful edge by securely delivering our programming to our broadcasting partners via their high-speed, high-volume file transfers and media asset management system,” said Nat Abraham, partner, president, distribution at Breakthrough Entertainment. “As soon as our files are uploaded onto the WCPMedia cloud, our customers have immediate access. It’s fast, easy and secure.”

Abraham noted, “We can’t use a file transfer service if it doesn’t have a better than 99-percent success rate.” 

Although Breakthrough primarily employs WCPMedia for file delivery, the platform also includes powerful features for media management, transcoding, media review, and marketing. As a result, it can benefit a wide variety of media companies with different requirements and applications.

“We’re excited to be working with Nat and his team at Breakthrough”, said Giovanni Contri, COO of WCPMedia Services, “The WCP cloud based platform is an ideal solution for managing the worldwide delivery of Breakthrough’s vast catalogue of film and TV programming. Breakthrough are content production and distribution leaders, and therefore we are proud to be supporting their leadership as well in secure cloud based delivery and asset management in the evolving broadcast landscape.” 

  • Monday, Jun. 5, 2017
Apple unveils VR features on Mac, new iPhone software 
John Knoll of Industrial Light & Magic, right, speaks about virtual reality during an announcement of new products at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif., Monday, June 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- 

Apple nodded to several up-and-coming technology trends, unveiling new device features touching on virtual reality, online privacy and a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning.

New iMacs unveiled Monday at Apple's annual conference for software programmers are getting better displays and graphics capabilities. Apple said that makes the Mac a great platform for development virtual-reality experiences.

But Apple is late to the game on VR. Samsung and Google already have VR systems centered on their smartphones. Facebook, HTC and Sony have high-end VR systems, too.

Virtual reality has been described as the next big thing for decades. But so far, interest has been strongest among gamers, developers and hardware makers rather than everyday users.

Apple's entry into the market could change this. Its entry into digital-music sales with iTunes, or the smartphone market with the iPhone, upended those industries and gave them mass appeal.

New features coming to iPhones and iPads include messages that sync to Apple servers in the cloud. iPhones will only keep the most recent messages on the device to save storage.

For photos, Apple is turning to a "high efficiency" format to replace the widely used JPEG standard. Although the format is not exclusive to Apple, it's not yet clear how well the photos will work with non-Apple software and devices, which mostly use JPEG.

Apple is also bringing the ability to pay back a friend or other individual through its payment service, Apple Pay. Before, transactions had been limited to products and services from businesses and institutions.

The free software update for mobile devices, iOS 11, is expected in September when Apple typically releases new iPhones.

Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled the latest operating system for Mac computers. Called High Sierra, it recognizes more faces automatically, which should make it easier to organize photos, and will offer more photo editing tools.

Safari, Apple's web browser, seeks to make users' online experience smoother and less annoying. It will allow users to automatically block auto-play videos by detecting videos that shouldn't be playing when you open a webpage to read an article, for example.

The browser's new "intelligent tracking prevention," meanwhile, will use machine learning to identify and block digital-ad trackers in order to keep advertisers from following and profiling users. It will not block the ads themselves, though.

Apple is also updating the operating software for its Apple Watch, including new watch faces, more personalized alerts that use machine learning to tailor information to you based on your routines and tastes.

It also enhanced its workout app to, for instance, support high intensity interval training. It will also be possible to exchange data between gym equipment and the watch.

In a nod to Amazon streaming fans, Apple is also bringing Amazon Prime to its Apple TV app.

Ortutay reported from New York

  • Thursday, Jun. 1, 2017
Shotgun Software unveils updates
Shotgun Software

Shotgun Software has released Shotgun 7.2, the latest version of its leading cloud-based review and production tracking software. Strengthening Shotgun’s commitment to simplifying workflows and helping studios of all sizes collaborate, this latest update transforms integrations with content creation tools, and streamlines the review process. Studios can now take advantage of truly out-of-the-box integrations with content creation tools to accelerate artist workflows. Updates to RV also make reviewing media from the cloud seamless and includes SDI functionality as standard. The release also builds upon Shotgun’s role as a secure foundation for many studios by adding single sign-on to give IT departments centralized control over user access and permissions in Shotgun.

“Our goal has always been to help facilities simplify their pipelines so that artists can focus more on the creative process. Shotgun 7.2 brings significant improvements that will help make media collaboration easier and faster. We also know that security administration is critical for studios of all sizes and we continue to deliver more in that area,” said James Pycock, head of product at Autodesk.

Shotgun 7.2 highlights include:

-- Plug-and-Play Integrations: It’s now easier than ever for Shotgun users to connect their content creation tools with Shotgun. New plug-and-play integrations first auto-discover Maya, Nuke, Photoshop, Houdini, 3ds Max, and Flame, and then embed the Shotgun Panel, loader, and publisher directly within them without requiring any manual configuration.
-- Web Streaming in RV: Many Shotgun users work on dispersed teams around the world, and might not always have access to the high-res media for reviews in RV. With the addition of cloud playback support in RV, web-connected artists and supervisors can review shots in context, even if the content is not stored on their computers. Shotgun simply recognizes if media isn’t available and seamlessly pulls it into RV from Shotgun on the web.
-- New Publisher: A new publisher tool enables easy tracking of files in Shotgun and can either run in content creation tools or as a standalone application – giving users the flexibility to publish files from any content creation tools, not just the ones currently supported by Shotgun.
-- Single Sign-On: Single sign-on bolsters security in-house by centralizing authentication, making it easy for your IT department to grant, limit, and revoke access and permissions for any user. Plus, everyone at the studio now has the convenience of only having to remember one set of credentials.
-- SDI Functionality in RV: SDI Functionality, previously only available with “Super Awesome” support, is now available to all Shotgun clients.

Shotgun pricing starts at $30 per account/per month with “Awesome” support, or $50 per account/per month with “Super Awesome” support. Request a free trial here.

  • Wednesday, May. 31, 2017
NBCUniversal LightBlade LED production lighting to premiere at Cine Gear Expo in partnership With Cineo Lighting

NBCUniversal announces the latest innovation in LED production lighting, NBCUniversal LightBlade. In partnership with Cineo Lighting, this new line of high performance lighting combines NBCUniversal’s decades of production and broadcast experience with Cineo’s award-winning proprietary technologies.  These new products will debut at Cine Gear Expo on Stage 14, Booth # S126.

“Advancements in LED technology are allowing greater capabilities in production lighting, and we’re excited to be at the forefront of that movement,” said Jamie Crosbie, VP of Studio Services at NBCUniversal. “NBCUniversal LightBlade LED production lighting provides outstanding color, along with the ability to have each NBCUniversal LightBlade individually DMX controlled.”

“From its inception, Cineo’s charter has been advancing the art of motion picture, television and broadcast production through application of innovative lighting technologies,” said Rich Pierceall, CEO of Cineo Lighting. “Working with NBCUniversal to achieve this goal is both an honor and great opportunity to actively integrate lighting into the production process.”

At Cine Gear, three different NBCUniversal LightBlade configurations will be on display:  the LB50 stand-alone linear source, the LB1K, an integrated 4’ x 4’ soft source, and the LightBlade Ladder Light, which continues the familiar form factors of NBCUniversal’s backdrop lighting system. The lightweight 1.5” x 48”, 50 watt light engines are designed to operate in a variety of physical layouts, including stand-alone operation.  NBCUniversal LightBlade products are versatile, lightweight, silent and flicker-free, and built to endure the wear and tear of staging and production. 

NBCUniversal LightBlade products feature reference-quality variable white light from 2700K to 6500K. They have superior color rendering with typical CRI>90, R9>95, and a saturated color engine that works creatively with high-CRI white light. Additional products are being developed for use on location and on stage.

  • Wednesday, May. 31, 2017
ARRI Rental showcases expanding ALEXA 65 lens range at Cine Gear 
A couple of the ALEXA prime 65 lenses

Under the banner of “Your story, your look, your lens choice”, ARRI Rental is showcasing its growing range of full-coverage 65 mm format lenses at Cine Gear 2017 in Los Angeles. 

With the popularity of ARRI Rental’s exclusive ALEXA 65 camera system continuing to increase, not just for high-end feature films but also diverse television and commercial productions, demand for richly varied lens options is strong. The line-up of four distinct 65 mm lens series first announced at Camerimage 2016 is now in use on multiple projects, with cinematographer feedback directly influencing technical developments and entirely new optics being added as a result of creative partnerships with filmmakers. This collaborative approach to the ALEXA 65 lens program reflects ARRI Rental’s commitment to personalized service and support on a global scale.

Originally the ALEXA 65 system was launched with two lens series: Prime 65 and Vintage 765. The Prime 65 lenses are high-performance modern optics with full Lens Data System (LDS) functionality, and have recently been joined by seven higher speed Prime 65 S lenses, with a smooth, slick look. The Vintage 765 lenses were built in the late 1980s for the ARRIFLEX 765 65 mm film camera; they offer a filmic look and gentle focus fall-off.

Anthony Dod Mantle ASC, BSC, DFF used both Prime 65 and Vintage 765 lenses on the Oliver Stone film Snowden. “The first four or five weeks in Munich involved quite a bit of VFX, so I shot with the Prime 65 lenses and they performed perfectly,” he says. “But then we were travelling to Washington, Hong Kong and Hawaii, with less VFX, and I instinctively felt that I needed a change. There wasn’t time to test the Vintage 765 lenses, but I took them because I knew they were beautiful and softer, and the wrap-around and fall-off would be different. It was a leap of faith and they are slightly more irregular in the colors, but it was an intuitive thing and I was very pleased I did it.”

Other films to have paired the ALEXA 65 with Prime 65 lenses include Thor: Ragnarok, Life, War for the Planet of the Apes, Transformers: The Last Knight, The Great Wall, Sully, Planetarium, The Solutrean and The Dark Tower, which also used Vintage 765 lenses. Newton Thomas Sigel ASC worked entirely with the Vintage 765 series on Reginald Hudlin’s upcoming movie, Marshall.

ARRI Rental’s Prime DNA lenses are the most varied and bespoke of all ALEXA 65 optics. An eclectic and ever-evolving collection of lenses, the Prime DNA series mainly comprises vintage glass, often exhibiting unusual but highly creative and emotionally engaging characteristics. Among the first cinematographers to make use of Prime DNA lenses was multiple Academy Award-winner Robert Richardson ASC, who chose them for the Andy Serkis-directed feature film Breathe. “Lensing is one of the most important issues,” Richardson says of the ALEXA 65 system. “It’s vital that we have a choice ranging from vintage and softer glass to newer lenses with modern coatings, so that we can move through different environments and optimize the flaring and contrast for specific situations. ARRI Rental gave me a stunning set of lenses.”
Greig Fraser ASC, ACS, who used the ALEXA 65 on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, turned to Prime DNA lenses when he selected the system again for Mary Magdalene, directed by Garth Davies. “Working closely with ARRI Rental we were able to develop lenses that had the right look and feel for the film; I used them in conjunction with some of my own lenses, so we had a really nice and rounded mix of glass with the qualities we needed,” says Fraser. “As cinematographers we should want more tools. If we have more lenses then there are more possibilities, and we all benefit from those possibilities. What I’ve learned out of this process with ARRI Rental is that I just need to find the right combination of lenses for each story, regardless of what set they are from.”

Most recently, Bradford Young ASC has been shooting with ALEXA 65 and Prime DNA lenses on the as-yet untitled Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film in London. New focal lengths have been added to the series by the ARRI Rental lens development team to meet his specific creative needs. Young notes, “With taking on a new format I felt out of my ‘zone’ because I had to re-think the way I re-frame ideas, scenes, logic, light. On top of that, I have to adopt and adapt to a new wave of optics that will hopefully keep the process intuitive. For me, the process of realizing cinema is a deeply personal process. Lenses and format have to be ready to adapt to my particular taste. DNA glass is a revelation and revolution in my journey to anchor my artistic residue into a particular story – truly my way of seeing, thus my way of feeling. No other glass has afforded me this opportunity. It’s a true game-changer!”

  • Wednesday, May. 31, 2017
FOR-A to highlight graphics/animation integration with live video switchers at InfoComm
HVS-2000 video switcher
CYPRESS, Calif. -- 

At the upcoming InfoComm 2017, FOR-A will showcase the integration between its range of video switchers with ClassX 2D/3D character generation and live motion graphics/playout software, along with FGP-400 Insight multi-channel video server and FA-505 multi-channel/multi-function signal processor. InfoComm runs from June 14-16 at the Orange Convention Center in Orlando.

The FOR-A/ClassX combination will be seen in the FOR-A booth (#2381) where ClassX’ graphics, 3D animation and video playout will be teamed up with FOR-A video switchers, including the HVS-2000 2 M/E switcher and the 1 M/E HVS-100 Express.

ClassX offers a complete solution with real-time 2D and 3D motion graphics and titling, SportsGraphics, SocialServer, MOS newsroom interface, clip playing automation, picture-in-picture and a multi-functional scripting facility.

“With ClassX, our FOR-A portfolio becomes a complete range of best-in-class solutions,” said Hiro Tanoue, president of FOR-A America.  “Adding ClassX to the FOR-A suite of live production switchers strengthens our graphics reach to end users in university, digital signage, live events, and sports production applications. We can’t wait to show off our new and cost-effective graphics creation tool to the InfoComm crowd.”

Front and center in the FOR-A InfoComm booth will be the HVS-2000 switcher. With its easy-to-use control panel, the HVS-2000 offers 3 M/E capability, a 4K 3D DVE expansion card, and a 2SI software option. Offering the capabilities of a 7 M/E system, the HVS-2000 is ideal for a wide array of production environments and for 4K productions. The switcher offers MELite™, which allows a traditional AUX bus to transform into a functional Mix Effects with cuts, mix, wipes, keys, and DVE including full preview.

First introduced at NAB in April, the HVS-100 Express video switcher is controlled via any tablet, handheld or laptop type device with a web browser as opposed to a ‘hard’ control panel. New at NAB are features such as additional multi-view layouts and audio to accompany transition graphics.

Any computer device with a web browser can control the HVS-100 Express. It accepts simultaneous SD and HD inputs and supports 3G and 4K production; as well as HVS-100TB2 Thunderbolt™ 2 I/O expansion cards, which allow users to transfer video content with a single cable through computers and interface with other devices, such as character generators, virtual studios and/or file-based/IP products. The price tag of the HVS-100 Express was recently reduced to $7,900.

The FA-505 is a five-input, five-output signal processor that supports wide color gamut and high dynamic range matrices from ITU-R BT.709 to IT-R BT.2020 - making it an essential processing unit in 4K production. Other features include a dynamic range conversion function that allows SDR-to-HDR conversion, and the ability to store conversion algorithms internally.

  • Wednesday, May. 31, 2017
Toshiba's future imperiled by shaky ethics, nuclear fiascos 
In this Jan. 30, 2017, file photo, a man walks past an advertisement of Toshiba Corp.'s products in Tokyo. The future of Toshiba Corp. is imperiled as the 140-year-old Japanese energy and electronics colossus mulls selling its prized computer chip operations to stay afloat. That strategy may buy it time, but is no cure-all, and the company will still be entangled with the nuclear operations that helped hasten its downfall. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, File)
TOKYO (AP) -- 

Japanese technology giant Toshiba Corp.'s last-gasp strategy for staying afloat - selling its prized computer chip operations - may buy the company time but is no cure-all.

The 140-year-old Japanese energy and electronics colossus will be bereft of its most profitable and promising businesses and still entangled with the nuclear units that brought about its downfall.

Dogged by misfortune and mismanagement, Toshiba, whose roots date to the age of telegraphs and arc lamps in the 1880s, has warned of "substantial doubt about the company's ability to continue as a going concern."

In hindsight, the Tokyo-based company's first big misstep was its 2006 purchase of the U.S. nuclear unit of Westinghouse, which filed for bankruptcy protection last month.

But a massive accounting scandal and accounts from former Toshiba employees suggest more pervasive problems within its management.

Threatened with delisting of its shares, Toshiba reported a 950 billion yen ($8.4 billion) net loss for the fiscal year ended March, although the results were released without its auditors' approval.

Toshiba's ascent paralleled Japan's rise as an industrial power. One of its founders, Ichisuke Fujioka, the son of a samurai, brought the incandescent light bulb to Japan and forged an alliance with General Electric.

Toshiba developed Japan's first radar and microwaves, electric rice cookers and laptop computers. It also invented flash memory, the ubiquitous computer chips that store and retain data for digital cameras, smartphones and all sorts of other gadgets and now are its most profitable business.

The company got into the nuclear business in the 1970s, decades before its $5.4 billion purchase of Westinghouse from British Nuclear Fuels Ltd.

At the time, the U.S. government was encouraging construction of reactors and China was embarking on a massive expansion of atomic energy, but analysts said Toshiba was paying too much.

"I'd like to make this the first success story," then-Chief Executive Atsutoshi Nishida declared, alluding to the dismal track record of other high-profile Japanese acquisitions, such as Mitsubishi Estate's purchase of Rockefeller Center and Sony's of Columbia Pictures.

Catastrophe struck in March 2011, when three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant sank into meltdowns after a tsunami devastated much of Japan's northeastern coast.

Two of the six reactors there were built by Toshiba.

That marked a turning point for the industry as some nations stopped building new nuclear plants. Six years on, most reactors in Japan are idled, awaiting stricter safety checks.

Toshiba's troubles aren't confined to its nuclear business.

Even before 2011, Muneo Morokuzu, a retired specialist on nuclear fuel cycles, and several other former Toshiba employees interviewed by The Associated Press said they had noticed an erosion of accountability at Toshiba.

Morokuzu joined the company in 1970 and took pride in what he calls "a spirit of humanity" among Toshiba workers. But he disapproved of misuse of company money. He was appalled by Toshiba higher-ups who used black company limousines for what he saw as personal outings, and he respected those who took cabs and paid out of their own pockets.

"It's a problem when the border between your own purse and the company purse becomes blurred," Morokuzu said. "I feel so sad. The brand has been tarnished. I hope Toshiba can pull together."

In 2015, Toshiba acknowledged that it had been systematically falsifying its books since 2008, as managers tried to meet overly ambitious targets. An investigation by an outside panel found profits had been inflated and massive expenses hidden across the board.

Koichi Okamoto, a professor of sociology at Toyo Eiwa University and governance expert who has researched Toshiba's problems, faults the company's senior leaders.

"If leaders at the top start violating compliance, then no one can stop them. So bosses shouldn't talk too much about making profits because that is already understood," he said.

"Big or small, companies like that will eventually go down."

The nuclear disaster deepened troubles brewing elsewhere at Toshiba under hard-driving Nishida, who rose to the top after leading its successful T1100 notebook computer project.

While Nishida was CEO, the company began focusing on two pillars of its sprawling business - nuclear power and computer chips. The aim: to temper the ups and downs of the volatile semiconductor sector with relatively stable growth in the nuclear business.

But, Toshiba was losing ground elsewhere as its once-stellar consumer electronics business took a beating from low-cost Chinese manufacturers and high-end Korean brands. Dell, Apple, Acer of Taiwan and China's Lenovo, among others, were meanwhile gobbling its market share in the personal computer business.

Last year, Toshiba sold its household appliance business to Midea Group of China, which is using the Toshiba brand name. It also has sold its medical equipment business to Japanese camera maker Canon.

Many viewed Toshiba's Westinghouse deal as a risky bet from the start.

Masashi Goto, a former Toshiba engineer who specialized in nuclear containment vessels, said Nishida was overly confident, as his background was not in the industry.

Although the nuclear division required relatively few staff and was insulated by its long-term government contracts, at the price Toshiba paid it was a gamble, he said.

Despite mounting desperation over soaring costs at Westinghouse, even after the Fukushima disaster, Toshiba's top management clung to the idea of a nuclear "renaissance."

The stricter safety regulations after the Fukushima disaster and extra complexities of the new kinds of reactors it was building have added to Westinghouse's headaches.

The crisis deepened when Westinghouse bought nuclear contractor CB&I Stone & Webster in December 2015, seeking to assert control over projects that were floundering amid delays and soaring costs.

The projects are not even half done, and a whistleblower in the U.S. has raised questions about the deal.

Toshiba is No. 2 worldwide in manufacturing flash memory chips, its mainstay business with the most obvious promise. It spun off the business in April, preparing to sell it to repair its decimated finances.

Taiwan's Hon Hai, which owns Apple iPhone maker Foxconn, was reportedly keen to buy the chips business, as are Toshiba's joint venture partner Western Digital and a U.S.-Japanese-government backed consortium.

Western Digital has sought arbitration over the planned sale, seeking the exclusive right to negotiate with Toshiba.

If Toshiba survives, what likely will be left are its infrastructure operations, such as railways, power systems and factory automation, and its nuclear power business, given its responsibility for running and decommissioning 17 reactors in Japan, including those at the Fukushima plant.

Current Toshiba President Satoshi Tsunakawa says the Westinghouse purchase was a mistake and has promised not to take on new nuclear projects.

The company says it is considering selling Westinghouse, but even if it does Toshiba must still shoulder some Westinghouse-related costs. How much remains unclear.

Toshiba is facing 20 lawsuits in Japan filed by banks, individuals, overseas investors and other parties seeking damages totaling 50 billion yen ($450 million).

The company is suing Nishida and four other former Toshiba officials for 300 million yen ($3 million) in damages for losses resulting from bogus bookkeeping. Nishida and the others deny wrongdoing, according to court records.

Nishida declined to be interviewed when a reporter visited his home in suburban Yokohama, a modest, middle-class dwelling typical of "salarymen" in Japan.

Goto, who now opposes nuclear power, likens reactors to bedridden patients, who must be cared for and eventually properly buried, an onerous, decades or possibly centuries-long task for the industry.

"Even after Fukushima, Toshiba management did not have the wisdom to change course," he said.