Friday, January 18, 2019

Toolbox

  • Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019
Sundance filmmakers turn to Panavision for production and post services
A scene from "Brittany Runs a Marathon"
WOODLAND HILLS, Calif. -- 

As entertainment industry luminaries prepare to swarm Park City for the Sundance Film Festival, Panavision and Light Iron (Panavision’s postproduction subsidiary) announced their collaborations with filmmakers on more than 25 projects screening or competing at the 2019 event (Jan. 24 – Feb. 3). The independent filmmakers behind these unique stories leveraged the innovative services of Panavision and Light Iron to provide a full range of offerings from gear to final deliverables.

“We’re honored that independent artists join forces with us to achieve their vision,” said Kim Snyder, president and CEO, Panavision. “We are dedicated to delivering the tools and expertise that content creators need, wherever they are in the world, from pre-production to post.”

The 2019 Sundance lineup illustrates Panavision’s enduring commitment to supporting the creative community and reinforces the importance of fostering filmmaking around the world. Across a number of titles, Panavision provided camera, lens and accessory packages, as well as dailies, offline editorial, and final color services from Light Iron. The comprehensive and single-point offerings underscore the company’s dedication to meeting the individual needs of independent filmmakers and their budget demands.

Snyder added, “Panavision’s vast portfolio of cameras and lenses coupled with our technical expertise present filmmakers with a phenomenal mix of options to creatively assemble the right equipment for any job. Additionally, the workflow savvy and creative services from Light Iron provide critical components that ensure quality imagery throughout the entire process.”

Here’s a look at some of the highly anticipated productions at Sundance supported by Panavision and Light Iron:

U.S. Dramatic Competition
Big Time Adolescence (dir. Jason Orley, DP Andrew Huebscher) – Camera rental, Superspeed lenses, Panavision New York.

Brittany Runs a Marathon (dir. Paul Downs Colaizzo, DP Seamus Tierney) – Camera rental, Primo prime lenses, Panavision New York.  Color by Sean Dunckley, Light Iron New York.

Hala (dir. Minhal Baig, DP Carolina Costa) – Camera and optics package, Panavision Chicago.

Honey Boy (dir. Alma Har’el, DP Natasha Braier, ASC, ADF) – Camera and optics package, Panavision Hollywood.

Luce (dir. Julius Onah, DP Larkin Seiple) – Panavision XL2 camera, G Series lenses, Panavision New York.

To the Stars (dir. Martha Stephens, DP Andrew Reed) – Camera rental, Primo Prime lenses, Panavision Dallas.

Premieres
Animals (dir. Sophie Hyde, DP Bryan Mason) – Camera rental, Superspeed lenses, Panavision Ireland.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (dir. Joe Berlinger, DP Brandon Trost) – Camera rental, C Series anamorphic lenses, Panavision Hollywood.

Late Night (dir. Nisha Ganatra, DP Matthew Clark) – Camera rental, Primo Zoom lenses, Panavision New York. Dailies by Light Iron New York. Color by Sean Dunckley, Light Iron New York.

Paddleton (dir. Alex Lehmann, DP Nathan M. Miller) – Color by Corinne Bogdanowicz, Light Iron Los Angeles.

Photograph (dir. Ritesh Batra, DP Ben Kutchins) – Offline editorial rentals, Light Iron New York.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind - Opening Night Film (dir. Chiwetel Ejiofor, DP Dick Pope, BSC) – Camera rental, Primo Prime lenses, Panavision Johannesburg.

The Tomorrow Man (dir. and DP Noble Jones) – Color by Corinne Bogdanowicz, Light Iron Los Angeles.

Top End Wedding (dir. Wayne Blair, DP Eric Murray Lui) – Camera and optics package, Panavision Sydney.

Troop Zero - Closing Night Film (dir. Bert & Bertie, DP Jim Whitaker) – Dailies by Light Iron New Orleans. Color by Corinne Bogdanowicz, Light Iron Los Angeles.

Velvet Buzzsaw (dir. Dan Gilroy, Robert Elswit, ASC) – Panavision Millennium DXL2, SP lenses, Panavision Woodland Hills.

NEXT Competition
Selah and the Spades (dir. Tayarisha Poe, DP Jomo Fray) – Camera and optics package, Panavision New York. Color by Steven Bodner, Light Iron New York.

The Wolf Hour (dir. Alistair Banks Griffin, DP Khalid Mohtaseb) – Camera rental and T-series, MAP55, and AWZ2.3 lenses, Panavision New York.

WORLD Cinema Dramatic Competition
Judy and Punch (dir. Mirrah Foulkes, DP Stefan Duscio) – Camera rental, C Series lenses, Panavision Sydney.

Midnight
Corporate Animals (dir. Patrick Brice, DP Tarin Anderson) – Color by Nick Hasson, Light Iron Los Angeles.

Little Monsters (dir. Abe Forsythe, DP Lachlan Milne, ACS) – Camera rental, anamorphic lenses, Panavision Sydney.

Spotlight
The Nightingale (dir. Jennifer Kent, DP Radek Ladczuk) – Camera rental, PVintage lenses, Panavision Sydney.

Doc Premieres
Ask Dr. Ruth (dir. Ryan White, DP David Jacobson) – Color by Nick Lareau. Light Iron Los Angeles.

Indie Episodic
It’s Not About Jimmy Keene (Dir. Caleb Jaffe, DP Noble Gray) – Color by Ian Vertovec. Light Iron Los Angeles.

Special Events
Lorena (dir. Joshua Rofé, DP Ronan Killeen) – Dailies by Light Iron Los Angeles. Color by Nick Lareau, Light Iron Los Angeles.

Now Apocalypse (dir. Gregg Araki, DP Sandra Valde-Hansen) – Camera rental, Primo Prime lenses, Panavision Hollywood.

U.S. Narrative Shorts
Lockdown (dir. Celine Held and Logan George, DP Caleb Heller) – Rental package, Panavision Woodland Hills.

  • Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019
ARRI Rental grows Atlanta team
Peter Fodero
ATLANTA -- 

ARRI Rental, a global provider of camera, grip and lighting equipment, has made two additions to the team at its Atlanta facility: Peter Fodero, who has joined as operations manager, will oversee day-to-day management of the rental operation, while new client contact Kyle Baggett will focus on customer service.

Fodero began his career as a production freelancer before joining another equipment rental house in 2011 where he held many roles, most recently as general manager. He studied Film and Video at Georgia State University and is a member of IATSE 479 and IATSE 600. Baggett has previous experience in the industry as a rental agent and rental supervisor.

Peter Crithary, president of ARRI Rental US Camera, said of Fodero and Baggett, “Their extensive knowledge and close connections within the creative community are a tremendous asset.”

Regional marketing executive Kelli Bingham will continue to focus on managing the company’s relationships with production and crew in Atlanta, as well as seeking new business opportunities. Working alongside her, sr. field support technician Mike Sippel is part of the location support team and responsible for all camera-related products, including the ALEXA 65.

  • Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019
Autodesk launches Maya 2019
Maya 2019 Cached Playback menus
SAN FRANCISCO -- 

Autodesk has launched Maya 2019, the latest version of its popular 3D animation, modeling, simulation and rendering software, featuring significant updates to help artists achieve their creative vision within a faster, more interactive and visually engaging working environment. Maya 2019 addresses the key challenges artists face throughout production, providing faster animation playback to reduce the need for playblasts, higher quality 3D previews with Autodesk Arnold updates in viewport 2.0, improved pipeline integration with more flexible development environment support, and performance improvements that most Maya artists will notice in their daily work.

“The more you can make the technology behave and get out of the artists’ way, the more they can keep their thought process fluid. With Cached Playback, animators can iterate more, and they totally love that,” said Christopher Moore, technical program manager, Blue Sky Studios

“We’re not looking to make it so our artists get more shots per week off their plate. We’re doing this so we can set the bar even higher for the quality of art we can produce,” said Hank Driskill, CTO, Blue Sky Studios

“The new features in Maya 2019 give artists a more responsive working environment so they feel more creatively engaged and can iterate faster to produce better quality. Cached Playback is going to reduce the need for playblasts by animators, and Arnold updates take the guesswork out of the equation, by making viewport previews closer to the final Arnold render,” said Chris Vienneau, sr. director, Media & Entertainment Products, Autodesk.

Key new Maya 2019 features include:

  • Faster Animation: New cached playback increases animation playback speeds in viewport 2.0, giving animators a more interactive and responsive animating environment to produce better quality animations. It helps reduce the need to produce time-consuming playblasts to evaluate animation work, so animators can work faster.
  • Higher Quality Previews Closer to Final Renders: Arnold upgrades improve real-time previews in viewport 2.0, allowing artists to preview higher quality results that are closer to the final Arnold render for better creativity and less wasted time.
  • Faster Maya: New performance and stability upgrades help improve daily productivity in a range of areas that most artists will notice in their daily work.
  • Refining Animation Data: New filters within the graph editor make it easier to work with motion capture data, including the Butterworth filter and the key reducer to help refine animation curves.
  • Rigging Improvements: New updates help make the work of riggers and character TDs easier, including the ability to hide sets from the outliner to streamline scenes, improvements to the bake deformer tool and new methods for saving deformer weights to more easily script rig creation.
  • Pipeline Integration Improvements: Development environment updates make it easier for pipeline and tool developers to create, customize and integrate into production pipelines.
  • Help for Animators in Training: Sample rigged and animated characters, as well as motion capture samples, make it easier for students to learn and quickly get started animating.

Maya 2019 is available as a standalone subscription or with a collection of end-to-end creative tools within the Autodesk Media & Entertainment Collection.

  • Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019
Remember virtual reality? Its buzz has faded at CES 2019
People use Oculus VR headsets at the Panasonic booth at CES International, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
NEW YORK (AP) -- 

Just a few years ago, virtual reality was poised to take over the world. After decades of near misses, the revolution finally seemed imminent, with slick consumer headsets about to hit the market and industries from gaming and entertainment to social media ready to hop on the bandwagon.

But the buzz over VR has faded to a whisper. At the CES 2019 tech show in Las Vegas, Facebook's Oculus unit isn't holding any glitzy press events, just closed-door demos for its upcoming Oculus Quest, a $399 untethered headset due out in the spring. Other VR companies are similarly subdued. HTC announced two new headsets — one with only sketchy details — while Sony has some kiosks for its $300 PlayStation VR set in the main hall.

It's a world away from the scene a few years ago, when VR products from Samsung, Oculus, HTC and Sony seemed omnipresent and unstoppable at CES. These days, VR is mostly a niche product for gaming and business training, held back by expensive, clunky headsets, a paucity of interesting software and other technological shortcomings.

"VR hasn't escaped the early adopter, gamer-oriented segment," said Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder — himself an early adopter who chafed in 2016 at delays in shipping Facebook's then-groundbreaking Oculus Rift system. Gownder said many existing VR setups are still too hard to use; even simpler mobile systems like Samsung's Gear VR, he said, don't offer "a clear reason for the average non-gamer to get involved."

VR proponents are still dreaming big, although the challenges remain formidable. Shipments of VR headsets rose 8 percent in the third quarter compared to the previous year, to 1.9 million units, according to data research firm International Data Corp. — an uptick that followed four consecutive quarters of decline . Nearly a quarter of a million units of Facebook's Oculus Go and Xiaomi's Mi VR — the same stand-alone VR headset, sold under different names in different markets — shipped worldwide in the quarter, IDC said.

Those still aren't huge numbers for a technology that seemed to hold such promise in 2012 when early demonstrations of the Oculus Rift wowed audiences — so much that Facebook acquired Oculus for $2 billion two years later. Despite large sums ploughed into the field by Facebook, Sony, Samsung, Microsoft and Google, VR hasn't yet made much of a dent in the real world.

Some of the biggest consumer complaints involve expense, laggy or glitchy graphics and the fact that many systems still tether the headsets to gaming consoles or PCs. "Technology is still what's holding VR back," said eMarketer analyst Victoria Petrock. Upcoming stand-alone headsets like the Oculus Quest could solve some of those problems.

More alarming, though, VR still suffers from a lack of hit software. Many major game publishers have largely avoided the field so far, and venture funding for VR software development has nosedived this year.

SuperData, a digital games and VR market research company owned by Nielsen Holdings, estimates that consumer VR software investments dropped by a stunning 59 percent in 2018, to $173 million from $420 million the year before.

Software makers are retrenching. IMAX said in late December it was shutting down its VR unit. Jaunt, a startup focused on cinematic VR and once backed by Disney, restructured this year. Its new focus? VR's cousin technology, "augmented reality," which paints consumer-simulated objects into the real world, a la the cartoony monsters of "Pokemon Go."

A few games have been modest hits. "Beat Saber" a VR game in which players move a lightsaber to music, sold over 100,000 copies in its first month and became the seventh highest-rated game on Steam, according to Forbes. But such titles are few and far between.

There's one other problem: VR isn't very social, Petrock said. There's no easy way to share the experience with others on social media or within the games themselves, making a VR experience less likely to go viral the way, say, "Fortnite" has. "You have your headset strapped on and you're in a virtual world but it is solitary," she said.

VR "is still is the next big thing, but anything good takes time and effort," said Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen. "The industry as a whole did overhype it."

He compares the current VR industry to the TV industry when HDTV first came out. People bought new high-definition sets but were disappointed when there wasn't anything to watch in the new format. For VR, "the kind of breadth and depth of content isn't all quite there," he said.

AP Technology Writer Rachel Lerman contributed to this article from Seattle.

  • Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019
CES 2019: Google brings a Disney-like ride to tech show
Sony President and CEO Kenichiro Yoshida, left, musician Pharrell Williams, middle, and Sony Music Entertainment CEO Rob Stringer, right, pose for a photograph at the Sony news conference at CES International, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- 

The CES 2019 gadget show opened its doors Tuesday, with tech companies from giants to tiny startups showing off their latest products and services.
In recent years, CES's influence has declined as Apple, Google and other major companies throw their own events to launch new wares. Still, more than 180,000 people from about 150 countries are expected to attend. The sprawling event spans 11 official venues, plus scores of unofficial ones throughout Las Vegas. The four-day show in Las Vegas opened after two days of media previews.
Here are the latest findings and observations from Associated Press reporters on the ground.

CUTTING THROUGH THE BABEL
Google has transformed CES into a Disney-like theme park — complete with singing animatronic macarons — to showcase new features of its voice-enabled digital assistant.

This includes an "interpreter mode" that enables some of Google's smart home devices to work as a translator. It's being piloted at a hotel concierge desk near the Las Vegas tech conference and rolls out to consumer devices in several weeks.

Voice assistants are getting pretty good at translating speech into text, but it's a thornier challenge in artificial intelligence to enable real-time translation across different languages. Google's new feature expands upon real-time translation services it's rolled out to Android phones and headphones over the past year.

This is the second year that Google Assistant had made a huge splash at CES in an effort to outbid Amazon's Alexa as the voice assistant of choice.

Google this year has an amusement park ride that resembles Disney's "It's a Small World," though on a roller-coaster-like train at slow speeds. Talking and singing characters showcase Google's various voice-assistant features as visitors ride along.

Google isn't the only CES exhibitor promising the next generation of instant translation. Chinese AI firm iFlytek has been showing of its translation apps and devices that are already popular among Chinese travelers. And at least two startups, New York-based Waverly Labs and China-based TimeKettle, are promoting their earbuds that work as in-ear translation devices.

BRING THAT UMBRELLA
IBM is expanding its side job as the world's meteorologist.

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty used a keynote address Tuesday to unveil a new global forecasting system that promises more accurate local weather reports in places that never had them before.

The computing giant owns The Weather Company, which runs popular weather services including weather.com and the Weather Channel and Weather Underground apps (though not the Weather Channel television network). Those apps provide precise and constantly updating forecasts in places like the U.S. and parts of Europe and Japan, but not in most of the world.

IBM says its new forecasting model relies in part on "crowd-sourced" data — barometric pressure readings from millions of smartphones and sensor readings from passing airplanes.

Weather Company CEO Cameron Clayton says the new system is intended to aid IBM's business providing critical weather data to airlines, energy firms and other industries. But he says it will also have societal benefits, such as helping small farmers in India or parts of Africa yield better crops.

IBM may have trouble persuading some users to agree to transmit atmospheric data to IBM after the city of Los Angeles sued last week to stop the Weather Channel's data-collection practices. The lawsuit alleges that the company uses location information not just to personalize weather but also to track users' every step and profit off that information. The company has denied any impropriety with sharing location data collected from users, saying it does disclose what it does.

SAMSUNG WANTS TO BRING ROBOTS HOME
Up next for Samsung: a robot that can keep its eye on grandma and grandpa.

The rolling robot, which talks and has two digital eyes on a black screen, can track medicines they take, measure blood pressure and call 911 if it detects a fall.

The company didn't not say when Samsung Bot Care would be available, but brought the robot out on stage Monday at a presentation at CES. Samsung also said it is working on a robot for stores and another for testing and purifying the air in homes.

Samsung also unveiled TVs, appliances and other high-tech gizmos — but not a foldable phone it hinted at in November. But a startup called Royole did. The Royole FlexPai smartphone was first shown in November but the California-based company has more details. The phone will have a 7.8-inch display that can be folded like a wallet, priced at more than $1,300.

STAR DELIGHT
Sony brought some star power to CES with a visit from musician Pharrell Williams, straight from trip to Anguilla.

The star of hit songs such as "Happy" came to talk about a mostly secret project that he and Sony are supposedly undertaking. But in the end, it was clearly an attempt by Sony to sprinkle some stardust on launches for TVs and other products.

"I was a little bit worried that he was still on holiday, but he is here," Sony Music head Rob Stringer told the crowd.

AP Technology Writer Barbara Ortutay in New York and video journalist Jona Kallgren in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

  • Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019
EFILM's Tom Reiser brings color to HDR Dolby Vision finish of "Escape Room"
A scene from "Escape Room"
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- 

Columbia Pictures’ Escape Room is a new psychological thriller that follows six strangers who find themselves in circumstances beyond their control and are forced to use their wits to find the clues or die. The film’s director, Adam Robitel, and cinematographer, Marc Spicer, tapped EFILM sr. colorist Tom Reiser for the color finish. 

Each room in the film is a world unto itself, replete with its own look, distinct environment, and feel, all of which translate into the color finish. Reiser essentially graded a series of mini movies that comprise a whole. Having collaborated on The Fate of the Furious, Spicer and Reiser enjoyed a creative short-hand and were in synergy throughout the color finish.   

“The most challenging aspect of the film was that each room required us to retain the same look, the same flavor, and make it cohesive throughout the scene. For example, there’s a room that appears to be in the snowy wilderness. I dialed up the blue-ice look to the point where it looks a bit artificial and made the snow overly white. This look had to remain consistent for the entire long sequence. Additionally, these choices all serve the fact that we’re not really in the snow wilderness, we’re in an artificially created environment,” explained Reiser. 

The film also makes striking use of the storytelling capabilities of High Dynamic Range. In the HDR Dolby Vision finish of the film, Reiser pushed the HDR during the sequence in which the characters experience the “first room” of the movie, which is a lobby inside a building. Various surfaces and walls in the room literally heat up to make the characters uncomfortable during the sequence. 

“With HDR, you can make contrast with the highlights that you can’t see anywhere else. You can actually see the rippling heat waves and the red of the heated surfaces really pops. It’s an almost immersive experience,” said Reiser. 

The screenplay is by Bragi Schut and Maria Melnik, and the story by Bragi Schut. The film is produced by Neal H. Moritz and Ori Marmur. Rebecca Rivo serves as executive producer. The movie stars Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Jay Ellis, Tyler Labine, Nik Dodani, with Yorick van Wageningen.

  • Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019
CES 2019: TV set maker LG makes its sets disappear
David VanderWaal, vice president of marketing for LG Electronics USA, unveils the LG Signature OLED TV R during an LG news conference at CES International, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- 

The CES 2019 gadget show is revving up in Las Vegas. Here are the latest findings and observations from Associated Press reporters on the ground as technology's biggest trade event gets underway.

DISAPPEARING TELEVISIONS
In this age of smartphone streaming, big television sets are no longer the centerpiece of many living rooms. Now South Korean electronics company LG is doing its part to make TVs disappear altogether.

LG has unveiled a "rollable" TV — a 65-inch screen that can roll down and disappear into its base with the press of a button. The set can still play music when the screen is rolled down completely, or display a clock when it's just partially rolled down. LG says the TV will be available later this year. It didn't say how much it will cost.

Meanwhile, LG, Samsung and others unveiled "8K" sets, with four times the resolution of today's high-definition sets and twice that of 4K sets such as LG's rollable one. 8K represents the next generation of television viewing, but one that most people won't see for themselves for some time.

So far, 8K has only been deployed for the occasional experimental broadcast, such as during the Olympics. Even 4K shows and movies are just starting to catch on.

"As always with TVs, innovations come with display hardware first and adoption of things like content and delivery always follow later," said Paul Gagnon, an analyst with IHS Markit.

But unlike past developments that never caught on, such as 3D TVs, analysts believe 8K will become more popular eventually — just not ubiquitous.

Samsung announced its first 8K TV last year, an 85-inch model costing nearly $15,000. The company unveiled four additional sizes Monday, sans prices. Also Monday, TCL announced plans for 8K sets with Roku's streaming technology built-in. LG has two 8K sets coming.

ENOUGH ABOUT SELF-DRIVING CARS
Many people at CES would rather hear about better video games. Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang got a big round of applause when he told a crowd that he'd spend more time talking gaming than autonomous driving.

The Santa Clara, California-based chipmaker's computer graphics technology is used in both industries. But it was Huang's unveiling of a new gaming-oriented graphics processor that elicited the biggest cheers Sunday night. He also detailed how his company's advances in artificial intelligence and a graphics technology called "ray tracing" are helping to generate ever-more-realistic scenery in popular games.

This year's CES is less focused on autonomous cars compared with last year, though there's ongoing buzz about self-driving innovations. Ride-hailing service Lyft says that after launching a self-driving Las Vegas taxi service at last year's CES, it's now had almost 30,000 paid rides. Daimler on Monday unveiled a new self-driving truck and Bosch and May Mobility separately unveiled their concepts for a driverless shuttle bus.

Meanwhile, executives from Audi, Toyota, Cruise Automation, chipmaker Nvidia, Google spinoff Waymo and several startups are gearing up to convince the public that autonomous vehicles are safe.

They say the coalition is not a lobbying effort but a united front to invest in countering what they describe as public confusion, fears and unrealistic expectations about self-driving technology. The industry push follows a year of news about self-driving crashes, including an autonomous Uber that fatally struck a pedestrian in March. Neither Uber nor Tesla, which has also had crashes, is part of the group.

A CENTURY-OLD CES FIRST-TIMER
You wouldn't expect to find the maker of Pampers and Bounty paper towels at the world's largest technology conference.

But here's consumer goods company Procter & Gamble at CES 2019, showing off heated razors and a toothbrush that uses artificial intelligence. (Sorry if you were expecting self-changing diapers.)

Procter & Gamble, which was founded more than 180 years ago, said it's the first time it has been an exhibitor at CES. The company said it needs to infuse technology into everyday products to keep up with what customers want.

Among the goods on display: a waterproof Gillette razor that heats up to 122 degrees; an Oral-B toothbrush that tells you if you're missing areas when brushing; and a wand-like device called Opte that scans the skin and releases serum that covers up age spots and other discoloration.

Although some of the products have been sold in test runs, pricing hasn't been set yet. But expect to pay a lot more than the ordinary stuff currently on drugstore shelves.

AN ELEGANT WAY TO TEXT
People feeling overwhelmed by their array of connected devices can invest up to $700 on another device meant to feel more artisanal.

Mui Lab, based in Kyoto, Japan, has designed an internet-connected wall panel made of sycamore wood that you can touch to send messages, check the weather or control other home devices such as lights and thermostats. Lighted letters and icons appear on the wood panel when it's being used — and disappear when it's inactive.

CEO Kazunori Oki says it's about bringing a more natural feel to a connected home.

While you're at it, you can make your home smell better. Feeling like more lavender and less jasmine? Or want your holiday party to smell like a blend of Christmas tree, fireplace and cookies? The Moodo "smart-home fragrance diffusers" made by Israeli fragrance company Agan Aroma enable users to adjust blends from their smartphones. Each $139 device holds up to four capsules with different scents.

AP Technology Writer Rachel Lerman in Seattle contributed to this report.

  • Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019
CES 2019: Chinese tech firms lay lower amid trade tensions
In this Jan. 9, 2018, file photo a woman wears Huawei VR2 goggles at the Huawei booth during CES International in Las Vegas. The CES 2019 gadget show, which kicks off Sunday, will showcase the expanding influence and sway of China’s rapidly growing technology sector. But some of its firms are stepping back from the spotlight amid rising U.S. national-security concerns over Chinese tech and a trans-Pacific trade war launched by President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- 

The CES 2019 gadget show, which kicks off Sunday, will showcase the expanding influence and sway of China's rapidly growing technology sector. But some of its firms are stepping back from the spotlight amid rising U.S. national-security concerns over Chinese tech and a trans-Pacific trade war launched by President Donald Trump.

Last year, a top executive of the Chinese telecom firm Huawei delivered a CES keynote address critical of AT&T's abrupt cancellation of plans to sell a Huawei phone following espionage concerns raised by the U.S. government. This year, Huawei's chief financial officer was arrested in Canada at the behest of the U.S.; Meng Wanzhou, daughter of Huawei's founder, now awaits U.S. extradition . No Chinese technology executives will deliver CES keynotes in Las Vegas this week.

There are fewer Chinese entrepreneurs buying up booth space to show off their latest technology — more than 20 percent fewer exhibitors than last year, according to registration numbers tracked by the South China Morning Post. Chinese firms still account for more than a quarter of the conference's 4,500 exhibitors, second only to the U.S. in sheer numbers. But some of the biggest names are taking a more subdued approach.

Internet company Baidu last year hosted a flashy event touting its self-driving software, but this year is sticking to a more conventional booth. E-commerce giant Alibaba is eschewing the big outdoor tent it helped erect last year in favor of quieter meetings marketing its voice assistant to business partners. The phone maker Xiaomi is simply skipping this year's event altogether.

None of them are citing rising U.S.-China tensions, but it's hard to ignore the geopolitical backdrop — even with a 90-day "cease-fire" on tariffs set to expire in March.

The U.S. and China have imposed import taxes on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other's goods — and Trump has threatened more to come, including tariffs that could make devices like iPhones more expensive. The U.S. is also exploring new export restrictions that would target industries where China is hoping to get ahead, such as artificial intelligence and robotics. And the Justice Department brought charges last month against two Chinese citizens it accused of stealing American trade secrets and other sensitive information on behalf of Beijing's main intelligence agency.

Of course, plenty of Chinese entrepreneurs are still eager to show off their innovations. Hosts of the 52-year-old trade event have sought to downplay the tensions, noting that they've weathered previous trade tensions, such as those that roiled U.S.-Japan relations in the 1980s.

"The Japanese presence used to be very big and it was similar in that the U.S. was in a panic about it," said Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which organizes CES. That ended when the Japanese "bubble" economy burst in 1991 and its tech industry began a long, slow decline.

"Japanese innovation from those companies shrunk and those companies consolidated," Shapiro said. "These things are impermanent. So I don't lose that much sleep over it."

Shapiro said the trade dispute with China and the Meng arrest in Canada aren't impacting attendance. CES organizers on Sunday wouldn't confirm numbers showing a sharp drop in Chinese exhibitors, but said a decline in small Chinese companies on the show floor was made up by expanded booth presence from bigger firms.

Chinese tech firms are increasingly joining their American, South Korean and Japanese counterparts in using CES to build enthusiasm for up-and-coming electronics products, while also connecting with potential new international partners and suppliers. That's especially true for electronics firms like Hisense and TCL, which have increasingly sought to sell their TVs in North America, and Lenovo, which is already a big player in the U.S. laptop market but is pushing to sell other internet-connected devices.

Hisense is making a splashier presentation this year as it invests in boosting its U.S. brand awareness, said Jim Ninesling, head of marketing for Hisense USA. Previously, the company, which has a large market share in China, mostly kept on the U.S. sidelines, branding some of its products under the name of the better-known Japanese firm Sharp.

Chinese electric carmaker Byton, a startup backed by internet giant Tencent, on Sunday is promising to unveil what it calls the "world's most intuitive automotive interface," which, according to a tease on Twitter , involves a touchscreen mounted on the steering wheel. AI firm iFlytek — sometimes described as China's Siri or Alexa — is planning to showcase its latest advances in voice recognition and real-time translation services.

And a startup expo co-hosted by the Chinese government features a bevy of gee-whiz innovations, from indoor delivery robots and portable karaoke headsets to "smart" suitcases aided by computer vision.

In an ideal world, the tech industries in the two countries would be seen as complementary, said venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee, who led Google's subsidiary in China before the company withdrew over censorship and other concerns.

"The U.S. strength is deep technologists, universities, academics, people with superior experience," he said. "China's superiority is a larger market, more data, and very tenacious and hardworking entrepreneurs."

Lee said his optimism for a more collaborative approach is now "merely a dream" because of the worsening trade dispute. But he said there could still be partnerships between U.S. firms and Chinese companies that, for now, mostly cater to Chinese consumers.

"Google feels much, much more threat from Amazon than any Chinese company," he said. "That makes Tencent and Alibaba potential allies, especially when customer needs cross international boundaries."

AP Business Writer Joseph Pisani contributed to this report.

  • Friday, Jan. 4, 2019
CES edges closer to gender equity
In this Jan. 4, 2017, photo a woman participates in a virtual realty presentation during an Intel news conference before CES International in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
NEW YORK (AP) -- 

The world's largest tech conference has apparently learned a big lesson about gender equity.

CES, the huge annual consumer-electronics show in Las Vegas, caught major flak from activists in late 2017 when it unveiled an all-male lineup of keynote speakers for the second year in a row. Although it later added two female keynoters , the gathering's "boys' club" reputation remained intact. It didn't help that one of the unsanctioned events latching on to CES last year was a nightclub featuring female "robot strippers."

This year, four of the nine current keynoters are women. GenderAvenger, the activist group that raised a ruckus last year, recently sent CES organizers a congratulatory letter and awarded the show a "Gold Stamp of Approval" for a roster of keynote and "featured" speakers that it says is 45 percent women — 60 percent of them women of color.

It's a significant change for CES, which like most tech conferences remains disproportionately male, just like the industry it serves. Even absent the robot dogs, sci-fi worthy gadgets and "booth babes" CES has been known for, you could readily peg it as a technology show from the bathroom lines alone — where men shift uncomfortably as they wait their turn while women waltz right in.

Keynoters this year include IBM CEO Ginni Rometty; Lisa Su, CEO of chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices; and U.S. Transportation Security Elaine Chao. The entire featured speaker list is currently half female, although the exact percentage won't be known until after the event. "There is no question we keep trying to do better," said Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which organizes CES.

"Diversity is about having people who see things differently — frankly, disagree with you and tell you that you are stupid," said Tania Yuki, CEO of social media analytics company Shareablee and an attendee of CES for the past several years. The big question, she says, is whether CES has really listened to its critics.

CES is the place to be for tech companies and startups to show off their latest gadgets and features. More than 180,000 people are expected to attend this year, and some 4,500 companies will be on the convention floor. Among them are newcomers like Tide maker Procter & Gamble, defense contractor Raytheon and tractor seller John Deere — all eager to burnish their technology bona fides.

But really leveling the playing field often means more than inviting female CEOs to speak. For starters, women and people of color are underrepresented in the tech industry, especially in leadership and technical roles. So, conference organizers might need to look harder, or be more flexible in who they invite to speak.

There are also optics. While recent attendees say "booth babes" — scantily clad women hawking gadgets — no longer seem to be a presence, some companies still hire "fitness models," largely young women wearing tight-fitting outfits, to demo products. This can make it difficult for the few women at the show who are there as executives, engineers and other technologists, as men mistake them for models, too.

"When you are talking about scantily clad models you are setting a tone," said Bobbie Carlton, the founder of Innovation Women, a speaker bureau for women. "It is a slippery slope and you end up with this type of mentality that runs through industry, where women are objectified and are only useful if they look good."

More optics: Until recently, a porn convention taking place immediately after CES appeared more diverse than CES itself. Not a good look for the tech confab.

There are also logistical challenges, Carlton said. For example, women often work for smaller companies, which can find it more challenging to "send someone cross-country to stay at a fancy hotel for three days," she said.

Rajia Abdelaziz is CEO of invisaWear, a startup that makes smart "safety jewelry." While she's attending CES this year, she said it wasn't worth the $10,000 it would cost her company to have its own convention-floor booth. In addition to the cost concerns, Abdelaziz notes that her products are primarily aimed at women — and there just aren't that many of them at CES.

Women are also still more likely to be responsible for the home and for child care, so they might turn down speaking opportunities if the timing doesn't work for them, Carlton said.

CES has tried to make some concessions. For example, it offers private pods for women to pump breast milk at the event. But it doesn't offer child care support, unlike the smaller Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing conference, a fall event aimed at women in computer science.

Organizers note that children are not permitted at CES. Although kids are also banned from Grace Hopper, that conference still manages to offer free child care for attendees.

Still, Yuki is hopeful that CES is on the right track. "It's a big conference," she said. "You can only turn a very big ship very slowly."

CES runs January 8-11.

Associated Press Writer Joseph Pisani contributed to this story.

  • Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019
CBS affiliate in Cleveland deploys JVC ProHD Studio 4000
WOIO is using the JVC ProHD Studio 4000 to produce live breaking news coverage for its OTT media platforms.
WAYNE, NJ -- 

Live streaming of breaking news is nothing new in the Cleveland-Akron market, but WOIO wanted to provide its viewers with more than just a video feed. In December, the Raycom Media-owned CBS affiliate began using its new ProHD Studio 4000 live production and streaming studio from JVC Professional Video, a division of JVCKENWOOD USA Corporation, to provide a scaled-down, cost-effective version of its full control room for its OTT media platforms.

“We saw it as a way to drive our OTT with a control room-type look that would not require a control room to do,” explained Bob Maupin, director of technology for WOIO and WUAB, a CW and MyNetworkTV affiliate also owned by Raycom. “We hope to drive all our digital platforms with this.”

On Dec. 18, WOIO began using the system by offering live coverage of two events in one day, a press conference in Akron and the sentencing of a murderer in a Cleveland courtroom. The production, which was shared on the station’s website, mobile app, and Facebook Live, included double boxes, graphics, phone commentary from a reporter, and other production elements viewers expect during a newscast.

“All of this we can do with one person running this production system using touchscreens,” Maupin added. “We’ve developed some workflows to make it rather comprehensive.”

The self-contained ProHD Studio 4000 is housed in WOIO’s newsroom. With a dedicated JVC KY-PZ100 robotic PTZ network video production camera hanging from the ceiling in front of the production workspace, the system operator can also serve as on-camera talent. A 70-inch LCD monitor behind the operator serves as a video backdrop, and retractable ropes on either side of the workspace prevents personnel from walking in front of the camera during a live webcast.

Two of the ProHD Studio 4000’s four inputs are dedicated to the PTZ camera and an NDI source, while the other two are used for content accessed through the station’s router. During a webcast, the system operator can add graphics, bugs, relevant archival footage, live Skype feeds, and web pages, as well as adjust audio levels.

According to Brian Sinclair, WOIO assistant news director, training on the new system was very easy, and operators adapted quickly to the touchscreen interface. There is no traditional control panel, and a keyboard and mouse are used only for typing CG content or searching for content in the station’s ENPS system. WOIO added a second touchscreen so operators could conveniently access the station’s virtual router control panel and ENPS through a separate computer.

The new production system also provides WOIO with new flexibility. As Sinclair noted, during the live coverage on Dec. 18, the main studio and control room were used to produce an on-air update and a recorded tease for an upcoming newscast. In the past, the station would have had to break from its live coverage to produce the two segments.

WOIO plans to use the ProHD Studio 4000 extensively. “We want our digital platforms to have as much live breaking coverage as we can provide,” Sinclair said. “We’re hoping the JVC system can make a difference in the market with obvious viewer benefit.”

 

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