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Drowning in data in Hollywood

With sticker prices running to five figures and no native content to watch on them, sales 4K “Ultra-HD” TV sets are not likely to take off anytime soon. But one place 4K is already taking hold is in studio workflows.

At CES last week the technology chiefs for all the major studios made it clear they are already gearing up for life in 4K. “There is actually a lot more information on 35mm film negatives than has ever made it to the screen because when you go from a negative to an inter-positive and then to a print you always had generational loss,” Sony Pictures president of technology Chris Cookson said. “When we scanned the negative for Laurence of Arabia in 4K we noticed that we got more detail than the inter-positive we got when we did the restoration. So in a sense, no one has ever really seen everything that’s in that movie. So now we’re scanning everything from negatives to prepare for 4K. It has a lot more information than what was used as the reference standard for HDTV.”

Sony and the other studios are now busily scanning their libraries in 4K in anticipation of a day when delivering 4K video to the home is a practical reality. But all those ultra-high def scans are creating are creating new problems for the studios in the meantime: where and how to store all that data, not just for now but for the long-term.? “The nut we as an industry really still need to crack is long term storage,” 20th Cenutry Fox CTO Hanno Basse said.

Adding to the problem is the increasing use of high frame-rate digital cameras in new productions, which doubles the amount of data that needs to be managed.

“With high frame rate, there is a significant issue of data management.,” Warner Bros. CTO Darcy Antonellis said. “We worked on a little project with Mr. Jackson [i.e. Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, shot at 48 frames per second] and we’re talking about Petabytes of data from a single production. How do you move that around? How do you manage it? How will you even be able to find what you’re looking for in all that data?”

And again, where and how do you store it?

“The long term issue for the industry is how to make sure it will still be accessible 100 years from now,” Cookson said. “Before, with nitrate, you could separate the negatives and if you took care of them and stored them right you know they were going to be there for another 150 years. You can still get at them and still use them.”

Whether a digital format used to store The Hobbit today will still be readable by any equipment around 150 years from now is a question with huge financial stakes for the studios.