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Starting with Star Wars: The Complete Saga, THX Media Director takes steps to solve the problem of translating color space, bit depth, and resolution from the reference monitor to the motion picture, TV, computer and iPad screen -- automatically.
In September, fans could at last purchase Star Wars: The Complete Saga
, replete with six movies and 40 hours of extra content. The Blu-ray collection is also the first-ever implementation of THX Media Director, a metadata-based solution for ensuring that every piece of content is seen exactly as the director intended. That goal has become more difficult than ever before as the increasing number of platforms has multiplied the number of ways that a single piece of content can appear on the screen.
THX Senior Vice President Rick Dean
"When you go to the movie theater, it's a closed loop," says THX
Senior Vice President Rick Dean. "There are specs and calibration standards. But in the home, most consumers have no idea how to adjust their screens for brightness or color space, much less the media they play from a Blu-ray or DVD or stream from Netflix
THX Media Director remedies that by creating a closed loop for viewing content outside the movie theatre. How does it work? Content is embedded with metadata that describes the original artistic intent, with regard to color space, aspect ratio and other parameters. The process of embedding the metadata takes place in the authoring process, a simple step that can be accomplished with Rovi Scenarist. Completing the loop, the devices--Blu-ray/DVD players, game consoles, TVs--need an embedded chip that allows them to read and respond to the metadata.
"What we want to do is create a metadata file that's robust enough that it stays with the content, regardless of whether it goes over the air or over the top," says Media Director technical program director Chris Armbrust. "The metadata is still valid regardless of how it's distributed."
THX is busily placing all those pieces of the puzzle in place. On the DVD/Blu-ray authoring side, THX Media Director, which works with a variety of media, including optical disks, downloads, broadcast and streaming services, partnered with Rovi
, a provider of digital entertainment technology solutions, to make its toolsets THX-enabled. Rovi's Sonic CineVision is a mastering-level video compression system for Blu-ray and DVD production; combined with THX Media Director, CineVision allows content creators to associate metadata with encoded video. CineVision-encoded files are then loaded into Rovi's Scenarist workflow to author Blu-ray and DVD titles.
Star Wars: The Complete Saga
Media Director Technical Program Director Chris Armbrust
was authored using Rovi's Scenarist at Deluxe
. Armbrust notes that adding Media Director became an easy step in the ordinary workflow of a Blu-ray. "We didn't have to do anything special," he says. "They didn't need to make any changes in the workflow and we took only a short time to include the file."
As to the fact that Star Wars: The Complete Saga
was the first Blu-ray disk set to incorporate THX Media Director, Dean notes that, "George Lucas has always been innovative." Dean adds, "He put us on the map to always explore new ways to create premium content and this goes hand-in-hand with that mandate."
THX worked closely with Lucasfilm--benefiting from a nearly 30 year relationship between the two companies--to identify and ensure the best possible picture and sound playback settings across platforms. According to Dean, Star Wars: The Complete Saga
was already a well-organized project. "The elements of metadata were already well known by the time those disks were close to being made," he said. "We turned that information into metadata files that helped the encoders and authoring people do their jobs."
With the ability to encode content with metadata, Media Director is only halfway to its goal. What remains is to encourage consumer electronics manufacturers to embed their devices with the chip that reads and responds to the metadata. At the recent CEDIA
(Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association), THX demonstrated a working example of Media Director, with content playing back on an HDI Dune player
, a family of media streamer/Blu-ray combo units.
THX Media Director
Even more important, Analog Devices
, Sigma Designs
, Silicon Image
and Quantum Data
announced silicon solutions and HDMI protocol testing platform support that will make it easy for CE manufacturers to implement Media Director into Blu-ray players, AV receivers, TVs and projectors.
Analog Devices announced ADI's ADV7850
, which includes "the industry's first integrated HDMI receiver
to support THX Media Director embedded metadata using multiple Vendor Specific Infoframes (VSIs) facilitating easy implementation by CE manufacturers into Blu-ray players, AV receivers, TVs and projectors." At CEDIA 2011, THX demonstrated how ADI's ADV7850 HDMI Complete AV Front-end detected and processed Media Director's embedded VSI codes from a variety of sources (Blu-ray player, game platform, set-top-box, HD camcorder and others) to the display.
Silicon Image, a provider of wireless and wired HD connectivity solutions for reliable distribution and presentation of HD content for consumer electronics, mobile and PC markets, announced seven HDMI port processors and transmitters that support Media Director. The company also noted that THX Media Director leverages Silicon Image's InstaPort S single-second port switching technology to "significantly reduce the delay that typically occurs when switching between devices."
Sigma Designs, a provider of system-on-chip (SoC) solutions for video and media processing, offers its SMP864x, SMP865x and SMP8910 family of chips for CE manufacturers to introduce THX Media Director, on Connected Media players, set-top-boxes and AVRs.
In addition, test equipment manufacturer Quantum Data can now verify, test, simulate and validate that manufacturers' products are in full compliance with THX Media Director's technology.
Achieving adoption for new technology that embraces so many players--from the studios that own the content to the consumer equipment manufacturers who produce the playback devices--can be tricky. In an attempt to achieve ubiquity, THX opened up Media Director to any and all devices. "We will not follow our THX certification program," says Dean, who also notes that the Hollywood studios have had a positive response to THX Media Director.
"The studios understand the value and they're anxious to be able to use it," he says. "It doesn't hamper the workflow and allows them to provide more value to consumers and the creative community. It's one more element in making sure all that work that went into creating quality has a chance to be delivered."
For THX, creating Media Director links for Star Wars: The Complete Saga
brought the company full-circle from its origins in Star Wars.
Lucas hired audio scientist Tomlinson Holman to design the audio mixing facilities at Lucas' Skywalker Ranch. That led to the creation of Skywalker Sound, the THX certification program and the first THX release with Lucas' Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
This year has been about putting the Media Director infrastructure into place, with everything from chipsets to Rovi Scenarist. "We're already seeing all the work going into having new devices available and more content that utilizes this technology," says Dean. "Expect those devices and more content to roll out in 2012."