LOCATION: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study, Linwood Dunn Theatre in Hollywood.
TOPICS: High Definition Aerial Cinematography and Microwave Transmission

The May 2004 Hollywood SMPTE Section meeting was held at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study, in the Linwood Dunn Theatre in Hollywood.

Sony Broadcast & Professional System Division kicked off the meeting by sponsoring a social hour with food and liquid refreshments supplied by Food Fetish Inc.

The live multidiscipline demonstration provided a natural script for the meeting, which ultimately followed the digital signal flow.

Using a Sony HDC-F950 camera integrated in the new Cineflex HD gyro-stabilized aerial gimbal-platform, a 1080/60i HD-SDI signal was transmitted live from Helinet Aviation’s Eurocopter A-Star B2 helicopter to the Dunn Theatre. SMPTE members and guests were able to view the HD images projected on a 20'x43' Stewart Ultramatte series CinePerf screen and communicate with the pilot and camera-operator to request specific shots and camera settings.

The HD camera signal was MPEG2 encoded on the helicopter and then transmitted using Coded Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (COFDM) modulation using the 2Ghz Broadcast Auxiliary Service (BAS) frequency band. The signal was transmitted using a GPS-tracking antenna mounted on the helicopter and position-locked on the Dunn Theatre. The signal was received on the roof of the theater using a Microwave Radio Co. (MRC) SectraScan antenna and receiver system, then decoded, distributed, and projected on the 20'x43' Stewart Ultramatte series CinePerf screen using a Panasonic PT-D7600 projector. Various other HD and downconverted SD displays were also available for viewing.

Our first speaker was J.T. Alpaugh, Director of Technology at Helinet Aviation, who described the helicopter; gyro-stabilized camera platform and the images being projected live. Helinet Aviation has provided services to directors such as Tony Scott, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Ed Zwick. Cinema credits include Jurassic Park, Pearl Harbor, Terminator II & III and Black Hawk Down, among others. Helinet regularly provides aerial Electronic New Gathering (ENG) services to broadcasters nationwide, including operations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston.

Next, John Coyle from Cineflex LLC gave us a briefing on the new Cineflex® HiDEF gyro-stabilized aerial camera system. John described a variety of camera and lens configurations that are possible, including HD lenses from Canon, Fujinon and Zeiss’ new Digi-Primes. Cineflex specializes in electro-mechanical motion control systems for aviation, broadcast television and motion picture production. Cineflex systems are available with single and multi-payload sensors for broadcast; digital cinematography, low light, infrared and laser range finders.

Transmitting HD video using 2Ghz BAS spectrum increases the complexity of providing high quality video under adverse conditions. Recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rulings reduced the BAS spectrum by 35 MHz. Broadcasters across the United States are preparing to transition into this narrower channel plan and are likely to deploy technologies such as digital microwave using COFDM in order to provide comparable services that support ENG services, including coverage of emergencies, news and sporting events.

Our next group of speakers identified some of these challenges, presented technology tutorials and outlined plans to make this transition plan as smooth as possible.

Clark Rhoads from MRC gave a brief tutorial about COFDM modulation, which is particularly well matched to broadcast ENG applications because it is more tolerant to the effects of multipath interference and performs well in the presence of narrow-band interfering signals. COFDM is also specified in digital broadcasting systems for Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) and Digital Video Broadcasting in European terrestrial television systems (DVB-T). MRC is developing products that future-proof ENG and Outside Broadcast (OB) operations with the ability to move into the new 2 GHz channel plan with analog, SD, and now with HD signals. Microwave Radio Communications is also a leader in Studio to Transmitter and Intercity Relay Links (STL and ICR) for broadcast television.

Next, Kurt Loheit from Boeing Satellite Systems reviewed the challenges of transmitting uncompressed HD signals live. Boeing technology has been applied to create a terrestrial microwave system capable of transmitting HD-SDI at 1.485 Gbps. Compression is typical for transport of HD signals, but creates unwanted latency and potential artifacts in the signal, rendering it difficult for use in live events. Boeing’s approach utilizes Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuits (MMIC) and allows for the transmission of uncompressed HD-SDI signals on any frequency between 18 GHz and 110 GHz.

Karl Voss from the Arizona Frequency Coordination Committee (AFCC) and John Russell from the Southern California Frequency Coordination Committee (SCFCC) gave an overview of the recent FCC rulings that reallocated spectrum below 3 GHz to support new Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) and 3G Wireless Systems. Karl and John outlined technology testing and transition plans that are key to a successful conversion to digital microwave in reduced spectrum environments. A transition plan must provide comparable function to current daily ENG operations, minimize interference and accommodate itinerate users such as sporting events, pool-feeds and inter-market operations.

The presentations were followed by an open discussion and questions session with all speakers and attendees. Participants were also able to compare the daylight and nighttime video quality including gain settings, stability of the platform as the helicopter pilot rocked the aircraft back and forth and some really compelling images of Hollywood and Los Angeles during sunset.

The integration of all these converging technologies poses many technical challenges to users, but the pictures presented at the meeting only whet the appetite of all attendees for the future of HD Aerial Cinematography and Microwave Transmission.

The SMPTE Hollywood Section would like to thank all the participants and everyone who provided personal resources and manpower, radio frequencies, carbon-based fuel (food and Jet A), and traveled long distances. Your commitment to the SMPTE is appreciated. Western Technical Services, experts in microwave technology integration, provided site-surveys, frequency coordination and set up the RF systems at the Dunn Theatre. Your effort is appreciated beyond words. Thank you, always.

  • Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the entire Staff at the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study, Linwood Dunn Theatre
  • Western Technical Services, Tim Lynch, Mark Garcia and Jim Alaniz
  • Sony Broadcast & Professional System Division, Rob Willox and Andrew Stucker
  • Helinet Aviation LLC, Alan Purwin, J.T. Alpaugh, Pilot Tom Terry and Cameraman Sam Lafoca
  • Cineflex, John Coyle
  • KABC TV, John Holland, Pat Walsh and Jim Rogers
  • KMEX TV,
  • Evertz, Bob Bush and Matt McKay
  • Panasonic, David Wiswell
  • Microwave Radio Co., Clark Rhoads,
  • Boeing Satellite Systems, Kurt Loheit
  • Arizona Frequency Coordination Committee Chair, Karl Voss, KPNX TV
  • Southern Frequency Coordination Committee Chair, John Russell, KTLA TV
  • Food Fetish, Joel Boardman

Please contact Nancy Wilkerson directly for copies of presentation materials or further technical information.


Nancy Wilkerson Section Officer Title: Manager
Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development Inc.