Disney CTO Vince Roberts Details Production Technology Areas in the Pipeline

Calling Disney an “entertainment technology company” at Imagine Communications and GatesAir’s launch event earlier this week, Vince Roberts, CTO and evp, global operations for Disney/ABC Television Group, gave a preview of various production tools that are prototypes and in the pipeline. Here are four areas the company is exploring.
 
1. Flying Jib. It’s what you think it is. But not the kind on a boat. Roberts presented a video view of what a flying jib might record while hovering about a Radio Disney studio, warning those subject to motion sickness to avert their eyes. Okay, so that part needs some work. But the portability aspect is cool. “This was a prototype that we used, basically a proof-of-concept that said, can I get a jib and a boom, handhold it, make it wireless and stabilize it?” Big productions like the Oscars require a ton of cameras (20 on stage alone), he reminded listeners, but the company’s also interested in finding “tools that allow us to get in either tighter or more awkward situations.” Flying with a boom, without a steadicam, and without 50 pounds of weight on your person? No matter. About 10 pounds will work. “I can extend that out 12 feet …and I can fly this thing just completely by hand,” he said. The company’s thinking micro-production opportunities as much as macro, he explained.
 
2. A Multiplatform 360-Degree Camera. The concept here is having “a 360-degree camera environment that can fly underneath a helicopter, and sit on top of a news van,” Roberts said. Shots from 5 separate cameras are stitched together “into a long, continuous image… and that continuous image is then scanable by a web app, so you can use it both on-air for broadcast and you can use it on your iPad,” Roberts said. Uses include live on-air reporting and traffic conditions, which can then be sent to your website, giving “the user an immersive experience.” Viewers can hone in on traffic conditions in a very specific place, for instance.
 
3. Ultra HD. When you think ultra HD you thing high resolution. “But that is actually the easy part,” Roberts said. “I think the big upside to ultra high-def is really about enhanced color space, enhanced frame rates, to be able to create a richer, brighter experience,” he said. “The hard part is creating a color camera that’s …. able to go up to 2020. It’s about color space.” Moreover, exciting piece of ultra HD is “allowing other experiences than just a straight linear play. Those opportunities in the TV space are pretty bright.” 
 
4. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (aka Drones). Roberts believes UAVs could be “a billion dollar opportunity in the U.S.” “Imagine what we could do with HD capability” and other enhancements to create greater viewing experiences, he said. The challenge? Certainly air traffic control and collision prevention. And these bots certainly have a long way to go. “They have to hardened and much more robust,” he said, and they need to be able to fly for longer periods of time. But we’re “looking at an industry that’s going to be changing dramatically in the next year,” he said. “I think it’s a huge opportunity for us to continue exploring.”

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