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Intel launches motion capture studio in LA to bring cinematic VR to Hollywood studios

Charmaine Blake

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About 270 miles southwest from Las Vegas, where Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich is at CES unveiling his company’s latest developments, the lights are off in a massive studio space where many of those wonders are waiting to be used by the biggest names in Hollywood entertainment.

Located in soundstage 25 of the MBS Media Campus in Manhattan Beach, Intel’s Immersive Entertainment Labs is taking its first, tentatives steps in a potentially billion-dollar bet on the future of entertainment, and Intel’s move into a leading role under the klieg lights in Tinseltown. And helping it along the way will be studios like Paramount Pictures, which is one of the first to sign on to bring talent there.

The architect of Intel’s immersive entertainment gamble is Diego Prilusky, a visual effects artist and designer who landed at Intel as part of the company’s acquisition of Replay Technologies, where Prilusky served as creative director and vice president of product after a decade long career in Hollywood working on films like Clash of the Titans, Prince of Persia and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Replay Technologies created the 360-degree replay technology system, freeD, and was acquired by Intel in 2016. Since then, Prilusky has been working with Intel on bringing that motion capture technology to a broader audience. A mission that’s culminated in the Entertainment Labs. 

“The project evolved post-acquisition as an initiative to expand the type of immersive video we’ve been doing in sports into a broader content creation,” Prilusky tells me. “We were a small startup growing into a big startup. The big thing was to invest in accelerating and scaling this technology. Volumetric and immersive media is a new type of content that we’re exploring.”

Krzanich referred to this in somewhat more simpler terms on stage over at CES: immersive media, he says, is basically a “massive data problem.”

It’s an ambitious project and set in an equally ambitious space. For the demonstration at CES, Intel had built a replica of the exterior of a town square from the mid-to-late 19th century, replete with saloon and jail, and all the tumbleweed and dust that a director would need to evoke the Wild West and Hollywood’s golden age.

While the set design harkens back to days of yore in Western lore, the technology powering the new facility on soundstage 25 is all of the latest and greatest that Intel and its partners had to offer.

Inside the 25,000 square foot studio space, is a 10,000 square foot volumetric capture space (where the Old West town square was built), which Intel claims is the world’s largest. Snaking through and around that volumetric space is 5.1 miles of fiber cables connected to 10 petabytes of onsite storage. It’s capturing information relayed from the  movement of objects through 1 billion points of light to capture images recorded in the space.

“One of the key goals is to work directly with the entertainment industry and the community of content creators that would be a key driver of this experience,” Prilusky says. And Intel has already lined up one of Hollywood’s biggest and most celebrated studios as a partner in its new entertainment experiment.

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    Hardware at the new Intel studio
     
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    Diego Prilusky, head of Intel’s new Immersive Labs, talking to colleagues
     
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    The light rig at Intel’s new immersive soundstage
     
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    The motion capture dome covers 10,000 square feet
     
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    Over five miles of cable runs through Intel’s immersive studio space
     
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    The motion capture equipment Intel is using for its immersive soundstage
     
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    1 billion points of light are used to capture the volumetric data recorded inside the immersive studio space
     

Intel is by no means the first tech company to move in on Hollywood and the content industry. Microsoft has been both building and working with third parties to help film producers develop virtual reality content alongside their more traditional filmmaking; and Amazon has also been investing in building out mixed reality filming facilities and related tech in LA. The idea for these companies is to provide the technology to underpin production company’s multiscreen strategies. As it gets harder for a film to attract audiences into traditional movie theaters, and they view content instead on interactive screens, studios are looking for more ways to leverage that with games, immersive content and more.

Paramount Pictures, the studio behind The Lost Weekend, Psycho, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Godfather, Chinatown, Grease, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Forrest Gump and Titanic, is one of the first to sign on with Intel.

According to Paramount’s new resident Futurist Ted Schilowitz (who previously held the same position at 21st Century Fox), it just makes sense for the studio.

“My tack on everything is that it’s all about exploration and experimentation,” Schilowitz tells me. “If you put yourself in the position to be an early learner and an early explorer you end up with a better strategy to position yourself for the future.”

 

No one is certain what the future of immersive entertainment will look like, and given the anemic numbers immersive storytelling has managed to put up, it’s not even clear that there will be a future for immersive storytelling.

Schilowitz is confident that no matter the stakes, studios need to be experimenting and exploring with the new technologies so they can understand what the future may hold, if only to figure out what the next big business opportunity might be for filmmakers as less and less people consume movies in the traditional way.

“We’re the first big studio to take a stab at ‘What does this mean?’” Schilowitz says of the Paramount partnership with Intel. And that, in itself, is significant.

“There’s this evolution of how people are going to consume media. As we move from displaying and watching things on flat video devices where does the technology take us? In the early days we could force your eyes to believe that it is three dimensional… the next logical step is how do you make video capture responsive in that way,” says Schilowitz. “We’ve done that with CGI graphics which is why the highest end of VR is CGI. What we can’t do yet is demonstrate a pipeline which does the same thing for video content.”

That’s where the Intel studio comes in. Schilowitz tells me that Paramount is planning in the full range of talent that it works with, from J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg to first time directors that are coming up to put the Intel studio through its paces.

One director in particular whose work could lend itself to Intel’s new studio space is Neill Blomkamp, whose work is experimental and who has already done projects with UnityVR.

“It’s not that we have a specific course of action related to this,” Schilowitz says. “It’s that you better put yourself on the course. That’s why we like to do things early and that’s why when it’s time to talk about this publicly… We think that movies are in a constant state of change and evolution.”

The evolution of the movie industry was at the forefront of Prilusky’s mind when he started working on the project, which is why the first experiment for the studio was set in the Old West Town.

“We took a concerted reference to the first motion pictures recorded in history, which is the Muybridge piece of the horse in motion,” says Prilusky. “We love the analogy of looking into the past and taking that into the future.”

The soundstage isn’t Intel’s only play for immersive entertainment. Late last year the company unveiled an agreement with Turner Broadcasting and the National Basketball Association to bring NBA games into VR. That followed an agreement with the International Olympic Committee to develop technology solutions (including virtual reality applications) for the Olympic Games.

For Intel and rival chip manufacturer AMD success in gaming and entertainment had been elusive as the two were overshadowed by rival manufacturer Nvidia. But a new partnership between the two historic rivals may undo all of that and open the door for greater gains by both against Nvidia’s graphics processing juggernaut.

And as for the future of this immersive content, despite VR’s poor performance, Prilusky is confident that this massive investment will pay off.

“We are looking to the future,” he says. “The way we’re looking to immersive media and interactive content… it requires or looking at different types of approaches or storytelling methodologies… are we looking to creating the next type of feature film… for sure… are they going to look like they look today? Most definitely not.”

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/01/08/intel-launches-motion-capture-studio-in-la-to-bring-cinematic-vr-to-hollywood-studios/

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AT&T launches a low-cost live TV streaming service, WatchTV

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AT&T this morning announced the launch of a second TV streaming service, called WatchTV, days after its merger with Time Warner. The lower-cost alternative to AT&T’s DirecTV Now will offer anyone the ability to join WatchTV for only $15 per month, but the service will also be bundled into AT&T wireless plans. This $15 per month price point undercuts newcomer Philo, which in November had introduced the cheapest over-the-top TV service at just $16 per month.

The service will arrive for everyone next week, including both wireless subscribers and the general public.

With WatchTV, customers gain access to over 30 live TV channels from top cable networks including A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, CNN, Discovery, Food Network, Hallmark, HGTV, History, IFC, Lifetime, Sundance TV, TBS, TLC, TNT, VICELAND, and several others. (Full list below).

Shortly after launch, it will add BET, Comedy Central, MTV2, Nicktoons, Teen Nick, and VH1.

There are also over 15,000 TV shows and movies on demand, along with premium channels and music streaming options as add-ons.

While the new WatchTV service is open to anyone, AT&T is also bundling it into two new unlimited plans for no additional cost.

These plans are the AT&T Unlimited & More Premium plan and the AT&T Unlimited & More plan.

The Premium plan customers will have all the same features of the existing AT&T Unlimited Plus Enhanced Plan, including 15 GB of high-speed tethering, high-quality video and a $15 monthly credit towards DirecTV, U-verse TV, or, AT&T’s other streaming service, DirecTV Now. They can also choose to add one other option, like HBO…..”

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/06/21/att-launches-a-low-cost-live-tv-streaming-service-watchtv/

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AMCs MoviePass competitor arrives June 26

Charmaine Blake

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It was just a matter of time before AMC went head to head withMoviePass. After all, the two companies have been at odds for some time. Back in January, MoviePass dropped out of 10 of the theater chain’s highest traffic theaters in what was seen as a negotiating tactic. But AMC had no interest in playing ball.

The company had already publicly stated that it had “no intention[…]of sharing any […] admissions revenue,” one of many signs that it was working on its own version of the subscription service. That response arrives June 26, in the form of AMC Stubs A-List, an add-on to the company’s loyalty program.

Signs ups for the service start next week, at $20 a month. And at first glance the whole thing actually sounds pretty good, so long as you’re okay sticking with the 660 or so theaters AMC currently operates in the U.S.

Per the press release:

Through AMC Stubs A-List, members can enjoy any available showtime, any AMC location, any format — including IMAX at AMC, Dolby Cinema at AMC, RealD 3D, Prime at AMC and BigD. AMC Stubs A-List can be used at the spur of the moment or also can make planning ahead days or weeks in advance possible, as securing tickets is made easy via reservations capabilities on the AMCTheatres.com web site, or on the AMC Theatres smartphone app.

The membership includes up to three movies a week at any of the chain’s US locations, with no rollovers. Those three movies can be viewed on the same day, assuming you have a “two-hour buffer” between each and nowhere else to be. The same movie can also be viewed multiple times. Tickets can be purchased online for up to three movies at a time.

There are some non-movie ticket perks, as well, including popcorn upgrades, free refills and a rewards program.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/06/20/amcs-moviepass-competitor-arrives-june-26/

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5 cool video streaming devices to check out

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Image: Vicky Leta/Mashable

When you start researching video streaming devices, the first ones you’ll find will likely be Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV. Between those three there’s a decent price range, so your search can just stop there, right?

Wrong. While the most popular video streaming devices out there will likely be a good fit for many users, there are other options you should look at. 

Perhaps you’re looking for more versatility? Maybe you’re a power user that wants something extremely tweakable? Are you looking for a cheap PlayStation alternative? Or you’re just looking for the cheapest possible option out there that also does 4K?

We’ve rounded up some of the lesser-known video streaming devices out there to ease your search. 

Cheap with 4K: Xiaomi Mi Box ($69)

Image: Xiaomi

China’s Xiaomi has a reputation for delivering solid products with top-notch specs for an impossibly low price. The company has done it with nearly every gadget you can think of — from smartphones to smart TVs to scooters, and with the Xiaomi Mi Box, it entered the video streaming space as well. 

And yes, for the features it offers — Android TV 6.0, 4K streaming, HDR video support, DTS/Dolby Digital Plus support and a Bluetooth voice remote — the Mi Box is pretty darn cheap at $69. Add to that the elegant, simple, Apple-like design, and you get a pretty sweet deal. 

Since the device is Android TV-based, you get a ton of apps, including Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Vevo, Vudu Plex, and Google Play Movies & TV. Google Cast is built in, so you’ll be able to send content to your TV from phones, laptops, tablets and more. 

The specs are decent: quad-core Cortex-A53 CPU, MALI 450 GPU 2GB of RAM, 8GB of flash storage (expandable via a USB port). And this is where you might find chinks in Mi Box’s armor: While these specs are decent, especially for the price, some users might want more powerful innards to power 4K playback. 

Great for gamers: Nvidia Shield ($179)

Image: Nvidia

Starting at $179, the Nvidia Shield is one of the most expensive video streaming devices, but hear us out. This device is an absolute powerhouse, with an Nvidia Tegra X1 processor, 3GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, which should be enough for smooth 4K playback. It also supports HDR playback, Dolby Atmos/DTS-X audio, and comes with a remote, Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3.0 jacks, and an HDMI 2.0 jack. It runs Android TV, meaning you get the Google software experience and all the nice apps that go with it. 

But besides being a great media-streaming machine, the Shield’s greatest strength is that it’s also a game console. Add $20 to the base price and you get a game controller (for $299 you also get 500GB of storage instead of 16GB). So what can you do with all that? Play games, of course! For $7.99 per month, you can subscribe to GeForce Now, which lets you play Android titles such as Outlast 2, Obduction, and The Surge as you would with a GTX 1080 GPU, and stream them to your big screen. 

Obviously, you do not need this device if you only want a media streaming device, and that’s perfectly fine. But if price is no issue, and you’re not a big fan of Apple TV, the Nvidia Shield is pretty powerful, and one of the most versatile media streaming devices you’ll find. 

Dirt cheap: Roku Express ($29.99)

Image: Roku

Roku sells quite a few video streaming devices, so you’ll be forgiven if you’ve overlooked the Roku Express. Its specs are nothing special: You get 720p or 1080p resolution, a single HDMI jack, a remote… and that’s about it. 

But where Roku Express wins is the price. At just $29.99, it’s the cheapest option out there (outside of no-name devices from China), and for the price, you also get a remote and an HDMI cable, so you’re ready to go pretty much as soon as you bring it home. It’s the perfect option for someone that’s just not sure whether she needs a media streaming device in their life, or as a secondary device for your bedroom. 

Supported apps include the usual suspects: Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, and Google Play Movies & TV, among others.

If you want all the latest bells and whistles, such as 4K resolution and HDR support, you can also check Roku’s most powerful video streaming device, the Roku Ultra. You’ll have to dish out three times the money, as it costs $99, but it’s still a pretty fair price for what you get.  

Power user’s dream: Minix U9-H ($159.90)

Image: Minix

Unlike the other devices in this list, Minix doesn’t have a big brand behind it, but it does have a pretty big following. This is because its video streaming devices are actually much more than that — they’re pretty powerful little computers with impressive specs and a plethora of connectors.

The company’s U9-H came out in 2017, but it’s still one of the best options for media streaming in Minix’s range. It’s got an octa-core, 64-bit, AmLogic S912 processor, a Mali-820 MP3 GPU, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage. It’s also got a serious array of output connectors: HDMI 2.0, 3.5mm audio, optical audio, Gigabit Ethernet, and three USB 2.0 ports. Add to that a microSD card reader and you’ll see that adding some serious storage to this baby is no issue. 

Its predecessor, Minix U1, had a pretty big software shortcoming, as it ran on now very dated Android 5 Lollipop. Minix U9-H remedied this by switching to the next version, Android 6 Marshmallow, which makes it a lot more future-proof. 

If you opt for a Minix, know that setting things up isn’t as easy on most other streaming devices — for example, installing something as common as Netflix can be a chore. But if you know your way around Android, you should be fine.

The Minix Neo U9-H can be had on Amazon for $159.90.

Super-versatile: Evanpo T95Z Plus ($104.99)

Image: evanpo

Evanpo’s hexagonal box, the awkwardly named Evanpo T95Z Plus, probably offers the best bang for the buck in terms of sheer specs. It comes in several variants, and the most powerful one sports an octa-core processor (same one as the Minix U9-H), 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, Android 7.1, a remote, and a wireless keyboard — and you get all that for $104.99. 

The T95Z Plus can play 4K videos at 60fps, which should result in a very smooth picture. It also has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, meaning you can connect all sorts of peripherals to it. And did we mention the wireless, full-sized keyboard? No more fidgeting five seconds per letter on a numerical keyboard. 

On the connectivity side, you get two USB 2.0 ports, a HDMI port, optical port and a Gigabit Ethernet port. 

The biggest downsides of Evanpo are that it’s a lesser-known brand and that sometimes, getting everything to work as you want might be a more complex than, say, plugging an Amazon stick into your TV. But you’ll be rewarded with a myriad options that very few devices on the market offer. 

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