Archive for December, 2010

Sony + IMAX = match made in heaven

(Reuters) – Shares of Imax Corp went for a roller-coaster ride on the last day of 2010, climbing steeply on a report Sony Corp or Walt Disney might be interested, but plunging after Imax poured cold water on the speculation.

Britain’s Daily Mail, without citing sources, reported late on Thursday that Sony may be readying a bid for the big-screen movie company at more than $40 per share. The newspaper also named Disney as a possible suitor, citing “industry sources”.

Imax shares jumped as much as 20 percent early on Friday but shed most of those gains after Imax said in a release it was “unaware of any corporate developments” that would account for the rise.

A deal for all outstanding Imax shares at $40 each — a 58 percent premium on Monday’s close — would value the company at more than $2.5 billion.

Traders and analysts put the takeover talk into the speculative basket, suggesting the price mentioned was too high and the year-end timing suspicious.

“I’m not going to bother wasting my time on that,” said one trader. “Too many whispers in the world.”

Investors, while trading in record volumes of Imax stock, also seemed to shrug off at least the suggested price, with the shares jumping to $32.30 early in the Nasdaq session before falling back to $28.06 by 3:55 p.m. Eastern, still a 4.5 percent gain on Thursday’s close.

Some 25 million of Imax’s Nasdaq-listed shares had changed hands by that time, compared with a daily average of around 1.5 million over the past 12 months.

Imax’s shares were 4.1 percent higher at C$27.97 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Sony and Disney did not respond to requests for comment on the media report.

An Imax spokesman said: “The first Imax became aware of these rumors was through yesterday’s Daily Mail article. It has been the company’s long-standing policy not to comment on such rumors.”

Any studio takeover of Imax would hamper its growth, according to Eric Wold at Merriman Capital, as other studios would be less willing to show their films on the oversized screens and, in turn, theaters would be less inclined to install more screens.

Imax, which had put itself up for sale in the past, posted a third-quarter profit that blew past analyst expectations, and forecast rapid expansion of its theater network, especially in emerging markets such as China.

The company made a net profit of $19.2 million in 2009 after two years of losses.

Imax shares have risen tenfold in the past two years, as the company capitalized on the popularity of 3D movies such as “Avatar” and “Toy Story 3,” weathering the downturn felt by other theater chains.

Apple presses towards 3D handhelds

Apple has been awarded a patent for a 3D stereoscopic display system fuelling rumour that it is considering adding 3D screen/projection technology to its products, including the iPhone, iPad or Mac computers. Alternatively, the company could be about to enter the 3DTV business – an intriguing prospect. The patent was first applied for back in 2006, but has just been granted, and it is a step in the right direction for Apple to bring about its own form of autostereoscopic (glasses-less) 3D display technology:

Source: HDGURU 3D

End of Year B.O. tallies suggest that 3D is cannibalizing the industry

Nikki Finke reports on the dilemma facing distributors with regards to the new technology and ticket pricing:

The Top 5 Grossing Movies of 2010 in North America were Toy Story 3 (3D – Disney/Pixar), Alice In Wonderland (3D – Disney), Iron Man 2 (2D – Disney/Marvel distributed by Paramount), The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2D – Summit Entertainment), and Inception (2D – Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures). Interesting how not all were 3D despite the higher ticket prices, which has prompted one prominent media analyst this week to call on the movie industry to scale back on the number of 3D movies it has planned because demand for them is lessening and 3D is “not the panacea which Hollywood studios hoped it would be”, says Rich Greenfield.

He notes that total movie industry box office is down over $152M or 30% year-over-year. And 4th quarter-to-date, box office is now down over 8% and could easily end the quarter down 9% given how poorly newly opened films are performing. In turn, attendance for Q4 2010 will likely be down around 12% – “a staggering number for an industry that expected 3D technology to motivate people to get out of their houses and go to the movies,” he says. ”The U.S. consumer is becoming increasingly less interested in 3D movies. While the horror and gross-out comedy genres may benefit from 3D (think Saw 3D or Jackass 3D), the vast majority of 3D movies this year have been disappointing at best (the exceptions being Alice in WonderlandToy Story 3, and Despicable Me).”

Greenfield calls this “A Recipe for Disaster: Hollywood is combining substantial price increases ($3.25 3D upcharge is the average in the US on a $7.00-$7.25 average 2D ticket), with annoying glasses that substantially dim the light of a movie and which young children spend more time playing with than wearing, with sub-par content (not to mention the fact that 3D gives some people headaches and others cannot see 3D imagery at all). While you may think of us as the ‘3D Grinch’, we fundamentally believe content and story are the key factors to success and that technology alone is not a long-term path to success or profits. The movie industry should reduce the number of 3D movies it has planned or at least substantially scale back the upcharge as they are simply charging way too much for poor content. Did a Jack Black comedy, Gulliver’s Travels really need to be in 3D? We suspect even if the movie was bad, lowering pricing (to 2D levels) would have ended up selling more tickets.”

Although others’ projections for 2011 and 2012 box office are upbeat, Greenfield maintains that weak box office is likely to accelerate studio plans for early release premium Video-On-Demand. “While the exhibitors continue to focus on the risks to cutting into their 4-month release window, we suspect the weakness in exhibition attendance trends is likely to provoke Hollywood to accelerate their plans to release movies earlier in the home. Studios need to find new revenue streams to bolster movie profits in 2011 and beyond. We continue to expect multiple studios to begin trialing early-release, premium-priced VOD by late Q1 2011/early Q2 2011.”

3D Lenses make sense when they are paired to match and calibrated

While you might think that the recent explosion of 3-D production throughout the United States, particularly for sports and movies, would be a windfall for manufacturers of broadcast and professional production lenses, the results have been decidedly mixed. It depends upon which vendor you ask.

Some productions to date have used existing Canon HD lenses pulled from the shelf and paired up for stereoscopic image capture, but this requires a certain technical skill to get the optical alignment right. Others have employed a new generation of 3-D-compatible lenses (from such companies as Fujinon andThales Angeneiux) to get the job done, but there’s still some technical tweaking to be done.

Perhaps the most important issue for professionals is finding the right combination. Many think you have to find an identical pair of lenses and be sure to use those same two lenses together for every production to ensure perfect alignment and, thus, good (i.e., easy on the eyes) stereoscopic images. However, representatives for both Canon and Fujifilm said there is no such thing as a “perfectly matched” pair of lenses. Using sophisticated manufacturing techniques and careful QC processes, all of their standard 2-D HD lenses are typically designed to be 3-D-ready; however, there are some differences to be aware of.

Adjusting tolerances

Larry Thorpe, renown imaging expert and national marketing executive for the broadcast and communications division at Canon U.S.A., said most portable HD lenses contain approximately two dozen separate lens elements (large box lenses include almost three dozen). The optical design of the lens includes accommodations for adjusting the minute tolerances associated with all of these lens elements and their mountings.

“Although the present state of the art in lens design makes these tolerance differences virtually imperceptible in lenses used in normal 2-D production, the differentials between tolerances of any two lenses can become visible in a 3-D application,” Thorpe said. “Over the past year, based upon many 3-D projects in which we have become involved, our R&D team is presently exploring possibilities of further tightening control of these tolerances.”

Thom Calabro, director of marketing and product development for the Fujinon broadcast and communications products division at Fujifilm, said that his company has already figured out how to tighten these tolerances. While Fujinon clearly designates if a lens is 3-D-capable (including four new B4 mount lenses), it does not sell them as matched pairs. Basically, users can be assured of good results if they use any two Fujinon HD lenses with “T5DD” at the end of the model number.

“After our normal manufacturing process, we perform a final test,” Calabro said. “During this testing, we designate a certain number of these for 3-D. Each lens is carefully rechecked to ensure that the optical axis is of a very tight tolerance. Our 3-D-designated lenses can be mixed and matched, of course, with lenses of the same focal length. This makes it ideal for mobile companies who frequently move lenses between trucks. There is no need to keep track of ‘paired’ lenses.”

While Fujinon T5DD lens customers don’t need to designate a matched pair among their stock, Canon stresses the need to identify camera-lens combinations that work well together, even for 2-D HD acquisition.

Finding the right camera-lens combination

“You’re not just matching lenses; you’re also matching cameras,” Thorpe said, adding that there are two key issues to be dealt with when matching a 2-D HD lens-camera pair for 3-D operation

First, when a lens is mounted to a camera, there is an inevitable mechanical tolerance associated with the lens’ optical center and another separate tolerance associated with the camera’s optical center. These separate tolerances can be additive or subtractive in terms of the final optical axis for a given lens-camera combination because both tolerances entail plus and minus limits. Recognizing this, tolerance limits for both have been carefully established between the optical and the camera manufacturers.

“These (tolerances) are on the order of some tens of microns,” Thorpe said. “The resultant small miscentering of the lens-camera optical axis typically translates into tens of pixels (for a 1920 x 1080 HDTV video format). For a 2-D HD camera, this is of little consequence. For 3-D pairs, however, the differential can be troublesome.”

He said Canon has been training 3-D technical crews on how to take any two lenses, loosen their respective mechanical mounting plates and, by an interactive trial-and-error process while mounted on the two chosen cameras, converge the lens-camera optical centers to the fullest degree possible.

Of course, this process can be time-consuming and tedious, and Fujinon’s Calabro said that it’s not necessary in the case of T5DD lenses.


Perhaps video gaming is good for a child’s mind

NPR’s Michelle Trudeau reports on a fascinating new study that suggests hours in front of the gaming console may be time well spent for developing minds.  What is not up for debate in the study are the consequences of exposing our children to an ultra-violent world of savagery and gruesome images such as CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS , a frame grab of which is depicted below.

Parents, the next time you fret that your child is wasting too much time playing video games, consider new research suggesting that video gaming may have real-world benefits for your child’s developing brain.

Daphne Bavelier is professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester. She studies young people playing action video games. Having now conducted more than 20 studies on the topic, Bavelier says, “It turns out that action video games are far from mindless.”

Her studies show that video gamers show improved skills in vision, attention and certain aspects of cognition. And these skills are not just gaming skills, but real-world skills. They perform better than non-gamers on certain tests of attention, speed, accuracy, vision and multitasking, says Bavelier.

Seeing Shades Of Gray

Vision, for example, is improved in gamers. Specifically, the kind of vision called “contrast sensitivity,” that is, the ability to see subtle shades of gray.

“And this is a skill that comes in very handy if you’re driving in fog,” Bavelier says. “Seeing the car ahead of you is determined by your contrast sensitivity.” Skilled gamers also are able to see smaller type size than non-gamers on vision tests.

But Bavelier wanted to know which came first: Is better vision caused by playing action video games, or is better vision a skill that gamers bring to the table? Perhaps, Bavelier wondered, gamers already have sharp vision, and are thus good at action games and vision tests.

To check this out, Bavelier recruited non-gamers and trained them for a few weeks to play action video games. “At the end of their training,” Bavelier says, “they’re told, go back home. No more gaming. They’re not allowed to play any games.”

Then they came back into the lab every few months to have their vision re-checked.

Bavelier found that their vision remained improved, even without further practice on action video games. “We looked at the effect of playing action games on this visual skill of contrast sensitivity, and we’ve seen effects that last up to two years.”

Gamers, Bavelier has also found, have better attention than non-gamers — they stay focused. She gave gamers several tests to measure attention and found that gamers get less distracted by what came before and by events in their surroundings.

Laser Focus

They are able to detect, for example, new information coming at them faster. So as a result, they are more efficient. And Bavelier also says that gamers can switch from task to task much faster than non-gamers, making them better multitaskers.

Body Moving Games

Gaming may improve children’s cognitive skills, but it’s not without drawbacks: There’s a lot of evidence showing a correlation between gaming and childhood obesity. New devices — like Nintendo Wii, PlayStation Move or Kinect for Xbox 360 — might help game lovers get off the couch, but do games used with these systems show the same potential to improve a child’s aptitude for tests and other challenges?

Not really, says Daphne Bavelier, a brain and cognitive sciences researcher at the University of Rochester. “Those games typically don’t have the same effect [on the brain],” she says.

At the same time, she said some studies have found that exercise itself can have an impact on the cognitive skills of older adults, but she says that we don’t know yet whether the same is true for the younger set.

“We see that typically in people that don’t play action games, their reaction time [on tests of multitasking] lengthened by 200 milliseconds, which is something like 30 percent,” Bavelier says. “But in gamers, it lengthened only by 10 percent.”

Closing The Gender Gap

Brain researcher Jay Pratt, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, has studied the differences between men and women in their ability to mentally manipulate 3-D figures. This skill is called spatial cognition, and it’s an essential mental skill for math and engineering. Typically, Pratt says, women test significantly worse than men on tests of spatial cognition.

But Pratt found in his studies that when women who’d had little gaming experience were trained on action video games, the gender difference nearly disappeared.

After 10 hours of training, Pratt brought the women back to the lab and gave them the spatial cognition test again.

“And we found that the women improved substantially, and almost caught up to the men’s scores,” he says.

Pratt also investigated another area of spatial cognition called “the useful field of view,” which is essentially how much of the visual field a person can perceive at any given moment. In other words, as Pratt describes it, “How wide can you cast your net of attention?”

Typically, there are baseline differences between men and women on this test, with men performing significantly better. But Pratt found that training on action video games enabled women to significantly improve on this test of visual attention.

Pratt says playing these video games changes your ability to learn, and to find and integrate new information.

“Video game players are able to pick up very subtle, statistical irregularities in environments and use them to their advantage,” Pratt says. “And these same irregularities in environments are the things that help us guide our behaviors on a daily basis.”

Game Console Artists

To better understand how gamers acquire these non-gaming skills, neuroscientist Lauren Sergio, of York University in Toronto, looks inside the brain. She’s found an important difference between gamers and non-gamers in how and where the brain processes information. She likens skilled gamers to musicians.

“If you look at professional piano players, professional musicians, you see this phenomena where they don’t activate as much of their brain to do very complicated things with their hands that the rest of us need to do. And we found that the gamers did this as well.”

Skilled gamers mainly use their frontal cortex, according to Sergio’s fMRI studies. That’s an area of the brain specialized for planning, attention and multitasking. Non-gamers, in contrast, predominately use an area called the parietal cortex, the part of the brain specializing in visual spatial functions.

“The non-gamers had to think a lot more and use a lot more of the workhorse parts of their brains for eye-hand coordination,” Sergio says. “Whereas the gamers really didn’t have to use that much brain at all, and they just used these higher cognitive centers to do it.”

So the next time you despair that your child is immersed, yet again, in an action video game, remember: Gaming can improve some important skills.

Bavelier hopes that more action video games will be developed that train these skills without the violence found in the typical games available today. And all the researchers suggest that parents should limit their kids’ time on video games. Moderation, they say, is the key.

When is a fast forward not really a fast forward when advertising on the web?

>>> reports: >>>

In clever piece of technology, the Los Angeles-based software firm Panache created an ad solution which allows visitors to fast forward, sort of.

Although the ad goes much faster, the images and super fast sound track provide the commercial message which is featured in the segment. spoke with Panache CEO Steve Robinson about the new format and how it actively engages viewers.

Panache is creating a number of innovative online video ad solutions for publishers including most of the big broadcasters — CBS, MSNBC and Fox. The company has been working closely with MTV for nearly two years.

The company has just announced that all its ad formats now work with HTML5.

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