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Sony Unveils Its CLED Verona Displays for Virtual Production

Sony’s Crystal LED displays are designed to enable realistic backgrounds for virtual production. Now, after two years of research and development, Sony Electronics has unveiled its first line of Crystal LED Verona wall displays, purpose-built to meet the needs of virtual production. The result of a tight feedback loop between Hollywood end users and Sony engineers in Tokyo, Verona aimed to solve what were identified as the two biggest issues with virtual production backgrounds: a need for “deeper black-level expression” and “reduced contrast loss caused by light from adjacent LED panels and studio lighting equipment.”

The result is a highly configurable display component that “significantly reduces the difference in contrast between the image projected on the LED display and the actor(s) performing in front of it on set — blending virtual and real in a natural way, reducing time and cost required for post-shooting adjustments,” Sony explains in the Verona announcement.

Brompton Technology and Megapixel VR provide the processing power. Brompton’s Tessera SX40 processor and the Helios platform from Megapixel will power 1.5 or 2.3 pixel models for a total of four SKUs.

The high-powered processors enable a 7,680Hz refresh rate that eliminates visible scan lines when shooting from a camera, according to Sony. Max luminance is 1,500 nits. The Verona has “a wide color gamut covering more than 97 percent of DCI-P3, thereby increasing the sense of realism of shooting virtual locations,” writes TV Technology.

The result is a more flexible wall. “While there have been some early big splashes with series shot on very, very large volumes, in the last 18 months or so we’ve seen that virtual production has moved beyond that,” Sony Electronics Senior Director of Cinematic Production Solutions Kevin O’Connor told reporters.

“Now you’re starting to see smaller, more mobile walls brought in for a shot here, or a shot there, and the need for a wall that has a higher resolution and better picture quality because the camera needs to get closer to the action and closer to the screen without seeing it,” he explained.

The Verona’s aim is a “frictionless” marriage of the real and virtual realms, one that enables nuanced contrast and true blacks. Key to Verona’s contrast range is what Sony says is a new anti-reflection surface technology, “able to deliver deeper black-level expression while greatly reducing contrast loss caused by light from adjacent LED panels and studio lighting equipment.”

“You’re getting a blacker panel that also scatters more light,” said Jason Metcalfe, Sony Imaging Products and Solutions America senior engineer. “So onset elements, practical lighting, doesn’t end up reflected on the display, but all of your ambient lighting contributes to your display contrast.”

Sony Professional Products VP Rich Ventura emphasized Verona as part of the company’s ecosystem of virtual production solutions that includes the Venice 2 digital cinema camera, Rialto 2 camera extension system, Crystal LED displays and a VP tool set (which lets you operate a Venice camera in a virtual environment to map out color-accurate shots).

“Virtual production isn’t about a wall, it isn’t about a camera, it’s about a workflow,” said Ventura, urging the industry to take advantage of the company’s new Digital Media Production Center, which opened in Los Angeles this summer.

“One of our tenets as a company is to get closer to the creative,” said O’Connor, citing valued relationships with the American Society of Cinematographers, the Society of Camera Operators and the University of Southern California.

“When we came out with our new camera — the FX30, we brought it to USC’s School of Cinematic Arts well before it was introduced to get feedback” from students and faculty. Epic Games and Sony Pictures are listed as development partners on Sony’s Verona preview material.

The new displays will get a staggered release, with the first units shipping in November, and general availability on all versions in early 2024. Sony’s official demo video and specs are available on the Sony Professional Products site.

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Amazon Prime Video to Run TV Commercials Early Next Year

Amazon Prime Video plans to introduce commercial breaks to its popular streaming service early next year, following top platforms such as Disney+, Netflix and Warner Bros. Discovery’s Max, which already offer ad-supported tiers. The company indicates it will run fewer ads than traditional linear TV broadcasters and broadband rivals but has yet to specify numbers. Subscribers in the U.S. who want to keep the streaming service ad-free have the option of paying an additional $2.99 per month. Amazon explained that its strategy to include ads would help it “continue investing in compelling content and keep increasing that investment over a long period of time.”

Amazon purchased MGM Studios two years ago for $8.5 billion and is currently paying millions for the rights to stream “Thursday Night Football.” While streaming increases in popularity, companies are scrambling to offer new content.

Companies are turning to ads to help counter the costs of content and infrastructure, especially as subscriber numbers are leveling off in many regions. “Most major streaming services have started to introduce ad tiers as a way of luring subscribers as the market becomes more saturated,” explains Axios.

According to Variety, “the world of streaming may … eventually mirror the world of traditional television in the not-too-distant future.”

Amazon already runs ads on its Freevee service (that does not require a subscription) and its weekly stream of “Thursday Night Football.” “It has also introduced new commercial formats in such areas as its Amazon Fire broadband service,” notes Variety. “Some ads pair sponsors with movie recommendations, and others allow subscribers to make quick e-commerce purchases.”

“Advertising across Prime Video content will be introduced in the U.S., UK, Germany and Canada in early 2024, followed by France, Italy, Spain, Mexico, and Australia later in the year,” reports Financial Times.

Access to Prime Video is one of the features available to Amazon Prime members who pay $14.99 per month, while the video service is also offered as a standalone for $8.99 per month.

“We will email Prime members several weeks before ads are introduced into Prime Video with information on how to sign up for the ad-free option if they would like,” explains Amazon in a blog post.

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Amazon Debuts AI for Alexa and Fire TV Max 4K at Fall Event

Amazon announced a wide range of compelling news at its annual Devices and Services event this week. The company is adding artificial intelligence to its virtual assistant Alexa and unveiled next-generation Echo Frames smart glasses that let you take the voice assistant “on the go.” AI also provides “enhanced conversational voice search” with the new Fire TV Stick 4K Max. The company’s eero Max 7 Wi-Fi system and new Echo Hub are also stand-outs from the holiday shopping primer, which streamed live from Amazon’s new corporate compound in Arlington, Virginia, ahead of Prime Big Deal Days, October 10-11.

Engadget calls the new AI chat mode “Alexa’s biggest update yet,” and says it “makes the assistant more conversational and expressive.” Those who enroll in Amazon’s Visual ID program will be able to “start a conversation just by facing the screen on an Echo device with a camera,” using “Eye Gaze Mode,” Engadget adds, describing how “Alexa can now adjust its tone and ‘emotion’ based on context.”

Amazon’s Fall Devices briefing (available for replay on video and blog) says Alexa AI is optimized for voice instructions for “efficient smart home control, and maximizing their home entertainment,” adding that it aimed to improve the device’s “ability to reason, infer customer intent, and understand complex requests,” though at the moment, only for U.S. customers.

While Reuters offers a withering take that couches Amazon as playing “catch up” on AI, The Wall Street Journal is impressed, writing that Amazon’s push to generative AI on the consumer front “isn’t a cute test like it might be for some companies,” but an attempt to engage “in a fresh way at a key entry point into its business empire.”

Alexa’s AI upgrade includes:

  • Real-time Call Translation in more than 10 languages. The feature will also be available to Echo Show and Alexa mobile app users in the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
  • Emergency Assistance in the form of hands-free access when you’ve fallen and can’t get up (with a premium, paid subscription service coming later this year).
  • Sports Viewing Auto Initiation for routine tune-ins to team favorites “across college and professional sports leagues, including the NFL, WNBA, MLS and MLB” for starters.
  • Admin Assist for things like managing the family calendar and emailing invites or photos.
  • AI Art: By year’s end, customers will be able to instruct Alexa to display generative AI artwork using the Fire TV Stick 4K Max (and the new Fire TV “Ambient Experience”).

The new $60 UltraHD 4K Fire Stick supports Dolby Vision, HDR, HDR10+ and Dolby Atmos. Amazon calls it an industry-first for Wi-Fi 6E, which means customers with 6E-compatible routers can enjoy a turbo experience. In that lucky club are purchasers of Amazon’s new $600 eero Max 7 router, which Engadget writes can “download a 4K movie in just 10 seconds.”

Echo Frames debuted in 2019, allowing wearers to make calls and use Alexa voice commands without taking out their phone. Tom’s Guide highlights the main improvements, which include wireless charging and longer battery life. Thinner and lighter than the originals, they list for $270.

The next gen Alexa-powered Echo Show 8 has a 13-megapixel camera for improved video calling plus audio that minimizes background noise as well as spatial audio. Computer vision adapts the size of on-screen content based user proximity. The $149 device features “a built in smart home hub.” New is an Echo Hub wall-mounted smart home control system for $179.

TechCrunch offers its take on all things Amazon Device Event, while Wired narrows it down to “the 16 coolest things,” and CNET previews Prime Big Deals Day.

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