Class: Do we still need standards

Bruce Devlin - new TV-Bay Magazine
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On the 1st January 2018, I officially took on the post of SMPTE Standards Vice President. The role has responsibility for all of SMPTE’s standardisation activities and it fills me with equal measures of excitement and terror.

A big thank you to Alan Lambshead who, after 4 years as Standards Vice President is handing over the post to me. I think it is entirely fitting that mid-way through Alan’s final set of Face-to-Face meetings we see the publication of SMPTE ST2110. And many within the industry see this new standard as a turning point towards a new IT based future.

So, what exactly is a standard and why is it important that ST 2110 is more than a white paper published on a few vendors’ websites?

A standard

As a Cambridge man, I found the Cambridge English Dictionary definitions of the word standard are:

(countable noun) level of quality.
e.g. We have very high safety standards in this laboratory.

(countable noun) a pattern or model that is generally accepted.
e.g. This program is an industry standard for computers.

(countable noun) a pattern or model that is generally accepted.
e.g. This program is an industry standard for computers.

(adjective) usual rather than special, especially when thought of as being correct or acceptable.
e.g. These are standard procedures for handling radioactive waste.

SMPTE standards and the processes to make them embody the ideas of quality, correct and accepted. This is where some of the friction arises in this new software world we live in. I hear many people asking for the standards process to be quicker and for it to be more thorough and more accurate and for the resulting documents to be free. These are all great ideals, but they are conflicting requirements.

If you have read this far in the article, then I am sure that you have found yourself in a room with smart people who have firmly held, but differing opinions on some technical issue. It could be “should we optimise for speed of writing the specification or speed of building the resulting product?” It could be “do we prioritise low latency or low complexity in the design?”. These types of trade offs do not have a universal correct answer and smart people with differing vested interests need to compromise if these issues come up during the creation of a standard.

Making the mechanics of a standardisation process fast is unlikely to magically get an accepted agreement between groups of different vested interests. The best result is usually a quality compromise between the parties because that will maximise the number of implementations of the standard and will very often lead to the biggest industry built upon that standard because the standard will become the accepted way.

The SMPTE standards process, by design, is thorough. This means scrutiny at the most minute level of detail of what is written so that the standard itself can act as a bedrock upon which systems with long term stability can be built. A standard that is rushed and incomplete does not give good interoperability and ultimately will detract from SMPTE’s reputation for quality and reliability.

As we start 2018, you will start to see some activity on a new SMPTE specifications initiative that is being trialled with the UK’s Digital Production Partnership. The goal is to create a nimble process in which SMPTE’s resources can be used to create business-driven specifications that constrain the heavy weight standards that SMPTE is renowned for.

Specifications allow a core standard, like ST 2110, to be used very differently in different scenarios. The USA with fractional frame rates will have different core constraints than the UK with integer frame rates. Countries with right-to-left non-Latin scripts will have different captioning and subtitling requirements to North America.

Using Specifications to constrain standards for local cultures and working practises has been one of the keys to the success of Film and TV over the years. We hope that this specifications trial will encourage organisations to approach SMPTE for the publishing and long-term memory of their increasingly diverse range of Specifications.

I am honoured and flattered to have been elected to the post of Standards Vice President and I hope that I can bring to the standards community some of the enthusiasm and passion that I have for this industry of ours.

Tags: iss129 | smpte | st2110 | dpp | Bruce Devlin - new
Contributing Author Bruce Devlin - new

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