James Cameron Woz 'ere

From here we moved onto a pretty self-explanatory display featuring an array of Panasonic's consumer 3D projects - camcorders, 3D glasses, Blu-ray players and the like - before being ushered into the surprisingly small, two-man editing room.

The editing room

As well as being able to edit together 3D projects for clients who need help with that, it's possible in this room to manipulate the apparent depth of the 3D image. Arguably the most intriguing thing about this process was that the editing and manipulation was done using Final Cut Pro, giving us a new-found appreciation of just how powerful that piece of software can be.

Our next stop, the Authoring Center, was by far the biggest room in the tour - and arguably the least interesting to look at. Just a bunch of separate workstations in their own little cubicles. Looks can be deceptive, however, for this is the workhorse of the PHL operation, crunching all the vast amounts of data involved in working with high-def, 3D video sources. One station takes in the original source assets, storing them on left eye and right eye hard drives, before logging the data onto Panasonic's system along with any other associated assets that may arrive, such as disc menus or audio tracks. The video data is then passed on to the compression room (which we'll get to in a minute).

A bay in the authoring room

The "pre-qualification" section of the Authoring room then checks all the assets to make sure they meet Panasonic's technical standards, with any problems being raised directly with the film studios by a separate liaison team. This team also works with the studios to fine tune and discuss all the different content elements on the disc, and keeps things running to schedule.

Another member of the authoring team is dedicated to working through any quality control issues that might come up, while finally there's a cluster of people who take all the various source materials and assemble them into a working disc. This section of the team also tries to check that all the disc elements pass the industry's compatibility requirements so that the disc will work on all Blu-ray players.

The final two rooms on our tour were actually the most interesting. First came the compression room. Here, eagle-eyed technicians and even, on occasion, film makers go through a film frame by frame comparing the original master against the post-compression image, making tweaks to the compression levels where necessary to try and make the Blu-ray picture look as close as possible to the original film footage.

The compression room

Apparently films can take anywhere between two and four weeks to go through this key stage of a disc's production (with full start-to-finish disc production taking between four and seven weeks).

While this small, dark room is absolutely stuffed with high-tech boxes and wires, it's kind of reassuring that it is dominated by two big screens where the original/compression comparisons are done largely by eye. In other words, it's not all just a matter of looking at a bunch of numbers generated by high-tech measuring equipment. Phew.

The last room on the tour is perhaps the most interesting of all, for the simple reason that it's definitely had - on numerous occasions - James Cameron's Oscar-winning bottom sat on its unassuming white sofa.

The 'Living Room' - See that sofa? That's had James Cameron's 3D-saving bottom on it, that has.

This is the ËśLiving Room", designed to recreate a typical domestic environment where directors or other technicians can sit and study the Blu-ray coding of their movies. And apparently it was here that Cameron worked with the PHL technical people to develop new colour tuning techniques for the Blu-ray version of his 3D opus.

And so our trip to the sharp end of Hollywood Blu-ray production came to a suitably starry-eyed end, leaving us with a new appreciation of just how much goes into producing a high quality Blu-ray transfer. In fact, the uncompromising facilities and approach on show at the PHL also gave us a new-found understanding of just why it is that Blu-rays produced through less accomplished authoring studios can still, on occasion, go so horribly wrong...

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