OpenCL 1.0 Spec Ratified


OpenCL Diagram showing integration between CPU and GPU

OpenCL Diagram showing integration between CPU and GPU

The Khronos Group announced the ratification and public release of the OpenCL spec earlier this week.  OpenCL is a new industry-standard framework that will allow the powerful but specialized chips on graphics cards to be used for crunching numbers, just like the general purpose CPU in a computer.


That’s a lot of geek-speak to say that a lot of time-consuming multimedia tasks are about to get a lot faster.


Today’s graphics cards are capable of some serious mathematics, but they’ve always been restrained to using it to push pixels live to the screen.  Essentially, a graphics card contains thousands of cores, all of which work on a small piece of the screen image in parallel, or at the same time.  A general purpose CPU, on the other hand, typically has fewer cores (today’s most powerful desktops have 4 or 8), so they must process operations serially, or one after another.


With technology like OpenCL, a GPU’s raw processing power can be harnessed for some general computing tasks which can be broken down into independent steps which can run at the same time, like complex simulations or video compression.


The next version of Apple’s Mac OS X 10.6, expected for release in 2009, will feature this technology.  The upshot for media producers like myself is that sometime in the next year, we will spend less time rendering and compressing our work, freeing up more time to perfect the design itself.

Posted by Walter Soyka in News, 0 comments

LG Stretch — Double-Wide LCD Display


LG Commercial Stretch Display

LG Commercial Stretch Display


In live events, we use non-standard, wide aspect ratios all the time.  3:1 (three times as wide as it is tall) is not uncommon.


Now, LG Electronics has released two extra-wide LCD displays.  The LG “Stretch” series introduces 29″ and 38″ models, with aspect ratios of 2.85:1 and 3.43:1, respectively.  They feature RGB and DVI inputs, and RS-232C control.  Resolution on the 29″ model is 1366 by 480, and the 38″ model is 1366 by 398.


Designed specifically for signage, I expect these displays will be popping up in retail and hospitality very quickly.


For events, they’d be perfect for digital agenda signage as well as delay screens for widescreen shows.

Posted by Walter Soyka in News, 0 comments

New Features in Watchout 4

Dataton Watchout 4 Recently Released

Dataton Watchout 4 Recently Released

Dataton has recently released a new version of Watchout, a software-based multi-display system. This latest release introduces some great new features for live events.

Compositions—Cleaner Timelines

One of the biggest new features is compositions. You can now build a composition in Watchout that’s just like a comp in After Effects—a collection of animated media elements that functions in the timeline as a media element itself.

In prior Watchout releases, making show flow changes in the timeline was very time consuming and it was too easy to make a mistake, because you had to drag around dozens or hundreds of cues to reorder them. Now, cues can be grouped together into compositions based on the show flow, so the show’s main timeline may only have a handful of elements.

Also, because compositions work like any other piece of media, it’s now possible to build free-running animated loops directly in Watchout. In prior releases, you could easily build loops, but they couldn’t run independently of the main timeline, so it was a major challenge to exit loops cleanly and proceed with the show.

Alternative Timelines—Animation Anytime

Watchout 4 for the first time allows the creation of alternative timelines which can be started at any time, running on top of the main timeline.

Watchout has always run on a timeline metaphor, where one cue flows into another linearly; trying to jump around the timeline made jarring on-screen cuts. Video switchers like Encore or Spyder, on the other hand, work with a preset metaphor; all the cues are unordered, and it’s up to the operator to call the next cue.

Watchout’s new alternative timelines allow the programmer to build animations ahead of time that can be called up over the main timeline at any time. It could be a logo build, or a movie cue, or an entire presentation. An alternative timeline could be a safety to use to transition between segments if there’s an in-show change to the show flow.

There are big possibilities here, because one of Watchout’s biggest weaknesses in live events—being stuck in a timeline—can now be addressed with a little forethought and design.

Export Movies—Approvals & Archives

Watchout used to be the end of the line with respect to content flow. Once you built a show in Watchout, there was no way to get it out.

Now, Watchout exports movies. This will be a huge time saver during pre-production.  No more previsualization in After Effects or low-res previews captured with Camtasia—now we can build an animation in Watchout, export it, compress it, and send it out for client review.

Keeping content for archive just became doable, too.  A widescreen show can be exported at high resolution, then scaled down, cropped, or pan-and-scanned for reuse elsewhere.

External Control—Playing Nicely with Others

Watchout can now send show control commands over serial ports, TCP/IP, or DMX.  Since Watchout is already timeline-based, it’s a logical place to put show control for scripted sequences.  This feature is certainly nice for live events, where you could synchronize lighting, but it’s critical in multimedia installations, where Watchout can now run the entire show.

Top to Bottom—Turn that Timeline Upside-Down

One of Watchout’s frustrating historical quirks has been its upside-down compositing order. The bottom-most layers of the timeline actually appeared on top in display, and the upper-most layers appeared in the background. This makes sense in a node-based compositor, but it’s backwards for a layer-based system.

In Watchout 4, this is finally flipped around, making it consistent with other layer-based compositors, like Photoshop or After Effects.


I think this is a really important release for Watchout, especially for live events designers like myself. Dataton has addressed some of the system’s major shortcomings for use in events, and I’m looking forward to putting Watchout’s new capabilities to use.

Posted by Walter Soyka in News, 0 comments

Why RenderBreak?

I’m Walter Soyka, founder and principal of Keen Live.  A very brief introduction: my firm specializes in presentation, motion graphics, and widescreen design for live events. We take a multi-disciplinary approach to our work, blending understanding of design, technology and business in production.  As a digital media designer, I spend a lot of time watching progress bars on my computer while it renders my work.  I spend that time thinking about how we work now and we’ll be working in the future. I’ll be writing on these topics here.


But why should you be a part of RenderBreak?


Because every production wants to stand out.  Because every production wants to make a big impression.  Because every production wants to have an impact.


And because all this is hard to do.  Because it’s hard to be the pioneer.  New trends in business constantly call for new designs and new experiences.  A design that would have been impossible to implement six months ago might be possible today with a new technology.  And, of course, new technology leads to new business needs and the cycle repeats.


RenderBreak is for designers, producers, and technicians interested in keeping up with these trends and their implications in digital media production and live experiences. I encourage feedback right here in the comments, and I’d love to feature guest submissions. Of course, I can also always be reached by email at


Thanks for reading. Let’s make this becomes a valuable resource for innovation in production.

Posted by Walter Soyka in Keen Live / RenderBreak, 0 comments