1. What is the HPA Tech Retreat?

The HPA Tech Retreat began as an informal gathering, in the Palm Springs area, of the top industry-engineering, technical, and creative talent, as well as strategic business leaders focused on technology, from all aspects of digital-cinema, post-production, film, television, video, and related technologies for the exchange of information. In addition to providing updates on the latest technologies, it exposes those working in one aspect of the field to relevant activity in other areas.

2. How did it start?

The International Teleproduction Society (ITS, later the Association of Imaging Technology and Sound) offered a Presidents Retreat to allow chief executives of its member companies to combine a vacation with some information exchange. In 1995, the idea was extended to engineers with a Technology Retreat, which rapidly became more information and less vacation. In its current form, the retreat’s technology exchange sessions begin at 7:30 am and continue into the night; vacation days (if any) are best planned before or after the event. After ITS ceased operations in 2001, the HPA began sponsoring the Tech Retreat.

3. What does “all aspects” mean?

All aspects: academics, archivists, broadcasters, cable-TV system operators, cinematographers, computer and software makers, consultants, consumer-electronics manufacturers, digital rights managers, directors, display designers, editors, equipment-rental houses, forensic investigators, government officials, historians, Hollywood studios, intelligence analysts, interactive gamers, journalists, lawyers, lens manufacturers, licensing pools, the military, networks, producers, production facilities, professional-equipment manufacturers, post-production facilities, satellite-system operators, semiconductor manufacturers, sound mixers and editors, standards organizations, telephone companies, theater owners, venture capitalists, and vision scientists are among those who have been there or sent representatives.

There have been representatives of MPEG the Moving Picture Experts Group and MPEG the Motion Picture Editors Guild, NATO the National Association of Theater Owners and NATO the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. To add to the alphabet soup, AAF, AMPAS, ASC, ATSC, BBC, CEA, CEDIA, CPTWG, DCI, DoD, FCC, MPAA, NAB, NABA, NIMA, NSA, SMPTE, and USC have all been officially represented. So have ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS, UPN, and the WB among broadcast networks; Sinclair and Tribune among other broadcast-station owners; Columbia/Tri-Star/Sony, Disney, Fox, Paramount, and Universal among Hollywood studios; Adobe, Apple, IBM, Intel, and Microsoft among others from the computer industry. People attending the retreat have also come from all over the world.

4. What does “top engineering and technical talent” mean?

An attendee once commented that there were more SMPTE Fellows at the retreat than he’d seen at the last SMPTE conference. There are also plenty of Emmy-award winners and Ph.D.s. Creators of some of the basic technologies used daily in television and video — SDI, non-linear editing in a computer, the 1080-line standard for HDTV, etc. — often attend the retreat.

Many of the attendees have CTO, vp-engineering, or director of technology titles. Others work on blockbuster movies (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc.) and top-rated TV shows (N.Y.P.D. Blue, Sesame Street, etc.). Thanks to the informal nature of the retreat, it’s not easy to tell, and everyone is welcome to attend.

The unofficial motto of the HPA Tech Retreat is “Someone Will Be There Who Knows the Answer.”

5. What does “informal” mean?

It’s not a typical technical conference. There are no droning introductions listing a presenter’s academic credentials. In fact, there are no introductions at all beyond name and affiliation.

Presenters may wear — or not wear (subject to local laws regarding public nudity) — anything they would care to. Shorts and T-shirts are fine; so are bathrobes and bathing suits. No questions are off limits, though answers are up the questioned.

6. What does “exchange information” mean?

The retreat is divided into several categories: pre-retreat seminars and events, the main program, breakfast roundtables, the demo area, the quizzes, and the softball challenge. There are also meals and breaks that are useful for networking.

7. What is the main program?

The main program is devoted largely to what are considered hot issues of the time. Past retreats have dealt with videotape format wars, the introduction of HDTV, interlaced and progressive scanning, large-format digital cinematography, competing bit-rate-reduction technologies, surround sound mixing, new consumer disk technologies, fiber-optic interconnections, display technologies, computer-assisted sound editing, and the introduction of digital cinema.

Then there are unique presentations: past retreats have included a description of a new targeted-commercials production and distribution system, an analysis of cabling that explained why neat and regular cable ties may be worse for signal quality than a mess, a description of do-it-yourself global transmission paths, a demonstration of the use of stereoscopic imagery to determine key-overlay positioning, etc. Much of the main program is invited; the rest is drawn from submissions.

The main program is run precisely by the clock. The slot for each presentation includes set-up and questions-&-answers, and speakers have sometimes been cut off in mid-sentence. Similarly, the program starts and returns from breaks at exactly the listed times.

8. How long are presentations in the main program?

They are probably a little shorter than they should be. Individual presentations typically last between 10 and 45 minutes. Panels typically run from 20 to 90 minutes. There is no fixed time period, but shorter presentations can more easily be squeezed in.

9. How does one get to present on the main program?

Look for the Call for Proposals. Be aware that each year there are more submissions than can be accommodated and that a particular retreat’s hot issues may help determine which submissions are accepted. Those wishing to make presentations should also consider breakfast roundtables and the demo area. Presentations in the main program, the breakfast roundtables, and the demo area are not mutually exclusive.

10. What are the breakfast roundtables?

Strangely (as they start at 7:30 am), they are one of the most popular aspects of the retreat. One year, an attendee who dislocated his shoulder during the softball game checked himself out of the hospital in time to make it to the breakfast roundtables.

These are literally round tables at which people eat breakfast. Each table has a number, and the numbers correspond to a list of topics and moderators posted at the entrance to the room and printed in the retreat program. Most attendees choose a table because it has a topic or moderator of interest, but others might choose one because of someone else sitting there or simply because there are seats available.

Moderators may choose any topic and may run the roundtables as they see fit. They may present information, gather information from those at the table, or simply moderate arguments between others. Popular tables might end up surrounded by layers of attendees (one year a metadata roundtable was surrounded four deep); others might have only a few. There are no restrictions on topics other than length (so they may be printed; long topic titles will be abridged). There are no restrictions on moderators other than being registered at the retreat. All requests to moderate tables are accepted; if another moderator has chosen the same or a similar topic, the moderators will be informed so they may consider combining their tables.

There are breakfast roundtables held on Wednesday through Friday mornings of the retreat, and a moderator may choose to have tables at either or all, and if more than one, on the same or different topics. A single company or organization is welcome to provide moderators for as many roundtables as it would like.

Once a roundtable is confirmed, it must be moderated, even if someone else seems to have a more attractive topic. Topics and moderators, however, may be changed. The two drawbacks to moderating a roundtable are that it starts at 7:30 am and that moderators can’t attend other roundtables on the same day.

11. What is the Innovation Zone?

It is an area where new technologies or applications are demonstrated. At some early retreats, demonstrations were proposed by the retreat, and manufacturers were solicited to provide the necessary equipment. More recently, demonstrators have self-selected what they plan to demonstrate, but it must be new technology or applications.

The Innovation Zone is not a trade show. The retreat will provide table(s), chair(s), power, and security. No “booths” are permitted. No corporate signage is permitted; the retreat will provide a simple paper sign with the name of each demonstrator’s company or organization. Information about the technology or application, however, is always appreciated. White papers are encouraged. Relevant product literature is fine.

Demonstrators are encouraged to join forces to show systems. At past retreats, personnel from competitive manufacturers have helped set-up each other’s demonstrations.

Many popular products were first introduced at the HPA Tech Retreat, including Panasonic’s Varicam and Sony’s HDCAM SR. Other innovations shown at the retreat have yet to make it to mass manufacture, including a 72-frame-per-second HDTV camera and a system for automatically converging and color balancing multiple projectors forming a single image. Some are one of a kind, like a tiny Lucas Digital (ILM) camera-attitude sensor used in Star Wars: Episode 3.

A slot in the main program at the end of the first day is reserved for demo introductions. Each demonstrator is allowed a very brief period (about a minute) to introduce the demonstration. That is followed by the first scheduled demo session, which includes a cocktail reception for attendees and their registered guests. There is another scheduled demo session at the end of the last day. In between, attendees may schedule demos at mutually convenient times.

12. What are the quizzes?

A quiz relating to television technology is posted at the registration table at the beginning of each session. A bowl is also provided there for answers. The first quiz is relatively easy, and there are multiple winners. Quizzes get progressively harder.
One year, participants were asked to derive the NTSC color subcarrier from scratch. Another quiz asked for the next number in these series: 51, 25, 19, 13, 8, 6 and …21, 16, 11, 8, 6.

Those entering are welcome to consult others, reference books, or the Internet. Past prizes have included glow-in-the-dark statues of the patron saint of television and plush teddy-bear TV remote controls.