IMF resurfaces in time for IBC with Eurofins research tie up

Almost a year has passed since Faultline sat down and discussed the Interoperable Mastering Format (IMF) with MovieLabs, a standard aiming to take costs out of the equation for studios. With three weeks until IBC, the term was destined to emerge again with a vengeance having fallen off the hype train, with quality assurance (QA) vendor Eurofins Digital Testing committing to developing new IMF analysis systems to ultimately boost adoption of the SMPTE standard.

By signing a global licensing agreement with research center Institut für Rundfunktechnik (IRT), Eurofins will offer software to help studios, post-production companies, broadcasters and distributors adopt IMF. Eurofins will combine technical media validation with production and workflow business intelligence to build upon existing technology from the IRT, which houses technical R&D for public broadcasters in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

IMF comes down to a format that was settled on in 2017 as a type of mezzanine format containing all the data required for studios to prepare the file just once, rather than creating 500 different versions for different encoding densities, different color combinations, or screen brightness, or a variety of “director’s cut” endings, or those with different subtitles. An evolution of the Digital Cinema Package (DCP), IMF also incorporates the Material Exchange Format (MXF) container format.

Specifically, Eurofins’ IMF developments will be derived from IMF and MXF Analyzer products developed by the IRT – both of which will be available directly from Eurofins beginning September 2019. It hopes to provide quality assurance of IMF packages to support global business and flexible distribution for broadcast, cinema, in-flight entertainment, mobile content, OTT, VoD, and more.

However, despite these apparent avails, hardly anything has been spoken about the format. Walking around shows we have seen suppliers of media asset management (MAM) systems supporting IMF files, while the mere mention of IMF to other vendors involved in MAM and production workflows has brought about blank faces. Some see it as a competitor to CMAF but of course this is very different – defining not only the segment format, but also codecs and most importantly media profiles.

In the same breath, MovieLabs and Hollywood Studios came out with a bullish long-term whitepaper this week projecting a vision for the media landscape by 2030. IMF featured just once, however, with the paper noting that the industry requires increased collaboration to extend the work done in IMF, and potentially other interchange formats such as DCPs and improved descriptive metadata, such as that found in the MovieLabs Digital Distribution Framework (MDDF), will be required to enable a much more efficient global digital supply chain.

The extensive paper identifies a number of opportunities in media production and creative technologies, covering security, cloud migration, software-defined workflows – and 10 specific principles for the future of media creation which can be viewed in their entirety here.

Let’s touch just briefly on one of the most pressing of these principles around future cloud-based workflow, through what the paper identified as the new cloud foundation. MovieLabs and Hollywood Studios envisage a future where, in 2030, all assets – from the first script to every captured file – will be created or ingested directly into the cloud and will not require manual movement. Devices will be directly connected to the cloud to send encrypted, uncompressed files. This will be achieved through the design of workflows using microservices operating in containers, which can work consistently regardless of whether they are operating on local infrastructure or thousands of miles away in a large data center.

Eurofins’ Business Line Director Johan Craeybeckx said, “The market for media content is global, which means that several different versions of every media title must meet the technical requirements for many different distribution channels and localized applications. IMF is the solution to versioning and localizing at scale – enabling faster workflows and reductions in storage costs. Eurofins’ solutions for IMF will enable studios, post-production houses, distributors and broadcasters to optimize their IMF quality assurance processes at every stage in the content supply chain.”

Michael Hagemeyer, MD of IRT, added, “At IRT, our mission has always been to explore, observe and develop new technologies that adapt broadcasting to new market environments and needs. The IMF format plays a significant role in the future of broadcast and OTT media, and we are confident that Eurofins, a proven-leader in quality assurance, is ideally placed to carry this mission forward and lower the barriers to adoption of the standards at this critical point for the digital media industry.”