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Trends in Video Technology

Trends in Video Technology

Over the past decade the multimedia ecosystem has revolutionized the screens we interact with. Our lifestyle and entertainment and information consumption patterns have been redefined with the advancements of technology. While many technologies have promised a lot only to stutter and be shelved, others have proliferated faster than expected.

Here is my list of top trends in video technology applications, with possible applications that drive them; and challenges that hold them back.

Resolution

Video consumption products have moved up the resolution ladder quite remarkably, from standard Analog displays to Digital, 720p, 1080p over a decade. Now, with the launch of ULTRA HD with 4K (4096×3072 pixels) resolution, clarity and sharpness has been improved a notch further with four times more pixels stuffed into the same screen. Now, backlit display screens can scale to over 70″ without compromising on resolution.

Technically, 4K is realizable given that DSPs and GPUs have become more powerful than ever. With new low-power, miniaturized silicon technologies, it is feasible today to process video at 4K resolution in real time as well. Given that these embedded platforms are early in their lifecycle, price points are expected to dip in 2014, as the technology proliferates.

Video generation equipment, though has not kept pace. While it is easier for virtual applications like gaming and signage to generate content at 4K resolution, most of our video content is still generated in HD. Also, there is no common standard for 4K content formats; leaving it to the technology companies to develop proprietary formats. If not addressed, 4K could go the ‘Blue-Ray DVD’ way, and be vulnerable to competitive technologies.

Intelligence

Video Analytics was to be the next big thing, but it has failed to live up to the hype. Generating intelligence and real-time alerts from unstructured data (Video Content) has many applications; and companies have spent fortunes in building optimized algorithms to realize it. Today companies are looking at algorithms that can identify and segregate colour and shades.

The video pre-processing requirements vary based on the lighting conditions during video capture. If the light conditions vary, the software may not adapt and be rendered ineffective. The processing requirements vary greatly with luminescence. Reproduction of colours too varies between cameras, and camera settings, adding a layer of complexity to the software. Commercially, it is not feasible to have such high-end GPU/DSP on consumer products.

While algorithms for face recognition, license plate recognition and motion detection have found commercial acceptance, a lot is yet to be achieved. Military applications are driving the technology advancements today, for applications like target tracking and object recognition. Colour Analytics has potential applications in traditional sectors like manufacturing, farming, etc. once it reaches deployment maturity. The technology is quite nascent, and will take some time to move from laboratories to embedded products.

Dimension

The last five years have been dominated by 3D Video content. It has overcome the inconvenience (3D glasses) and shortage of content to lead the market success. With major production houses being 3D friendly, content has been taken care of, while glassless 3D content is being spearheaded by Toshiba. Glassless 3D video requires viewers to be at a specific direction and distance from the screen, not ideal for a living room / home theatre. This is more suited to in-vehicle / in-flight entertainment, Air-Traffic-Control and mobile devices, where the position of the viewer with respect to the screen is predictable and relatively fixed.

The next barrier to proliferation is user-generated content. Professional grade 3D cameras ($3,000 to $30,000) are commercially unviable for mass uptake. The next step would be to embed technology to generate 3D content into mobile phones, tablets and laptops; the next challenge would be to keep it affordable for individual buyers. We have developed a frame integration algorithm that ‘stitches’ frames from two cameras at a specific orientation to build 3D content. While there will be multiple technology investments to make 3D content generation more affordable, we do see this happening in the near horizon.

In the last decade, displays have moved from CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) to Plasma to LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) to LED (Light Emitting Diode) technology, improving the resolution, contrast, cost and size! Now, the transition from LED to OLED (Organic LED) has been even faster, with Samsung and LG leading the market. One of the benefits of OLED is that it supports a wider viewing angle, even when approaching 90 degrees from normal. OLED can be ‘printed’ while it also makes the display slimmer and can also be deployed for flexible surfaces.

The challenge faced by OLED is the display lifespan. OLED has a lifespan of 14,000 hours versus about 30,000 hours for other flat-panel displays. Other than that, the performance degradation is not uniform, where blue degrades faster than red and green colours.OLED technology improves picture contrast over LED, while being power efficient. Power consumption is not a major influencer in television purchases; it is ideal for digital signage (low operational expenses) and wearable devices (ultra-low power). OLED also has a better response time (0.01ms versus >1ms) and supports a better refresh rate (100,000 Hz versus 500 Hz) when compared to LCD technology

Motion

While the new digital TVs have moved to support 50/60 frames per second (fps) video content, movie-making has stagnated with the traditional 24fps camera technology. ‘The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey’, one of the more anticipated movies of 2012 was also awaited from the technology fraternity. This was the first movie to be captured at 48fps; that makes motion capture smoother, and counters the ‘motion blur’ effect that has plagued movie-making for years.

This transition to more powerful DSPs / GPUs requires the hardware to deliver the high-performance video processing. The electronics will require video content to access hardware acceleration available on DSP platforms, or GPUs to extract maximum performance and ensure flawless representation in real-time. Also, many cinemas will need to upgrade / retrofit screening equipment to show content generated at higher frame rates. The technology awaits adoption by production houses, and is likely to move forward to even 60fps with advancements and investments.

There is reluctance given that an established ecosystem that operates at 24fps is in place, but surely the transition is underway. James Cameron, the technology enthusiast and director of ‘Avatar’ has indicated that he would use higher frame-rates for sequels of the successful franchise.

Screen Share

I wonder how many domestic fights happen over TV content. Would it help to be able to watch two channels on the same TV, without sharing screen space? No, we are not talking about Picture-In-Picture (PIP). LG has pioneered this fantastic concept of employing 3D TVs to show two different channels / videos on the same screen.

While the display technology does not change, there is a major shift in the underlying video feed. The interlacing of frames from two sources, to ensure time sync between frame numbers requires engineering excellence. The application is similar to the ‘frame-stitching’ we discussed earlier, but here content comes as video streams from other sources.

The technology can segregate between screens / users with specific 3D viewing glasses. This technology is widely adopted for split-screen videogames, except now the players cannot ‘cheat’ to see what the other is doing. Adopting the technology for satellite / cable TV will require advancements on the set-top-box (STB), while we decide which audio of the two should be streamed through the speakers.
Now, how would you like to ‘share’ the TV screen, i.e. you watch one channel while your spouse watches another.

About eInfochips:

While we would love to be a growing trend in multimedia technology, eInfochips is today an enabler for these trends. A global product engineering services company with strong expertise in multimedia technologies, eInfochips has pioneered multimedia lifecycle solutions (capture-compress-communicate-consume) for key industries like Consumer Electronics, Aerospace and Defense, Media and Broadcast, Security and Surveillance and Medical Devices, among others. eInfochips also brings a strong portfolio of IPs (Streaming protocols, containers and codecs) to accelerate product design lifecycle and reduce risks.

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