Open Mic: On the video horizon

Fri, 10/31/2008 - 8:10pm
Mike Adams Vice president of applications software strategy,Tandberg Television

3-D seems to have finally come of age for digital cinema; all of the technologies have finally matured ... it’s no longer a gimmick.

Mike AdamsNow that HDTV is widely deployed, we might well ask, “What’s the next revolution in video?” At the recent International Broadcast Conference (IBC), I saw a couple of interesting new technologies; the first was 3-D digital cinema, and the second was ultra-high-resolution video.

3-D seems to have finally come of age for digital cinema; all of the technologies have finally matured, and it is no longer a gimmick, so we can expect to see a lot more movies in 3-D. That being said, onlynine digital 3-Dmovies have been released to date. “Journey to the Center of the Earth” is the first live-action movie shot entirely in 3-D.

IBC featured the firstlive 3-D HDTV transatlantic broadcast of an interview with Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks. The slow panning of the camera during the interview made me slightly seasick, but the 3-D realism was excellent. Interestingly, Katzenberg’s answer to “What is the biggest challenge with 3-D?” was, “To avoid making the audience hurl!”

He showed two clips.One was a segment of “Kung Fu Panda,” completely re-animated in 3-D (the scene where Tai lung escapes from Chor Ghom prison). It wasvisually stunning, and the 3-D effect added a great deal of intensity to the scene. It was chosen because it was particularly challenging to transfer to 3-D due to low-lighting, frequent cuts from one viewpoint to another, and fast action. Katzenberg also showed a segment from the new animated movie “Monsters vs. Aliens” – this entire movie has been created in 3-D. The realism and effectiveness of the 3-D authoring was so good that in a short time I became totally immersed in the storytelling, with the action literally jumping off the screen.

This demonstration was in a cinema setting using a special projector that uses polarized light to project two images – one for the left and one for the right eye. This means that there is no flicker, and the glasses are simple and passive. 3-D technology is expected to give theatrical screenings an advantage over the home.

There were a lot of 4K displays at IBC (4096 x 2160 pixel resolution) showing unbelievably good pictures. 4K is the highest resolution format generally available and was developed for digital cinema applications. At a glance, a 4K picture is noticeably better than HDTV – the effect is a bit like going to the optician and having your vision corrected from 20:20 to 20:15. Clearly video displaytechnology has not stopped at HDTV resolution, and display and camera technology have evolved faster than other components in the production chain.

In addition, Japanese broadcaster NHK was demonstrating what it calls “Super Hi-Vision.” This approach offers four times the horizontal resolution of HDTV; HDTV is 1920 horizontal pixels, Super Hi-Vision is 7680.The vertical resolution isalso quadrupled from 1080 to 4320. This provides an image with an amazing 33 megapixels being refreshed 60 times every second (4320p 60).

Not only that, but the audio is greatly improved to 22.2 channels. The speakers are arranged in 3 layers – the upper layer containing 9 speakers, the middle layer containing 10 speakers, and the lower layer containing 5 speakers, including the 2 sub-woofers. This allows the sounds to be much more accurately positioned for greater realism.

What does this mean? Essentially it allows a much more immersive experience because you can have a large screen and sit close to it – to see fantastic detail – but still be enveloped in a wide field of vision. This is great for sporting events – allowing you to see the entire football field with perfect clarity and not be at the mercy of the camera operator.

In the demonstration I saw, I sat about 15 feet away from a screen, which was about 15 feet by 30 feet. This allowed me to see exquisite detail at the section of the screen I was looking at, and to turn my head to see other parts of the image; the effect was like looking through a large picture window.

The demonstration included a live transmission (at 120 Mbps) from London to Amsterdam. A camera on top of the London town hall was panned slowly across the skyline to Tower Bridge. The picture was so sharp that every single detail was clear, almost like looking out of an airplane window at the scene below.

When is it coming to your home? Well, don’t expect this one until about 2020 – although it might be used for digital cinema sooner than that.

Next month: RGB Networks’ Adam Tom will discuss
China’s cable market and the country’s digitalization plans.

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