New Technology Offers Higher Dynamic Range to Capture Dimly Lit Shots

Ever since video cameras have been used to cover sporting events, there have been problems with wide dynamic range to allow shooters to capture subjects as they move from full sunshine into the shadows. The image loses its detail, and the subject becomes hard to see.

Looking to tackle this challenging production issue, researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK, led by professor Alan Chalmers, have developed what they are calling “the world’s first complete high dynamic range (HDR) video system” that includes a camera (developed by German company SpheronVR) that offers 20 f-stops and captures 1920 x 1980 HD images at 30fps.

The system also requires a special HDR display, which is made up of a combination of an LED and LCD panel. The university is using the modal DR37-P‚ which was made by Brightside (the inventors of the display technology) until being acquired by Dolby in 2007.

Click to watch the video

“The HDR system can capture the full range of what the eye can see,” Chalmers said. “So, while the human eye can follow the football from sun into shade, until now, a camera has not being able to do it (without the cameraman having to play with the exposure levels). Therefore, we like to say that HDR brings real-world lighting into your living room.”

The HDR video camera was first shown at SIGGRAPH in July 2009. Since then, the team has worked to establish a complete HDR pipeline and improve the efficiency of the compression algorithms.

The HDR system captures much more information than traditional video: A minute of footage requires 42GB of storage, whereas a typical video camera captures about 9GB.

The secret to system’s practicality is high-quality compression based on new algorithms developed by Chalmers’ team that can achieve greater than 100:1 compression with minimum perceptual loss of quality. A spin-off company called goHDR will market the technology commercially.

As an example of the technology, 1187 frames shot in RAW format equals 18,842MB. Compressed with the goHDR compression algorithm, that file size is reduced to 60.2MB, for a compression ratio of 312:1. Perceptual difference, computed using HDR-VDP, is said to be 1.19 percent.

“The natural world presents us with a wide range of colors and intensities,” Chalmers said. “In addition, a scene may be constantly changing with, for example, significant differences in lighting levels going from outside to inside, or simply as the sun goes behind some clouds. A human eye can cope with those rapid changes and variety, but a traditional camera is only capable of capturing a limited range of lighting in any scene. The actual range it can cope with depends on the exposure and f-stop setting of the camera. Anything outside that limited range is either under- or overexposed.”

He added that HDR imagery offers a “more representative description” of real-world lighting by storing data with a higher bit depth per pixel than conventional images.

“Although HDR imagery for static images has been around for 15 years, it has not been possible to capture HDR video until now,” Chalmers said. “However, such HDR images are typically painstakingly created in computer graphics or generated from a number of static images, often merging only four exposures at different stops to build an HDR image. Our new HDR camera technology and software enables us to capture and display dynamic HDR images, covering at least 20 f-stops at full-HD resolution and at 30fps.”

In addition, Chalmers said that the HDR system could be used to complement 3-D production technology by providing depth perception without the need to wear 3-D glasses.

By Michael Grotticelli, BroadcastEngineering

3D Channels and Content

Quantel has published a list of 3D channels around the World.

How Many 3D HDTVs Shipped in 2010? Was that a Success?

The exact number appears to be a matter of debate. According to a recent report from DisplayBank, 6.2M 3D HDTVs shipped worldwide in 2010. DisplaySearch says that number is 3.2M. How can there be such a big difference in these numbers? Frankly, I have no idea.

Many 3D HDTV forecasts, covering a whole range of numbers, were issued during 2010. Some firms increased or decreased their forecasts as market conditions changed — which is fine for inventory control, but more troubling for long-term planning.

Last February, Insight Media went through its 3D HDTV forecast process and created our view of how 2010, and beyond, would evolve. Our assessment? We forecast 3.3M 3D HDTVs worldwide for 2010 and 1.1M 3D HDTVs for the US and Canada. According to the CEA, preliminary data suggests that US sales of 3D HDTVs, including DLP HDTVs, will be 1.1M. And, if you believe the DisplaySearch worldwide numbers, our forecast from last February for 2010 was right on the money.

What’s in store for 2011? We predict active shutter glasses solutions continuing to dominate sales, but passive glasses 3D HDTVs sales will get everyone’s attention in 2011. In addition, autostereoscopic 3D HDTVs will enter the market. Here, we are less optimistic, believing that current products will not meet the needs of the ordinary consumer — at least, not for a few years. We are currently working on three new forecast reports to cover active shutter, passive polarized and autostereoscopic 3D HDTVs. Stay tuned.

Another recent topic of debate — should the number of sales of 3D HDTVs in 2010 be viewed as a success or a failure? From the TV makers’ perspective, their goals for selling 3D HDTVs were much higher in the spring and summer of 2010 — unrealistically high, in our opinion. Those expectations lowered as 2010 evolved, so some might view that as a failure.

On the other hand, these same TV companies are now turning lemons into lemonade by suggesting that the sales of 3D HDTVs were actually quite good in comparison to HDTV sales, which took 5-6 years to reach an equivalent level of sales. So, 2010 was a success!

From the retailer’s perspective, I think most would agree that sales did not live up to expectations. Lack of 3D content, high TV prices and costly glasses, a slow economy and consumer confusion all detracted from a robust selling environment.

I think consumer reaction is mixed. If you bought a 3D HDTV, you were likely to be happy with performance, even if you didn’t have much content to watch. For those who didn’t buy, they might indeed view 2010 as a failure for the same reasons retailers were not happy.

Programmers like ESPN and DirecTV are also likely to have a mixed reaction to 2010. Much was learned about how to produce and deliver 3D and about why quality matters so very much. But, will advertisers step in this year to establish a viable long-term business model for 3D? That remains to be seen, but we are encouraged by the vibrant activity to create more content, 3D channels and vehicles for delivering this to consumers.

So was 2010 a success or failure? The cop-out answer is — it depends upon your perspective.

By Chris Chinnock, Insight Media

Google’s Chrome Backs WebM, Drops Support for H.264

Google is throwing more weight behind its own VP8 open source video codec, announcing Tuesday on the Chromium blog that future versions of the Chrome web browser would support the WebM Project and Ogg Theora codecs, while removing support for H.264 video. The move comes as battle lines are being drawn over the formats used for delivering video over the Internet and on mobile devices.

On the blog, Google Product Manager Mike Jazayeri wrote:
“We expect even more rapid innovation in the web media platform in the coming year and are focusing our investments in those technologies that are developed and licensed based on open web principles. To that end, we are changing Chrome’s HTML5 video support to make it consistent with the codecs already supported by the open Chromium project. Specifically, we are supporting the WebM (VP8) and Theora video codecs, and will consider adding support for other high-quality open codecs in the future. Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies.”

The decision to push VP8 in its web browser comes less than a year after Google announced that it would make the codec open source at its Google I/O developers conference in May 2010. It also sides Google’s Chrome along with Mozilla’s Firefox and the Opera web browser in embracing open standards for video delivered using the HTML5 video tag as opposed to using H.264, which is owned by licensing group MPEG LA.

With previous builds of Chrome, Google had attempted to balance the interests of the open source community along with hardware manufacturers and web publishers that had already encoded their videos in the H.264 format. But now the search and software giant has sided definitively with its own open source codec and will no longer back the format that had more or less become the industry standard for delivering video online.

Before today’s announcement, the market had been pretty evenly divided between browsers like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Apple’s Safari browser, which supported H.264, and the open source community, which backed Theora and WebM. But Chrome’s support of WebM and VP8 tips the scales in favor of open source codecs.

On the desktop, Google’s support of VP8 is bound to be influential, but the more difficult battle may be getting adoption on mobile and connected devices. Due to broad-based hardware support for H.264, many publisher rely on the format to reach connected TVs and mobile devices like the iPad and iPhone. But as a newer codec, hardware support for VP8 has not been widely established, which may keep Google from being able to push the format, especially on Android mobile devices.

By Ryan Lawler, GigaOM

Here Comes the Second Wave of 3D

CES hasn’t even officially started yet and some of the biggest news is already seeping out. Last year, active shutter glasses 3D HDTVs were the talk of the town. At this year’s event, 3D will again be near the top of the excitement list, but this time it will be the next wave of 3D technology using passive polarized glasses. And, we are also starting to see the beginnings of the third wave of 3D — no glasses 3D HDTVs.

The big pre-news in passive polarized 3D HDTV is coming from Samsung, Vizio and LG Electronics. Samsung is teaming with RealD to show a passive polarized solution which places a large single-cell LCD in front of the standard FHD LCD panel. The idea is to take the shuttering technology used in the glasses and place it in front of the LCD. This essentially switches the polarization state of the full panel at 240Hz — twice as fast as shutter glasses. Users can wear the same RealD circularly-polarized passive glasses they use in the theater to watch 3D at home.

LG Electronics is betting big on its film-based patterned retarder technology. Working with LG Chemical and LG Display, a film has been developed that has a pattern of left- and right-hand circularly polarization elements that are aligned to the rows of the FHD LCD. This creates a polarized interlaced image. Polarized glasses direct the left and right eye images to the correct eye allowing the brain to fuse these into a 3D image. There is loss of resolution with this approach, but it should be less costly in the long term than adding a second switching panel.

Vizio is apparently embracing the film-based patterned retarder for some screen sizes and a glass-based patterned retarder for other screen sizes — most notably the 65" 16:9 TVs and the CinemaScope 21:9 3D HDTVs. The glass-based patterned retarder operates in the same way as the film-based one, but does add more thickness and weight. AUO developed this approach and has cost-reduced a similar approach pioneered by Arisawa to bring the technology to main-stream TV consumers.

On the no-glasses front, Toshiba will offer 12" and 21" models to consumers and Dimenco is considering offering a 28-view 27" product to consumers. Both of these products offer a level of performance, about 1280 x 720 resolution per view, that has been unobtainable so far.

As shown in the graphic, we see at least three waves of 3D technology coming in the next few years. These waves will overlap and coexist for some time. The timing, shape and duration of these waves are a matter of some industry debate.

What is clear, however, is that the pace of advancement of 3D display technology has been mind-bending — and this should continue for some time. As technology analysts, this kind of activity really gets our gears turning. But as market analysts, we need to think like a consumer — and here, such rapid advancements may not be as welcome. With so many competing, overlapping and incompatible 3D solutions in the market, the consumer may well get confused, frustrated and disillusioned instead of excited about every new generation.

We have seen areas of rapid innovation before, but maybe not quite as fast as with 3D. Plus, there is no time in the ecosystem for any solution to become established before the next one is in the market. Again, this has happened before, but usually with some backward compatibility and stability in the ecosystem, which may be sorely lacking with 3D.

By Chris Chinnock, Display Daily

RealD and Samsung LCD Develop New RDZ 3D Display Technology

RealD and Samsung Electronics announced that the companies are jointly developing a new 3D display technology called RDZ that offers full resolution high definition 3D video and is compatible with the same 3D eyewear used in RealD 3D-equipped motion picture theatres around the world.

Unlike patterned retarder based 3D display technologies that cut resolution in half or diminish brightness, RDZ 3D display technology delivers full resolution high definition 3D images by adopting active shutter technology on the display. Based on RealD technology used in many of the world’s 3D-equipped motion picture theatres today, RDZ displays are also 2D compatible, resulting in no reduction of image quality in 2D mode.

Samsung LCD is developing displays based on RealD’s proprietary RDZ 3D technology, which adopts characteristics from the company’s Cinema System utilized in motion picture theatres around the world. The LCD based RDZ 3D display technology is integrated on the LCD panel and actively syncs with the left and right eye images for full resolution high definition 3D video.

Source: RealD