VideoHans 3D Monitor

VideoHans offers ultimate quality monitoring solution for 3D content creators. This unmatched tool provides visualization capabilities to efficiently detect and objectively measure various 3D quality issues such as depth map artifacts, vertical disparities, stereo-pair mis-synchronization, wrong 3D parallax range, etc.

Click to enlarge

This easy-to-use but extremely powerful analysis tool brings quantitative metrics to 3D quality analysis. Unique error detection system provides comprehensive feedback to efficiently correct quality issues. Straightforward and intuitive interface provides a lot of extremely useful and easy to understand information.

Click to enlarge

Depth Map Monitor
It is important to monitor proper distribution of objects within a depth map since depth map displacements may cause serious 3D perception problems. Good 3D assumes smart distribution of the object between back and front stages. VideoHans offers depth map monitoring technology to analyze each particular element of 3D for possible depth map displacements.

Time Synchronization Monitor
Capturing the left and the right frames can be slightly shifted in time and add vertical or other wrong motions and parallax. VideoHans can automatically check time-synchronization of left and right cameras to avoid this problem. With 3D SynchroScope it is easy to detect and monitor mistiming of 3D video sequences.

Time Synchronization Graph

Stereo-pair Consistency Control
Control brightness, white and black balance and color consistency for left and right images. This discrepancy may originate from the use of heterogeneous cameras, calibration errors and changes due to the different viewing angles. Histogram matching is used to detect and show difference between the right to left camera view. The goal of 3D Monitor is to check and correct these colors, brightness and other characteristic differences between two stereo images.

Stereo-pair Consistency Window

3D Parallax Monitor
VideoHans parallax monitor is aimed at stereo pair analysis for optimal 3D viewing. The main goal is to make 3D comfortable and safe for viewing without any risks and discomfort for eyes. VideoHans parallax monitoring technology offers comprehensive control of 3D parallax values, defining the range of screen sizes for comfortable viewing and other parameters.

Parallax Window

VideoHans 3D Monitor supports all commonly used data formats. Custom data formats support can be added with add-on modules. VideoHans error detection technology is also available as SDK for system integrators. Convenient API provides full access to all 3D error analysis options. VideoHans 3D Monitor works on Windows platform and will be available for Mac and Linux soon.

ATSC Publishes Interim 3D TV Report

The Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) has published an interim report on 3D digital television that examines both the various technologies that might be used to broadcast 3D content and some of the health issues that have been raised by the medium.

To ensure that the final version of the report provides a complete analysis of all available broadcast delivery options, the ATSC also issued a formal request for input from the industry on additional technologies, including those that are still under development, and formats for 3D broadcast that might not have been covered by the report.

The report provides a generally positive assessment, noting "there is no doubt that creating and displaying 3D content offers many benefits to increasing the viewer experience and enhancing revenue" and that "there appears to be viable options for 3D broadcasts."

In the section dealing with the various broadcast technologies, the authors note that the technologies create bandwidth and spectrum challenges, requiring "more bandwidth which is scarce" and that 3D feeds would increase the size of files and data needed to be moved inside the broadcast infrastructure.

It also notes that some of those problems could be overcome with advanced codecs that provide better compression, though the use of MPEG-4 compression would require some major changes in the MPEG-2 broadcast infrastructure currently used inside stations or channels and potentially inside the home, where TV sets would need to either be capable of handling MPEG-4 signals or be connected to some kind of MPEG-4 settop box or decoder.

In terms of health issues, the report is also generally positive but notes that "improperly" done 3D broadcasts "can result in a negative and potential painful experience for their viewers. Clearly technology can solve many of the issues but given the subjective nature of the impact of many of the factors, more information is needed to better understand and implement the services."

One key issue is its potential impact on children. The report stresses "the importance of further studies that are required for examining the potential long term effects of viewing stereoscopic 3D contents. Since stereoscopic 3D content on 2D displays disassociates vergence and accommodation and since this natural association develops over time in young children, the question of the sensitive period in which potential disruption or negative impact of that development can occur needs to be addressed. For broadcasters, a solution for practical means to measure and monitor image and depth quality of 3D content is required."

By George Winslow, Broadcasting & Cable

Google Hearts Firefox 4 for WebM Video Support

Some folks at Google are getting ready to celebrate as Firefox 4 quickly moves toward 10 million downloads, despite Firefox competing with Google’s Chrome browser. The reason: One of the new features added to Firefox 4 is support for Google’s open video format WebM. The browser release is the biggest boost for WebM since Google open-sourced the format last May, and it could help WebM to finally go mainstream.

Firefox 4 is the first official release to include WebM support. Beta versions of Firefox 4 have been able to play WebM videos for a number of months, but those were limited to a small group of early adopters. Firefox 3.6, on the other hand, was used by around 25 percent of all web users in February, according to the latest data from Statcounter, and all these users are now prompted to update to this week’s release, which will make their machines WebM-capable.

The implications are even bigger when you look at the overall browser market, which has been divided between browsers supporting open video formats and browsers that don’t. Both Safari and IE don’t support WebM and instead use H.264 for HTML5 video playback.

Google’s Chrome added WebM support last year, and Google decided to discontinue support for H.264 entirely earlier this year. Firefox has never supported H.264, but until recently, only supported the inferior Ogg Theora video format for HTML5 video. Opera was the first browser to add support for WebM earlier last year. Combine those two with Firefox 4, and you’re looking at a significant market share, as Mozilla Open Source Evangelist Chris Blizzard pointed out on the WebM blog:

“Firefox accounts for about 30% market share – or nearly a third of all browser users. When you combine that with Chrome and Opera it means that about 50% of internet users will have access to the high-quality WebM codec over the next few months, following the Firefox 4 adoption curve.”

Numbers like these could convince more web publishers to use WebM, or possibly expand some early tests of the format. One candidate for such a move is YouTube, which has been experimenting with WebM as part of its HTML5 trial. This beta test is currently opt-in, and it’s not widely publicized on YouTube’s website.

However, YouTube has been actively converting much of its catalog to WebM, and in November, had already made 80 percent of its regularly requested videos available in the format. With half the browsers accessing the site being capable of WebM playback soon, there’s little reason why YouTube couldn’t promote the format more aggressively.

By Janko Roettgers, GigaOM

CEA Seeks Proposals to Standardize 3D Active Eyewear Glasses

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) announced the launch of a new standards process for 3D glasses. CEA seeks proposals for standardizing 3D active eyewear that uses an infrared (IR) synchronized interface from consumer electronics (CE) manufacturers. Interested participants are encouraged to join the 3D Technologies Working Group, R4WG16.

R4WG16 requests that interested parties in the CE industry download the formal Active Eyewear Standards IR Sync Request for Proposal, and return it to Alayne Bell at by 5 p.m. EST, March 31, 2011.

After proposals have been submitted, R4WG16 will select the proposals that will become the basis for standardization. Creating a standard for 3D active eyewear glasses can help break down consumer barriers to purchasing 3DTVs, and increase the expansion of 3D into the home.

Source: CEA

Video Device Convergence Forces Skype to Embrace H.264

Skype will support the H.264 format to be a player on converged devices ranging from connected TV sets to smart phones and tablet PCs. Peter Parkes, Skype’s “blogger-in-chief,” wrote online that the change will enable Skype’s Apple iPhone users to chat with friends on TVs and other connected devices. The company is rapidly extending its reach beyond the PC and expanding the number of devices consumers can use its video chat service on.

Since early last year, Skype has been working to enable users to connect Web cams to Internet-connected TVs from manufacturers like Panasonic and Samsung, making the service available to users in their living rooms. At the same time, Skype has been aggressively positioning itself to dominate the mobile market, releasing an updated app that enables iPhone owners to use those devices’ forward-facing cameras to video chat with each other. The company is also aggressively hiring personnel to support other mobile platforms.

Skype’s decision to adopt H.264 was made because it has become the de facto codec for video delivery across a wide range of devices. Due to hardware acceleration built into low-powered devices such as TVs, Blu-ray players and mobile handsets, video publishers have increasingly turned to H.264 for video playback.

H.264 is arguably the best, or only, way to deliver video onto connected TVs and mobile devices. However, a battle is breaking out over the video format used by Web browsers for standards-based HTML5 video playback. While all modern browsers are working to support HTML5 and its video tag, which enables video playback without the need for a proprietary plug-in like Adobe’s Flash Player, browser makers are divided on which video format to support. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 and Apple’s Safari browser have pledged support for H.264, but Google’s Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox and Opera are backing Google’s open-source WebM format.

Because it’s a desktop application today, Skype doesn’t necessarily have to worry about the format war developing. However, if it plans to create embedded, standards-based video chat applications that run in the browser, it might eventually have to align itself with one format or choose to support both.

By Michael Grotticelli, Broadcast Engineering

Internet TV

Content distribution over the Internet is not a new technology. However, various forms of content delivery to PCs and Internet-connected TVs, using the Internet or Internet mechanisms, have emerged and have created a confusing landscape. At the same time, standards organizations such as the ATSC are investigating schemes to interoperate new consumer devices with terrestrial broadcasting.

Online Video
The emerging alternate delivery mechanisms can be classified into different categories, depending on the different delivery paths and business models. Online video is perhaps the simplest mechanism, whereby content providers such as Hulu and Netflix serve up streaming or downloaded video on demand from Internet websites. Video content is prestored on servers and delivered to consumer devices as streamed files; the experience can be PC- or STB-based. The content is sent over a TCP-IP connection to the user, much the same way as web pages are sent to an Internet browser.

When displaying exclusively on a PC, any of various streaming video codecs is typically used, such as Adobe Flash or Windows Media Video. Playback is also possible on other Internet-connected devices, such as Blu-ray-linked TVs, handheld devices, gaming consoles, and set-top boxes.

An interesting dilemma that online video has caused is that of over-the-top (OTT) content, such as when a cable-TV operator also provides Internet access; viewers can then access video through the Internet connection, with that content essentially competing with the cable operator's own video service.

Retransmission is a form of online video, such as iviTV and FilmOnTV, whereby content is taken live from broadcast and other sources. The streams, captured by digital receivers, are re-encoded (or transcoded), sent to a central server, and then streamed out as an IP multicast.

Without direct access to the content, off-air (or cable or satellite) receivers must be set up in every market from which the content is accessed. (While the actual mechanisms have not been publicly disclosed and could deviate from the mechanism described here, they are likely to be conceptually the same.)

This type of service is currently under litigation, as the service providers do not have explicit licensing arrangements with the content providers, who have balked at the service providers' interpretation of an implied license to broadcast content. NAB, CEA and a startup company are currently investigating a broadcaster-supportable scheme that addresses the out-of-market coverage issues regarding Internet carriage of local content.

IPTV, or Internet-Protocol TV, is a scheme such as AT&T U-verse, whereby video content is streamed to a STB by means of a subscribed telephone connection, usually twisted pair or fiber-to-the-home. A telco operator will typically use a Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer (DSLAM) at the central office to supply a one-to-one high-bandwidth connection to each subscriber's customer premises equipment (STB).

While this mechanism does not actually use the Internet, it does encapsulate the video data into IP packets similar to those used to relay data over the Internet. With this type of service, the access to content is completely within a “walled garden,” including a service provider-provided EPG that is used to access content. Although an IP connection is used, each subscriber has a dedicated line to the central office; hence, a full packet-switched network is not needed, lowering complexity and bandwidth, and guaranteeing a specific level of quality-of-service.

Hybrid Broadcasting
Hybrid broadcasting is a technology whereby broadcasters use a combination of OTA and Internet paths to send coordinated content to Internet-connected TVs or STBs. Groups developing services in Europe, Japan and South Korea have described different forms of hybrid broadcasting. Perhaps the most visible of these is a European consortium, operating in concert with the DVB organization under the name Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV). Among the services demonstrated by the group are “catch-up” TV, video on demand (VoD) and interactive advertising. A specification for HbbTV has been released by ETSI, and some STBs meeting this spec have been shown.

With Web-TV, Internet content is served up to a TV by means of a STB or specially-equipped TV. Web-like pages, browsing and apps are directly available to TV viewers. Though similar to online video and hybrid broadcast, the experience is not directed at PC delivery and display; the services rely on an improved user interface with which to navigate content, often integrating a proprietary cross-resource search engine that can locate content from both broadcast and Internet sources.

The TV applications can also potentially integrate Internet, OTA, cable or satellite content, forming a rich media experience. In practice, however, the TV or STB merely provides a “seamless” switch between Internet-delivered and OTA-delivered content. A true hybrid broadcast experience, where content from these different sources is synchronized and integrated by the content owners, is not believed to exist on currently deployed devices.

Widget TV
With Widget TV, small applications, such as Intel widgets and Yahoo! widgets, run on a Web TV, bringing content, information and community features from the Internet to the TV. These widgets, which can be pre-installed or downloaded, offer users a way to customize their TV viewing and information access experience. In their simplest form, widgets might pop up an “app” that runs a local process, such as a trivia game; of greater interest to service providers are widgets that redirect the TV to an online website sourcing other content.

One of the issues of concern to broadcasters is the consistent behavior of these widgets across different devices. For this reason, a number of different “widget frameworks” have emerged, but these are currently driven by the developers of the graphics hardware or user interface middleware (such as the browser, often supplied by a separate content distributor). Ideally, broadcasters would like to provide widgets themselves, but this raises the issue of how to make the user experience — and content accessed by the widgets — consistent to users, across different broadcasters. The OTT issue is similarly problematic with Widget TV.

A Look Ahead
Various committees have studied the topic of enhanced television delivery, going back to the formative days of DTV. One such effort led to the Advanced TV Enhancement Forum (ATVEF) specification, which defined methods to create enhanced content to be delivered over a variety of media, including analog NTSC and digital ATSC. Around the same time, the ATSC developed the DTV Application Software Environment (DASE), which offered overlapping functionality.

For a combination of reasons, including timing and business issues, neither spec took off as an implemented framework. More recently, the ATSC has formed a new Internet Enhanced Television Planning Team (PT-3) to investigate the opportunities brought about by Internet-connected broadcast receivers, and to lay the foundation for future technologies and standards.

As content owners change their businesses to include a greater dependence on the Internet, it is reasonable to expect that broadcasting will evolve in the direction of integrating several forms of content delivery into a seamless experience for both fixed and mobile viewers. Exciting times are ahead!

By Aldo Cugnini, Broadcast Engineering

HTML5 - A Game Changer?

HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is the language of the code that sits behind every web page displayed by a browser. You find it on any web page by right-clicking your mouse and selecting View Page Source. Compared to HTML4 which was introduced in 1997, HTML5 introduces many new interesting elements. For example, the HTML5 dictionary includes “canvas” which allows inserting moving graphics that can be used in games and animations.

The HTML5 specification enables the browser to store 1000 times more data than is currently possible, so that it is possible to use web pages even when there is no connection to the Internet. For broadcasters and content providers, the most useful feature is a new capability for the native support of audio and video playback.

HTML5 is not yet fully developed and still lacks a support for many features that are critically important for the content provider: adaptive streaming, digital rights management, advertising and monetisation. In spite of that, it has already been implemented by all major browsers, e.g., Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Opera and lately Microsoft Internet Explorer 9.

Before the advent of HTML5, in order to get video to play, websites added proprietary programmes (e.g., Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight) and required the users to download “plug-ins” to play them. That made websites more complex and dependent on a plug-in presence in the client device.

HTML5 provides a new <video> tag to play video directly (“natively”) in the browser itself, therefore no third party plug-in is required. Contrary to a plug-in where video is locked away and trapped in a black box, the <video> element can be manipulated flexibly: it can be styled with CSS, resized on hover using CSS transition, it can be tweaked and redisplayed onto <canvas> with JavaScript, etc.

The <video> tag itself is codec agnostic and leaves the browser developer open to support whatever codec they wish. This leaves the door open to the situation where each browser could use a codec of their choice. This could potentially lead to a market fragmentation and indeed to reverting back to the use of proprietary plug-ins. The table below shows which video codecs (embedded in the appropriate containers) are currently supported by the most recent browsers.

Today H.264 is the most widely used video codec in digital broadcasting. In the internet several codecs are being used, the most popular ones being H.264 and WebM/VP8. In today’s convergent environments where the IT, consumer electronics (including mobile) and broadcast worlds are coming together and the borderline between them is blurring, it would be advantageous to consider common audio and video coding for the internet and broadcasting.

Not surprising, broadcasters prefer using H.264 not only for broadcasting but also for internet distribution of video files and streams. The H.264 license issues have been successfully resolved. MPEG LA announced in August 2010 that “H.264 will be royalty-free forever so long as video encoded with the standard is free to end users and delivered via the Internet”. This means that no royalties are required for the H.264 web videos that are delivered free of charge.

However, Google recently decided to discontinue supporting H.264, as it only intends to use “open source, licence-free” codecs such as WebM/VP8. Many experts however, fear that the unresolved WebM “submarine” patent issues might later hit those who have implemented this codec. Google’s decision may force the content providers wishing to target the most popular browsers to produce two video versions, one in H.264 and the other in VP8. As things stand today, Apple and Microsoft will probably continue to support the H.264 codec, whereas Mozilla Firefox, Opera and now Google are likely to support merely WebM/VP8. It is unlikely that these two camps will ever agree on a common approach.

Although some optimists believe that HTML5 signifies the web’s rebirth, many sceptics share the opinion that HTML5 may rise or fall depending on whether or not the browsers are able to reach a consensus on a common native video and audio codec. Unfortunately, the prospects of reaching such consensus seem to be meagre.

By Franc Kozamernik, EBU Tech-i

The Next Big Thing: Linear TV?

Still think DVRs killed linear TV consumption? Well, think again. Recent numbers from the U.K. show that traditional TV consumption is actually more popular than ever. British viewers watched 28 hours and 15 minutes of linear television per week in 2010, according to the country’s Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board. That’s two hours and four minutes per week more than in 2009.

In other words: Brits just added another 18 minutes of TV viewing to their day last year, and they’re now watching a total of four hours and two minutes of linear TV per day. That’s not only a lot of TV; it’s more TV than the Research Board ever measured before.

Why do people stick to the broadcasters’ schedule, you might ask? The U.K.’s Media Week blog, which first reported the Research Board numbers earlier this year, points to one likely culprit: Twitter.

Media Week author Arif Durrani writes:
“Turns out those younger audiences, which [were] moving away from television since the arrival of mass Internet access 10 years ago, are actually quite adept at multi-tasking. Behind the near 20m headline figure who watched last year’s X Factor final on ITV lurks a social media success story. More than a quarter (26%) of all viewers used Twitter or Facebook to interact with the show, according to new research from Brand Driver.”

We’ve been writing about Twitter’s ability to function as a global water cooler around TV shows and live events for a while now, and it only makes sense that this phenomenon is now influencing ratings outside the U.S. as well.

But there’s another factor at play here that shouldn’t be underestimated, and that’s the BBC’s iPlayer and its ability to keep people connected to a show even if they happen to miss an episode. The Beeb once again reported record usage for the iPlayer in 2010, clocking up more than 900,000 requests for single episodes of hit shows like The Apprentice. However, most of these requests were coming from PCs; connected devices simply don’t matter yet, at least not in the U.K..

This suggests people catch up on shows via their PCs, then turn to their TVs to watch the next episode of a show in real time. Of course, this behavior could shift once Internet-connected TVs and other devices become more commonplace, but even then, Twitter might save the day. You simply don’t want to show up late to the water cooler.

Check out this excellent NewTeeVee Live talk about Twitter as the new global water cooler from Twitter’s Robin Sloan:

By Janko Roettgers, GigaOM