Presentation videos

Over the years I’ve given many presentations at international conferences.

Here’s the YouTube playlist.

 

Bits & Chips article – My algorithm is better than yours

In 20 years in developing electronics, I’ve heard it a lot: “Our product is so much better! The algorithms our engineers developed are way beyond what our competition has.” In the 1990s, I saw it with my own eyes at Philips. Their TVs had the best deinterlacing algorithms in the world, resulting in superior picture quality. In the 2000s, I worked on audio enhancement: turning on sound processing algorithms gave quite a stunning effect. Tiny speakers would suddenly create bass and provide a 3D sound stage. Over the next years, I’ve seen cameras getting a much better picture quality, virtual reality headsets providing a much smoother experience and compression algorithms becoming a lot stronger. The before and after effect is a very strong sales tool.

Now, we’ve entered into an era where it’s not about picture or audio quality anymore. Instead, our electronics need to become smart and adopt AI. Andrew Ng from Stanford put it well: “If a typical person can do a mental task with less than one second of thought, we can probably automate it using AI either now or in the near future.” Even though AI can only solve fairly simple tasks, this presents a lot of business opportunities. The market responds and big corporations acquire AI teams for large sums of money.

In AI, I’m seeing the same “my algorithm is better than yours” claims. Many companies state their AI is better than everyone else’s and are showing the before and after effect. Kudos to these companies, for all having managed to hire the smartest AI algorithm engineers? No, not really.

With AI, for one, it’s actually fairly easy to build your own algorithm. Instead of having engineers that skillfully craft and program the algorithm, AI is simply trained. You give the AI engine lots of examples over and over again and it keeps adjusting itself until it doesn’t make any mistakes anymore.

From Idea to Industry
Another problem is that it’s hard to measure ‘better’ in AI land. There’s a famous saying that states there are lies, damn lies and then there are benchmarks. In AI, it’s no different. In automotive, for instance, you can measure false negatives, where you don’t detect a person in front of the vehicle. But a false positive, where the AI brakes for a pedestrian who’s not there, is almost equally bad.

The size of the data set is something to consider as well. It sounds impressive when an AI algorithm scores perfectly on 10 million kilometers of automotive test data, but since we have one billion vehicles on the road that each drive 10,000 kilometers a year or so, the AI probably still only covers a fraction of the real-world situations that can occur. Even perfect scores can be meaningless in such situations.

A final complicating factor is that the algorithms are still rapidly changing. There are many competitions where universities and corporate research centers battle it out and continuously introduce new algorithms. The winning neural networks are freely made available on the web, as are the tools to adapt and train them. Download and retrain the model for your target application and you’re done.
Thus, we come to the conclusion that AI algorithms are easy to develop, hard to benchmark and ever-changing. That’s a problem because it doesn’t seem like a great foundation on which to build a solid company. Strong companies typically operate in markets that have high barriers to entry, making it difficult for new entrants to come in and compete, which isn’t the case with AI.

My advice: don’t rely solely on AI in isolation, but use it as an enabler for your business and closely integrate it into your products. Simply focusing on “my algorithm is better than yours” won’t give you a sustainable competitive advantage. When your engineers tell you that their algorithms beat the competition, congratulate them, but ask them right away how they’re planning to maintain that advantage.

This article ran in the Bits and Chips magazine in April 2020.

Demo videos

Over the years I’ve given many demos at international conferences, some of which were recorded.

Here’s the YouTube playlist.

 

 

Bits & Chips article – Silicon Valley is the perfect material for a TV show

To the younger crowd, Silicon Valley is mostly known for hosting the headquarters of Apple, Facebook and Google, but we all know it’s called Silicon Valley because of the many leading semiconductor companies that started their business there. Since I work for a semiconductor company, I travel to the San Francisco Bay area about once a month to visit customers, partners and conferences.

This time my Silicon Valley experience already started on the plane. My routine is usually the same: after working for a few hours on my laptop, I watch some TV. Looking through the options on the entertainment system, I noticed there were a couple of episodes from a series called Silicon Valley available. Seemed like something I should watch – and I was not disappointed. The show is about a startup working on video compression, which I’ve coincidentally been working on for the past decade and a half. In addition, the series makes good-natured fun of everything that Silicon Valley is.

Parody aside, there’s no denying the region is extremely successful. Company valuations, salaries and real estate are all sky-high there. But why? Are its people smarter? Not at all. Do they work harder? I don’t think so. Are the educational system and the universities there so much better than in the rest of the world? Not really. So what’s the secret recipe? Back home, I re-watch some of Silicon Valley’s funniest moments – and I find some answers.

First, the show highlights the importance of bringing the right people together. Networking, hiring talent and cultural diversity: they’re all regular topics on the show. Star programmers are seen as heroes, for example, like football players in Europe. The show’s software engineers even resort to doping, taking ADHD medication to increase their ability to focus. Access to talent is often quoted as one of Silicon Valley’s key strengths, but talent is available anywhere. It’s just that tech talent is valued very highly in Silicon Valley, and compensated royally. Kids there don’t want to become the next Messi; they want to be the next Zuckerberg. This creates an environment that brings out people’s technical best.

Another recurring topic on the show is money. Money functions as a huge accelerator in Silicon Valley. Starting a new company? The most influential VCs and corporate funds are just a short ride away. Not ready for VCs? Angel investors seem to be lurking on every street corner. Google received a one hundred thousand dollar check from Bechtolsheim even before it incorporated, for example. To convince investors, you’d better present an idea that can scale to a billion-dollar company within a few years. When every business starts with the goal of making it big, some of them are bound to actually make it. And that means funding is only available to companies with sky-high ambitions. In Silicon Valley, there’s very little room for companies that just do well enough.

Once your company shows the first signs of rapid growth, VCs will quickly steer you toward an exit. Again you hop into your car, and within minutes you can meet with executives at companies that have the means, and are willing to take the risk, to make acquisitions at very steep valuations. The VCs fill their pockets again, and the circle is complete. In Silicon Valley you can raise money locally, attract talent locally, and exit locally. This cycle is like a flywheel that spins faster with every successful exit. Access to money is the key reason Silicon Valley does so well, and the show skewers the topic deliciously – and often.

So here’s my tip: get a month of HBO and gorge yourself on Silicon Valley. Watching the show’s craziest moments is more than just entertaining; there’s plenty to be learned there about what makes tech startups and tech regions tick. I can’t wait for the next season to start.

This article was previously published in the Bits and Chips magazine.

Appsterdam talk “Chips: The Engine Beneath Your Apps”

Today during lunch, I gave a talk at Appsterdam where I spoke about what’s inside your phone. We start with an overview of the semiconductor industry, and take a deeper look at what makes your phone do all the things it can do: the chips inside.  I made the slides available through slideshare, and Erik Romijn did a quick writeup which you can find on his website.

Rain Man

[after Ray spills a box of toothpicks on the floor]

Raymond: 82, 82, 82.
Charlie: 82 what?
Raymond: Toothpicks.
Charlie: There’s a lot more than 82 toothpicks, Ray.
Raymond: 246 total.
Charlie: How many?
Sally Dibbs: 250.
Charlie: Pretty close.
Sally Dibbs: There’s four left in the box.

The idea behind this famous Rain Man scene actually comes from the true story “The Twins,” told in the fascinating book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by British neurologist and author Oliver Sacks. In that story, a box with 111 matches falls on the floor, and the twins instantly notice that what they’re seeing in front of them is three times the prime number 37. Sacks confirms the number by counting the matches by hand. In the movie, the directors probably wanted to leave out the counting from the scene, and solved this by leaving a few toothpicks in the unused box. Unfortunately, they missed the fact that the twins were primarily interested in prime numbers, which clearly 82 and 246 are not.

For all those software and hardware developers who can’t recognize multiples of prime numbers in a pile of matches at the blink of an eye, there are models, which operate at higher levels of abstraction. Abstraction, you see, is a wonderful weapon against complexity.

These days, even small software and hardware systems consist of millions of lines of code. In my pocket, I typically carry about 30 million lines of code, by means of an Android phone. On my desk there’s a PC, which includes roughly 50 million lines of code as part of Windows, and another 50 million lines of code by means of an Ubuntu installation that runs under a virtual machine. That’s just the base configuration. I’m not counting any of the applications that run on top of this machine. I’m not counting all the code that’s just a split second away from my fingers, by means of running a Google search.

But complexity doesn’t necessarily scale with the number of lines of code. It can be incredibly difficult to find a bug in a snippet of code that’s only 20 lines. Now image trying to find a bug in 100 million+ lines of code. Or being assigned to optimize an application that consists of 1 million lines of code.

One remedy to control such huge complexity is to split the system into modules, and to keep the code within each module as simple, readable, and understandable as possible. Another remedy is, for those sections of the design that allow it, to raise them to a higher level of abstraction. The nice thing about hardware and software is that these  high-level models can be automatically translated to an implementation. And, since this translation is fully automated and follows rules that are proven to be correct, the implementation is often guaranteed to be accurate to the model.

Using a model, one can briefly describe what is otherwise too longwinded or complex when stated using a programming language. This keeps the complexity manageable for the designer. As the complexity of systems increases, the use of models should also increase. We’re not all Rain Man, after all, who always sees the trees for the forest.

This item was previously published in the Dutch magazine Bits&Chips, in their model-based-design issue. Thanks for translating Dutch-American Translations.

Five similarities between Lego and Apple

The other day it was my youngest child’s 5th birthday. I was very happy that his big wish was to get a lot of Lego. I have fond memories of building stuff out of these little bricks, and I believe it stimulates creativity and problem solving. So we spent a few hours putting the models together, which is when it struck me how similar Lego is to Apple. Here are five traits that stood out to me.

1. Quality is everything

Lego’s motto is “det bedste er ikke for godt” which means roughly “only the best is the best,” or more literally “the best is never too good.” Ole Kirk Christiansen, Lego’s founder,  encouraged his employees never to skimp on quality, a value he believed in strongly. Steve Jobs said, “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” Just like Lego, Apple is known for its high-quality products, especially from a design and mechanical perspective.

2. The unboxing experience counts

The unpacking is important. Do you know any other toy makers that clearly number their bags in the order you need to put the model together? In addition, the plastic bags that contain the bricks can easily be ripped and have a high-quality feel to them. The booklets are extremely clear in their instructions and the drawings couldn’t be better. Before Apple, retail packaging of consumer electronics was often a simple cardboard box simply there to protect the device, and sometimes had a sheet of clear plastic so that you could see the product inside. I’m sure you’ve all unboxed an Apple device before; the way they pack and wrap things raised the bar for everyone in consumer electronics.

3. The more you have, the greater the value

iTunes, iCloud, FaceTime, Airplay, iPad, iPhone, Mac: all of Apple’s products tie into each other. Once you have acquired your first Apple device, you’re likely to buy another. And once you have two devices, it makes a lot more sense to buy another one. Once you’re in their ecosystem, it’s hard to get out. Everything locks into each other; the more you have, the more valuable the products become. This is exactly what Lego does. When you have one box, you can build a couple of models, but after you’ve bought another box, you can combine the parts and build new things that weren’t possible before. Lego thought about this right from the beginning. Rule 8 from their Guide to Success is “The more Lego, the greater the value.”

4. Theme parks enhance the brand

The Apple stores are basically Apple’s theme parks. The interior design is amazing, the layouts are excellent, and the stores aren’t cluttered by displaying too many products. And although Apple is trying to sell its products, it’s just fine with customers coming in to look around and play. In contrast to other retail stores, Apple doesn’t have to be afraid you’ll go home and order online at a lower price. Lego has seven theme parks, and three more are under construction. And even though they mainly focus on rides, everything seems to be made out of Lego, and they all include large Lego stores.

5. Ship a lot of product

This focus on quality, user experience, and the ecosystem has resulted in corporate success. The Lego Group estimates that in the course of five decades it has produced some 400 billion Lego blocks. Production runs at 1140 bricks per second. According to an article in BusinessWeek, Lego could be considered the world’s no. 1 tire manufacturer; they produce 306 million tiny rubber tires a year. Barefigure.es has excellent graphs on Apple volumes. In 2012, Apple shipped 218M iOS devices, and in January 2013, Apple announced that there have been over 40 billion apps downloaded from their App Store.

There you have it. Lego and Apple. Two stories of great execution, with a lot of similarities. Two companies that have changed the world and turned it into a better place. Mostly.

Valve & Facebook’s unique corporate culture (and they’re making >$1M revenue per employee with it)

Here are two great reads on corporate culture at two companies that are making well over $1M revenue per employee. And since they’re both in the software business, with very little to no production cost, and close to 100% margins, that’s a nice revenue number per employee to have.

Inside Facebook’s Internal Innovation Culture

Valve’s handbook for new employees

Besides their very flat corporate structure, the following two similarities stood out to me:

1. Learn by making

Facebook:

We’re very much a build and prototype culture. Ideas presented on slides just don’t “stick.” It can be hard to judge something if you’re not part of the process of making it.

Valve:

Everyone is a designer. Everyone can question each other’s work. Anyone can recruit someone onto his or her project. Everyone has to function as a “strategist,” which really means figuring out how to do what’s right for our customers. We all engage in analysis, measurement, predictions, evaluations.

The Lean Startup approach is similar, where the first step is to figure out the problem that needs to be solved and then develop a minimum viable product (MVP) to begin the process of learning as quickly as possible.

2. Move around

Facebook:

Teams at Facebook often physically move around their desks and furniture to focus on hatching fresh ideas by joining new groups. The new office space we’re building will have moveable walls and furniture so workers can feel nimble and ready to switch gears, building on the current Facebook practice of reconfiguring desks and chairs.

Valve:

You’ll notice people moving frequently; often whole teams will move their desks to be closer to each other. There is no organizational structure keeping you from being in close proximity to the people who you’d help or be helped by most.

And that just makes a lot of sense.

Marco’s Mobile World Congress 2013 trip report

Last week I again attended the largest mobile show of the year, Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress. Each year, it’s the show I look forward to most, since it’s a great time to catch up with old friends and colleagues who fly in from Europe, the US, and Asia. In addition, the mobile industry is interesting because it’s clearly leading the whole consumer electronics world, and even making a big impact on society and culture in general. Finally, I like the show because it’s in Barcelona, which is a great city altogether, albeit pretty cold this year (5-10C or 40-50F). If you’re ever in Barcelona, make sure you see the roof of the prettiest church in the world. My four-year-old asked if he could just lie on the floor and stare at it while we were there last summer.

About the new venue

Instead of being held at the Fira Montjuic, where MWC was from 2007-2012, it was held this year at the Fira Gran Via, about 4km away from its previous location.

The old venue, especially at night, had lots of charm:

Fira Montjuic MWC

While the new venue lost most of the charm, it doubled the floor space.

mwc fira gran via

What I liked about the new venue:

  • Floor space has become cheaper. Most of the stands (CEVA, Tensilica, Imagination Tech, etc.) were about 1.5x bigger than last year’s. I don’t think their marketing budgets grew by 50%, so the price per square meter must have dropped considerably. I asked several people, but no one could tell me. The big companies (Samsung, Sony, etc.) had even much bigger booths than last year, perhaps 2-3x the size. Small booths should also be cheaper than before. For a small stand at a shared country booth, I heard prices of €1200-2000, which isn’t too bad. The drop in pricing means exhibitors can show more for the same money, so there’s more to see.
  • There are many areas where you can sit down for a coffee or simple lunch. Most of these areas are outside (they call them gardens), are quickly accessible, and had a nice feel to them.
  • Once you get the hang of the layout, you can find things pretty quickly. There’s a central axis throughout the venue, with airport-like walkways, and even though the venue is twice the size, it doesn’t take much longer to get from hall to hall.
  • The entrance is bigger, with many more counters, so it’s much quicker to get into the venue. Hardly any waiting at the door.
  • They had more people on staff outside the venue, in the subway stations, directing you toward shuttle buses, metro stations, trains, etc.
  • Everyone gets a free subway and train pass. No need to worry about public transit tickets.

What I didn’t like so much:

  • The location is less convenient to reach from most hotels. It’s easier to get to the venue from the airport, since they had a shuttle bus that was free, ran often (or maybe I was lucky) and was pretty quick. But from your hotel room in the city, it’s most likely a metro ride and then a train. The trains run often and were a bit full, but it was still pretty quick to get to the venue for me, around 30 minutes, and I stayed close to the famous La Rambla in downtown Barcelona.
  • They need more cloakrooms. While I was able to store my stuff, the lines were sometimes long, and some cloakrooms were full. With a bit of shelving, the cloakrooms should be able to hold twice as much.
  • Wifi access was supposedly better than before, and I got a signal a few times, but pretty much everyone I spoke to had trouble connecting. Wifi still doesn’t scale well for these types of events, unfortunately. It’s ironic that at the biggest mobile wireless show of the year, they can’t get wireless right.
  • The booth numbering inside the halls was pretty bad. You’d expect a chessboard-like A-Z/1-100 naming scheme, but at MWC the letter-number combinations were all over the place.
  • Some of the character of the old venue is gone. The fountains, the view of the palace, the cobblestones, and the meeting rooms that are mostly stowed away in the tower are gone.

Major trends at the show
Maybe I missed it, but there weren’t many big announcements that everyone spoke about. Apple hasn’t attended Mobile World Congress for years, although rumor has it there are quite a few Apple employees on the show floor. Samsung had a huge presence, but just like Apple, they’ll announce their new flagship model at a separate event, this year on March 14. Most of the announcements centered around faster, smaller, bigger, and more of this or that, which isn’t really revolutionary. Here’s a quick video overview from the MWC organization that gives a nice impression of the atmosphere at the conference.

Nevertheless, here are some of the trends I saw:

Hooking up the next billion people

One big focus was on hooking up “the next billion people” to the Internet through low-cost smartphones. There are still a few billion people who don’t have access to the Internet or a phone. Firefox OS targets this space with a lightweight, very open OS that has been picked up by several low-cost models. Nokia presented the very lightweight 301 mobile smartphone. Retailing at €65, it targets people in developing countries and gives them access to a browser, e-mail, Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. Deloitte found a direct impact from phone and Internet availability on GDP growth, so this is a very good thing. Everyone in the world should have access to the Internet.

Waterproof phones

Waterproofing simply makes a lot of sense to me. Sony did it in 1984 with the first waterproof Walkman cassette player, and now they’re doing it again with their Xperia Z phone. Plaxo’s study found that nearly 20% of us drop our phones into the toilet. Quite a few more folks find their phones in the washing machine, I’m sure. Waterproofing helps there. In addition, I’m looking forward to reading news on my phone in the shower. Watches have pretty much all become waterproof; let’s do the same for phones.

Full HD displays

It’s been only two years since Apple’s iPhone 4 introduced the retina display to the world. At 960×640 resolution, the iPhone 4 has less than 30% of the pixels of the 1920×1080 phones that Asus, Sony, HTC, LG and ZTE announced, so we’ve come a long way in two years. Even the iPhone 5 at 1136×640 only has about 35% of the pixels of Full HD. It’s only been a couple of years since I traded in my 1366×768 pixel TV to a 1920×1080 Full HD one. And since I’m on a standard cable TV package, I can’t even watch Full HD resolution content on my TV. Soon I will be able to on my phone. It’s another example of how the mobile industry is pushing the whole consumer electronics industry forward.

Computer vision and imaging

At least two hardware companies (CEVA and Tensilica) and a bunch of software companies were showing their computer vision processors and techniques for mobile applications. I’m a firm believer in computer vision, and in the next decade it will turn our mobile phones into extremely powerful information devices. Just point the phone’s camera at an object, and the phone will start showing more info. Think Siri for the camera, or Google Analytics for video. Contact me if you’d like to talk about this; I’m quite involved with this technology and would be very interested to discuss and explore further.

Operator commoditization

For many years, mobile operators made their money on voice, text messages, financing your phone, and data services. Since voice and text messaging are quickly going away as a source of income thanks to WhatsApp, Skype, Google+, e-mail, etc., the operators are afraid they’re turning into commoditized dumb-data-pipe providers. As a result, they’re trying to control the experience of the phone much more, and they’re all trying to find new revenue sources. They’re scrambling. One example is Vodafone, Telefónica and Telecom Italia’s urge for regulators to allow consolidation in the industry. “Mobile operators in most markets are suffering from too much competition.” I don’t think competition is the problem; commoditization is.

Wrapping up

Another novelty is that getting a room through Airbnb instead of at a hotel is gaining traction. Using Airbnb, it was easy to find an affordable apartment (€60/night) in a pretty central location (close to La Rambla). A friend of mine even paid €25/night and was happy with the room. Hotel rooms on average ran €250-300/night. Sure, it’s a bit of a gamble, but I’ve found Airbnb to be a good alternative to hotels.

The MWC Android app was pretty horrible. In order to get a map of the show floor with its exhibitors, you needed to be online, which means mobile phone costs.

That wraps up my show report. It was great to catch up with you all, and we’ll see you again next year. I’ll be there for sure.

Mobile phones hit 3GHz

I’m very happy with my Macbook Air. It’s fast, small, stable, and looks great. The processor inside is a 1.8GHz Intel Core i5. Now, I’m of the generation that still vividly remembers replacing a 4MHz Intel 8086 with an 8MHz equivalent NEC part, so 1.8GHz is fast. I know, clock speed isn’t everything, and it’s just as important how much work the processor does per clock tick, but still. It’s similar with cars. The power-to-weight ratio says more about performance than the number of horses under the hood. But everyone still wants to know how many horses are there, and it says a lot about the performance of the car.

And now ST-Ericsson tells the world that they’ll be showing their latest mobile phone processor at the Mobile World Congress next week running at 3GHz. That’s quite a bit faster than my laptop! And it’s got a quadcore processor inside. And an LTE modem! And it’s a part that will spend most of it’s life inside the pockets of my pants running off a small battery. I’ve been saying it for quite some time, mobile phones are more powerful than laptops. Some things my mobile phone has that my laptop doesn’t: a high-quality camera, 2 actually, an always-on data connection, and GPS navigation.

ST-Ericsson has been struggling over the last few years, are they back now?

 

Mobile World Congress 2013

It’s that time of the year again, only a couple of weeks to go until the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona kicks off. I’ll be meeting many of my friends and old colleagues there, it will be great to catch up with everyone.

Some of the things I’m looking forward to:

  • Last year Nokia introduced their 41Mpixel camera phone. What’s new in camera land this year?
  • Huawei about doubled their presence each year, what did they do this time?
  • The Dutch Mobile Networking Event – the Dutch party to be at, run by Caroline Spek
  • What’s new in accessories? Will we see new wrist accessories? What’s next, a bluetooth ring?
  • How many new phones will be waterproof like Sony’s?
  • What’s up with the latest displays? Can we bend them? Will we go higher than full HD for mobile? Anything new that lowers the power consumption or increases the quality?
  • Is anyone able to challenge ARM? They’re pretty much a monopolist in mobile.
  • Will Imagination Tech position their recently acquired MIPS products for mobile?
  • How is mobile app development evolving?

Looking forward to see you there. Please don’t hesitate to contact me in case you’d like to meet.

 

 

File this under “neat ideas”: a single faucet that wets and dries your hands.

“Vacuum cleaning: fun!” I tell my youngest. He’s happy to try, and he likes it for a while, but not for very long. That’s about as far as I get with vacuuming and vacuum brands. But Dyson,  which I only knew for its bagless machines, has now dreamt up something that I think is simply cool. They’ve built a faucet that not only wets your hands, but also dries them! Dyson integrated an air blower right into the faucet. They’ll show up at airports in New York, Miami and Seattle first. Now Quooker and Dyson, please team up and build a faucet that spews boiling, hot, cold and  warm water, and dries your hands.

They’ve done it again: video files again lost half their weight.

Some of you probably remember video discs (which used MPEG-1/H.261 for video compression), then there were DVDs (MPEG-2/H.262), then Blu-rays (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264). Between DVD and Blu-ray there was another video coding standard, the original MPEG-4, which didn’t make it onto optical discs, but was used quite a bit also. Each time, a bag of new algorithmic tricks meant that the video could be compressed twice as much.

Loosing weight is hard. In video compression, it’s quite the same. Just when you thought video can’t be compressed any further, there’s a new standard that’s done it again: HEVC compresses video at twice the rate of the preceeding standard. This means double the hours of video that can be stored on your disc, drive, stick or card. Double the number of channels broadcast over the air. Or half the download time. Or half the data usage on your phone plan. We’re clearly in anorexic territory here, and for once, I like it.

 

Super cameras out of a spray can

Researchers from the Technische Universität München have developed a new generation of image sensors that are 3x more sensitive to light than the conventional CMOS versions, with the added bonus of being simple and cheap to produce. These sensors can be manufactured without the expensive post-processing step typically required for CMOS sensors, which involves for example applying micro-lenses to increase the amount of captured light. Instead, every part of every single pixel, including the electronics, is sprayed with a liquid polymer solution, giving a surface that is 100 percent light-sensitive. Changing the chemical compound turns the sensor into an infrared sensor for night vision.

In short, better and cheaper cameras that also work at night. Me want.

Read the full story

Internet numbers, numbers and trends

This is an excellent “State of the Internet” type of overview by Mary Meeker from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Some highlights:

  • iPad growth was 3x iPhone growth in the first 10 months after market introduction
  • Android adoption is 6x iPhone adoption rate
  • Only 20% of mobile phone users use Internet-enabled phones, still a lot of growth to go
  • Mobile Internet traffic is now 13% of all traffic. In India, there’s more mobile than desktop traffic
  • After 244, Encyclopedia Britannica went out of print in 2012
  • From asset-heavy to asset-light: Hotels to Airbnb, CDs to Spotify, and FTEs to Freelance
  • USA household debt about doubled in 10 years

Coolest iPad external keyboard.

I’ve found it! Here’s a video of the coolest external keyboard for the iPad in action.

Great job Austin Yang.

Growth in MEMS microphones, bringing HD voice to phones

Akustica/Bosch announce new MEMS-based microphones for mobiles and tablets that bring HD voice capabilities.

According to Jérémie Bouchaud, director and principal analyst for MEMS &
Sensors at IHS, the worldwide MEMS microphone market is expected to grow
to more than 4 billion units by 2016, as compared to the 700 million shipped
in 2010. The reason, he said, is that the number of microphones used in each
smartphone has already gone from one to two and in some cases even three —
a number that may continue to grow while mobile device manufacturers use
sound input quality as a differentiating feature.

Retailers watching customers with eye socket cameras

Interesting article at Fast Company

As if store mannequins weren’t creepy enough already, shops like Benetton are peppering their storefronts and shop floors with dummies that have a camera embedded in a single eye socket, that will watch while you shop.

They’re at eye level, and customers tend to pay attention to them more.

I’m used to exactly the opposite: showing off the security cameras to deter shoplifting. The eye socket cameras are much more tricky, and are a clear step toward a future where cameras are embedded into many objects around us. Be prepared to be watched.

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Intel acquires ZiiLabs from Creative Technology for $50M

From bit-tech:

Creative Technology, best known for its audio-related products, has announced the sale of a chunk of its ZiiLabs subsidiary to Intel – bringing the latter company’s decision to abandon its partnership with Imagination Technology and its PowerVR GPUs into sharp focus. The deal is split across the two product areas: the UK engineering resources of ZiiLabs are being purchased for $30 million, while Creative’s GPU technology is being licensed – not purchased – for $20 million.

Mobile networks are missing out on $1 trillion market

Very interesting article over at Quartz. Here’s an excerpt:

Mobile money has an estimated potential worldwide revenue of $1 trillion within the next three years, and has become the “it” technology of the moment. The ability to send and receive money through cell phones simplifies the transaction process and offers customers both mobility and flexibility in managing their money.

Samsung’s 4+4 core mobile SOC

From the EETimes article:

Samsung will describe the first mobile applications processor to use ARM´s big.little concept at ISSCC in February. [...] Samsung will detail a 28-nm SoC with two quad-core clusters. One cluster runs at 1. 8 GHz, has a 2 MByte L2 cache and is geared for high performance apps; the other runs at 1.2 GHz and is tuned for energy efficiency.

Intel’s CEO to retire

From Intel’s press release:

Intel, under Otellini´s leadership, achieved notable successes in areas of strategic importance. During this period, the company:

We´re no Rain Man

[after Ray spills a box of toothpicks on the floor]
Raymond: 82, 82, 82.
Charlie: 82 what?
Raymond: Toothpicks.
Charlie: There’s a lot more than 82 toothpicks, Ray.
Raymond: 246 total.
Charlie: How many?

Ten luminary quotes on parallel programming

Over the past few months I´ve read lots of great articles on multicore software development. In this blog I share a list of my top 10 favorite quotes.

 ”For over a decade prophets have voiced the contention that the organization of a single computer has reached its limits and that truly significant advances can be made only by interconnection of a multiplicity of computers.” Gene Amdahl in 1967.

Nobel Pixels

This year’s Nobel prize for Physics was awarded to Kao, Boyle and Smith. According to the press release, Boyle and Smith “invented the first successful imaging technology using a digital sensor, a CCD“. We’ve all used digital cameras that include such sensors I’m sure, so indeed this was a major achieved. Interestingly, there’s a bit of controversy to this award, as there often seems to be.

Touchy 3D UI pixels

Apple’s commercial success of their touch interface has spawned a bunch of companies doing their best to top the Apple’s Touch experience. Here’s a notable one, which can actually be installed on a Windows machine, given you have a correctly enabled touch panel.


Will the mouse really go away?

One mm thick pixels

Microsoft’s new media player the Zune HD has many new cool features: an all you can eat music license, a touch UI, 720p video and an HD radio. Coolest thing though is the OLED display. This teardown shows it’s a mere 1mm thick. That’s about what your hair grows in two and a half days.

Unlit pixels: Sony’s new OLED walkman

Sony released a new Walkman with an OLED touch screen. OLEDs don’t have a back light, so this player should last a lot longer than players with back-lit LCDs. LCDs typically consume half of the energy of a portable device.

Panoramic pixels


Out of the blue, my friend Jonah sent me this picture taken from a kite.

1. It’s a beautiful picture, taken on a beautiful island, on a beautiful day, at high tide.
2. I spent two summers in the home “De Wokkel” in this picture. Now a few years later a friend of mine who lives a continent away sends me a great aerial photo of the place. Does chance exist?
3. This very sharp picture is taken from a kite, apparently something very hard to do. Were any special techniques like super resolution used? Will we see image stabilization and super resolution techniques become standard features on our cameras soon?
4. There’s an interactive panoramic version of this photo available from the author here. It takes a while to load but it’s worth the wait.
5. Bonus points if you spot a car in this picture. Visitors can’t bring their cars to the Schiermonnikoog island, and most of the locals don’t have one either.

Mirrory pixels

IMEC just announced a new 11 megapixel CMOS-manufactured micro mirror array. Texas Instruments is quite successful with its DLP micro mirrors frequently used in projectors. IMEC now claims twice the pixel density of competing technologies.

Yet another pixel post-processing acquisition

Sigma Designs acquires Gennum, ST acquires Genesis, Zoran acquires Let It Wave and now IDT acquires Silicon Optix. Silicon Optix was another company that focused on developing the highest quality video format converters. This acquisition is a bit different from the others since IDT doesn’t have any digital media application processors for set top boxes or Blu-ray players that need integrated post-processing functionality. Instead, IDT is likely to get synergy out of this acquisition by combining the post-processing products with their mixed signal consumer video products.

Parallel painty pixels

Every engineer loves Adam and Jamie from the Mythbusters, and now we video engineering guys have a reason to love them even more. Here’s a clip showing a display Adam and Jamie built that uses 1100 paintball guns to draw a reproduction of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa with a refresh rate of 80ms. They only refresh once, though.

Audio-focused pixels

Liquid lenses have been around for some time. Varioptic applies a voltage to a lens made of water and oil to change the optical properties and achieve focus or zoom. The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute created a new optical system using a liquid lens and a small speaker. Instead of applying a voltage, they apply sound to move the water droplets to achieve a focusing effect.

Varioptic hasn’t really made an impact on the camera module market yet. Will Rensselaer’s technique finally bring liquid lenses into mass production?

Another pixel post-processing company acquired

Some time ago I wrote about post-processing companies being acquired by larger multimedia companies such that they can address the whole video pipeline, from image capture to display. It’s a bit late, but for completeness sake I should really mention that another post-processing company was bought by a bigger multimedia company: Zoran buys Letitwave for $27M. Let it wave had Prof. Stephane Mallat on its staff, a world renowned expert on using wavelets for signal processing.

Watery pixels

In Canal City, a big mall in Japan, they built a cool new display that drops water in such a pattern that it displays images.

We’ve now seen wooden pixels, ping pong pixels and watery pixels here. What’s next?

3D pixels

3d display from Seiko Epson:
http://techon.nikkeibp.co.jp/english/NEWS_EN/20080806/156118/

L.A. lab forms 3DTV group
http://eetimes.eu/consumer/209904332;jsessionid=5QPFYPI0HM0WQQSNDLPSKHSCJUNN2JVN

Philips 3D solutions sells 3D screens since 2005

New Epson LCD technology: 3D without glasses?
Epson says it has developed a new high resolution 3D LCD display which offers extra freedom for viewing, including not needing special glasses to enjoy applications like movies and games. There is no word yet on when this prototype will actually make its way to retail shelves.

Big and expensive pixels

Today I was at the popular Mediamarkt electronics store in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, where I saw the “largest TV in the world”; a Panasonic 103 inch plasma display. That’s well over 2.5 meters diagonal for us metric-centric people. It’s got 1920×1080 spatial resolution with 12-bit per color channel resolution. The price tag was also quite hefty at 79,999 Euros ($120,000 dollars). For such an amount you can buy 200 22″ flat screen TVs instead. If my math serves me right, that makes for a 580 inch (14.4 meter) diagonal TV. Quite a bit bigger and with a much higher spatial resolution.

I was surprised that the display didn’t look more grainy though, even when standing relatively close by. In displays the Megapixel race doesn’t follow the same pace as in the image sensor world. Still, with such large screen sizes, will we soon need to capture, store and transmit video with bigger than 1920×1080 resolutions?

Direct pixel manipulation

The below video shows a new intuitive and simple way of browsing through video material. Instead of browsing through time, by dragging the scrollbar or time bar, you can simply drag objects in the video. The video says it all. Funny side note: first author of the publication is Pierre Dragicevic. More videos and information here. You can even download their free “DimP” player.

Scalable pixel product

I’ve spotted the first real SVC product announcement. At NAB, MainConcept, a DivX daughter, presented their SVC implementation. SVC is the new video coding extension to H.264 that doesn’t bring higher coding efficiency, but actually worsens it. I wrote about it earlier. The big benefit though is that you can decode parts of the bit stream in case you only need a smaller resolution picture. MainConcept writes “creating an SVC file only causes an approximate 10% file size increase compared to a regular H.264/AVC file”.

10% is a lot in video compression.

Cloaking device

http://techon.nikkeibp.co.jp/english/NEWS_EN/20080418/150685/

Thin pixel machinery

In a recent post I briefly wrote about Sony’s new OLED display. One of the main hindrances of market adoption of this technology is cost. But now DuPont and Dainippon have announced they’re working together to develop equipment specifically to manufacture OLED displays. The plan is to make machines that basically print the display, using techniques similar to ink jet printers. The ultimate goal is for the OLED displays to achieve LCD price points. My prediction is that within 10 years OLED will have displaced LCD.

Shiny pixel fab being built

A little while ago I reported about the new IMOD display technology from Qualcomm, which should yield high quality displays that consume very low power. I saw the displays in action at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, but was unimpressed. The displays shown there were small, and perhaps similar to the LCDs that displayed the time on my watch about 30 years ago. Very few graphics and no moving pictures were shown. Still, LCDs have come a long way since the seventies, so perhaps the new IMOD displays will have a bright (no pun intended) future also.

What’s the next step? High volume, low cost production facilities. Yesterday Qualcomm and Foxlink announced just that. They will jointly build a new dedicated IMOD fab in — where else — Taiwan. The fab is expected to be operational in 2009. There’s no mention of how many units the fab can produce.

Can Qualcomm, the CDMA wireless communications company, be successful at entering such a new market? Will IMOD take off?

Sensitive pixels

Rohm and AIST in Japan announced a new type of image sensor that they claim provides 100x the light sensitivity of typical CCD or CMOS sensors.

Thin pixels

Sony Mobile Display showed a 0.2mm-thick 3.5inch OLED display the other day in Tokyo. The resolution is 320×220, and since it is OLED I expect the picture quality to be quite striking. In contrast to LCD, OLED doesn’t need a backlight, which means it looks like color-printed paper and is very readable in sunlight.

Lossy versus lossless pixels

The other day my dad — who speaks English okay — thought “lossless” meant “loose less”. That’s what prompted me to write this entry. There are two different ways of compressing video (and this holds for audio too). Lossless and lossy.

When compressing a video sequence with a lossy method, then decompressing it again, the decompressed images will be close to the original, but not quite the same. Even when using a low compression factor, where the decompressed images can’t be distinguished from the original simply by looking at them, there is a difference, which can be computed. Almost all of the video compression methods we use today use such a lossy method, where the least important image data is thrown away.

In the lossless case there’s no data lost. The compressed/decompressed images are exactly the same as the original. There’s a big penalty though: lossless compression methods don’t compress very well. The resulting files take up much more space or bandwidth. Lossless image or video compression methods are still used though, for instance in the medical field, and when storing fingerprint information.

Very very small pixels

Researchers at Stanford University are developing a multi-aperture image sensor which groups arrays of 16×16 pixels, then puts a tiny lens on each group. Their 3Mpixel image sensor in this way includes a total of 12,616 lenses, compared to a shabby single lens commonly found in cameras. The benefits are plentiful. The simpler electronic design means the pixels can be 0.7um, much smaller than Kodak’s 1.4um pixels that I posted about earlier. Camera modules incorporating this technique can be made even smaller, cheaper, more robust, and, most importantly, grab better pictures. Instead of taking a single snapshot, the camera actually takes 12,616 pictures, which can be combined with digital image processing techniques to capture 3D image data, to accurately control depth of field, focus, etc. With enough image processing power available in the camera, this opens up a whole world of new possibilities.

A high level overview of the work can be found here and their technical ISSCC paper can be found here.

Pixels better than real life?

According to this survey by Motorola, Americans would rather watch the Superbowl on an HDTV than in person. “The survey results really speak to the popularity of high-definition programming,” said Doug Means from Motorola.

That’s a lame study and a lame statement. The results of the survey don’t say anything about the quality of HD video and how close it gets to being there. Yes, quite a few people would rather sit in their homes than take a plane and sit on a plastic seat for hours watching the game. Yes, a big screen TV presents a much better picture than an old Philco Predicta. But no, nothing compares to being there. And I can say that without having ever been to a superbowl game.

Pixel compression over time

Here’s an interesting graph from Harmonic that I sometimes use in presentations. I often misplace it, so I figured I’d stick it here on this blog. That way I can always find it. The graph shows that video compressors are not all the same. They can be improved over time. This is an important fact for chip makers, since developing a complex chip these days often takes well over a year, and is then sold in the market for a year or so after. The longer you can keep your chip in the market, the more you will sell! If your chip includes a software programmable video subsystem, you can still take advantage of algorithmic improvements, just like Harmonic did, and deliver better video quality.

Very small pixels

A few weeks ago, Kodak announced their new 5Mpixel image sensor at the Mobile World Congress. The sensor has a 1.4 micron pixel size (1.4 by 1.4 micron) which means the sensor can fit in a 4x4mm camera module. That is about the size of a regular black ant. I am sure a bigger ant could carry such a camera. The Kodak sensor has some novelties. There is a new color filter pattern, which includes a “white” photocell receptor instead of just measuring the amount of red, green and blue. That will require quite some changes to the image processing algorithms. Another novelty is that the sensor measures darkness instead of light. Apparently that can be more accurately implemented in silicon. Like most new sensor introductions, Kodak promises higher quality images than anyone else.

Micron just announced that it spun its image sensor business out into a new company called Aptina. The business will be run by Micron’s Bob Gove, who was previously at VLIW processor company Equator. Micron says they have already sampled an even smaller 1.2 micron pixel, which in the same 4x4mm tiny camera module would yield a 7Mpixel sensor.

$/pixel

$/pixel article in Taiwanese magazine

Indexed pixels

http://sync.nl/philips-ingenieur-maakt-video-indexeerbaar/

Pixel etymology

Did you know the word pixel is derived from “picture element”? Here’s a long video that details a search for the history of the pixel, by Richard Lyon. Lots of well known names in the field of video and graphics are mentioned. To skip over the introduction go to 2:20.

Perfect pixel patent

As early as 1929, Ray Davis Kell described a form of video compression and was granted a patent for it. He wrote, “It has been customary in the past to transmit successive complete images of the transmitted picture. [...] In accordance with this invention, this difficulty is avoided by transmitting only the difference between successive images of the object.” Although it would be many years before this technique would actually be used in practice, it is still a cornerstone of many video compression standards today. It’s the reason why video using MPEG can be compressed roughly a factor of 10 better than JPEG-compressed still images.

What technique can provide another magnitude of improvement in video compression?

My prediction is that we need to change focus from optimizing for best peak signal to noise performance to optimizing for psycho-visual perception. I.e. “how good do the compressed images look” instead of looking at minimizing the mathematical difference between the original and compressed imagery.

Pixel resolution

The other day I ran across this very useful resolution chart at Wikipedia:

While not all resolutions I come across are listed (where are QCIF, 176×144, and CIF, 352×288, for instance) and the PAL resolution seems incorrect (they quote 768×576) this is still quite a nice diagram.

Tested pixels

I just ordered a new camera for personal use. It’ll be my first SLR. Most cameras I’ve held, either in the office or at home, I have pointed to this chart to test the camera:


You can get the original from Stephen Westin in pdf here. Simply printing it on any decent laser printer does a pretty good job. If you have an A3 printer, even better. It’s interesting to see that most of today’s camera phones don’t even do a low-pass filter before subsampling on the viewfinder, causing bad aliasing. There’s still lots of room for improvement!

User-generated pixels

Ever heard of a show called Fun TV with Kato-chan and Ken-chan? Me neither. It was quite successful in Japan in the mid 1980s though and featured some of the first user-generated content. Later, ABC’s America’s Funniest Home Videos would follow the same recipe of showing slapstick movies that people captured at home with their camcorders. Fast forward to 2005, the year that YouTube was born based on the same principle, but on the internet. In 2007, less than two years later, YouTube was sold for $1.6 billion dollars to Google. Nowadays, over 9 billion videos are watched online per month in the US alone, and YouTube has about 30% of that market. That’s quite a lot of user-generated pixels, and for sure a number that will keep on growing for quite some time to come.

Wooden pixels

After my posts about sluggy pixels and shiny pixels, I think it’s only fair to mention the wooden pixels developed in 1999 too. Frame rates are quite acceptable, but there’s no color. They even made a wooden mirror out of them. Here’s a video on YouTube.

Display pixels versus capture pixels

One of the artificial questions I’ve been pondering a bit is what we will see more of: pixels that capture light (cameras) or pixels that make up displays? For several years my prediction was that soon we’d see more cameras than displays in the world. The reasoning was that displays are relatively large and made to be seen by a human. Cameras are tiny though and have many uses. Cameras don’t need humans to look at the images captured, they can simply be stored, or analyzed by an algorithm running on a piece of silicon. Since there’s only a little over 6 billion of us to view the screens, soon we’d have more cameras than displays.

Some cell-phones include two cameras, one for video conferencing and one for taking snapshots. These only have one display, which confirmed that I was right. Soon we’ll have more cameras than displays.

Still, the other day I saw a very small digital photo frame which cost only 15 euro and was meant to be worn on a key chain. It could hold 30 photos or so and contained a tiny battery. This caused me to think that the cross over point of having more cameras world-wide than displays is quite far away. We’ll soon have displays on our credit cards, on the outside of our laptops and perhaps even on our clothes.

Do you think we will ever have more cameras than displays?

Pixel compression trends

I recently ran across this Google Trends utility that keeps track of the number of times that certain terms are used on the web. Click on the image to see the trends of MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and H.264, showing that H.264 clearly passed MPEG-4 in 2007.


Any trends in the world of pixels that you’d like to add? Please leave a link to them into the comment section.

Post-processing pixel companies going away?

Recently, two chip makers that focused on post-processing were acquired by bigger companies. Sigma Designs acquires Gennum’s image processing business, and ST acquires Genesis Microchip. The acquiring companies provide single-chip video processing solutions which include such post-processing functionality, but until now their post-processing wasn’t as good as what the smaller focused companies could deliver. The market demands ever increasing picture quality at ever reducing price points, which these acquiring companies are looking to achieve with their acquisitions.

One year ago: analog pixels switched off

It’s been a year since they turned off all over-the-air analog broadcast of TV signals in the Netherlands. I haven’t heard a complaint since. Only about 74,000 households picked up the analog signals before, so that was to be expected. The extra bandwidth that became available unfortunately are now used to transmit encoded signals, which you have to pay KPN a monthly fee for to view. In return for the free over the air bandwidth, KPN built and maintains the digital broadcasting masts and systems. Sounds like a pretty good trade for the KPN to me, and a lousy trade for the government and us tax payers. My guess is that it is this monthly fee that is severely reducing the market introduction of digital portable TV receivers for in the car, mobile phones, etc. Even in the home it’d be handy — when was the last time you pulled a cable through your house?

Do any of you understand why we still have to pay for TV channels transmitted over the air while they contain more than 10 minutes of paid advertising per hour?

Discontinued pixels

In March of 1993 Jim Blinn, perhaps the ultimate pixel guru, wrote an article called “NTSC: Nice Technology, Super Color”. It’s a play on what people often say NTSC means: Never The Same Color. The last few sentences of the article read this: “Current plans call for the FCC to adopt a new high-definition television standard some time this year. The FCC will then strongly encourage all broadcasters to switch over to the new standard as soon as possible. By the year 2007, the FCC wants this conversion to HDTV to be complete. Broadcasters will no longer be allowed to use NTSC. Boo hoo.”. Well, HD is happening, but NTSC is still alive and will be for quite some time to come.

What’s your guess: when will Standard Definition truly die?

Open source pixels

The other day I noticed a menu option on the iPod Touch called “Legal”. Normally, I avoid reading such legal notes, but this time I was curious to see what was mentioned here. Well, a lot was mentioned. It took me 76 “scroll-the-page-down” strokes to reach the bottom of the long list of legal speak. Most interesting fact; more than 3/4 of the notes were open source related! I saw the GPL come by several times for instance.

Anyone dare to estimate how much total effort it took to develop all the software shipped with the iPod Touch, including the effort put into the open source software? Are your SOCs and video subsystems ready to support open source software?

Acquired pixels

Recently, DivX acquired MainConcept for approximately $22M. MainConcept is a developer of mostly PC-based video codecs, which is the business that DivX is in also.

Which video company will be acquired next?

Shiny pixels at Qualcomm

CRT, LCD, TFT, OLED, EPD and DLP are just some of the many acronyms used for the techniques behind displays. There’s an article in the November 2007 issue of Scientific American that presents a new acronym: IMOD. The IMOD displays are based on many small interferometric modulators, which bounce back light at different intensities. They don’t need a backlight, which means power consumption is much lower, ever so important for portable applications. The viewing experience is also greatly enhanced I am sure. The electronic paper displays that I’ve seen don’t use a back-light either and they’re great. They read like paper. The e-ink pixels change intensities too slowly to show video though, while the IMOD technology is very fast. The whole technology reminds me of the, also MEMS-based, DLP from Texas Instruments. Within a few years, that technology quickly became prevalent in projectors, beating out LCD.

With better displays, video coding artefacts will only become more apparent. Is your video subsystem ready to capture and play the highest quality video?

Crummy pixels on my iPod Touch

I recently bought an iPod Touch. The WiFi integration is neat and worked straight out of the box. I now have a pocketable Internet browser, and it even connects directly to YouTube, using the new H.264 codec instead of YouTube’s default and inferior Flash codec that the PC-based website uses.

After playing a few videos something interesting happened. The video codec shows very crude artefacts. See the picture below. I haven’t found many other iPod users on the web complaining yet, but it’s hard to believe I am the only one. Will Apple be able to fix this with a firmware upgrade? If the rumoured Samsung chip at the heart of this device uses a hard-wired video coding subsystem, they likely won’t be able to fix the issue quickly in software. Instead, they will have to respin the chip and people will have to return their devices and get new ones months later. Chip inventory will have to be trashed. A reset fixed the issue for me, but it has shown up again.

Are you an SOC designer that still uses hard-wired video codecs? Can you risk designing an SOC that requires a silicon respin to resolve issues that could have been solved in software if a programmable approach had been chosen?

Scalable pixels

H.264 was standardized quite a while ago in 2003 and brought a “back to basics” compress-video-only approach compared to the feature-laden MPEG-4. So what are the ISO and ITU video standardization gurus working on these days? They’re working on SVC, short for scalable video coding. The goal this time is not to achieve a higher coding gain, but instead to make the bitstream scalable.

In SVC, a same single bitstream can be decoded at different resolutions or frame rates. If you’re watching the stream on your 1080p big screen TV at home you decode all the bits, and in case you want to play the same stream on your mobile phone, just decode those pixels that you need for the small screen. There are many applications for scalable video coding, but I’ve seen the concept many times before and people just don’t use it. JPEG2000 is scalable. MPEG-4 had a few scalable profiles, even MPEG-2 had scalable extensions. None of them are widely used today. Why? Because there’s overhead involved in making a bitstream scalable. A scalable bitstream is larger than a non-scalable one. Also, most system engineers find it simply more practical to just recompress the bitstream for each specific target device. Pixar and Dreamworks even completely re-render their 3D movies dependent on whether it’s for the theater or for a DVD. Compressing the resulting video sequence another time doesn’t seem that much of an extra burden.

Will things be different this time? Will SVC become a prevalent standard?

Sluggy pixels

My brother is an artist. One of his friends made this low-resolution and very-low-frame-rate imaging device. It’s called the PingPongPixel and displays one image every 2.5 hours. That’s about 0.0001 frame per second. Hardly practical, but still pretty nifty. Each pixel is represented by a ping-pong ball, which come in 6 shades of gray.

Anybody know of a display device with an even lower refresh rate?