video

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.

 

 

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.

 

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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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 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.

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.

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?