Technologies for 2019

From Quad HD to DiiVA to gesture technology, here’s what to keep an eye on over the next five to 10 years. Tim Kridel reports on things to come.

Ten years ago, High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) wasn’t even an idea. Today, the technology has an installed base of about 600 million devices, according to HMDI Licensing. Another 394 million will ship this year alone, predicts In-Stat, a research firm.

The moral of the story: The only thing that moves faster than time is technology. Here’s a look at several technologies that, within the next five to 10 years, could move from the drawing board to commercial reality.

Beyond HD

Although high-definition (HD) video will take a few more years before it’s the rule rather than the exception in both the consumer and pro markets, researchers are already developing its potential successors.

One heir to the throne is Quad HD, also known as 2160p after its resolution: 3840x2160.

“That high resolution gives you a clear, crisp, 3D look,” says John Araki, vice president and general manager of the commercial business unit at Westinghouse Digital Electronics, which has been developing Quad HD for about three years. “It is expensive now. But if you’re talking about five to 10 years, that is the right time frame that you will see this technology take off.”

Quad HD requires an enormous amount of bandwidth: 6 Gbit/s before any compression. So one wild card is the cost and availability of that bandwidth by the time the cost of Quad HD displays drops to the point that more enterprises and government agencies can justify going beyond 1080p HD.

Advanced compression algorithms are one way that Quad HD could overcome bandwidth-related barriers to market. But one concern is that the codecs could introduce artefacts and other anomalies, all of which would be more noticeable to viewers simply because they’re blown up on Quad HD’s enormous displays.

Another potential HD successor is Ultra High-Definition Video (UHDV), which is 7680×4320. Also sometimes referred to as Super Hi-Vision, UHDV has been demo’d several times since 2003, but it’s still years from commercial availability.

As with Quad HD, UHDV has to overcome the bandwidth hurdle. An uncompressed signal is about 24 Gbit/s, with a half-hour of video taking up more than 4 terabytes of storage. But in recent demos, one of UHDV’s main developers, Japan’s NHK, compressed the signal to as little as 250 Mbit/s. That’s still a lot of bandwidth, but it’s down in the range where it becomes practical for a wider range of networks and end users.


Hooking up

If there’s one safe bet in AV, it’s that the number of connection technologies will continue to increase. One newcomer is Digital Interactive Interface for AV (DiiVA), which uses standard Cat6 cabling to link displays with sources such as DVD players, set-top boxes and the Internet.

DiiVA (www.diiva.org) features four differential pairs. The first three can handle up to 4.5 Gbit/s each, enough to support uncompressed 1080p at 60 frames per second or Quad HD. The fourth pair can send more than 2 Gbit/s in one direction at the same time it’s receiving at the same rate. That data channel can be used for tasks such as carrying Gigabit Ethernet, USB 2.0 and command/control information.

DiiVA also enables systems where iPhone-like icons appear on a display. Instead of fumbling for remotes to control different sources, such as DVD players, satellite set-top boxes and PCs, users would select the icon – such as the BBC or YouTube – representing the source they want to switch to. That set-up also would allow users to watch all video on their TV, instead of going to a PC or the room where the DVD player is.

“We want to develop a new, multimedia networking standard make TVs the centre of home network environment,” says Steve Yum, senior director of product planning at Synerchip, one of the companies backing DiiVA.

DiiVA initially will be aimed at the consumer market, including home AV networks. But if it builds a following there, it’s likely to expand into the pro market, just as predecessors such as HDMI did.

In the pro space, DiiVA could be used for applications such as bars. For example, a bartender could use DiiVA’s GUI to switch a display from a football game, delivered via the satellite set-top box, to YouTube videos, delivered via a PC.

Another newcomer is Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI), which supports up to 3 Gbit/s over distances of about 30 meters, including through walls. Unlike wireless technologies such as 802.11 Wi-Fi, WHDI prioritises each bit of video information to improve quality of service.

Like DiiVA, WHDI aims to make it easier for users to access content from a wide variety of sources scattered around a home or office. WHDI’s backers see the technology eventually expanding into pro applications, such as digital signage and video surveillance, where equipment likely will be moved periodically, making wired connections impractical.

The first WHDI-equipped products – TVs – will begin shipping by late 2009, says Noam Geri, co-founder of Amimon, one of the companies backing WHDI. Bridging devices – such as DVI-to-WHDI – also eventually will be available.

“We’ll also see people selling packages, where you have a monitor or TV and a wireless extender with it,” says Les Chard, president of the eponymous organisation licensing the standard.


3D . . . Finally?

For decades, 3D has languished as a niche play. But it could finally move into the mainstream pro AV market – thanks at least partly to consumers.

This year, DreamWorks will release all of its films in 3D. Meanwhile, Imax is paying the U.S. theatre chain to upgrade 100 of its screens to 3D. There are plenty of other examples, but the bottom line is that consumers are encountering 3D in more and more places.

“3D is a certainty to go mainstream in the consumer area in the next five to 10 years because of the availability of content and a strong need for differentiation in order to secure consumers' entertainment dollars,” says Peter Bocko, chief technology officer for East Asia at Corning, which makes glass-based products for applications such as fibre optic cables and LCD displays.

If consumer response to 3D is solid – and that’s still a big if – then it would increase revenue for makers of 3D displays and other products, a snowball effect that would benefit the pro AV market, too.

“That will help fund the R&D to bring 3D to a much broader scale, for use particularly by enterprises,” says Phil McKinney, Chief Technology Officer for Hewlett-Packard’s Personal Systems Group (PSG).

Businesspeople also are consumers for part of the day, so their 3D experiences outside of work are another factor: The more 3D they see in their homes and in theatres, the more likely they are to expect it or specify it for work.

“It will be five to 10 years for 3D to be ubiquitous just in the home,” McKinney says.

The catch: Their experiences over the next few years are critical because if they’re disappointing or downright bad, 3D could remain the province of lucrative yet niche applications such as medical imaging and automotive design. But if they’re good, 3D could start to show up in applications such as telepresence within five to 10 years.

“You can have a stronger sense of presence in telepresence so you can have tighter collaboration,” says McKinney, who envisions 3D images not only of meeting participants, but also of products they’re discussing.

“When you’re building 3D products that have to sit on a shelf and appeal to consumers, the look, size, scale and colour are critically important,” McKinney says. “Today’s collaboration technologies really don’t effectively allow you to share that experience or do collaboration around materials or colour or design, just given the flatness of the telepresence experience.”

A richer experience requires more bandwidth, with the amount varying by the type of 3D. So if the 3D content has to traverse a network, then the cost and availability of that bandwidth affects whether the end user – such as an enterprise – can make a business case for 3D.

“To get autostereoscopic (no glasses required) 3D at 1080p resolution, the 3D panel needs to be built on the back of a Quad HD panel to get enough pixels to generate all the views,” says Robert Boudreau, technology development manager at Corning Display Technologies. “This requires four times the bandwidth for the Quad, plus 1.2 times the bandwidth for the 3D, for a total of about five times the bandwidth [of 1080p]. With glasses-based 3D, it’s possible to get away with 1.2 times the bandwidth.”


Intelligent Displays and Cameras

Out-of-home digital advertising is a booming market, yet it won’t live up to its potential until advertisers can measure the effectiveness of ads displayed on digital signage. One solution – available today from companies such as TruMedia – is to pair signage with cameras that can identify demographic information about passers-by, such as their race, age and gender, as well as whether the ad catches their attention.

Some vendors believe that over the next several years, displays aimed at the signage market will have built-in cameras, along with the ability to report information such as demographics and “dwell time” back to a central database.

Bandwidth is one potential catch. For example, suppose that the signage is installed throughout dozens or hundreds of stores in a retailer’s chain. Uploading all of that data can be expensive, which is why some vendors expect more and more processing to be done by the displays themselves, instead of back at a central location.

“There’s always a bandwidth restriction,” says Ram Sathappan, business manager for industrial computing at Texas Instruments. “You can’t send a significant amount.”

One wild card is whether, over the next few years, the cost of processors will decline to the point that it’s cheaper to buy displays with those capabilities built it than to just use relatively dumb displays and buy the extra bandwidth.

But another motivation could be the ability to serve ads based on who’s watching. For example, if the display has the processing power to determine that more women than men are nearby, it could dip into its cache of ads to serve up ones that are supposed to appeal to female shoppers. That could be faster and cheaper – in terms of bandwidth – than having the display report that information back to central computer so it can make the decision about which ad to serve.

A related issue is the formatting of the information about who’s viewing ads. Like their counterparts in the surveillance and security industry, retailers are developing standards for analytics metadata, all with an eye toward multi-vendor interoperability.

“So when they buy equipment, services and software, it can all speak the same language,” says Bruce Flinchbaugh, director of Texas Instruments’ video and image processing laboratory.


Gesture Technology

The 2002 Tom Cruise film Minority Report has one of the best-known examples of “gesture technology,” where people simply wave their hands to move documents and photos projected on a video wall. Companies such as Raytheon and Oblong Industries – the latter founded by the man whose demo caught the filmmakers’ attention – have since commercialised the technology, but it remains a niche product for specialised applications such as the military.

That’s likely to change. One reason is because a variety of recent products – from the Apple iPhone to the HP TouchSmart PC – are conditioning consumers to look beyond keyboards, mice and remote controls for controlling both devices and content.

“We think that touch and gesture become one of the key means for a lot of people to interact with technology,” says HP’s McKinney. “The secret language of keyboards tends to be an intimidation factor, particularly in emerging markets, where they haven’t had a lot of interaction with technology. What does the CTRL key mean? What does the ALT key mean?”

For vendors, the trick is to develop touch and gesture interfaces based on what users already do. Otherwise, those interfaces would be no different than keyboards and remote controls in the sense that they force people to learn, for lack of a better term, a new input language. Case in point: First-time users of the iPhone have to learn how to “pinch” an image to scale it up or down.

That approach can limit a device’s usefulness. For example, suppose that a hotel outfits its guest rooms with touch panels for controlling the TV and game console and accessing the Internet. If the panel isn’t immediately intuitive, the guest might either call the front desk for help – meaning additional overhead costs for the hotel – or simply give up, meaning no extra revenue from movie purchases or Web usage.

Another challenge for vendors is understanding how touch and gesture already vary from culture to culture and then designing interfaces to reduce the learning curve.

“Not everybody in the world gestures and touches the same way,” McKinney says. “In Korea, for example, they don’t point with the finger. It’s always two fingers.”

Tim Kridel is a free-lance writer who covers technology and telecom for a variety of publications and analyst firms. He’s based in the U.S. city of Columbia, Mo., and can be reached at inavate@imlgroup.co.uk

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