TV has undergone an amazing transformation throughout the last decade with the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting, the penetration of high-definition services (HDTV), increasingly larger displays driven by the migration from cathode-ray through plasma, LCD and LED towards OLED screen technology, right through to today’s trend in connected (or smart) TV.
Presently around 250m televisions are sold each year. But TV viewing is no longer constrained simply to the television itself: there are a whole range of additional devices in the ecosystem from smartphones and tablets through to portable media players and home media gateways, all of which handle audio and video content. This explosion in video-capable devices provides plenty of scope for television to evolve, creating increased demand for Imagination’s IP. So how might Imagination’s technology help define and influence the future development of television in the home?
Hybrid set-top boxes and smart TVs acquire video content both over the airwaves and via the Internet; the current challenge is for manufacturers to build products that can seamlessly transition the user between both forms of delivery and make TV services easy to use. Whereas broadcast provides access to several hundred channels of programming, broadband potentially adds tens of thousands of new channels: everything from YouTube video clips through to professional local television services. So the emphasis is on designing new user-interfaces to present a richer array of content, also on receiving and decoding a variety of differing video streams from multiple sources: an ideal fit with Imagination’s Ensigma worldwide standards demodulation engine, PowerVR graphics, video decode and frame-rate conversation technologies.
Applications on smart TV are driving the requirement for increased graphics performance; likewise new control paradigms such as gesture driven interfaces and voice command call for increasing compute performance as cameras and microphones are introduced into the TV hardware: our work in promoting OpenCL and expertise in Meta audio processing give us a clear advantage.
Once you have Imagination’s IP inside the TV there is much more than can be achieved. For example, the GPU can supply the full range of picture adjustments – brightness, contrast, colour, hue and saturation – but might also be employed to enhance the picture for visually impaired users, such as emphasising the edges of elements within the scene to enhance the image, or perhaps identifying individuals within a film and exchanging them for blocks of bold colour, the latter requiring several GFlops of GPU performance for image recognition and processing, which PowerVR Series 6 is capable of.
Second screen interaction is particularly popular amongst the younger demographic and this is driving a requirement for companion devices alongside the main TV. PayTV operators are working hard to integrate companion devices in their multi-room TV experience: for example, our PowerVR VXE and Ensigma Wi-Fi technology can be used to encode video assets received via a set-top box then “re-broadcast” over Wi-Fi to a tablet or smartphone. Or a broadcaster might consider presenting the electronic programme guide (EPG) on a tablet and use the front-facing camera, coupled with image processing within the GPU, to identify who is interacting with the device and supply personalised programme recommendations directly to the individual. Pass the tablet to another member of the family and the guide changes instantly to present a different tailored experience.
Higher display resolution is playing an important part in the evolution of TV, with 4K televisions expected to be available at affordable prices within the next three years. Meantime video compression technology is improving with the development of the H.265 High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) standard that aims to reduce bit-rates and file sizes by around 40%-45%. The new standard will create demand for chips containing H.265 decode and encode IP; and whilst we’re still several years away from broadcasting 4K live television services there’s no reason why you couldn’t download a 4K movie and play back on a connected Blu-Ray player.
And what about developments even further into the future?
Broadcasters and research institutes are working on technologies that allow the viewer to watch, say, a sporting event from their own unique perspective – a concept called “Free viewpoint TV”. The prototype equipment employs a rig comprising six HD cameras clustered around a mirrored dome to capture an image with a 180° field-of-view. The mosaic of images are then stitched together and compensated by algorithm and delivered to the TV. The viewer then pans and zooms around the resultant 5K by 2K image, selecting the point of interest for them personally. So the broadcaster delivers a single video stream to each home, but from the viewer’s perspective it gives the impression they are moving the camera at the event. And a single button press on the remote control returns the viewer to the broadcaster-selected feed, just as for normal TV.
Even more interestingly, TV need not be confined to the screen itself. There are a number of companies developing a series of amazing projects. For example, NDS is currently working on a concept of “surfaces” within the home, where the walls become the screen. This takes both the big screen and companion screen experiences and throws them onto a single wall-sized display to combine visual and interactive entertainment that still manages to maintain the “lean back” characteristics of traditional TV. The display itself blends into the room environment – no longer a flat panel in the corner of the room – and the user can choose to watch TV at normal (40 inch) size, add interactive elements such as Twitter feeds and voting applications around the picture, or even scale up the video to fill the wall and provide a full cinematic experience.
As flat panel prices fall and display technology such as flexible OLED becomes more affordable, the belief is that wall-sized video displays will be available at reasonable prices within five years. It’s a beautiful concept and a superb illustration of the potential future of TV.
We’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible. It will be interesting to see what innovations the next decade will bring as television evolves still further and continues to provide major business opportunities for Imagination’s video, communications and graphics IP.
Interested in more applications of PowerVR GPUs in Digital TVs? Stay tuned to our blog and follow us on @ImaginationTech for future announcements.
* Image of Brøndby stadium taken from Stig Nyaard’s Flickr photostream , all rights reserved
** Image taken from NDS Surfaces: the next revolution in TV courtesy of Videonet, all rights reserved