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05 Dec

Video without Pixels - the debate

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Video without pixels Video without pixels Celia Hill/RedShark

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 At the beginning of December, we published this, highly speculative, article, about how pixels might eventually be replaced by something better. When? Quite possibly before 8K becomes the norm. It made quite a stir on the internet, bringing record traffic to RedShark. Here's our follow-up to some of the questions raised

The article attracted a lot of readers, but, after a few hours, the numbers shot up rapidly. Someone had posted a link to the article on Reddit. This prompted a massive flow of new visitors to RedShark. We had our biggest day ever.

If you haven't heard of  Reddit (and the world is divided between those who have and those who haven't) it's a place where people post links to their favourite articles, and readers upvote or downvote them in real time. It's a very good way to see what's creating a buzz on the internet.

There's a busy comments system as well. In fact, Reddit very largely is the comments, with long and meandering threads quite often containing absolute gems of wisdom and a fair dose of abuse as well.

If you want to have a look at the original thread, it's here. But meanwhile, I've taken some of the more interesting posts and replied to them here. They weren't all positive! 

(Reddit questions in Blue, our answers in Black)

He's only talking about abolishing pixels in codecs. It's a bad title, I agree. I was expecting something about vector-based displays, honestly.

Yes, I was only talking about codecs here, but it follows that sensor and display technology should be considered as well. It's not obvious how this could be done but as computer power continues to increase exponentially (through parallelism mainly - i.e. multi-processors) other techniques which might have seemed impossible will suddenly come into view.

For example, one Reddit commenter suggested Neural Nets. After all, this is essentially how we make sense of the world, so why shouldn't a camera?

The sheer number of vectors you'd have to have to recreate a reasonably detailed image would have to be immense. And it seems unlikely that they'd be substantially smaller than video we have now.

Also, would it not require all-new sensors in digital video cameras? Because current hardware is all made with raster video in mind. That would be ridiculously expensive to replace the equipment, if it was even possible to make "vector sensors" for cameras.

Actually, the number of vectors you'd need doesn't really matter - although there will be real-world restrictions on the ultimate number. This was never exclusively an exercise to reduce bandwidth - but that would sometimes occur. Instead, it's an attempt to break away from the restrictions that pixels place on us when we try to represent the world. On the other hand, pixels give us great freedom too, because, without having to think too hard about it, we can digitise and reproduce virtually anything with relative ease (except for certain types of pullovers).


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  • An interesting article indeed. Whilst the mind does boggle at the complexity of vectors, i can't help thinking the current 'pixel' standard wasn't exactly child's play to get working...
    Whilst not innovative, part of me thinks- let's go back to celluloid!

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  • To start, don't think I'm one of those people who will sit back and dismiss any results or that the idea is valid... And I invite any engineers out there to prove me wrong.

    But this idea will never work, one will never be able to get the color information and striking detail with focus and the depth of field we all love. I think the idea of the lytro camera should be explored, but vector video for real life acquisition doesn't seem like a useful venture for engineers to spend their time on.

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  • Perhaps we need to think a bit further for this to make sense. I think that just because man basically has been trying to replicate the retina to capture a representation of the world up until now this might be the time to abandon that way. Instead of looking through a lens there will come ways to scan what is in front of us with something that gives us a (limited) 3D representation of it. The technology to do this, albeit in very low resolution, is in use today. And as fast as we move forward a professional moviecamera might in a future not to far away look like something completely different from what we have now.
    And once the "capture" is done, perhaps the director and DoP can sit down and choose (within some limitations) the shots needed for that scene.
    And as someone said, it might be slightly difficult to get there, but hey, so is Mars......

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  • Exactly right, frejso!

    Imagine the possibilities when we have a Kinect-type device whose own sensor works at 4K or greater. In other words, it would be a device that could make, in real-time, a 3D model of the world. Which is exactly what this and the previous article are talking about.

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  • Having a camera that captures depth map information as it films in 2D would make post production 3D easy. I suggested it years ago only to be shot down by a very well known video pro/engineer.

    With regard to vectors I think there are issues with regard to upscaling and downscaling because you can't add in detail where it wasn't previously, and scaling down could also be problematic with very high detail images.

    What excites me more about the idea of a vector codec is with regard to framerates. In most instances you may not need a high speed camera anymore! Say goodbye to Twixtor.

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  • You had me until the last page where you said "CRTs don't have pixels." which is blatantly wrong.
    A scanline is not an indication of a vector display, rather it's a path followed by the electron beam as it lights the individual pixels of the CRT display. All the shadow mask does is prevent bleeding onto surrounding pixels. The individual RGB phosphor dots define the resolution and nature of the display, not the scanning beam.

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  • Hi Christopher, just be absolutely clear, I am saying, correctly, I think, that CRTs don't have pixels. A pixel is a digital concept. It's a point of colour that is allocated a numerical (ie digital) value to represent its colour. I don't think I implied anywhere that a scan line was anything to do with vector video. The individual phosphor dots may represent the ultimate resolving power of a CRT but they bear absolutely no relation to raster sizes or resolution.

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David Shapton

David is the Editor In Chief of RedShark Publications. He's been a professional columnist and author since 1998, when he started writing for the European Music Technology magazine Sound on Sound. David has worked with professional digital audio and video for the last 25 years.

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