Grass Valley Group is a familiar name for all of you whose days in the TV broadcast arena stretch back to the analog days. But the Grass Valley Group of yore was known for its switchers, the GVG of the digital age is going mobile, with cutting edge technology for automating content preparation/repurposing for mobile. A second technology detects and preserves important objects for mobile applications (such as the soccer ball in a soccer game).
For those of you not familiar with GVG, I’m sure the name Thomson rings a bell. The French technology behemoth, which acquired Grass Valley Group some time ago, has more than a toe-hold in the mobile space. Thomson’s end-to-end DVB-H system, SmartVision, is a player in Italy, France and elsewhere in Europe. But up until now, Thomson’s involvement in the U.S. mobile market has been indirect. (If you consider a car to be a mobile device, then you can count its mobile video encoder, Vibe Mobile, which is used by Sirius for content broadcasting.) Thomson transmission systems are also used by the Qualcomm MediaFLO system, adds Thomson director of mobile content delivery systems, Alan J. Stein, who emphasized that the company is participating in the work of the ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee, the people who brought us HD over the air) in creating a mobile video transmission standard that will co-exist with the terrestrial broadcast spectrum.
At Thomson’s Burbank offices, Stein demonstrated two technologies developed in its research labs for the mobile marketplace. The first, dynamic reframing technology, automatically “pans-and-scans” region-of-interest points, which are areas in the image where the action is taking place. “If you took an SD or HD video signal and downsized it for a mobile screen, it’s probably inappropriate for mobile consumption,” said Stein. “It might be too wide, you might need to zoom in, you might need to enhance items. People preparing content for internet or mobile tend to do a lot of this work by hand. We’ve created fully automated techniques to address these inefficiencies in workflow.”
“We use human visual modeling to look at motion — to identify areas of strong interest that your eye would be following,” said Stein. “Motion, brightness and other factors play a role, and there are also user-defined features.”
Cinematographers everywhere will scream bloody murder at the thought of their carefully framed images being panned-and-scanned (much as they did in the early days of home video), but that’s a battle for another day.
The second technology shown was object highlighting for mobile. “One deficiency of mobile video is that downsizing for mobile resolution you can lose important objects, like losing the ball in a sport,” said Stein. “Motion analysis and other algorithms can pre-process an image to ensure preservation of those small objects. An object aware encoder can help “save” those singular objects.” (You’ll have to look closely – this is the file is a bit too small…)
These technologies are now in the hands of Thomson’s productizers, and will likely end up as either/and products or features of products. “This is where the research guy doesn’t have a lot of control over how the business side decides to monetize it,” he admitted. The technologies might also be offered as a service. The tools will be aimed at the U.S. and global mobile market. “We’re fairly excited about seeing these automated techniques enter the marketplace and demonstrate that Thomson is one of the leaders in video processing, for the end-to-end video workflow for mobile,” said Stein, who had no prediction as to when we’ll see the product(s).
But the word “global” may be key here to when and where Thomson’s rolls out the new mobile-centric technology. I’m thinking Fall and I’m thinking Amsterdam. Stay tuned for IBC.