Opinions, Observations and Ramblings about media technology.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Another perspective on that "new" Ultra-High Definition TV picture

The press has been recently enamored by UHDTV – sometimes still called “4K TV” as the latest hot technology.  Indeed, as with past advancements in video displays - color, wide-screen, flat panel displays, stereo sound (and stereoscopic imaging) -- UHDTV is sure to make it into living rooms and home theaters eventually. 

But the benefits of high resolution imaging are not exactly new.

Here's an example:  take a look at this amazing high-resolution aerial photo of San Francisco -- right after the 1906 earthquake.  It was taken by George Lawrence, a prominent commercial photographer and inventor, who titled the photo "San Francisco in Ruins"
San Francisco may be in ruins, but this kite photograph taken in May 1906 has extraordinary resolution 
(Click HERE for the link to the high resolution file)

The photo shows the entire city on a single 17-by-48-inch celluloid-film contact plate, with amazing resolution.   It was taken from a kite flying 2,000 feet over the bay, in May 1906.  The camera is said to have weighed almost 50 pounds.  

I can make out that there were only a few houses in my Potrero Hill neighborhood back then.  They were built on solid Serpentine bedrock, so held up pretty well.

The combination of captivating content (the ruined city) and immersive image detail turned out to be a commercial success – netting Lawrence $15,000 in revenue from selling contact prints from the original negative.   That’s equivalent to around $380,000 in today’s dollars.   We can only hope that UHDTV commands the same monetary success.

Earlier, Lawrence built this gigantic camera used to photograph a train for the Paris Exhibition in 1900.  
File:The giant camera.jpg
This giant camera was built by George Lawrence to photograph a train in Chicago.
The resulting photo was a hit at the 1900 Paris Exhibition.
The camera weighed 1400 pounds and used a glass plate negative measuring 4½ feet by 8 ft.    It seems that several Camera Assistants were needed when using this puppy.  

If you could somehow manufacture a CMOS imager of the same size, and if such imager had the same pixel density as – say – a Nikon D90, you would have created a 120,000 Megapixel (that would be 120 Gigapixel) camera.   Now THAT would be a hit at the next CES.   The extraordinarily high resolution print created by this camera won “The Grand Prize of the World"  at the Paris Exhibition.   The Ultra-Ultra-Mega-REALLY high definition standard of 113 years ago.

Alas, we’re not likely to see 4 foot by 8 foot image sensors any time soon (thankfully).  But Canon has already made this 20cm x 20cm imager. 

photo: Size Comparison: The Large Ultrahigh-Sensitivity CMOS Image Sensor Alongside an EOS Rebel T3i (EOS 600D) Digital SLR Camera
Size Comparison: The Large Ultrahigh-Sensitivity CMOS Image Sensor
Alongside an EOS Rebel T3i (EOS 600D) Digital SLR Camera
Besides very high spatial resolution, this sensor makes possible the shooting of video at 60 frames per second with only 0.3 lux of illumination (approximately the same level of brightness as that generated by a full moon).

New UHDTV displays are very impressive – but one must keep these things in historic perspective.  It will be a while before we can experience images equivalent to those enjoyed in Paris over a century ago.

BTW:  Stop by and see me panel at the SMPTE Symposium “Next Generation Imaging Formats; More, Faster, and BetterPixels”  at the SMPTE conference, October 21, 2013 in Hollywood.