Better Than HDTV?

The Integrated Media Systems Center (IMSC), part of the University of Southern California's School of Engineering and a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center announced last week that it has developed Remote Media Immersion (RMI), which the center described as a "breakthrough Internet technology that generates an immersive three-dimensional experience on home theater-sized screens."

USC's C.L. "Max" Nikias says, "This offers an IMAX-type experience without having to use special cameras or theaters—all via the Internet. This is not simply an incremental improvement in streaming media. We have effectively re-created the experience of being at a remote occasion such as a sports event, concert, or videoconference. We have developed entirely new methods for capturing the images and sounds of the experience, for streaming multiple channels seamlessly over the Internet and for rendering the experience accurately for a group of participants, large or small."

IMSC researchers claim to use less than half the compression needed for broadcast high-definition TV, "thus affording greater clarity of the final picture." The uncompressed HDTV video data rate of 1.5 gigabits per second is compressed to 35–45 megabits per second, as compared to standard high-definition television's maximum data rate of 19.4 megabits per second after compression says the group.

According to IMSC's Ulrich Neumann, "Major corporations, universities, and government agencies already have access to broadband services of 60 megabits per second or more, and these are potential users of RMI technology today. However, even at lower data rates of 10–20 megabits per second—which widely deployed broadband access technologies will attain within five years—RMI will deliver significant improvements over current technology." Neumann concludes that "RMI provides the clearest vision yet of how the audio-visual experience will evolve over the coming decade."

The group says that "Yima" software and hardware streaming architecture developed at IMSC delivers multiple, simultaneous high-bandwidth streams of images and sound, all synchronized with each other. IMSC adds that Novel network protocols for error correction and synchronization are implemented in the Yima architecture.

Multichannel Immersive Audio, also developed by IMSC, is said to use multiple loudspeakers and algorithms to generate a sound field that can immerse a group, rather than just a single individual, in "extremely realistic" audio environments. Ten loudspeakers and two low frequency subwoofers (for 10.2 channels rather than the 5.1 channels of commercially available surround sound) are used in the technology's demonstrations.

The researchers say that a further IMSC innovation is the development of RMI as a distributed application rather than a point-to-point system. "A number of servers in multiple cities can host a movie, and all may be called on to transmit various parts of the movie's video and audio streams, offering critical protection against delays in Internet traffic and other problems. All streams arrive at the user's destination to provide a complete, synchronized presentation."