By George Whale, Queen Mary, University of London
Berlin, one of the world’s leading centres of art and culture, is currently witnessing a surge of media technology innovation, both in academic research centres and in a growing number of ‘Silicon Allee’ start-up companies. The city’s Heinrich Hertz Institute (HHI) was therefore a fitting venue for the first international industry workshop of EMC2, headlined “The Future of 3D Media”.
The one-day workshop was hosted in HHI’s brand new Theseus Innovation Centre, and featured a full programme of activities to entertain and engage the 50-plus research and industry delegates gathered from countries across Europe and Asia.
The programme was designed to showcase innovation in 3D media, consider future developments and opportunities, and exchange ideas on entrepreneurship and academia-industry partnership – both critical ingredients of future European competitiveness in this rapidly evolving field.
3D Innovation and Entrepreneurship
After welcoming everyone to the Theseus Centre, Peter Eisert, Head of the Computer Vision & Graphics Group at HHI, introduced Ralf Schäfer, Head of the Image Processing Department at HHI. Ralf’s presentation showed the rapid recent growth in 3D film and TV, but also revealed a continuing need for research to overcome technical problems and to drive production costs down. He predicted that 3D will come to dominate Internet visualisation and will spread through many different application areas including medicine, surveillance and the automotive industry. He gave a preview of HHI’s 3D Innovation Centre (3D-IC) due to open early next year, a state-of-the-art facility combining R&D lab, resource pool, communication platform and 3D technology showroom.
As EMC2 Industrial Liaison Research Officer, my presentation outlined the objectives of EMC2 (Excellence in Media Computing and Communication), a new pan-European project operating in the area of 3D media processing for social networking, immersive environments, augmented reality and 3D broadcasting. Backed by 7 world-class research institutions, EMC2 offers academia-industry matchmaking and technology transfer to SMEs, provides educational services for entrepreneurship, and seeks to shape national and European research agendas in the MC2 field. At the hub of an expanding network of companies and researchers in 3D R&D and production, EMC2 aims to make possible new connections and collaborations, help academic researchers respond to market opportunities, and enable industry to make best use of academic research to increase competitiveness.
Industry Technical Presentations
Sebastian Knorr, CEO of imcube in Berlin, opened the second session with a fascinating presentation on high-quality conversion of 2D movies to 3D. Starting with a classification of conversion techniques, he compared offline and real-time approaches to automated conversion, outlining the steps and techniques involving in assigning depth to scene objects and solving problems such as the filling-in of background areas – necessary when a monocular view becomes binocular.
Next up was 3D broadcasting pioneer Alexander Schaefer, Founder of Live4Screen (previously Head of technical department, MMZ Halle) who captivated the audience with his account of the technical, logistical and aesthetic challenges involved in the production of a stereoscopic transmission of a musical performance by German rappers Die Fantastischen Vier (Fantastic Four). The live broadcast from Halle to 91 cinemas in 5 countries required precise synchronisation of video capture (from multiple stereo cameras), rectification, live editing, 3D encoding, transmission and screening, and was an unprecedented success, earning Alexander a gold record award.
Éric Seulliet of the French association La Fabrique du Futur (Factory of the Future), uses virtual, immersive and AR technologies to support the creation of products from collaborative design stages through to rapid prototyping and digital manufacturing. In his presentation Éric introduced the concept of the ‘Living Lab’ as a place for user-centred experimentation and innovation, and described how 3D technologies can support communities of users in taking concepts from the virtual to the real world.
Diego Bajo showed some of the diversity of 3D work being done at Tecnalia Medialab in Spain, including immersive heritage interpretation of historic and prehistoric environments, pre-visualisations of engineering projects like the future Basque railway network, stereoscopic visualisation for cinema, TV and mobile devices, and a range of research and educational services.
Finally in this session, Pierre Lebreton of T-Lab in Berlin presented research conducted by him and his colleagues into 3D broadcast quality and viewer comfort. Comparing different coding schemes (Side by Side, Simulcast and MVC), the researchers found downsampling and packing using Side by Side format to be the most efficient way to transmit HD stereoscopic videos, with less bandwidth requirements than Simulcast and MVC using full resolution. Also, comparing 2D and 3D videos in cases of packet loss, the researchers observed no significant quality difference at a given packet loss rate.
The early afternoon was given over to demonstrations of some of the stunning and technically innovative work being carried out at Heinrich Hertz Institute. Workshop participants saw technologies for 3D TV content generation; the Stereoscopic Analyzer (STAN) that uses real-time image analysis to assist cameramen in shooting stereo content; the Virtual Eye Contact Engine that supports natural remote interaction by enabling proper eye contact; and the Virtual Mirror, where everyone had fun trying on virtual clothes via touch-screen interaction.
The highlight of the day was a visit to Timelab: Cinema of Tomorrow, where an array of projectors seamlessly projecting panoramic images and videos onto a large, curved screen enabled us to look down on the blue earth from a satellite drifting through space; to soar in the clouds with a supersonic jet; to find ourselves suddenly surrounded by a roaring crowd at a football match, and then an orchestra; and finally to join the audience of Alexander Schaefer’s 3D Fantastischen Vier concert – so real we could almost touch the performers.
Background to 3DLife and EMC2 project
3DLife (“Bringing the 3D Internet to Life”) is a European Network of Excellence comprising world-class research groups working in computer vision, graphics, media networking, 3D signal processing, HCI, human factors, autonomous virtual agents and related areas. Together, 3DLife researchers are exploring new paradigms of 3D media communication and interaction over the Internet.
EMC2 (Excellence in Media Computing and Communication) is a project that builds upon 3DLife and other successful projects in the 3D field. EMC2 aims to forge closer links between academia and industry, helping industry to better exploit research and enabling academic researchers to better understand the needs of industry. The Berlin workshop was the first of a series of events designed to stimulate new ideas and catalyse new partnerships.
Funded under the European Union FP7 programme, EMC2 aims to become self-sustaining within 2-3 years by providing a range of commercial services to business including:
• academia/ industry matchmaking for technology transfer
• funding application support
• privileged access to cutting-edge research from world-class institutions
• access to research products (e.g., new techniques and software tools)
• participation in network forums, technology demonstrations, networking events, etc.
• training, mentoring and Ph.D. programmes for entrepreneurship in media and communications.
EMC2 is now actively seeking UK and European industry partners working in 3D Internet, 3D media and related fields.
Dr. George Whale is EMC2 Industrial Liaison Research Officer, School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science at Queen Mary, University of London.