I only met John Apostolopoulos, manager of the HP Labs Streaming Media Systems Group, over the phone the other day. Yet, talking to John was almost nostalgic. We've covered the same ground--video compression, mobile video communication and secure media streaming. I've done so as a beat reporter, John in R&D. For his accomplishments, John has been named a 2008 IEEE fellow.
Being selected as an IEEE fellow is a big deal; in any given year, the total number of fellow recommendations must not exceed 0.1 percent of the IEEE's voting membership.
One pictures an IEEE fellow as someone in his 50s, with a long, distinguished career in the industry and, maybe, a long, gray beard to match.
John, however, is 39--and beardless. As you might guess, an IEEE fellow under 40 years of age is a rarity. But John is even rarer among 30-something technologists because of the sense of history he cultivated while witnessing one of America's greatest technology battles: the birth of HDTV in the 1990s.
In the early 1990s, while still a grad student, John joined the HDTV development team at MIT--one of several international R&D groups racing to create the winning HDTV system. MIT's proposal, later combined with that of General Instrument, was submitted to the Advanced TV Test Center in summer 1992. Competing HDTV proposals came from NHK, Zenith-Bell Labs and the RCA-Philips consortium.
After extensive testing, FCC chairman Dick Wiley decided not to pick a winner. Instead, he enlisted the major HDTV players into a Grand Alliance that--eventually--launched the digital TV era.
John's early career in HDTV helped guide his aspirations beyond HDTV into areas such as mobile video communication.
Only 10 years ago, when he joined HP Labs, camera phones were unthinkable. "A camera wasn't a part of the phone," said John.
Nonetheless, at HP Labs, John worked with colleague Susie Wee on a novel technique that improves reliability and scalability in video communication over cellular networks. The new scheme created two separate network paths for video bit streams, allowing proper reconstruction of video even after a packet loss. The technology has been adopted by NTT Docomo. The Japanese mobile operator sought HP's help when it recognized, after the huge success of its i-mode wireless Internet service, that its network and servers were getting clogged by subscribers using the net for Web browsing and video communication.
John's career has already enjoyed remarkable variety--from analog to digital, from HDTV to camera phones. The industry has traversed the same path.
So what's next? Two words, said John: "Media interoperability."
Today, cameras are everywhere, and video is ubiquitous. "You capture video in your cell phone," he said. "But how do you get that video to your iPod or digital TV? That process is quite difficult for most consumers."
Amen. And we all know that moving content from one device to another isn't just a technology issue. The cork in the bottle--as it was for HDTV way back when--is technology politics.