News reports this week provide a tantalizing taste of things to come. The world's highest resolution CCD image sensor, built for astronomy, has 111-million pixels organized as a 10,560 x 10,560 4-inch square. Within the 35mm Hollywood film world, the "4K" high definition standard, with 4,192 horizontal pixels (x 3112 vertical, as opposed to today's "ordinary" 1920 x 1080 consumer-level HD) is considered top shelf quality suitable for transfer back and forth to 35mm film with no discernible loss in detail. So with more than quadruple the detail, one can safely assume this image sensor actually beats 35mm film in resolution.
It even beats the 7680 x 4320 "Super Hi-Vision" UHD format NHK recently demonstrated (see NHK demos ultra-high definition (UHD) TV broadcast and Japan demonstrates next-gen "Super HD" TV broadcast.)
For anyone who has been struggling lately with the question of what constitutes "just good enough" video for mobile applications, here's a tantalizing taste of things to come on the other side of the video quality spectrum: Detail that approaches the limits of human vision.
Though for consumer video this is still years away, on the audio side of signal processing it's already here: Building an audio system with sonic detail (frequency response, dynamic range) that surpasses human hearing's abilities is trivial. But imagine what saying that in 1956, at the dawn of the "hi-fi" era, might have sounded like.
If we look 50 years in the future of video technology, and imagine such superb image detail becoming commonplace, we'll of course need additional processing power to handle all the raw image data. That's where the synergy of this week's news from IBM's silicon research labs occurs.
They've demonstrated the potential to make processors that will run at over a hundred times the speed of today's processors, going as high as 500-GHz in a super-cooled environment (or a mere 350-GHz at room temperature!)
And with that kind of processing power available, isn't a billion-pixel image sensor inevitable? (The human eye is estimated to have roughly 500 Megapixels.)
We all know technological progress is both relentless and inevitable. But some weeks, the pace of change really does seem to crank up a notch.