Here are six hot areas of video/imaging technology that design engineers might want to keep an eye on in 2007:
CMOS Image Sensors Get Serious, and Smart
CMOS image sensors are nothing new, they've been around for decades, as cheaper, lower quality alternatives to CCD image sensors, which everyone always assumed were better and would always stay that way. 2006 was a year of transition for CMOS, with Sony introducing for the first time hi-def camcorders using CMOS, and even pro camera maker Ikegami using CMOS sensors. The ability to put circuitry on the same chip gives CMOS image sensor technology some tantalizing possibilities, like a complete camera system on one chip, and smart pixels and groups of pixels. Kodak's PIXELUX image sensor technology, which improves performance in low light by regrouping pixels on command, is a first step in this direction.
Video cameras are no longer just picture gatherers, and the trend of intelligent cameras, capable of making decisions on their own, is exploding. The surveillance/security camera market is a main focus for camera intelligence, as it greatly reduces the bandwidth requirements when you only need to send pictures of suspicious activity, not everything. And it saves a lot of labor when the security guard only has to see the "problem" cameras, not all the cameras. Automotive lane-change warning, and other smart-camera applications also promise to make this an explosive growth area for video technology. TI's recently announced price drops for DaVinci DSP video processors will help get these apps widely deployed faster.
H.264 Encoding and Transcoding
The rapid adoption of the H.264 video codec continues. In 2006 it found its way into many IPTV deployments, video phones, and even new HD camcorders. For 2007, expect even more. H.264 encoding requires several times more processing power than decoding, and the race is on to achieve H.264 encoding at minimum power and cost. But quality of encoding is also a factor, both for picture quality and compression efficiency, so there's plenty of room here for "secret sauce". And as consumers immerse themselves in more and more varied forms of digital videofrom HDTV to iPods and portable media players, portable game players, cell phone video screensthe need for low power, low cost chips that can transcode between codecs becomes essential for an easy to use, satisfying consumer experience. Approaches that combine DSP and FPGA processing, along with Stretch's software configurable processor approach, seem to have the advantage.
Home Video Networking
Between new standards, such as DLNA, that identify A/V components, new standards for DRM that include ever-evolving HDMI connector interface standards, competing connector standards, and new wireless, power line, coax, and CAT5/6 systems for distributing video throughout a home, it's a bit like the Wild West for home A/V networking technology. And then there's the multitude of codecs to consider... can anyone help unify and harmonize this mess? Home video networking is one market that's far from mature.
SED and More Flat Panel Display Technologies
The battle between LCD and plasma is about to be joined by SED, the Canon-Toshiba joint venture that promises better flat panel image quality, possibly at lower prices. And on the heels of SED are several other, similar nanotechnology based screen designs that use the same phosphors found inside CRTs to form the image, but replace the 75-year old electron gun with something flatter, lighter, and better.
3-D at Last?
Finally, no crystal ball discussion of the future of video could be complete without the "future technology" that has been around for more than fifty years: 3-D. Could 2007 finally be the year that three dimensional video comes of age? Maybe. Three recent developments are worth keeping an eye on. One is an LCD screen technology that mimics the movies, using inexpensive polarized filter glasses to look at the screen (the technology, from MacNaughton, provides a big improvement in user comfort over the old shutter goggles.) The second is the continued improvements in 3-D LCD screens from Sharp, Toshiba, and Sanyo that require no special glasses at all. Third is the only 3-D technology that today is actually widely deployed and quite popular3-D theatrical movies, largely based on TI's pro-quality DLP cinema projection systems. The number of 3-D DLP theatrical screens keeps growing, and there's nothing to stop this technology from trickling down into the home as well.