Next-generation cinema steals iGrid spotlight

Emerging digital cinema networks promise worldwide delivery of live, full-motion video at four times the resolution of high-definition television.

PETERBOROUGH, N.H. - Ultrahigh-definition streaming media sent around the world via gigabit optical networks highlighted the capabilities of emerging scientific networks at last month's iGrid 2005 workshop.

In the workshop, held at the University of California, San Diego's Calit2 facility Sept. 26 to 29, NTT Labs technology demonstrated for the first time how it compresses and decompresses streams of between 6 Gbits and 4 Mbits/second for network transmission.

The workshop opened with a digital cinema demonstration. Live images from Dalsa Corp.'s Origin digital cinema camera, which produces full-motion video at 4x the resolution of high-definition TV, was piped from Tokyo to San Diego, on a route that covered some 9,000 miles. The experimental video format, called 4K digital video, is being proposed as the next-generation movie medium by a consortium of Hollywood studios.

"Seeing such dramatic examples of networked 4K media for science, medicine, education, culture, art and entertainment inspires the imagination about what can be done with advanced visualization and communications technology," said UCSD chancellor Marye Anne Fox, who opened the iGrid 2005 event.

The demonstration was a complex blend of optical IP networking, grid computing middleware and 4K motion picture hardware, which is in research and development.

At one end of the transmission at Keio University in Tokyo was a Silicon Graphics Prism visualization system connected to a data storage system with a 1.6-Gbyte/s I/O port. Live cinema produced by the 4K camera was compressed and sent via optical network to a Visual Area Networking system at Calit2, where the images could be reviewed and edited. The demo system also used a new type of network broadcasting system developed at NTT that can stream 4K video over existing networks. The 4K digital format is now in limited use, adding digital special effects to standard films.

The demo showed that with the advent of full digital cinema technology, film crews can be working at a remote site while the director edits the daily shoots from a home office while studio executives view the film progress in a screening room in Hollywood.

Hollywood studios plan a standard that will allow full 4K digital cinema productions to be distributed to theaters in digital form, where they will be projected using 4K digital projectors.

But the new digital networking technology has many additional applications across scientific and industrial areas. Another demonstration used the same 4K network and visualization hardware to provide remote visualization of disaster areas that can be used to plan relief efforts. Researchers at San Diego State University's Visualization Center showed how they helped plan relief efforts after the Sumatra tsunami disaster. The group is also using ultrahigh-definition remote imaging to assist with the rebuilding of New Orleans.

A group at the University of Amsterdam produced 20-Gbit/s image streams of computed tomography (CT) scans that were viewed at the Calit2 facility on a tiled display consisting of 55 large LCD screens. The result was a representation of objects that viewers could walk around and view from different perspectives. The display has a resolution of 17,600 x 6,000 pixels.

The data stream was first sent to an optical exchange in the Netherlands called NetherLight, which has an all-optical connection to the StarLight optical exchange at the University of Chicago. From there, the image stream was sent over optical links that have been set up in the United States. The 20-Gbit/s stream set a world record for transmission of scientific data. The demo achieved a 19.5-Gbit/s peak transmission with a sustained rate of 18 Gbits/s.

The CT imaging demonstration used the OptiPuter optical infrastructure system that is being developed at Calit2. Additional middleware now being developed will make the OptiPuter a distributed optical computer with supercomputers and high-speed massive data storage systems as nodes.

Researchers at the University of Alberta and Simon Fraser University in British Columbia used 4K to demonstrate remote engineering collaboration. The University of Alberta's Lightpaths project has assembled a design system that produces real-time simulations of a design over optical networks. A second group at Simon Fraser collaborated on the design remotely.

Another remote imaging project used high-definition television technology to send live pictures of deep sea vents for the first time over the Internet. The research ship Thomas G. Thompson off British Columbia fed live images at 20 Mbits/s from the ocean floor over the Internet to the Calit2 workshop using the Research Channel's iHDTV software.

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