Angles Of View
The two preceding articles in this series have discussed the importance and some of the history which inform the forthcoming change in display appearance from 3:4 to 9:16. Although it is surely not possible to predict all (or even most) of the consequences of this transformation, there do remain a few other observations which may usefully be made. Certainly all of the industries currently involved in the creation of every sort of visual display are anxious that we join them in
Approaching the Superhighway - Bit by BitAfter several months of thinking about the extent to which HDTV is likely to influence the A/V industry, only two things are perfectly clear. One is the aspect ratio itself. It does appear certain that the next millennium's first generation of screens will indeed be 9 by 16. The only other fact that seems incontrovertible is that the content to be projected on those bigger screens is going to be digital.
At first glance, that second observation may not seem like much of a big deal. All of us involved with data display have been looking at digital content for years. Digital, after all, is really all that computers do. But there's also an awful lot of video being projected throughout our industry and it hasn't so far been digital, it's been analog.
High Definition, the HD of the HDTV acronym, was a properly descriptive phrase for an aspiration whose foundations lie in the imitation of film. Thirty years after the laying of those foundations, however, the aspiration has been importantly refined and the new, more descriptive acronym has become DTVstanding, of course, for Digital Television. The distinction between the two concepts is important and bears some elaboration.
In the beginning, what was wanted was some way to transmit over the airwaves a signal that would contain a lot more information than was possible with the broadcast bandwidths assigned to conventional TV. Doubling up channels, for instance, might well have worked technically, but was considered highly unpalatable by the stations and their finance departments. Two programs with two sets of time slots for two sets of commercials were always superior to one with one. And so HDTV foundered and stalled and never really got off the ground until more than 20 years after people first began to think about it seriously.
But when adjacent industries began to demonstrate the enormous advantages of digitizing their media, the way to making HDTV real finally become apparent. This article is neither competent nor interested in establishing definitively whether digital was the egg or, just as plausibly, the chicken that will finally hatch HDTV. But we are interested in emphasizing the profound consequences of the connection between them.
Just consider, for instance, that the Advanced Television Standards Committee has authorized something like nine (9!) scanning frequencies ranging between 34 and 64 kHz some of which are progressive while others are interlaced. While dealing with each may be an electronic challenge, the fact is that the digital television set will have to deal with them all. "Every DTV appliance must decode multiple formats and figure out how to scale the results properly for optimal presentation on the local display."1
In the training or boardroom, this multi-scan flexibility is much less daunting for the display device because there is much less sensitivity to its cost than there will be in the living room. Furthermore, the A/V world is already familiar (if not always content) with multiple sources and multiple resolutions. Still, there is much ballyhoo being made about the imminent confluence of multiple technologies within a single device. Computer, Internet Browser, and TV are all supposed to meld together into a common interface which can be exploited both in the workplace and at home. If this actually transpires (and it may, it just may), the lingua franca of all the disparate media will, most assuredly, be digital.
When information of any kind, audio or video, is converted into nothing more complicated then a long series of 0's and 1's, or Ons and Offs, the degree to which it may be shared, duplicated, or transmitted is virtually limitless. A zero from your computer contains the same exact bit of information as a zero from your DTV.
Digital television, then, "is nothing more than a transmission standard that modulates an analog signal in a manner that allows digital bits to be transported, and a transport protocol to identify the syntax of these bits and the content they carry."2
Thinking about this in terms of A/V, it will mean that all of the media our customers wish to manipulate and from which they wish to glean information can (will) be converged into a purely digital format which, most interestingly, can (will) be quite independent of its resolution. Having said that, it must be acknowledged that a device's or a system's highest, uncompressed resolution will always be limited by the hardware making it up. If the chips in your projector have a horizontal pixel count of 1280, for instance, you're not ever going really to see imagery whose horizontal resolution is 1920. But that doesn't mean you can't read information that arrives in that much denser form.
If you believe all this and if you accept that our customers in only a few short years will be demanding that their systems be 9:16 capable, what, if anything, should you be doing differently now?
Robert J. Haroutunian, of PPI Consulting in Washington, D.C. (firstname.lastname@example.org), is someone who has given a lot of thought to this question and he believes that, at least in terms of screen selection, the issue depends on the length of his clients' leases. "If they're going to occupy the space for at least five more years and particularly if their system is rear projected, I am insisting that they put in a screen that is 9:16," he says.
"Since we know that the shift to 9:16 is federally mandated to occur by 2008, I am absolutely certain that the format will be required in the corporate boardroom well before that. To specify 3:4 screens today, therefore, only exposes the client to needless expense and inconvenience tomorrow, when the widescreen format will have become the standard," he continues.
Scott Walker, of Waveguide Consulting, Incorporated, in Decatur, GA. (Scott@waveguideinc.com) agrees. "We are specifying most of our screens as 9:16 these days," he says, "even though few current video projectors are truly 9:16 output devices. But, within the next few years, I expect they'll be plenty to choose from. In the meantime, it is critical that room geometry, sight lines and, consequently, projection screen specifications be considered with this evolution to 9:16 in mind. The change is happening and it's happening very quickly."
"It is remarkable to me how many executives who only a few years ago were afraid to touch a touchscreen have now bought themselves elaborate home theater systems and are resultantly telling us they expect their new presentations spaces to be fully widescreen compliant," he went on. "Once they see it [9:16], it's very difficult for them to imagine not designing their new space with this capability."
Still, both consultants and numerous of their colleagues acknowledge that today there are limitations with respect to what can be projected onto a 9:16 screen. In an effort to bridge the gap between a present and future aspect ratio, Da-Lite has developed a front projection screen system which we call the Horizon ElectrolŽ.
This product, which may be ordered with any surface and can be tensioned, comes with a built-in electric masking system which, at the touch of a button, causes the viewing area of one format to convert exactly to the viewing area of any of three others. As shown in Figure 1, the preset aspect ratios are 1.33: 1, 1.78:1, 1.85:1, and 2.35:1. Currently, the largest screen width available in this model is 160 inches.
By default, Da- Lite ships each Horizon so that the four aspect ratios maintain spatially identical centers. This means that the projector creating all four images need not be physically adjusted as it electronically shifts between one aspect ratio and another.
Should, either presently or in the future, a projector be chosen which does not maintain symmetric centers but, for instance, instead maintains the bottom edge of each image at the same height off the floor, the Horizon can be reprogrammed in a few easy steps.
As a close, then, to the present discussion of 9:16, we can predict that with the imminent inception of all- digital displays, our customers really will be able, finally, to byte off more than they can view.
1 Birkmaiier, Craig, The Future of Digital Television, Part 1: September1998 - Are You DTV Ready? http://www.digitaltelevision.com/future1p.shtml