GV - January 1997

Double Your Pleasure, Quadruple Your Fun
by Sheldon Liebman

The old adage "You can never be too rich or too thin" is being updated for the video industry. In the new version, you can’t be "too rich, too thin or have too much resolution." Everywhere we look, traditional video is being attacked and replaced with higher resolution alternatives.

Every television station in America is wondering how much it’s going to cost and how long it’s going to take to convert to the new ATV format, which is incompatible with present television broadcast technology. The proliferation of computer terminals has resulted in our becoming much more accustomed to seeing progressive scan imagery than traditional TV pictures. And presentation technology has embraced high resolution data projectors for displaying images that are sharper and brighter than anything we can see at home.

Since we haven’t thrown away our existing television standard yet, there is a market for products that turn old style television into something that looks more like what’s coming than what’s going. Line Doublers and Quadruplers are trying to plug that gap.

Speed Demons
Last summer, we introduced these products to Government Video readers. They take interlaced video formats as inputs and create higher resolution, non-interlaced video formats as outputs. As such, they increase the scanning rate of the input images so that more information can be output more often.

In a simple line doubler, the information is buffered and output with little or no additional processing. At the higher end, not only is the display speed increased, but there is also filtering of the data in an attempt to smooth out the motion and remove any artifacts that may be introduced as a part of the procedure. Faroudja Laboratories is perhaps the ultimate supplier of this type of technology.

Don’t Confuse Me with the Details
If you’ve ever scaled an image down and then used that lower resolution version to scale back up to the original resolution, you know that you lose some detail in the process. Even the best filtering in the world can’t create details where none were present originally. Of course, if you watch enough prime time television or see the latest blockbuster movies, you’ll constantly be treated to scenes where a seemingly unreadable image or video is "enhanced" far beyond what it originally shows.

They call it "science fiction" for a reason. Although there are very impressive algorithms that exist to interpolate data as it is scaled up, even the best of these can’t accomplish what Tom Cruise and Arnold Schwartzenegger routinely create in a matter of seconds from a fuzzy original.

You’re Fooling Yourself
The human brain is an amazing organ. It has the ability to interpolate data far beyond what any scientific algorithm is able to do. If you show someone a fuzzy image and explain what it contains, you’ll almost certainly hear the viewer tell you that they see what you are describing. The same is true of line doubling and quadrupling technology. If it can smooth out the edges and eliminate obvious flaws, we can convince ourselves that we are seeing more detail than was originally in the image.

Can we read a license plate on a car where the original is only two or three video lines? No, only Tom and Arnold can accomplish that. But, if we see motion that has been properly filtered, we’ll see more fluidity to the movement and perceive that as being more detail.

This means that watching line doubled or quadrupled video will be more pleasant and more relaxing. Since the refresh rate makes it easier on our eyes and the filtering will make it seem more detailed, we’ll feel more like we are watching a movie than a television image. We can also take advantage of this phenomenon by finding ways to display more information and still be able to process it.

A Secure Feeling
Once area that can benefit from increased resolution and more information is the field of security and surveillance. Converting from standard video to a high resolution, non-interlaced display can increase the effectiveness of security personnel in a number of ways.

First, you can display more images at once. If we assume that you can take a standard video screen and divide it into four quadrants (as is often done), then you can show four camera inputs as the same time. If we change our display to 1280x1024 non-interlaced, it is possible that we could show four screens on each of the quadrants of the higher resolution display for a total of 16 camera inputs simultaneously. In that case, each of the images is the same resolution as when a standard video monitor is being used to display them four at a time. Since we have a higher resolution display, we can show more of them at once.

This might be an overwhelming amount of data to process, but what if we chose to display nine images? In this case, we show more than four images at a time and each one is actually higher in resolution than the quarter screen images shown on a standard TV. This is the second way that you can increase the effectiveness of a security operation.

In addition, this allows us to capture a still image from any of the windows that contains more information than would be available in a standard quarter screen view. If we record the original signals to video at their full resolution (before they are input to the multiple window display), we have even more information available.

We Do Windows
Multiple video windows are one way to take advantage of line doubling technology. In fact, one product that should be familiar to Government Video readers is the RGB/View from RGB Spectrum. Using a high resolution graphics controller for output, the RGB/View offers up to 6 real time video windows that can be scaled to any size.

Another use for this technology is to provide one window with a high effective resolution. This can happen when a single video window can be displayed on a high resolution graphics controller. One of the first products to accomplish this was the Truevision Bravado (Santa Clara, CA). It had the ability to take in a single video input and display that in a resizable window on the VGA monitor. Since the Bravado supported SuperVGA resolution, you could technically have a "full" video resolution window that didn’t take up the entire graphics display.

Over the past few years, similar products have also become available from companies like Imagraph Corporation (Chelmsford, MA), Integral Technologies (Indianapolis, IN), Matrox Electronics (Dorval, PQ, Canada) and Univision Technologies (Billerica, MA). While the Bravado was not a very powerful VGA card, the products from these companies offer high speed, high capability and (relatively) low cost.

As with the Bravado, these cards can display standard video resolution in a window on a high resolution display. Unlike the Bravado, the display capabilities of these newer solutions go up to 1280x1024.

Basically, all of these solutions incorporate line doubling technology to convert the incoming video signal into a non-interlaced, VGA format. In fact, if you set a Univision Chameleon, for example, to 640x480 and displayed the incoming video signal at full screen, you’ve effectively duplicated the functionality of a simple line doubler. Of course, you’ve invested in a complete computer system to do it.

In addition to displaying line doubled video, this new generation of products contain scaling technology that allows the incoming signal to be scaled to any size. Until recently, the scaling technology was limited to scaling down from video resolution to a smaller window. Today, it’s possible to scale UP from video resolution as well to achieve an "effective" resolution that is higher than 640x480.

You Say You Want Some Resolution
As we mentioned above, nothing beats having high resolution to begin with. Scaling and interpolation technology is no match for having the greatest amount of data to start. Although not based on line doubling or quadrupling technology, the other way to get a high resolution display is to use a high resolution camera.

Camera technology is not limited to video, although video cameras are certainly more common. Many manufacturers offer analog and digital cameras that provide significant resolution beyond traditional video, although they become much more expensive when you get into that range. High resolution frame grabbers are also available from a variety of companies including the ones mentioned here.

By getting the highest resolution input possible, the need for enhancing the resolution even more is diminished. Obviously, the higher the resolution of the input, the more detail you’ll have to begin with. Of course, that just brings us back to where we started. Formats like ATV and HDTV (will) provide not only higher resolution display, but higher resolution cameras and tape recorders. Until they’re everywhere, line doubling technology can give us a taste of what’s to come.

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