If they can do what they say they can….

This week, Tom and I both went to the TV Connect event in London and I also went along to events run by Ericsson (alongside TV Connect) and Sharp so it was a busy week here.

One story that is really intriguing me is the V-Nova one. We have reported this several times in recent weeks as the company has come out of the “stealth mode” it has been in for the last five years. By taking a “start from fresh” approach to video compression, the company is claiming a dramatic boost in compression efficiency. How dramatic, I saw at TV Connect. The company’s CEO showed a 720P stream running on a mobile phone that he claimed was running at just 280kbps. That’s very dramatically less than you might expect, even with HEVC, where you might expect, perhaps 2 – 2.5Mbps (although the company’s written claims tend to say 2 – 3 times less data rate than H.265 on average).

Such a boost in codec performance would have a dramatic effect on mobile TV as well as traditional TV.

We’re not used to such dramatic shifts in the technology landscape and it makes many sceptical. I had suggested to one of our reporters that he should look up V-Nova at the recent NAB show, but after the show he reported that he had not had enough time and that such technologies are unlikely to replace the standards in the market now, would need new silicon etc.. However, V-Nova claims that its technology can exploit the silicon that is already in a lot of the hardware in MPEG decoders.

Furthermore, as I understand it (and I’m still trying to get my head around it!), the codec can be used to add an extra quality layer to a broadcast stream based on an existing codec, allowing operators, potentially, to send a single stream where unconverted legacy equipment can process the base layer, while updated technology can get the full quality. (Of course, in this case, you wouldn’t get the full compression advantage, but the benefits during a transition period to the new codec would be considerable for an MSO).

Over the years, I have seen some very doubtful claims at trade shows. I remember, in 2000, meeting a company called Telegen at Comdex that had a kind of VFD technology (HGED) that was said to have very low power consumption. I touched the front of the display and it was quite hot. The company couldn’t explain how it was going to eliminate this heat loss, so we discounted that one. After a succession of CEOs, the company was bankrupt by 2004.

Back in 1998, we heard of a technology for seamlessly tiling LCDs. In our comments on the article, we said that the inventor was ‘either a visionary or a charlatan’. In 1999, the company showed a “3D display” at Comdex that I got the chance to see. At the time, I wrote that “the effect was too subtle to be useful”, which was as far as I was happy to go as, at that stage, the company was getting support from IBM, or at least one or two influential industry experts from that company. Frankly, I couldn’t see a 3D effect at all, but calling the company fraudulent is always a risk in this litigious age. Apparently a “Japanese projector company” signed up for the technology to the tune of $300,000.

Anyway, by 2001, the company was suing its founder and chief technologist and admitting that the “grout free” LCD tiling technology that it had shown at an investor meeting had been a modified PDP from Fujitsu. So it turned out that he was a charlatan, after all. His name was Sheldon Zelitt and eventually he went to prison in 2005 for his actions, after being extradited from the Czech Republic.

Now, the claims of V-Nova seem, if anything, even more significant for the industry. They sound simply too good to be true. However, we are not close enough or deep enough with the firm to endorse its claims. On the other hand, the list of supporters that is being publicly quoted is very impressive. Not just an individual or two, but substantial and conservative companies including Hitachi, Intel, Broadcom, Sky Italia and the EBU have expressed support publicly, in writing. That’s impressive.

So, if the company can do what it says it can (and these companies seem to think it can, and it won a ‘Best of Show’ award at NAB, so for the moment I’m accepting it), the implications are really huge for display makers as it could potentially rapidly accelerate the push to UltraHD and even on to Super Hi-Vision – Bob