IBC 2012: Slowing Time - Massing Data

Posted By Tom Coughlin on September 08, 2012 10:30 am | Permalink
Physicists in the last ten years have accomplished an incredible feat; they have slowed and even stopped light using ultra cold plasmas.  The light is absorbed in the plasma and does not radiate again until a laser beam perpendicular to the original path of the first light beam irradiates the ultra cold plasma and excites to it reemit the light along its original path. Since the motion of light in a sense defines our local perception of time we might say that these experiments have slowed and even stopped time, within the ultra cold plasma used to absorb the energy of the light beam.

In a similar sense, a video played at very slow speeds can enhance our perception of time and make us aware of features of the scene that might otherwise pass unnoticed.  Many folks have seen this effect but it is only when the video frame rate becomes very high that these temporal details become more clear.  When you combine this with high-resolution video images the effect is striking.  At the 2012 IBC conference I had an opportunity to experience close to 1,000 frames per second, true 4k video at the For-A exhibit.

For-A announced their Super Slo Mo Camera earlier in 2012 (the FT-ONE).  While other professional video cameras are available that can shoot greater than 1,000 fps HD video (2K, such as the Phantom Miro M320S), this is the first 4K slow-motion video I have seen up close.  In a small display room For-A showed footage of Orcas jumping out of the water, competitive skiers as well as canons and explosives.  With the high resolution images the slow motion revealed amazing details.  I saw many effects in great detail that I had previously only read about in physics books-amazing...  Just seeing such video answers the question about what you can do with higher video frame rates.

While high-resolution video at even higher rates has been demonstrated in university labs-just check out youtube videos to see some of this work, the For-A camera is a commercially available product (selling for about $135,000 US). This camera captures uncompressed raw data on an internal RAM memory with a recording capacity of 8.5 seconds. Two hot-swappable SSD cartridges (each capable of storing 75 seconds of 4K images) are used for the content capture.  Clearly the data rate for capturing this content is large.   Higher capacity, very high data rate storage devices will be needed to make it possible to capture more than about 150 seconds of content.

Most modern professional video cameras can capture content up to 120 fps. At higher resolution (and with stereoscopic content) these frame rates will be needed to prevent motion artifacts that distract from a video experience.  Devices such as the For-A Slow Mo Camera point to where these frame rate trends could go in the future to capture details and create special effects that might not be possible otherwise. The storage capacity and bandwidth required are daunting today but probably not so much in another ten years. Higher frame rates, higher resolutions (NHK was showing its 8K X 4K video shot at the 2012 Summer Olympics) and more cameras simultaneously capturing video content will create a new generation of visual experiences within a decade or so and they will require significant increases in the required bandwidth and storage capacity to make this happen.

Thomas M. Coughlin, the founder of Coughlin Associates, has over 30 years of magnetic recording engineering and engineering management experience at companies developing flexible tapes and floppy disc storage as well as rigid disks at such companies as Polaroid, Seagate Technology, Maxtor, Micropolis, Nashua Computer Products, Ampex and SyQuest.