As a designer of semiconductor IP, Imagination is uniquely positioned to tackle many of the foreseen challenges within the TV market.
In this article, I will attempt to describe a potential future direction for television and list the IP needed to create a more exciting and compelling user experience.
Back to basics
A few years ago, the future of TV appeared uncertain. Market reports showed 3D displays were not providing a compelling option for users; meanwhile, more consumers were switching from traditional broadcast programming to OTT content served via tablets, smartphones, and several alternative media playing devices.
The advent of 4K however has pushed things in a more positive direction. This is because most consumers understand the value of 4K and its main proposition: at twice the resolution of HDTV (1080p), 4K promises to deliver another revolution in image quality to TVs everywhere.
The continual development in display technology has brought the costs of 4K down, whilst 8K resolution is actively being pursued by broadcasters such as NHK and the BBC. Indeed Japan remains on track to commence test transmissions of 8K TV as early as 2016 with nationwide broadcast scheduled for 2020.
In order to take advantage of the increased resolution on offer, display sizes have also increased and we are already seeing 4K TVs with 110-inch diagonal dimension. The increase in display size allows the viewer to perceive improved image quality at average viewing distances, with TVs attempting to replicate the high-resolution display trend first noted in smartphones and tablets.
8K TVs would likely push the envelope still further were it not for the sheer unwieldiness of such displays being the limiting factor. The physical size of the display required to make 8K a differentiator means that there is likely nothing beyond this in terms of display resolution development: it’s simply not beneficial to build TVs with resolutions beyond 8K.
Therefore manufacturers need to start thinking outside the box – or, more precisely, outside the screen.
Extending the display surface
One solution is to assemble several physical screens into a tiled array to create a large format display. The advantage to this multi-screen approach is that the resolution of each screen can effectively remain static – likely 4K maximum per screen – whilst the display size becomes potentially unlimited. The result is that individual screens themselves can be physically smaller but the effective pixel density of the display overall becomes much, much larger.
Whilst this offers a prohibitively expensive solution today, technological improvements and mass-market adoption will continually erode the price of such display methods; for example, the promise of flexible screen technology should eventually make it feasible to wallpaper a room with tiled displays.
Of course the idea of tiled displays is not new, indeed there are several examples today using PCs with high-end graphics cards to drive arrays of flat panels. But this solution is expensive and ultimately non-scalable beyond a handful of screens.
So, regardless of the physical implementation of display technology itself, be this anything from arrays of small OLED screens through to ultra-short-throw micro projectors, there is a requirement for cost-efficient semiconductor IP that can manage several screens as single or multiple uninterrupted display surfaces.
We are already experiencing migration towards extremely slim, frameless flat panels and flexible screens; this helps seed the embryonic market for tiled displays. It is anticipated that manufacturers will be quick to harness the opportunity to differentiate their screens in order to make multiple sales of flat panel televisions. Likewise there exists the opportunity for semiconductor vendors to develop technology that can be embedded into every screen, allowing them to communicate and become part of a much larger display.
These chips can be built today by taking advantage of the large portfolio of IP that Imagination has developed over the years. This includes a combination of hardware and software working together to achieve tight synchronization between displays:
- Building a high-performance connected audio/video solution based around the IP subsystem announced earlier this year with TSMC. The resulting SoC would include MIPS P- or I-class CPUs, a PowerVR Series7 GPU, PowerVR Series5 video encoders and decoders, and an Ensigma Explorer RPU.
- Using our StreamSync technology for screen synchronization over Wi-Fi, extending the work achieved for Caskeid synchronous audio. StreamSync carries the timing signals for both audio and video, ensuring that every screen in the array is fully synchronized with its neighbours.
- Always rendering video as a texture, thereby reducing the engineering effort to support video across the same distributed interface
And if you’re thinking that wall-sized displays remain in the realms of science fiction, back in July 2014 LG demonstrated paper-thin flexible TV display panels to the industry. Their research panel has a resolution of 1,200 x 800 pixels, however LG publicly stated they are confident of manufacturing 60-inch Ultra HD (4K) rollable TV displays by 2017.
Reusing existing mobile displays in the living room
Another option for improving and extending the display surface of a TV is to reuse existing smartphones and tablets in the living room to create a unique experience called free viewpoint TV.
This is achieved by the broadcaster creating an image with a 180° field-of-view using six HD cameras and delivering to the TV. The viewer then selects desired areas from the resultant 5Kx2K image to display on a particular screen, be it the TV or the tablet.
From the broadcaster’s perspective, there is one single video stream delivered to each home. But inside the living room, it gives the viewer an impression of moving the camera around. Furthermore, a single button press on the remote control would return the viewer to the standard broadcaster-selected feed, just as for normal TV.
This technique would also imply equipping the TV with more processing power than your average entry-level smartphone. At a minimum, the TV SoC would need a MIPS I-class CPU, a PowerVR Rogue GPU, a PowerVR Series5 decoder capable of transcoding 4K video and an Ensigma RPU to rebroadcast the video streams to connected tablets and smartphones.
Meantime broadcasters are already considering the wider benefits of synchronizing IP-connected devices with TV programming. DVB-CSS is a proposed new standard that allows devices such as tablet, smartphones and other similar companion screens (or “second screens”) to interact with the TV or set-top box directly and become integrated into the overall broadcast TV experience.
Use of DVB-CSS is anticipated to commence with deployment of TVs and STBs using the HbbTV 2.0 standard. This will enable tablets and smartphones to present audio-visual content precisely in sync with the TV, thereby engaging viewers in new and interesting ways of interacting with broadcast TV programming and enable active participation in live events.
This article only scratches the surface of what’s possible. As we follow this market closely, we are very excited to see how semiconductor vendors use our IP to drive innovation for the next phase of television history.
If you are interested to talk to us in more detail about the future of TVs, get in touch via our contact page. Make sure you also stay tuned to our blog and follow us on @ImaginationPR for future announcements.
- Simon Forrest -