Banish the Spinning Wheel of Death Forever!

If I said to a TV broadcast engineer “I’m going to interrupt your live broadcast signal, freeze the picture, insert a spinning wheel of death, and I’m going to do this frequently and at random” his/her reply would be unprintable! So why has this become acceptable for OTT delivery? The answer is that, until now, there hasn’t been a better solution. We have come to accept that getting “something” to our customers via the Internet is better than nothing. That random de-resolution and freezing are the only way. Despite the fact that the customer isn’t getting what they paid for, or expected. And they’re certainly not getting the best possible picture. In fact, we’re driving them nuts!

The problems are well known. Video has broken the Internet. The current private and public Internet was built for email and web pages. The exponential rise in video was not anticipated. Nor was the exponential rise in picture resolution and quality (4K, HDR, WCG, 8K etc. etc.) Consequently, Telco infrastructure lags significantly. Telco engineers describe it as “threading an elephant through the eye of a needle”. Overlay Content Delivery networks (CDNs) are one attempt to alleviate the problem. Models vary, from servers distributed into Telco exchanges to super-pops blasting from “above”. In the end, as consumer numbers, video views and file sizes rise exponentially, they just add to the problem.

Telco’s are faced with $100’s of millions in investments to upgrade. The argument rages as to who’s “fault” this is and who should pay: content owners or content deliverers. In the mean time, consumers are left peering at fuzzy pictures or screaming at the TV as their beloved movie/TV show freezes at the critical moment and a little spinning wheel says to them “we don’t care enough about you to fix this”.

Well OK that’s a bit harsh. But only a little bit! We would NEVER accept this in broadcast. “Broadcast quality” used to be a by-word for the best possible picture we can deliver. In OTT it has come to mean “the picture we can deliver”. The best solution we had was Adaptive Bit Rate (ABR) and that is what everyone adopted. It worked – sort of. There was something else that worked a little too well: BitTorrent. BitTorrent works brilliantly but it has been fatally compromised by the illegal file sharers. But  as the saying goes, “the cure often grows next to the poison.

Secure Peer Assist (SPA) combines the best of peer to peer and top-down CDN and makes it secure. It uses spare capacity in the Telco network switches, PCs and your home network to fix this problem forever. By converting a world’s best practice DASH stream into progressive download, it allows movies and TV to reach your screen in true 4K, 8K and higher HDR video. It does this by sending video “slices” from neighbouring peers and filling the gaps with a top-down CDN. Securely. Multiple garden hoses become a fire hose. It also allows legal file sharing and pre-positioning of content. All of this requires a huge level of trust from content owners. SPA has been approved unconditionally by a major Hollywood studio and deemed novel and inventive by the patent office.

In other words, a better mousetrap now exists. We can now deliver movies over the Internet in all the glorious quality the producers intended. Without interruption. At ANY Internet speed. And there seems to be no limit, at least in the foreseeable future. The platform scales with demand. In fact, it gets MORE efficient as demand grows.

But wait, there’s more! The exact same technology platform also enables delivery and playing of AAA games, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). So now, on one compact, stylish, open platform you can download and play ALL your entertainment. Alongside any app or social media you want. The impossible dream has indeed come true. So “join the resolution” today! Register your interest at  Coming soon to a retailer near you!

Poetical Science and the Fourth Transformation

I just finished reading “The Innovators” by Walter Isaacson. A while ago I read “The Fourth Transformation” by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. When you put these two seminal works into the context of recent developments in AR, movies, studios and Telco’s, it becomes clear that we really are at the beginning of a fundamental transition from 2D screen and web based man-machine interfaces to a future of augmented, virtual and other reality.

Isaacson is the CEO of the Aspen Institute, a former chairman of CNN and editor of Time. That CV speaks for itself. He has had the benefit of living the beginning of the web and all its digital impact on the publishing business, plus interviewing many of the people in the book. One of his key themes is the power of collaboration between technology and the arts. The other is that very little of real value is created alone, in isolation. He sums it up beautifully in the final paragraphs of his book:

This interplay between, technology and the arts will eventually result in completely new forms of expression and formats of media. This innovation will come from people who are able to link beauty to engineering, humanity to technology, and poetry to processors. In other words, it will come from the spiritual heirs of Ada Lovelace, creators who can flourish where the arts intersect with the sciences and who have a rebellious sense of wonder that opens them to the beauty of both.

Hence the title “POETICAL science” and the accompanying DaVinci image in his book and above. Warner Bros say EXACTLY the same thing in their AR production patent:

[It’s also going to be] “desirable to develop…new methods.. for [producing and distributing] cinematic content for VR and AR, that… enhance the appeal and enjoyment of narrative content for new immersive technolo­gies such as VR and AR.”

This isn’t going to come from someone working alone in his or her bedroom. It probably isn’t going to come from any single organisation, even Warners. Their patent is co-authored by a producer, a tech guy, an animation guy and a tech production guy. Only 2 of them work directly for Warners.

According to Steve Blank, one of the founders of the Lean Startup methodology, “A company is a permanent organization designed to execute a repeatable and scalable business model. Once you understand that existing companies are designed to execute then you can see why they have a hard time with continuous and disruptive innovation.

The innovation is going to come from people and organisations co-operating across disciplines and across boundaries. Network engineers co-operating with interface designers. Designers who are also gamers. Developers who are psychologists. Cameramen co-operating with AR designers. Studios co-operating with media co’s and Telco’s. Distributors co-operating with technologists to reinvent entertainment and work, how we interact with it and how it is distributed. Taking the best of what works now and transforming it into the future of work, art and entertainment.

This innovation is being enabled by convergence in several key technical areas: the next generation of FinFET silicon architecture that is enabling massive increases in power and decreases in size of graphical computing appliances; quantum leaps in security with DRM embedded in that silicon; rapid advances and investment in AR, VR and MR; new forms of social media; and innovations in network technology, appliances and architecture that overcome the current limitations of distributing and playing the massive AR/VR files at 4K HDR quality via the Internet. Isaacson says the same thing of the innovators in his book: they were enabled by multiple concurrent advances in technology that opened the door to the modern Internet age. A new door is being opened into the “ARnet” age. Let’s all walk through it together.

Rhett Sampson, CEO & CTO, GT Systems
This article originally appeared on

Warner Bros envisions the future of movies and applies for a patent

7 days ago, the Thursday before Easter, a Warner Brothers US patent application was published and the movie business shifted fundamentally into the next era: the era of Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Merged Reality (MR), and every kind of reality (xR). While everyone was running around looking for a killer app for AR, Warners correctly intuited that the next thing after 3D goggles in cinemas and at home is AR goggles. And a little over a year ago, they patented it. Which is great if you’re Warners but has some pretty fundamental implications for everybody else.

This patent makes immediate sense. As anyone who has experienced VR and AR will tell you, it leaves 3D for dead. So when a dragon flies out of the screen in AR (the illustration above from the patent), your brain is going to believe a dragon flew out of the screen and is flying around the room. It’s going to require some pretty fancy pre- and post-production processing and data synching, but all very doable. This is, in fact, the main subject of the patent. It’s also going to be “desirable to develop…new methods.. for [producing] cinematic content for VR and AR, that… enhance the appeal and enjoyment of narrative content for new immersive technolo­gies such as VR and AR.” Bring that on!

In the “preferred embodiment” (patent language), headsets will be wireless and served from a single server. It may take a while to get to that, but we can easily imagine (and the patent contemplates) an interim step with a small “personal server” mounted under the seat or the TV, with a Hololens, Meta, Google Glass or some new AR headset connected.

The patent includes various control devices and haptics i.e. bio-feedback. Disney have also done a lot of work in this area and filed a number of patents e.g. a “haptic chair”. Visions of feeling the dragon’s tail swipe as it flies past and swiping back with a “sword”!

A lot of attention is paid to co-ordinating 2D and VR/AR content. This is to allow viewers to take the goggles on and off and stay immersed. Necessary for those who get motion sick and of course for the obligatory visit to the in cinema candy bar.

What is significant about all this is that Warners have thought deeply and for a long time about how this might all work. Including the need for new narrative story telling and production techniques. What the patent is silent on is the technical detail of how this will be distributed to, and within, cinemas and “home theatres”, and what it will play on.

If the OTT Internet video streaming boom has shown anything, it’s that this is a very real challenge. AR and VR data files and executables can be bigger than even 4K movies. Especially if they contain a render of the 2D movie as the patent contemplates. As well as significant bandwidth, AR and VR executables need significant processor and graphics grunt. Traditional distribution via CDN may not cut it. Innovative solutions such as peer to peer have been used in gaming and should be applicable here. This would also work well for in cinema distribution and updates. Security will, of course, be critical.

Luckily some other people have been thinking deeply about this aspect of the problem, perhaps for even longer than Warners. We also applied for a patent. If we all team up, work hard and get lucky, you might just be able to experience the Oasis in cinemas in time for the release of Ready Player One. I’ll be first in the queue!

Rhett Sampson
GT Systems