All your audio, video kit is about to become OBSOLETE

Deep-geek soothsayer predicts smart audio, Ultra HD eyewear, much more

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CES 2013 Although much of the audio and video technology packed into CES 2013's 1.9 million square feet of exhibition space is indeed impressive, one panelist at an emerging-technology conference session channeled a little 1974 BTO, essentially telling his audience that "You ain't seen nothin' yet."

Rich Doherty, research director of The Envisioneering Group and a 34-year member of the IEEE, spoke along with a group of other deep-geek soothsayers who will participate in the International Conference on Consumer Electronics (ICCE), which takes place in Las Vegas immediately after CES.

At ICCE, engineers share papers on technologies that may show up in products at CES in the next three to five years. This year, the topics ranged from 3D to health care to gaming to storage to social networking and more. Doherty focused his remarks on audio and video.

"In audio," he said, "things are going to change very, very quickly."

The biggest change he foresees for the next five years is that audio is going to become adaptive, changing its wave forms to fit each user's personal aural perceptions. Noting that each individual's hearing evolves over their lifetime, he said, "Very few of us hear music the same – musicians are even more aware of this."

Future audio technology "will evolve to your hearing," he said. "It won't be a hearing aid, it'll be built into phones and other devices we're using." And this new technology won't require you to tune it; it will measure eardrum and cochlear reactions and adapt to your hearing contours automagically.

Another audio aid will be what Doherty characterized as a "tremendous" improvement in noise reduction. "People may think that they're out in the middle of a desert when they're standing on the CES floor," he said, "because mobile microphones will pick up that sound and rip out almost everything that doesn't seem to be your voice, and just carry that through to the person on the other end."

He also discussed how active noise reduction is finding its way into cars, enabling carmakers to reduce the amount of sound-deadening materials from tens of centimers down to just a few centimeters. Active automotive noise reduction systems, he said, pick up road and vehicle noise, produce cancelling wave forms, and pipe them through the car's sound system. "Drivers and the passengers aren't experiencing the same noise," he said.

He added, however, that the same technology can do the reverse. "There are those who want their cars to be loud, inside and out," he said. "You'll be able to make a Fiat 500 sound like a Masarati. Or if you're coming up along someone, the external exhaust note will sound like a dump truck, and maybe they'll move over a little faster."

Doherty also pointed to recent ICCE papers that describe how HD audio will be coming to mobile phones. "Is anybody here really happy with the sound quality of their mobile phones today?" he asked. When his audience chuckled, he quipped, "Good. Honest crowd." Quantifying the improvement he expects in the next few years, he said, "We're talking audio with something like four to 16 times better fidelity."

He also forsees phased-array microphones used in conference phones that will pick up each person in the room equally. "The beams will actually steer towards the speaker," he said.

MEMS-based microphones and speakers are also on the runway. "The way speakers have been built traditionally," he said, "you have to have speakers try to reproduce the full range of sound, but they're a fraction of the wavelength of sound." With the use of MEMS-based speakers and improved driver technologies, even small speakers will be able to reproduce a much richer sound spectrum.

Moving to consumer-level video, Doherty said that he sees much higher resolution devices with much higher frame rates. "We're going to see video beyond the retina display and approaching that of Ultra HD devices in the next five years," he said, referring to the 4X and 8X video displays that occupy so much of the show floor at CES 2013.

Video frame rates will become much faster. "Not just 60, 120, 240 [frames per second], he said. "We're probably going to see 1,000 in five years – demonstrated, if not shipped as products." To help broadcast, cable, and wireless networks to better handle the much larger amount of data needed for Ultra HD and higher–frame rate video, he envisions object-oriented video and audio codecs that will provide perhaps four times today's efficiency.

Doherty also pointed out that Ultra HD displays are actually "giant ICs," as he put it. "They really are; they're silicon on glass, and advances that have been made on the micro side are propelling larger and larger displays with greater and greater detail and fidelity range."

Peering even further into the future, Doherty sees devices such as Google's Project Glass eyewear having Ultra HD resolution, along with tablets and phones. He also predicts that the prices of high-resolution displays will drop precipitously.

"Those displays will be so cheap to do on the lower end," he said, "that we will have more and more video tags at retail that will perhaps display information that's special to you as you walk past with your NFC tag – or perhaps you've already been recognized by the Ultra HD camcorders that are making sure that you get your best retail experience."

Prices will drop so low for low-end video displays that Doherty envisions video greeting cards – which perhaps seems far-fetched, but just a few short years ago, so did today's greeting cards that play full audio.

Summing up, Doherty rattled through a quick list of other video niceties that will show up on the show floor sometime between CES 2014 and CES 2018: high dynamic range (HDR) video; Ultra HD cameras the size of a five-pack of Wrigley's Spearmint gum for under twenty bucks; curved LCD, OLED, and e-ink panels, with the former two used to create 360-degree video displays.

About those 360-degree displays, however, Doherty cautioned that when they do appear they'll only be affordable by people who can today spring for one of the Ultra HD displays with which CES is so anamored this year.

"Not my household," he said, "but it's going to come." ®

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