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New Technology Preserves HD DVD Quality

As HD DVD entertainment systems for the home begin to roll out, Thomson's Film Grain Technology aims to improve the visual quality of compressed movies by making it look like the "grain" of the movie is still there.

Thomson on Wednesday said it's developed a technology that preserves the visual quality of movies shot in film -- from production to consumers. As HD DVD entertainment systems for the home begin to roll out, Thomson's Film Grain Technology aims to improve the visual quality of compressed movies. Code embedded in HD DVD discs will decode the visual effect during playback in consumer devices.

Movies created in film tend to lose original characteristics and details when compressed and decompressed. "Thomson has come up with a way that allows the film grain to be put back, or at least simulated, into the movie after its been compressed and decompressed," said Gavin Shutz, engineering vice president at the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE). "This technology reintroduces the look into images after the movie reaches consumers."

SMPTE recently agreed to support the technology by posting Thomson's "registered disclosure document" on its Web site. Technology companies, from chip manufacturers to consumer devices, are paying attention.

Take the Xbox, for example. Companies like Microsoft Corp. have begun to embed Thomson's technology into broadcast and home theater playback devices, said Jeff Cooper, general manager of Thomson's Princeton Research Lab, home to about 60 researchers.

High definition brings details, such as film grains, that appear on movies screen into the home, viewable on new HD DVD entertainment systems. "Rather than compress the film grain by increasing the bit rate to very high levels, because you then have bandwidth or disc capacity issues, it's much better to model the signal and send the parameters, which is just a few bits," Cooper said. "The HD DVD player then decodes the specs, so you get the film grain effect."

Thomson's technology also received nods from Toshiba, RCA, Broadcom, Sigma Designs, Horizon Semiconductors, NVIDIA and Sonic Solutions, which are building the specs into components, software and products that will end up in consumer HD DVD players.

Doug Grearson, senior marketing manager at Broadcom Corp., which makes chips for both Blu-Ray and HD DVD players, said Thomson's Film Grain technology is a mandatory specification in the HD DVD players.

NVIDIA will integrate Thomson's Film Grain Technology into a line of Quadro graphic processing devices; Sonic Solutions into HD DVD production tools. InterVideo and CyberLink are integrating the technology into their personal computer HD DVD players. Consumer products, such as RCA's HDV5000, Toshiba's HD-A1 and HD-XA1, and Microsoft's Xbox 360 HD DVD player, will have the technology, too.

The technology should also increase bit-rate download speeds when consumers buy movies in HD DVD format through IPTV services or CinemaNow, MovieLink and Vongo for those flicks whose director wants to maintain the film-grain visual effect in the movie.

"Consumers will most likely see the same size files, but the picture quality will improve because the film grain characteristics are retained," Cooper said. "Standard definition bit rate varies between 8 Mbps and 10 Mbps, whereas HD DVD ranges between 10 Mbps and 15 Mbps. The maximum can range between 30 Mbps and 40 Mbps."

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