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3-D Innovation

SCU engineering professor’s work takes on new dimension

A year from now, engineers working for big-name companies like Samsung, Microsoft, and Intel will be implanting chips in products that contain a piece of Santa Clara University.

The integrated circuits used in today’s electronic equipment, from cell phones to home appliances, are tiny, complex, and carry innumerable components. One chip element deals with how 3-D video data is compressed. By 2015, a new standard for this coding will be in effect throughout the world. Nam Ling, SCU computer engineering professor/department chair, and his group of researchers have made an impressive contribution to this new standard.

Known as 3D-HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding), the new standard for 3-D video compression is being developed by JCT-3V, the international joint collaborative team that controls the common platforms for all next generation 3-D video compression issues.

“We’ve had two video coding proposals already adopted by the JCT-3V,” explained Ling, “but this is the first time that one of our methods has been adopted as normative, that is, a required and not an optional part for coding."

Ling’s group collaborates with researchers from Huawei/Hisilicon, the company that partly sponsors his project. The team’s most recent major achievement came about in July when JCT-3V held its quarterly standards meeting in Vienna. Ling sent Zhouye Gu, an SCU research scholar and the primary contributor on the project, to the meeting.

“All the major players attend the meetings and all are looking to dominate the market by having their company methods adopted in this next generation standard,” said Ling. “So, SCU comes along and we have to not only prove our method is technically sound, but we also must convince the big companies that our method enhances the performance of coding.” Gu successfully made this case in Vienna, and now Ling and his group are researching ways to make further contributions to the new international standard.

Ling has been working with 2-D video coding for about 20 years with support from different sponsors. In 2007, he was awarded the first phase of a grant from Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd and has thus far received a total of $380,220 from the company. He began concentrating on high efficiency 3-D video compression last year, applying funds from the grant to that endeavor.

In a nutshell, Ling, his students, and researchers have devised a way to improve the compression of the depth map in 3-D video, allowing enormous amounts of 3-D video data to be compressed in a more efficient manner. Their contribution is acknowledged for its simplicity and for the time it saves—making intra-frame compression about 30 percent faster than that of the previous method.

The professor said the term “3-D” is often misinterpreted by the general public. “In the movies when you put those special glasses on, you get a stereoscopic view—a two-dimensional image with the illusion of depth.” Real 3-D, he explained, “is not just looking at something with your right and left eyes; it enables users to view objects and scenes completely, at 360 degrees in any direction. It provides a realistic sense of depth even viewed from these directions, just like in real life.” The ultimate aim of the new standard is to enable 3-D video for ultra-high definition, 16 times the spatial resolution of today’s HDTV, he noted.

According to Ling, 3-D video technology is rapidly making its way into the lives of consumers and because of that, “there is a sense of urgency to come out with new, efficient ways of moving much greater amounts of data through the existing video bandwidth.”

He said he is pleased to be doing work that will have such a significant impact on peoples’ lives, even for those living in developing countries. “Many places around the world don’t have the infrastructure to support large bandwidth applications or must rely on wireless service,” he explained. “If we can efficiently compress video data, much more information can be transmitted to those countries and accessed by those living there."

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