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Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


Super high-def video: Eyes open wide for tech on the way

Times senior technology Writer

SAN DIEGO — How do you make a geek drool?

Show him or her the stuff being developed at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, a collaborative research venture of the University of California campuses at San Diego and Irvine.

A tour of the institute Monday began in what center director and supercomputing luminary Larry Smarr described as the world's most advanced digital theater.

Each seat has a gigabit Ethernet connection and power jacks, and the big screen displays images from the first "super-high-definition" projector system installed in this country. The projector was provided by Sony, which is trying to sell it to the movie industry.

Super-high-def video is four times the resolution of standard high-def.

Its cameras put out 6 gigabits of content per second, compared with 1.5 gigabits per second with regular high-def.

A demonstration video, scanned from a 65-millimeter Imax film on India, was so crisp, vibrant and deep, it seemed like 3-D.

"This is a new medium," Smarr said during the tour, part of the Future in Review (FiRe) conference organized by Friday Harbor technology commentator and investor Mark Anderson.

Technology investors, entrepreneurs and journalists attending the conference murmured in awe at the theater demonstrations, then crowded into smaller laboratories to peer at ultra-high-resolution screens and experience a wallsize virtual-reality display.

When combined with superfast Internet connections like the ones at the theater, it enables applications such as super-realistic videoconferencing that Smarr calls "telepresence." The building has 100 gigabits of bandwidth and could, in principle, be configured to have as much capacity as every cable-modem equipped home in the U.S.

Other gee-whiz demonstrations included a 24-channel digital surround-sound system and a prototype of a circa 2015 personal computer with a 100 million-pixel display.

The PC was actually a stack of 55 flat-panel displays powered by a cluster of 28 Linux PCs, plus a 29th PC that served as a sort of controller.

On the big screen, Smarr displayed the system's power by casually showing a visual model of the forces and weather that create a tornado.

He also showed plain old high-definition video of hydrothermal vents filmed 2.5 miles below the ocean's surface by a University of Washington oceanography professor, John Delaney.

"With this [broadband network], any schoolchild can see in live time this kind of thing," Smarr said.

Would a 4x high-def system be perfect for Seattle's Cinerama theater?

The theater's owner, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, a conference attendee, noted Smarr didn't provide the system's price.

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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