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Life in An HD World

High-definition video. Those words represent a dream come true for everyone from video engineers and camera manufacturers to retailers and consumers. The idea of higher-resolution video images has been discussed, researched, debated, and tested since the 1930s, and finally came to fruition as part of a process that started 40 years ago in Japan.

The Display

Sony Bravia 1080p LCD

Sony Bravia 1080p LCD

Last but not least, it's time to view those HD images that have been encoded, compressed, captured to a hard drive, streamed over a fast network, and converted to a digital display format, with or without embedded audio.

Did we mention earlier that all HD video is in the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio? That's not to say you wouldn't have high-resolution computer video in the mix, which can use almost any aspect ratio, although much of that is now moving to widescreen formats as well (1280x800, 1366x758, and 1920x1200 being three examples).

Because your system may support multiple formats of SD and HD signals, it would be a smart idea to try and standardize all incoming video and PC signals to the native resolution of your displays. That means format up and down conversion for anything other than native display rates, plus aspect ratio re-sizing to ensure you don't wind up with "fat people" on the screen (4:3 standard definition video expanded with a linear stretch) or "stick figures" (16:9 video compressed to fit a 4:3 ratio that winds up on a 16:9 or 16:10 display anyway).

Image processing can also include the addition of side bars for 4:3 upconverted content (pillarboxed). There's still a lot of it out there and it's likely to wind up in your new system. You may find that ads created in 16:9 appear letterboxed because they were downconverted to 4:3 beforehand, creating a "window box" effect. Digital image zooming can fix that.

The use of image upscaling, for example, is something the hospitality industry really needs help to get a handle on. How many times have you checked into a hotel to see a brand-new LCD or plasma HDTV in your room, only to discover it showing stretched analog Composite video? That's just inexcusable these days.

As for your working resolution, pick something that gives you adequate HD resolution subject to the bandwidth limits of your system. You may find after you do the math that supporting 1920x1080 playback is too much to ask from your distribution network, but that 1280x720 will do fine and possibly even lower the average statistical bit rate.

You could even whip up your own HD resolution, as long as you are 100 percent certain the displays you've chosen are compatible with that resolution and the digital signal format you've selected. Many LCD and plasma HDTVs sold for hospitality and digital signage functions only accept 720p and 1080i video (sometimes 1080p) through HDMI or DVI connections, but will not recognize relatively common widescreen PC formats like 1280x768 or 1366x768–even if that's the native resolution of their pixel matrix. Oops!

A Different Ball Game

Streamzhd Encoding Server

Streamzhd Encoding Server

As you can see, building an infrastructure for HD content storage, playback, and distribution is a very different animal than analog signal distribution.

The challenge? You'll need a lot of bandwidth to do it and faster devices to capture, play back, and transport HD content. Fortunately, there are lots of clever solutions and products being offered to build HD infrastructures without breaking the bank, from media servers to portable storage and smart digital audio and display interfaces.

And the upside? Cabling requirements are a lot simpler: You can combine video, audio, and control signals in the data stream through any distribution system–coax, Cat-5, fiber optics, even wireless.

And all of that intelligence built into servers, switchers, distribution amplifiers, and displays gets you closer to a true "plug-and-play" installation. Maybe even one that will forever rid us of those stretched-out people dancing across hotel flat-screens.

Contributing editor Pete Putman is InfoComm's 2008 Educator of the Year.

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