The burst in demand for high-quality video came close to breaking the Internet during the COVID-19 outbreak. In a post-pandemic world, researchers at China-based Tencent are making endeavours to maintain high quality media service while easing bandwidth shortage with cutting-edge audio and video technologies.
The quality of video sent over global networks has soared as people demand more vivid and realistic experiences during the pandemic. This requires new standards to match the technology, Shan Liu, general manager of Tencent Media Lab (pictured), suggested in a keynote speech at the recent MIT-China Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum annual summit while discussing the future of immersive media and virtual reality.
“Since March 2020, global video traffic has surged and network bandwidth has been under great pressure,” explains Liu. “Regional disconnections caused by excessive network usage have repeatedly occurred around the world.”
Liu noted one of the primary focuses of Tencent Media Lab is media compression and transmission to make more efficient use of bandwidth.
“By 2022, the portion of ultra HD content will further increase to about a quarter of the total internet video bandwidth,” predicted Liu. “At the same time, the size of China’s VR content market has continued to double or triple each year since 2016.”
Affordable VR headsets are signaling a disruptive shift in technology not seen since the jump from still photographs to movies. Consumer VR is currently very basic but leaps in transmission speed represented by technology like 5G have the power to change this quickly. Nonetheless, a major bottleneck is transmitting enough data to let someone experience a scene as if they were really there.
Toward an Immersive Media Future
Tencent Media Lab is an active participant in the international standard organisations that agree on formats such as MPEG that allow computers to easily share increasingly large audio, video and virtual reality files.
Researchers at the lab are trying to work out the standards and products that could deliver the next step in the immersive revolution – photorealistic virtual reality in real time.
Liu noted that Tencent Media Lab has already developed a point cloud system that allows regular people to create 3D models for virtual reality using pictures captured from a normal mobile phone. Potential business applications for this technology include allowing people to virtually share exhibitions or tour real estate properties – in cinematic detail. The potential is incredible.
One challenge, according to Tencent Media Lab Principal Researcher Arianne Hinds, is that the displays for immersive technology in the future will be much different from the flat screens or VR headsets of today. For example, light-field technology allows people to view holographic images without the use of 3D goggles. Hinds explained that any immersive technology standards need to be able to keep up with future leaps in technology.
One standard that Hinds feels holds potential is the Immersive Digital Experiences Alliance’s Immersive Technology Media Format. She feels MPEG will remain the standard for distribution and compression.
Promoting Culture with Technology
For years, Tencent Media Lab has been dedicated to research on multimedia technologies that have been used to help the cultural industry generate novel digital products.
In January, Tencent and the Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City, launched a popular real-time livestream. The livestream adopted the lab’s VR360 immersive technology – combined with the company’s cloud technology for stitching, transmission, decoding and rendering – to offer a fully immersive view of the ancient palace in the heart of Beijing during a tranquil winter snowfall.
With the advent of the 5G era, the Internet can provide users with superior data bandwidth and ultra low latency, which makes more applications within range and the interconnection of everything possible.
“Tencent will continue to actively invest in multimedia technology R&D and provide effective services and support for developers and partners,” Liu said.