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The Death Of The Pixel

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Researchers at the University of Bath in England recently issued a fatwah, calling for the death of the pixel in 5 years. They claim to have invented a new way to display images and video that will kill the pesky pixel dead, finally. The pixel, for those who just want things to work, is a polygon comprised of a single color, laid out in a grid, for the purposes of viewing on a screen. Your screen resolution is a direct measurement of pixels, and everything on your computer screen is made up of pixels.

Currently, every photo and video that you see on your screen is also made up of pixels. These are called raster images, and the more pixels in a rasterized file, the sharper the image, and the larger the file size. If you try to scale a raster image up, however, you will eventually see the individual pixels, giving the image a jaggy look, so we never scale up – at least not much.

Now, there is also another type of image format that uses mathematical vectors to describe the image, and those are referred to as vector images. Since vector images use only math, they have considerably smaller file sizes and are infinitely scalable, without loss of resolution. Flash was such a big deal at it’s inception, because you could have vector animations on your website that could fill any size screen without loss of quality, and still be a small download. Not that anyone ever did that, but you could!

Now, Philip Willis and John Patterson of the University of Bath have created a video codec that describes the images in vector form, rather than raster. What this means is that each video frame would be a mathematical description of an image. It means that if their codec works as promised, video could be shot on a handycam and blown up to cinema resolution without loss of quality (remember, because vector scalers infinitely). It also means that video would require just a fraction of storage space currently required for high-definition video, requirements that keep going up with the escalating frame sizes and frame rates. Theoretically, you might even be able to shoot video without framerates at all, if your camera had a brain that could distinguish individual objects and be able to describe them in time-space, rather than in pre-described subdivisions of time. But that will be someone smarter’s problem.

Now before all you young Coppola’s start planning your next masterpiece, keep in mind that if your lens is crap, or you have no lights, or you’re shooting everything handheld, your shots will still look like junk no matter how big they get. All this means is that post-production and delivery might just get a whole lot easier, which is exciting for me.

I for one welcome our new mathematical overlords!

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