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Graphics Software Technology

Vector Vengeance: British Claim They Can Kill the Pixel Within Five Years 221

Posted by Soulskill
from the now-you're-thinking-with-vectors dept.
MrSeb writes "The humble pixel — the 2D picture element that has formed the foundation of just about every kind of digital media for the last 50 years — may soon meet its maker. Believe it or not, if a team of British are to be believed, the pixel, within five short years, will be replaced with vectors. If you know about computer graphics, or if you've ever edited or drawn an image on your computer, you know that there are two primary ways of storing image data: As a bitmap, or as vectors. A bitmap is quite simply a giant grid of pixels, with the arrangement and color of the pixels dictating what the image looks like. Vectors are an entirely different beast: In vector graphics, the image is described as a series of mathematical equations. To draw a bitmap shape you just color in a block of pixels; with vector graphics, you would describe the shape in terms of height, width, radius, and so on. At the moment, bitmaps are used almost exclusively in the realm of digital media — but that isn't to say they don't have their flaws. As display (and camera and cinema) resolution increases, so does the number of pixels. The obvious problem with this is that larger bitmaps are computationally more expensive to process, resulting in a slower (or more expensive) workflow. Pixel bitmaps don't scale very gracefully; reduction is okay, but enlargement is a no-no. There is always the issue of a master format, too: With pixel bitmaps, conversions from one format to another, or changing frame rates, is messy, lossy business. Which finally leads us back to the innovation at hand: Philip Willis and John Patterson of the University of Bath in England have devised a video codec that replaces pixel bitmaps with vectors (PDF)."
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Vector Vengeance: British Claim They Can Kill the Pixel Within Five Years

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  • Vectrex LIVES! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @04:26PM (#42264817)

    The return of the glorious Vectrex!

  • But (Score:5, Funny)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @04:26PM (#42264819) Journal

    But, if there are no pixels, how will I detect photoshops? I've seen quite a few in my day...

  • Terrible summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by MrEricSir (398214) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @04:27PM (#42264837) Homepage

    They're not "getting rid of pixels," since you'll still have pixels on your monitor and your graphics card will still buffer what it's drawing to the screen.

    The paper sounds interesting enough, but the summary has essentially nothing to do with it.

    • by jeffmeden (135043) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @04:39PM (#42264975) Homepage Journal

      They're not "getting rid of pixels," since you'll still have pixels on your monitor and your graphics card will still buffer what it's drawing to the screen.

      The paper sounds interesting enough, but the summary has essentially nothing to do with it.

      No no, they also specify a hardware appliance of several algorithmically aware lasers that will dance around in a box to the exact specification of the vector design, and it would generate a new frame as fast as the light could get from one end to the other. It was on page p[k_, n_] := ((k - 2) n (n + 1))/2 - (k - 3) n;

      • No no, they also specify a hardware appliance of several algorithmically aware lasers

        Finally a monitor properly able to repair my dead Asteroids arcade cabinet.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by rsilvergun (571051)
          Actually the newest displays are so high density most people's eyes can't resolve the pixels, so an iPad might as well be a vector monitor.
          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Actually the newest displays are so high density most people's eyes can't resolve the pixels, so an iPad might as well be a vector monitor.

            Only if you follow the marketing speak which adds a couple of assumptions about how far away your eyes will be from the screen and such.
            No, the iPad is nowhere near to be equivalent to a vector monitor.

    • Re:Terrible summary (Score:5, Interesting)

      by teg (97890) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @04:42PM (#42265013) Homepage

      They're not "getting rid of pixels," since you'll still have pixels on your monitor and your graphics card will still buffer what it's drawing to the screen.

      The paper sounds interesting enough, but the summary has essentially nothing to do with it.

      Vector monitors [wikipedia.org] to the rescue!

      • by devjoe (88696)

        They're not "getting rid of pixels," since you'll still have pixels on your monitor and your graphics card will still buffer what it's drawing to the screen.

        Vector monitors [wikipedia.org] to the rescue!

        And since this is only for a video format, we'll also need to bring back Display Postscript [wikipedia.org] for our user interface elements!

      • by Hentes (2461350)

        Theoretically, all CRTs can be used to display vector graphics.

    • The paper sounds interesting enough, but the summary has essentially nothing to do with it.

      Agreed. The title is very misleading. Also, since this is just going to be generating vector gradients to interpolate fill values, wouldn't you essentially get the same effect by up-sampling a bitmap and as part of the scaling process, run some sort of algorithm to figure out color averages between the old pixels to create smooth blends in the new image? It seems like just another way to approach this problem.

      Since all of our input hardware is still going to have to take in information samples in some s

      • by Yetihehe (971185)

        The same could be said about mp3. Just like mp3 is compressing data in frequency domain instead of time domain, this codec changes pixel grid representation into vector representation.

      • Re:Teribad summary (Score:4, Insightful)

        by cnettel (836611) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @05:06PM (#42265303)

        All current input hardware uses fairly rectangular input grids. However, this is often far from the truth. A digital camera contains pixels, but each pixel is covered by a color filter. In a JPEG from the camera, all pixels are represented (and compressed), but some information is already only a result of interpolation. This is one reason for why RAW is preferable, no lying about the information around. One could make hexagonal sensors or sensors with varying pixel density for a greater and more affordable field of view, or weird lens designs where the projection is not rectangular. If you have vector or mesh-free image data you have much greater freedom in designing both input and output methodology.

        • by X0563511 (793323)

          If by input hardware you exclusively mean scanners and cameras.

          What about content created directly?

          • Mice use a rectangular grid. Touch interfaces use a rectangular grid. What input device do you mean by "directly"?
    • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @05:05PM (#42265287) Homepage Journal

      The fault lies with the university's PR department this time. It appears they took an off-handed comment about pixel-based codecs being completely surpassed in half a decade, and sound-bit it as "the pixel will be dead in five years." Extremetech didn't exactly help things along, either.

      I'm somewhat confident that if someone had invented a continuous method of storing and displaying images, it would be picked up by somewhat more prominent sources.

    • Also, I believe that the STEPS project headed by Alan Kay also tries to replace the graphics part of current SW by something purely vectorish. In addition, I'm curious about the video codec claims they seem to make. Wavelet and especially fractal compression, I believe, is capable of image reconstruction at any resolution desired, and they already cover the let's-find-some-structures-and-describe-them-algorithmically part. It still won't be able to cheat on the information theory, so I'd be surprised if the
    • by t4ng* (1092951)
      I propose creating graphics with this system that consist entirely of an 2D grid of vectors where each vector has the same start and end point, along with an associated color and brightness.
    • by TeknoHog (164938)

      I also got initially excited about vector displays... and frankly, I don't see anything special about video compression with vectors. Compression is already done by other mathematical descriptions, such as Fourier/cosine transforms. In fact, there are MP3 decoders that give "extra" precision on output, because the stored sinusoidal wave has no resolution limit, even if it came from low-res samples initially.

      • I also got initially excited about vector displays... and frankly, I don't see anything special about video compression with vectors...

        Apples and oranges, surely.

    • But... but... but...

      With a different title it wouldn't be as sensationalist! >:(

    • The original 1987 NeXT workstation already used [wikipedia.org] vector graphics (Postscript) to display virtually everything on the screen. When NeXT became OSX, they had to remove the Postscript because Adobe's licensing charges were too large.

    • by cutinf (1261120)

      The paper sounds interesting enough, but the summary has essentially nothing to do with it.

      This is /. were you expecting anything else?

  • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @04:29PM (#42264849) Homepage Journal
    Second thought: The article is light on details and sensationally titled, so it goes in the bullshit bin.

    Probably what happened is someone came up with a good raster->vector converter that does some cool things in their lab, and the technologically ignorant British tabloid journalist went to town on it.
    • by phantomfive (622387) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @04:44PM (#42265039) Journal

      Probably what happened is someone came up with a good raster->vector converter that does some cool things in their lab

      Yeap, if you read the actual paper, that's exactly what happened. It's not obvious how it is particularly better than any other technique, either; the scaled images in the paper don't look much different than images scaled normally. Vector drawings give extra information on how to scale; information that you're not going to be able to derive from a photograph.

      It isn't the British tabloid journalist who is to blame for the sensationalism, though, because when they asked the Professor who wrote the paper, this is what he said:

      “This is a significant breakthrough which will revolutionise the way visual media is produced. To accelerate this project we’ll need companies from around the world to get involved...[and] increase the potential applications of this game-changing research.”

      The press is following his lead.

      • by glwtta (532858) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @05:03PM (#42265271) Homepage
        That's exactly why it's the journalists fault - their job isn't to follow along with whatever self-promoting bullshit the person being interviewed is spewing.
      • by eth1 (94901)

        It isn't the British tabloid journalist who is to blame for the sensationalism, though, because when they asked the Professor who wrote the paper, this is what he said:

        “This is a significant breakthrough which will revolutionise the way visual media is produced. To accelerate this project we’ll need companies from around the world to get involved...[and] increase the potential applications of this game-changing research.”

        Rough translation: "I'm full of shit, but if you send cash, I promise to polish the turds."

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @04:30PM (#42264867)

    get ready for some Tempest 2017

    • get ready for some Tempest 2017

      Quick, someone page the Yak. Or tweeter him. Or however the cool kids get their favorite developer's attention.

  • by bloodhawk (813939) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @04:31PM (#42264871)
    excuse my ignorance if I am off base but Isn't a vector just a different way of targeting your pixels on the screen? isn't this just a different way of describing which pixels to activate? and if so how does this remove the need for pixels?
    • by pruss (246395)

      Almost certainly you're right. But there did used to be vector monitors. It seems rather unlikely to me that we'd go back to them, but who knows?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      excuse my ignorance if I am off base but Isn't a vector just a different way of targeting your pixels on the screen? isn't this just a different way of describing which pixels to activate? and if so how does this remove the need for pixels?

      Assuming you're still using a raster display, yes. I mean, you can just fire up Inkscape or Illustrator and get a vector-based engine that renders to a raster display. Or just use KDE's Plasma widgets.

      Now, if you're on a vector display, THAT'S a different story. Then you get actual lines and curves and such. Such things existed back in The Day(tm). The arcade game Asteroids, in fact, was meant to be played on a vector display. Lunar Lander, Battlezone, the original Atari Star Wars tie-in, all of those

    • In practice, this will be running on raster-style screens, since almost everything is a flat screen these days, but at least in theory a vector CRT is driven very differently from a raster CRT.
    • excuse my ignorance if I am off base but Isn't a vector just a different way of targeting your pixels on the screen? isn't this just a different way of describing which pixels to activate? and if so how does this remove the need for pixels?

      Actually, vector graphics targets particular lines, i.e. vectors, on your screen. Of course, as pixel count approaches infinity, the distinction gets less meaningful. And if you're showing vector graphics on a matrix-type display, your vectors are gonna get interpolated into pixels.

      You could display vector graphics on other types of displays, like scanning onto a phosphorescent coated surface or projecting on something semi-transparent or semi reflective (old-school, like the 4014), or even shooting frickin

  • Will it be patent-walled?

  • Is this going to make it harder to translate pictures from cameras to displays? I understand that displays will still have pixels, it's just the drawing that is different (AIUI). But cameras detect and report pixels, not vectors. Wouldn't it be better to translate those camera pixels directly to display pixels, instead of storing some information suitable forvector analysis?

    I may be completely ignorant here, knowing just enough to be dangerous to my reputation :-)

    • Maybe they intend to be able to clean up each edition of the big book of British smiles much easier each time it is released.

  • Yeah, not real. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @04:32PM (#42264893)

    Vectors are accurate as long as you've described the vector completely accurately.

    If you're defining a curve, unless it's a simple geometric curve, you'll need to define the parameters of that curve and they just don't stop: they're fractal.

    How big a set of parameters do you think it would take to define MERELY THE OUTLINE of a squirrel?

    So you're just as limited by vectors as you are with bitmaps. You're going to have to approximate.

    • Re:Yeah, not real. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @05:03PM (#42265267) Journal

      How big a set of parameters do you think it would take to define MERELY THE OUTLINE of a squirrel?

      All estimates of the length of any coastline are wrong. They vary widely depending on how many curves are taken into account. Without adequate smoothing, the length of the coast of Norway is infinite. With adequate smoothing, it's a few miles.

      • Not necessarily. (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Infinitesimals added an infinite number of times add up to an undefined number. It may be infinite, it may be finite, but you can't say it is definitely one or the other unless you have already counted it up.

        See Zeno's Paradox.
        See also Atomic theory. At some level there is no more coastline, just a circle around an atom. Definitely smaller than norway's macro-scale accorded length of coastline.

    • How big a set of parameters do you think it would take to define MERELY THE OUTLINE of a squirrel?

      That depends on how long the relevant parts of its DNA are. :D

    • If you're defining a curve, unless it's a simple geometric curve, you'll need to define the parameters of that curve and they just don't stop: they're fractal.

      Not only that but then you still have to selectively light up the display's RGB picture elements AKA pixels. So, no, we won't be rid of the "pixel" anytime soon, not even if the internal storage format is vectors. Even if the display used different layers of colored phosphors excited by multiple different beams striking from different angles to create the RGB (or whatever) color space, the convergences would still be pixelated due to the rasterized placement of the overlapping picture elements (pixels).

  • by Lev13than (581686) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @04:32PM (#42264901) Homepage

    So they replaced pixels with a two-dimensional grid of sqare vectors that scale in width and height to grid width(or height) divided by the number of square vectors on the grid?

    Actually just skimmed TFA and it looks like they have an interesting model - they separate the three channels and then fit vector "contours" around the different levels of brightness for each channel. The finer you need control, the more contours you add and the more explicitly you define the the polygons. Looks like a promising, workable solution.

    • by MobyDisk (75490)

      Using curve fitting like that is a common existing approach to scaling pixels. It can be done on a regular pixel image. It has nothing to do with vector storage like the article summary implies.

  • ..."At the moment there’s very little information about VSV"... ..."there should be working demonstrations of VSV within the next three to six months"... ..."Performance is awful"...

    Yeah, this is DEFINATELY the kind of thing that will cause all current digital cameras and monitors to be obsolete within 5 years.

    Or, it may get them an investment from some gullible investors that will then disappear into 'continued research due to unanticipated complications" for a few years, followed by "the pixel indus

  • by jeffmeden (135043) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @04:35PM (#42264931) Homepage Journal

    Just to spite them, i am going to republish their PDF using a 1024x14576 .bmp file.

    • by Bigby (659157)

      Then paste the BMP into a Word doc.

      • by jeffmeden (135043)

        Then paste the BMP into a Word doc.

        I was thinking Excel, for the coup de grâce of technological misapplication. (i see this all the time, unfortunately)

        • by H0p313ss (811249)

          Then paste the BMP into a Word doc.

          I was thinking Excel, for the coup de grâce of technological misapplication. (i see this all the time, unfortunately)

          As crazy as it might sound, Excel is the better choice for presentation, though the storage is probably the same.

          If you use Word then you're limited to a certain page size, if you use Excel you have effectively infinite pages.

          It's wrong, it's crazy, but it works and easy to do for the less technically minded.

        • by dbIII (701233)
          That's not quite the coup de grâce - dump the Excel file in Sharepoint where they've got the braindead implementation of embedding entire files in a database to slow the thing down instead of storing it externally and linking it.
      • Then paste the BMP into a Word doc.

        For greater confusion, paste it into Inkscape (or another vectorial drawing program).

      • by H0p313ss (811249)

        Then paste the BMP into a Word doc.

        Then open that word doc in openoffice and re-export it as PDF.

        WINNING

  • by ittybad (896498) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @04:36PM (#42264947) Homepage
    Enhance.
  • Because if not, they left out how they know what the underlying vector shapes are in the original image / video frame. Are those four pixels at the spatial sampling limit from what was originally a diamond, a circle, a letter o, a smiley face emoticon? I can only scale up if I already know that!

    I can believe there is some interesting work being done in the algorithms that guess these things, and leveraging work done in the fields of machine vision and astronomy may translate to a video compression algo
  • by MrLint (519792)

    I have been wondering for several years about why we dont have vector based UIs. The 2d accelerators should be good enough to draw vector window objects and such... Why has this languished?

  • I bought myself a nice retina mac recently. Likely the last mac I'll ever buy unfortunately. Apple is becoming too despotic for me to support even if their laptops are still open enough for me to consider using.

    But that aside, I'm very disappointed to learn that Apple has to play a number of tricks to deal with applications that are written to do things in pixel units. I found this to be something of a surprise. I thought developers were better than that nowadays.

    I've not done much application development,

    • by vux984 (928602)

      It's really disappointing that so many applications (web pages most emphatically included in this list) decide that things should be sized in terms of pixels.

      Anything using images as a major component of a web design pretty much needs pixel dimensions for things to line up properly and/or to avoid ugly scaling issues.

      There is no elegant way around it.

      IMHO, if you MUST use a bitmap for something, use one that's way obnoxiously large for any display you might anticipate using, then scale it to the right dev

  • by na1led (1030470) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @04:53PM (#42265139)
    I'm no expert in this subject, but don't most digital cameras capture using pixels? How the hell are they going to make a camera that renders vector image captures on the fly? You're camera would need a Geforce GTX 670 GPU.
    • I had a laptop in the 90s that liked to kill pixels all the time.
      • I had a laptop in the 90s that liked to kill pixels all the time.

        I had a laptop until 3 years ago that liked to kill vectors. Straight, vertical, thin lines (1 / 1400 of screen width).

  • There is something to be said about lines being drawn with 1 pixel height or width even if they are vector graphics.
    Makes things look nice and crisp.

    == edit ==
    just realized this was about video codecs

  • The BBC will report that the reason behind global warming stems from the use of pixels instead of vectors because of the added energy overhead of processing millions of pixels instead of only thousands of endpoints.

  • We had the tecnology to easily do this over five years ago. How is this news? Until developers stop using bitmaps instead of vectorized graphics and relative units, this won't change either.

  • Maybe I could follow along if you added a couple more paragraphs about what pixels are.

    Gosh, I hope the next monitor I buy will have enough vectors to support this futuristic technology. I probably need to hurry, do you think pixels will be dead before the end of the year?
  • WTF do frame rates have to do with raster vs vector?

    • I imagine that vectorization opens up opportunities for motion interpolation algorithms that don't work so well on raw pixels. This way, you can make any movie look like a soap opera (or like "The Hobbit").
  • I get the idea in principle but I disagree with it in practice. The main reason why is the source.

    Current digital and even analog video recording techniques capture frames in a two-dimensional format. Vector graphics while superior for many things, is not the one-size-fits-all format that many fans want to think it is. In the case of film, images are captured as an analog recording onto photosensitive film. Image density and quality varies on the quality of the material capturing the image. In the case

    • A means for capturing images as a native vector formatted data stream escapes my imagination.

      I'm thinking some kind of sci-fi laser scanner. But the direct output of that is more like a 3D bitmap, not a bunch of vectors...

  • by viperidaenz (2515578) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @05:19PM (#42265473)
    Without pixels, you only have vector graphics. Unless the world is willing to all convert to anime porn, raster images will always be around.
    • Unless the world is willing to all convert to anime porn

      You'd be surprised. Some people have converted to anime porn so thoroughly that they've even converted to anime dating. See #4. Anigao Girls [cracked.com].

  • To a large degree, we are already there. 3D graphics processing is done in vector and matrix representations. Sprites are dead. It's all about polygons. Eventually, it does need to be rasterized to a pixel based monitor, but 3D geometry is all vector based. Unless you are using some weird voxel engine.

    • by na1led (1030470)
      3D Graphics still use pixels for textures, otherwise you would get less than 1 FPS playing any 3D games.
  • Does this mean the end of pixelation?
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tektronix_4010 [wikipedia.org] (and of course there was the Tempest video game back then too)
  • The demoscene was doing this in 1993: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPoYzwib7JQ [youtube.com]
  • The better your idea and the more compelling it is, the less likely that pixels will die in 5 years. Because the better your idea, the more likely you've patented your vector codec thingie, so nobody will be allowed to implement it for 20 years. "promote the progress of the useful arts and sciences," indeed.

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