In Susie Wee's world, video over the Web will move faster than a hockey puck on ice.
||Video images will be so crisp that, during a slow-motion replay, viewers will be able to read the "Made in Canada" stamp on the side of the puck. The audio stream will be so lifelike that listeners will feel the impact of each thundering body check.
"Video makes for much richer communication," says Wee, a devoted ice hockey player who is one of the next- generation HP inventors featured in a new ad campaign.
"But right now video is so clunky and difficult to use over the Web. Try downloading video from a Web site today - you have to have the right plug-ins, you have to have the right operating system, the right this and that," says Wee.
Never missing the playoffs
Wee and her team of researchers at HP Labs are working to make video on the Web play easily and error-free. No more jerky or grainy images, no more out-of-sync audio or sudden freezing. No more running through a checklist of plug-ins - your PC will figure out for itself how to display what you want to watch.
The group also is developing technology to send video wirelessly. Wee is looking ahead to the day when, thanks to wireless video, hockey fans will never have to miss seeing their team in the playoffs.
She envisions a time when families will be able to share experiences with each other across the world, simply by switching on a camera in their homes.
"Think about how great that would be," says Wee. "Families would be able to see each other, talk with each other, show things to each other, no matter where they are."
Making it all possible
The technologies that make all this possible include scalable coding, in which the video streams are coded so that they match the playback capabilities of the device requesting them. (So the image would be displayed at high resolution on a workstation and at low resolution on a device with minimal video capabilities.)
She and her team in the Streaming Media Systems group are also working on ways to code video so that it is error-resilient while being transmitted - it stays intact and doesn't break up as it streams through various wires and networks on its way to the playback device.
Finally, transcoding - converting video from one format to another - is a critical technology in Wee's work, since there are many video formats and compression standards used in video streaming for many different platforms. These technologies have applications in Internet streaming, wireless video and digital television.
Wee's work has resulted in more than 15 international publications.
Research into streaming video is just one of several underlying technologies being developed in HP Labs to make it easy to communicate over the Web. In addition, work is going on in:
- 3D graphics
- Internet appliances and services
- information theory
- workstation performance
Spacecraft and HDTV
Wee has been interested in video communications since her undergraduate days at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While completing her master's at MIT, she worked at the (U.S.) National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory as part of a team exploring whether it was possible to communicate with a spacecraft by bouncing laser beams off of it.
She received her Ph.D. in electrical engineering from MIT. As part of her thesis, she helped design a high-definition television system for terrestrial broadcasting. Wee joined HP after graduation.
Wee says she wanted to work in applied research for a good industrial lab that was strong in imaging, and HP Labs was a natural fit.
"There's a freedom here to pursue really interesting projects that can have a very big impact on HP and the world." She also says she's partial to the HP Way. "I know some people think it's corny, but I think it's great."
On the ice
At least two times a week, you'll find Wee playing ice hockey, a sport she grew to love in college, where she was the assistant coach of the MIT Women's Ice Hockey team. She usually plays forward.
"I like the smarts you need to play the game well," Wee says. "You get better and better at reading your team as you play together, and when you really get it - when you score because four or five or six of you all did the right thing at the right time - it's so exciting."
by Joan Tharp
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