A computer system developed at the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB) has placed Brazil among the countries at the forefront of digital film technology. Named Fogo Player, the system can store, transmit and control film viewings in ultra high definition, in the 4K 3D format, that is, with images whose resolution is more than 8 million pixels per frame or 16 million if we consider the three-dimensional effect that duplicates the transmission. The 4K system is four times more powerful than the existing TVs Full HD (high definition). The first international demonstration of the system took place in December, when a 15-minute documentary was transmitted from the capital city of João Pessoa (State of Paraiba) to the CineGrid International Workshop 2011, an international digital film technology meeting held at the University of California in San Diego (UCSD), in the United States.
The Fogo Player system is the result of a project that began in early May 2011. This project was funded and coordinated by the National Teaching and Research Network (RNP), responsible for Brazil’s academic internet. It included the production of the film shown in San Diego. The film was made by the Work Group for the Creation of Visual Content, coordinated by professor Jane de Almeida of Mackenzie University. The documentary, the title of which is EstereoEnsaios, shows ocean and aerial views of the city of Rio de Janeiro, youngsters playing soccer on the soccer ground at the Tavares Bastos community in the neighborhood of Catete, and shots of rehearsals by the Mangueira samba school.
What makes this short feature film special is the fact that the images were filmed by two Red Epic cameras to produce the 3D effect. These cameras are the most advanced equipment of this kind and are identical to the ones used by movie director James Cameron in the film Avatar 2. “The images we filmed have 5.120 x 2.700 (or 13.824.000) pixels per frame or 5K – a Full HD TV has 1.920 x 1.080 (2.073.600),” Jane explains. Each frame is equivalent to a photographic shot of traditionally filmed movies. “No existing equipment is able to project images with this resolution; as a result, we had to downgrade their resolution to 4.096 x 2.304 (9.437.184) pixels, or 4K p frame.”
There is more. The video prepared by Jane and her group was the first to use stereoscopic (3D) technology. “This is why, even though it is a super high definition film, because it was filmed in 4K, it has more than 20 million pixels per frame,” says Jane. “In other words, in terms of pixels it is actually an ultra high definition (UHD) or 8K film.” Keith Collea, from the United States, was the film camera operator. He had worked with Cameron on Avatar and Titanic.
Once the film was ready, the next challenge was to decide how to store it, transmit it, and show it. This is when the team from the Digital Video Applications Laboratory (LAVID) of the Federal University of Paraíba (UFBP) stepped in. This lab is headed by professor Guido Lemos, who had collaborated on the development of the Digital TV system in Brazil, especially on the interactive subsystem referred to as Ginga. “Our first step was to make a survey of the state of the art and techniques in the field of digital movies,” explains Lemos. “Then, we began to develop a solution with a focus on maintaining the quality according to standards that would be acceptable to film professionals, and at the same time be less expensive than available ones.”
Equipment to store, transmit and show UHD films already exists, such as the kind manufactured by Japan’s NHK. The problem is that this equipment is very expensive and is not available commercially. To solve this issue, Lemos decided to resort to cloud computing. In this system, computer services of major internet providers such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are available. Thus, there was no need to build and manage their own data processing centers or to resort to the data centers at big companies.
Lemos created his own cloud for the Project. Lemos’ cloud was based on virtual machines and used the idle capacity of LAVID’s 30 computers. “In fact, we used a technology we had developed in partnership with the Distributed Systems Laboratory (LSD) of the Federal University of Campina Grande (UFCG). This technology is referred to as JitCloud (just in time clouds),” he explains. “The idea is to use amortized resources, that is, resources that had been purchased for other purposes, and assemble the just in time clouds to process the ultra high resolution films. This cloud-based solution for the manipulation of UHD videos is an innovation that we came up with.”
According to Lemos, the film, which takes up more than three terabytes (3 Tb) of computer memory, is divided into slices and stored in the JitCloud. “Then we use another JitCloud to prepare the video for viewing.” Finally, in order for the film to be shown on the network, the slices were downloaded from the JitCloud, synchronized, and passed on to the Fogo Player system. “The last step is the final composition and synchronization of the slices, after which the images are delivered to the 4K projectors for viewing,” says Lemos. To demonstrate that the system works, the team from LAVID transmitted the short feature film EstereoEnsaios to the event in San Diego. To this end, the team relied on the RNP’s optical fiber network, that created a specific Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) for the transmission of the film, using the infra structure of the Global Lambda Integrated Facility (Glif), an international organization that facilitates the integration of optic fiber networks.
According to Leandro Ciuffo, manager of RNP’s communities and advanced applications department, the configuration of a VLAN between LAVID and the UCSD created a network as if both institutions were on the same local network. The transmission took place at a rate of 900 megabits per second (Mbps). “This allows data packages to flow very quickly from one end to the other end of the connection and the loss rate is lower,” Ciuffo explains.