I arrived into Hong Kong on the super fast MTR train from the airport and immediately hopped in a taxi to the Lippo Centre Towers to meet Paul Costigan.
Paul is the top man in Asia for Movidius. Now, you might not have come across Movidius, but you’re virtually guaranteed to have some of their technology in your hand by this time next year, provided you intend upgrading to a new handset sometime soon.
Movidius is one of the world’s leading multimedia semiconductor companies. They’re known as ‘fabless‘ — that is, like most of the other big name companies you might have come across, they don’t actually have their own fabrication plants. Instead they outsource that part.
I popped up to the 21st floor and found the Movidius offices. Moments later Paul was bounding across to me.
“This way,” he said, beckoning me into his office, surrounded by massive flat screen televisions and a whole array of consumer technology, some of which I recognise, some of which I don’t — including some rather exciting grey boxes. “I can’t talk about those,” says Paul, catching my eye.
“But this…” he says, handing over a large printed circuit board (“PCB”) demonstration unit, “This I can talk about.”
I’d hardly even said hello to the chap.
“Watch this,” he said confidently, before taping a button on a touch screen mounted to the right on the PCB.
On the left of the PCB, another screen activated. I held the unit and stared.
All of a sudden, things started popping out of the screen. I couldn’t help letting out a gasp of amazement. Embarrassing for me, as — you know — I’m generally pretty well briefed on this sort of thing.
Paul smiled with the continued confidence of someone who knows his technology is downright impressive.
This, then, was a 3D screen.
Or, more accurately, it’s the super-smart Movidius Myriad 3D chip that’s powering a common-or-garden 4″ screen that’s been slightly customised for 3D display. Without any special 3D glasses — it works just with the naked eye.
“The secret sauce,” Paul says, pointing to the chip centred on the PCB, “Is all in here.”
As letters and people continued jumping out at me, Paul stopped that video demonstration.
Tapping on another video, Paul smiled again.
“Ok, now try this one.”
I looked back at the 3D screen.
The image of a girl figure-skating appeared. No big deal, I thought, until I noticed she was in the foreground jumping about the ice.
“Oh, very cool,” I said, watching the girl do some turns and appear about 2″ nearer than the rest of the background.
“That’s unmodified video,” said Paul.
“Sorry?” I asked.
“It’s just a standard video clip,” he explained, “It’s not 3D. The chip is dynamically producing that 3D version you can see now.”
The Myriad3D chip does for video much like what a math co-processor does from an architectural standpoint.
“So you can make any normal video come alive?” I asked. Before I’d finished speaking Paul had already stopped the little ice skating girl and tapped another video. Up popped a clip from the movie Troy.
“This is completely unmodified,” Paul said, handing the PCB back to me. I watched on as Brad jabbed a spear that convincingly could have had my eye out.
I made to put the PCB down, very, very impressed. Not only does it play wickedly good made-for-3D content, but it also works with normal non-3D video? Very smart indeed, I thought. The effect, even on the Troy clip, was enough to give the action a very satisfying dynamic appearance of depth.
“That’s not all,” said Paul, flipping a switch on the PCB and handing it back to me.
I looked to see that the 3D screen was now showing a live feed.
“There are two cameras mounted eye-width apart here,” said Paul, pointing to the back of the PCB, “So, try it..”
I held up the PCB and oriented it so that Paul, sitting by his desk, came into view.
He smiled and then slowly thrust his hand out toward the cameras.
Goodness me. On the screen, it looked like his hand was reaching out through the screen.
Paul smiled again.
“So you see it works with live video too?”
I looked at the back of the PCB and had a look at the two cameras.
I tapped one of my handsets, pointing to the iPhone 4 camera, “It won’t be long until this has two cameras then?”
If you’re a Docomo customer, you can have this experience right now. Or, in a few days time. One of their new Sharp handsets has got this technology integrated already.
“Wait until you see what we’ve got to announce,” Paul said, “We’ll be at CES supporting a client — but we’ll have our own stand at Mobile World Congress.”
I made a mental note to make sure to pop along.
The key thing about 3D is you really need to see it. It’s just better. It’s just nicer.
“When will I get 3D FaceTime?” I asked, thinking back to the call I’d done a few moments earlier via the WiFi at the airport with my wife and baby Archie. I’d have much preferred that to be in Myriad3D depth rather than just flat 2D. It’s just nicer.
Paul paused, smiled again and explained that we should start to see the Movidius technology integrated into a heck of a lot of Western handsets from the second quarter of 2011.
“This next year is going to be a very big year for us.”
I don’t doubt it. Indeed, this time next year you should be able to walk into a Vodafone UK shop and buy a handset with a 3D screen such as the one I’ve just seen demonstrated.
Right now, Paul is busy coordinating the Movidius response to the device manufacturers in the middle of sampling the Myriad3D chip. You can either just take the chip and write your own architecture around it (which some manufacturers are doing) or you can take an entire reference design from Movidius and effectively cut-and-paste it into your existing handset design. You choose what makes sense.
For the geeks amongst us, here is a photo of the PCB demo unit:
On the bottom left is the 3D screen — can you see Brad with his spear? On the right is the control screen for the PCB (actually running Android). Those icons you see are different videos you can choose to play.
Above the 3D screen on the left is a circuit board numbered ‘10815’ — the chip in the centre is the Myriad3D chip. That’s where all the 3D goodness is coming from. The rest of the board delivers the gubbings needed to run the phone. (The two cameras I talked about are on the back of the PCB).
Thank you for the demonstration Paul — thank you for taking the time to meet.
I’m looking forward to seeing the technology in the hands of the consumer shortly!
You can find out more information about the chip and the company at www.movidius.com.