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The image quality of a TV, even one with a high-spec plasma panel, depends largely on the engineer's knowledge of how to process the image signals from the original source. A panel drive engineer is like an orchestra conductor, leading an orchestra that consists of a massive amount of video data, and creating images that move the viewers' emotions.
The images that we see on a TV screen can be displayed only after the input video signals are processed to match the display device -- an LCD panel for an LCD TV or a plasma panel for a plasma TV. For plasma panels, the video signals have to be translated into levels of voltage (weak or strong), and then relayed to the panel for illumination. My job is to create the kind of voltage waveforms that produce the most beautiful images, and to develop the algorithms that make it all happen.
Plasma TVs display images at a remarkable speed of 600 subfields per second. Displaying this many images in such a short time is what makes the images look so smooth. The reason why so many images are generated is that you need to display different images to match the brightness on the screen. Image quality is largely determined by the knowledge of how to combine the 600-subfield images as smoothly as possible and use them to render the overall image.
Exactly. The challenge is how to direct this huge amount of signal information, like an orchestra conductor, and express it in the form of illumination. For example, even for the same exact video signal on a Blu-ray Disc™, the output image quality will be different when the conductor's signal instructions inside the TV are different. Metaphorically speaking, even with the same orchestra, a different conductor will make a different kind of music.
I remember thinking how TVs had come a long way from when I first started my job. At that time, flat-panel TVs were still a dream. To be honest, I felt like it wouldn't be an easy thing to achieve. Panasonic is aiming for FULL HD 3D images that don't compromise on image quality, so we need to display images for both the left and right eyes in the same time that conventional 2D images are displayed.
Yes, and on top of that, we have to maintain brightness. It'd be relatively simple to brighten the screen if we didn't have to worry about the sharpness of motion images, but that's also something that simply can't be compromised.
Technically, it refers to a short afterglow time as each pixel turns on and off. Think of a fast-moving subject that doesn't blur. For example, imagine a ball that's kicked in a soccer game. As it flies across the screen, its shape has to remain circular. If you were watching it in real life, it would naturally stay circular. However, if your TV screen isn't sharp and clear, the outline of the ball will be blurred. You can see this for yourself by comparing various TVs at a store.
Well, no one at Panasonic had ever seen a FULL HD 3D product before. So, we put the emphasis on sharing the quality level that we were aiming at with everyone involved at an early stage. You have to actually see an image to understand its quality. When our prototype was completed, we waited until a large conference was held with global members of our TV business. We brought the prototype in to show them.
Many of them were extremely moved by the natural, lifelike images. What we really wanted to convey was that image quality had reached this level, and we felt that this could be recognized and shared by everyone. In the same way, instead of giving a long, drawn-out explanation of the lifelike realism of our 3DTV, we think it's best to have a customer actually see it at a store. And we've realized that it's the same with development. It's very important to have everyone see the actual image-quality goal with their own eyes, so they can all share that goal.
As a result of our success in sharing the image from an early stage, we were able to reach into all kinds of different areas, with an enthusiasm that crossed international borders, to tell people how we're aiming for some "world's first" technology here, whether we were making demo announcements at exhibitions or working on commercializing the product. Even though the development period was relatively short, different sections were able to link together and find the solution when a question or problem popped up.
While we further improved the image quality, we also explored more efficient designs by revising the number of circuits. When you're actually composing a scene, you want to bring out the features of both the brightest areas and the darkest areas. The sensation of depth, for both 3D and ordinary images, is a balance between two main factors: brightness and black reproduction.
Well, we have to suppress the illumination of the pixels in the dark parts of the image, but it's crucial that we do this very delicately. We work hard to achieve a fine balance, with stable lighting, right at the point between illumination and total darkness. On the other hand, we also have to keep an eye on the overall smoothness from bright to dark areas. That kind of judgment takes years to develop.
Yes, that's correct. Asian viewers generally prefer sharp, bright images, and European viewers enjoy cinema-like images with a lot of tonal gradation. Naturally, our drive method development also tries to respond to these different preferences.
Yes, that's right. And on top of that, scene composition is the basic task for panel drive development, but my job also includes adding functions in order to raise the level of perfection in new models. There are so many things to do — it's quite a challenge. I feel very pleased, though, when the product is finally completed.
It varies, of course, depending on the development period, but I was recently very impressed with the opening scene of the movie The Notebook. It was a sunrise scene, and the gradation was so smooth and beautiful. I worked especially hard to create images that would reproduce that level of beauty.
I'd have to say AVATAR. The screen size in a movie theater is extremely dynamic, but compared to a TV, there's a slight disadvantage in terms of contrast. I'm proud to say that movies with truly brilliant contrast like this have even greater ambience when watched on VIERA. And I think the natural rendering capability that comes only with a plasma TV gives full expression to the worldview of directors like James Cameron. I also keep a close eye on movies from Pixar, because you can tell that the images were created by people who are genuine movie lovers themselves.
I do sometimes find myself watching movies from a work perspective even I'm not working. The true mission of a plasma TV, thanks to its superb picture quality, is to relay the intention of an image creator to the viewer. I guess that's why I often find myself thinking about images from the creators' viewpoint. This makes it difficult even for myself to decide whether I'm watching movies for my own enjoyment or as a part of my work. I also personally like shooting photos and movies, so I guess my feelings lean toward image creators.
Sure, first of all, just be yourself when it comes to TV. You should be able to feel the beauty of your TV in ordinary, everyday watching. Also, I'd like to encourage all serious image viewers and movie lovers like myself to watch properly created 3D movies. With VIERA, you're sure to feel the intention of each of the movie creators.
Yes, I'd suggest watching images that you shoot yourself with a 2D digital still camera or camcorder using VIERA's 2D-3D conversion function. Even the familiar things around you will look completely new and different when they're converted into 3D. You'll be surprised.
* The group name, job title and product information on this page were accurate at the time of the interview.
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