Comprimato: powering Nokia's VR
Nokia’s OZO virtual reality camera aims to be the go to camera for high-end VR. But this VR juggernaut could not have set sail without Comprimato’s JPEG 2000 compression
A lot of people have put their money on VR being the next big thing in media tech. New VR acquisition and distribution technologies are being trialled continuously. But we’re still looking for the killer app – the thing that will make all this experimentation and speculation finally pay off.
Nokia’s has claimed that its OZO VR camera is the cutting edge of virtual reality acquisition. Designed with professional production in mind, the OZO captures 360 degree spherical video with eight 2Kx2K sensors, and 360x360 surround sound. The system also features Live Virtual Reality Preview and is designed to integrate with existing video and audio compositing workflows. At this writing you can buy the camera from the OZO website for 60,000 USD.
One feature that Nokia hopes will give the OZO an edge is its use of JPEG2000 compression from Comprimato.
I believe that JPEG2000 will be an important codec player in virtual reality production
JPEG2000: Unsung hero
Comprimato was founded in 2013, as a spin off from founder Jiri Matela’s university research on video compression. Starting with an initial team of four, the company is now 20 employees.
The company’s speciality is a JPEG2000 Ultra HD standard compliant software codec which leverages the power of AMD, Intel and NVidia GPUs and CPUs to speed up real-time Ultra HD video and image compression. Headquartered in Brno, Czech Republic, Comprimato’s codec has been incorporated by such leading media companies such as Telestream, Vizrt and Technicolor.
JPEG2000 is a widely admired, but often underexploited, codec for video production– as distinguished from a codec for video distribution, like HEVC or H.264. JPEG2000 offers particular benefits for video production in that every frame is encoded separately. JPEG2000 is also resolution scalable which allows for higher bit depths.
With the OZO, Nokia aimed to set a global standard for high-end VR capture. Their search for a video processing codec took them to Comprimato.
“They contacted us with an unknown project they were working on,” says Comprimato head Jiri Matela. “WE worked on this project for almost a year. Then last summer they introduced this beautiful camera.”
Nokia had kept its cards close to its chest during the collaboration. The company never full revealed its VR strategy to Comprimato.
“Sometimes with these companies, when they are working on something revolutionary, like OZO, they don’t tell you what their intention is up front. They only said ‘We would be interested in your MJ2 encoding.’ So we did a lot of tests with them and we discussed a number of different encoding scenarios.
They were looking at other companies too, but finally decided to include us as part of the camera’s software.”
The integration of the software into the OZO camera was executed entirely by Nokia’s in-house team with Comprimato providing consultation and testing.
“And that’s our goal,” says Matela. “We try to make our SDK as simple to use as possible so everyone can take it and use it without our guidance. Of course, when guidance is needed we are happy to provide that service.”
So what is it about the JPEG2000 codec that makes it especially useful in developing a high end VR camera like the OZO?
“It’s just my speculation, but the advantage of JPEG2000 for the OZO is the resolution scalability, so you can access a lower resolution of the original video feed which allows you to do faster processing in the software.”
The Nokia camera produces multiple video streams which are sent to a computer for processing and stitching together. Being able to process that video at a lower resolution allows for greater speed and efficiency – and is essential in any kind of live workflow, given the huge amount of data being generated with every second of shooting.
“I believe that JPEG2000 will be an important codec player in virtual reality production,” says Matela.
But with all the efficiencies and quality that JPEG2000 provides, why hasn’t it had wide-spread adoption yet?
“I’ve been asking this myself,” says Matela. “I think for any codec what’s important is an ecosystem of different tools supporting the codec. With JPEG2000, the fast implementations used to be solely on hardware. But now people are starting to look into higher quality imagery – not only with higher resolution, but also high dynamic range and higher frame rates - which are not always possible with the other codecs. And we’re starting to see more adoption now of JPEG2000 with the availability of more fast software processing ability.“
Certainly, a wider palette of video tools is just around the corner – whether that’s UHD, HDR, HFR or VR, or combinations of all of them remain to be seen, but will the push for new formats push JPEG2000 to the front of the pack for video formats.