Research and technology

The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and the Digital Future

The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is an institution which conducts applied research in almost every area of science. In the early 1990s, a team of researchers in Erlangen, lead by Professor Karlheinz Brandenburg, invented the data compression process MP3.

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Author: Dirk Kämper
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It is an invention which has fundamentally changed – even revolutionized – the world of music. In this segment, Professor Brandenburg answers questions about the consequences of this development. The special structure of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has also made Professor Brandenburg’s latest project possible. He is currently working on the development of the digital cinema of the future, a cinema whose hallmark will be perfect picture and sound quality. Surprisingly, this new technology could give an unexpected boost to low-budget films and authorial films – something which is demonstrated by the digital cultural cinema program “Delicacies.”

MP3 is an abbreviation which stands for ISO-MPEG Audio Layer-3. Put in simple terms, it is an algorithm developed at the Fraunhofer Institute in Erlangen which allows the data stored on an audio CD to be compressed to a twelfth of its size without causing a perceptible loss in sound quality. The process is based on the principle of filtering out sounds and frequencies beyond or below the range of human hearing, thereby vastly reducing the amount of data required to store a piece of music digitally. Professor Brandenburg is currently the head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology in Ilmenau, Thuringia. Here, a team of researchers has developed a sound system called IOSONO, which – although principally designed for use in movie theaters – has been tested for use at major outdoor events such as the Bregenz Performing Arts Festival in Austria. The new IOSONO technology has also been demonstrated in Hollywood and has aroused a great deal of interest there. The Fraunhofer Gesellschaft’s “Allianz D-Cinema” (digital cinema alliance) is a member of the international commission which is setting the standards for the digital cinema of the future.

The following five Fraunhofer Institutes are members of the organization’s digital cinema alliance: the aforementioned Ilmenau Institute, the Erlangen Institute for Integrated Circuits, the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommuni¬cations (Heinrich Hertz Institute) in Berlin, the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Architecture and Software Technology – also located in Berlin – and the Institute for Media Communication in St. Augustin.

A technological breakthrough leading to the complete digitalization of the cinema can be expected to occur within the next few years. Although the research teams have managed to create a technology which gets very close to the high picture and sound quality they are working to achieve, they have not quite hit the target yet. And the camera shown in this segment is still not capable of doing everything its inventors would like it to. But these problems will all be ironed out during the next stages of development.

The biggest obstacle to the complete digitalization of the cinema at the moment is posed by cinema owners’ reservations about investing large amounts of money in completely new projection technology. But experts are assuming that it is only a question of time before the major film distribution companies switch over to digital products on account of their greater flexibility, lower costs and the increased copyright protection afforded by digital cinema. This would leave the cinema owners no choice but to follow suit. One vision for the not-too-distant future is the development of a technology which will enable a movie to be beamed via satellite to cinemas around the world and be globally premiered on the same day. This would hopefully put an end to pirating and illegal copying as well as to films appearing on the internet before their official release dates. According to another vision, a complete transfer to digital technology is bound to take place in the wake of the increasing “3-dimensionalization” of the cinema. Not only are there now specially produced 3D films, it is also possible to convert old films to 3D by means of special software. The ability for moviegoers to view films three-dimensionally will definitely give movie theaters the edge over home theaters, and for this reason, a great future is being predicted for the 3D cinema.
Goethe-Institut e. V. 2005
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