Multimedia systems and equipment produce different realities

Virtual reality and augmented reality rely on audiovisual systems and equipment

By Morand Fachot

Virtual reality (VR), which replicates an environment, and augmented reality (AR), which adds elements and information to a real environment, are made possible through the incorporation of visual and sound effects. Additional sensory feedback, from tactile information or smell, may sometimes also form part of the VR and AR experience. IEC standardization work for audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, including electronic display devices, is central to VR and AR 

HTC Vive The HTC Vive VR HMD can turn a room into 3D space via sensors (Photo: Maurizio Pesce)

Different realities

VR recreates an environment and a perception of three-dimensional depth of space through computer simulation conveying audio and visual information via a range of multimedia systems. It is best known for its applications in the gaming sector, but it has been widely used for a long time in many "serious" applications such as simulation and training in the aviation or maritime sectors, as well as in the military, medical, engineering, architectural and design domains.

AR inserts elements into a live and existing [real] environment to overlay additional information, mostly on a variety of types of display, for activities such as driving or flying.

International Standards for audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment and for electronic display devices used in VR and AR are developed by two IEC Technical Committees (TCs), respectively TC 100 and TC 110, and their relevant Technical Areas (TAs) and Subcommittees (SCs).

Covering all audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment

Publications prepared by IEC TC 100 and its TAs "mainly include specification of the performance, methods of measurement for consumer and professional equipment and their application in systems and its interoperability with other systems or equipment", according to the TC's scope. The TC further describes multimedia as "the integration of any form of audio, video, graphics, data and telecommunication and integration includes the production, storage, processing, transmission, display and reproduction of such information".

As of May 2016, nearly 450 publications prepared by TC 100 were available on the IEC Webstore, some 270 of which have been published since 2000. TC 100 is also developing publications based on over 75 projects.

TC 100 was created in 1995 from the merger of a number of TCs and SCs developing Standards for receiving equipment, cabled distribution systems and audio and video recording, equipment and systems in the field of audio, video and audio-visual engineering.

It initially started with four SCs for multimedia end-user equipment; audio, video and multimedia information storage systems; audio, video and multimedia subsystems and equipment; and cabled distribution systems. It later adopted a "unique and flexible organisation structure based on TAs, replacing SCs to achieve standardization in an efficient manner for addressing fast moving multimedia technology".

TC 100 currently comprises 13 TAs, as well as 17 Project Teams (PTs), which address a common topic, e.g. technology or application, and "are clustered in a TA with a Technical Area Manager (TAM) and a Technical Secretary (TS) for efficient project management". TAs are disbanded when all their projects have been completed.

TC 100 has 19 Maintenance Teams and nearly 400 experts from 21 participating countries are active in its work.

It's down to displays too!

VR and AR wouldn't exist without electronic display devices.

Standardization work for display devices predates the arrival of electronic display devices. IEC TC 39: Electronic tubes, created in 1952, prepared, among other things, International Standards relating to electronic tubes, including cathode ray tube (CRT) equipment. It was disbanded in 2012 and its work taken over by TC 110, which was initially established as SC 47C in 1998 under TC 47: Semiconductor devices, focusing on the development of standards in the area of flat panel display (FPD) devices such as LCD (liquid crystal display) and PDP (plasma display panel).

Following technological progress in the field of FPD devices, SC 47C was transformed into a full Technical Committee, TC 110: Flat panel display devices, in 2003. Its remit was to cover standardization work relating to OLED (organic light emitting diode) displays, 3DDD (3D display devices), EPD (electronic paper display) devices, FDD (flexible display devices) and other emerging FPD technologies. Its title was changed to Electronic display devices in 2011.

TC 110 has 7 Working Groups (WGs) that cover the main current display technologies: LCD, OLED, 3DD, EPD, FDD, TID (touch and interactive displays) and LDD (laser display devices).

TC 110 also set up a Maintenance Team, MT 62595, for Standards related to LCD backlight units, a Project Team (PT) to evaluate optical characteristics of electronic display devices, including mura (clouding), another PT for Common test methods for electronic display devices and an Advisory Group, AG 11, to "advise TC 110 on strategic business plans, specifically identifying and making recommendations on the TC 110 grand roadmap, WG structure, and establishment of projects in accordance with market needs".

The global display market is extremely significant. It is forecast to be worth some USD 155,5 billion by 2020, according to the US-based MarketsandMarkets research and consulting company.

Near-eye displays

Wearable devices have increased sharply the demand for increased ranges of electronic displays. These wearables include the wrist-band type, watches and so-called near-eye displays. Near-eye displays include head-mounted displays (HMD), head-up displays (HUDs) and the glasses type.

HUDs were first installed on military aircraft in the 1940s to project some basic flight information – initially at night – on cockpit windshields. HUDs are now widely used in civilian and military aircraft and increasingly in automobiles.

HMDs are used in a variety of applications, including entertainment (video games), sports and training and for simulation in the medical and industrial domains as well as for driving, flying and to replicate dangerous working / operating conditions.

A proposal from the Japanese National Committee of the IEC to form a "study group on wearable display devices" was accepted by the plenary meeting of TC 110 in October 2015. This led to the creation of an ad hoc group, AHG 12: Eyewear display, tasked with developing an outline of the Technical Requirements for eyewear display.   

Nearly 150 experts from 9 Participating Member countries take part in TC 110 work. As of May 2016, 125 valid TC 110 publications are available on the IEC Webstore; 59 of them have been published since 2000. The TC's work programme includes more than 30 projects covering measuring and testing methods for technologies as diverse as OLED, haptic, flexible and laser display devices.

Standardization work by IEC TC 100 and IEC TC 110 will prove decisive in the development of VR and AR applications and devices.  

Google Glass wearer Google Glass wearer (Photo: Loïc Le Meur)
aircraft hud Co-pilot head-up display on Lockheed C-130J aircraft (Photo: Telstar Logistics)
HTC Vive The HTC Vive VR HMD can turn a room into 3D space via sensors (Photo: Maurizio Pesce)
Samsung home cinema system Samsung HT-AS730 home theatre system