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Forget 4K, Think 4D: Time Could Be a New Wrinkle in Online Video
Science fiction or science fact? 3D video was a bust with consumers, but 4D could add an exciting new dimension to streaming video.
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As we head towards this year’s Streaming Forum in London in June, I’ve been thinking about a topic that brought a chuckle every time it was mentioned during last year’s Streaming Forum: 3D broadcasting and streaming.

We all recall how 2013 was to usher in the Era of 3D Broadcasting, at least as pitched to consumers at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Instead, the year ended with a limited number of 3D options, in no small part because 2013 had few marquee sporting events -- ESPN even shuttered its 3D channel, denting hopes for long-term 3D sports broadcasting.

The demise of 3D led us to the rise of 4K, touted at this year’s CES as The Next Big Thing. It’s still a few years away from mainstream adoption, although 8K is waiting in the wings to push the envelope even further.

In the meantime, I think the streaming industry needs to think beyond the Next Big Thing to the next Next Big Thing. That Thing, I propose, is 4D, not 4K.

It turns out that the fourth dimension, time, is very much in need of compression. And the streaming industry may be able to lend a hand, turning science fiction into science fact.

As a self-proclaimed conservative Christian, I’ve always found it a good exercise to occasionally challenge my belief structure, if for no other reason than to cross-check my own beliefs in God against those of others. Madeline L’Engle’s series A Wrinkle in Time was instrumental in exposing me to early science fiction, even with her widely divergent Christian worldview, and she used the tesseract to explain both time and God.

Yes, L’Engle made the tesseract popular long before Marvel Comics put it to use in the recent Avengers movie. Here’s a bit of dialogue from A Wrinkle In Time that attempts to explain the time-shifting device:

“You think of space only in three dimensions,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “Was your mother able to explain a tesseract to you?”

“She never did,” Meg said. “She got so upset about it.”

Mrs. Whatsit and Charles, Meg’s brother, go on to explain that the three dimensions -- a line, a square, and a cube, respectively -- allow us to see things both in 2D and 3D perceptual space. Then the kicker: 4D and 5D.

“What is the fourth dimension?”

“Well, I guess if you want to put it into mathematical terms you’d square the square. But you can’t take a pencil and draw it the way you can the first three. I know it’s got something to do with Einstein and time. I guess maybe you could call the fourth dimension Time.”

“The fifth dimension’s a tesseract,” Charles said. “You add that to the other four dimensions and you can travel through space without having to go the long way around. In other words, to put it into Euclid, or old-fashioned plane geometry, a straight line is not the shortest distance between two points.”

L’Engle expands the concept of the tesseract, going on to talk about “folding” time for both personal and divine gains. It is this folding time that allows her characters to move through the fourth dimension at will.

I’m going to suggest that folding time is also a way to enhance streaming delivery to narrow the delivery gap between where we are now and where we might be in just a few years. Next month’s column will look at practical ways to fold time for streaming content delivery.

This article appears in the May 2014 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Forget 3D ... What About 4D?"

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