New Technology – LiveLens
LiveLens provides a solution to a persistent and fundamental problem in photography‚ loss of detail caused by localised over exposure and under exposure. This is a problem almost all of us have experienced first hand where details in the bright sun are correctly exposed but to the detriment of the scene’s shaded areas, where detail is lost through underexposure.
LiveLens technology solves this exposure problem with a novel Wide Dynamic Range (WDR) solution at the lens, as opposed to a solution built into the image processing circuitry of the camera. The LiveLens can therefore be applied to a wide range of optical systems. Of these opportunities, Live has identified particularly strong un-met needs for the LiveLens technology: 1) the professional HD video camera market and 2) CCTV security camera markets.
Live Technologies is aware camera dynamic range is improving. But being an adaptive product which can retro-fit to existing equipment, LiveLens can provide even greater dynamic range than the camera is achieving.
A particular niche is outdoor sports broadcasting, where there is no time for post production to repair scenes with poor exposure. We see this problem every day on even the world’s most significant sports broadcasts. We want to fix this problem with LiveLens. But applications for LiveLens are broad because we are providing a fundamental control at the camera.
The spinning glass panel of the P&S Technik cine lens converter must seem a strange device to some people, yet it has proven to be very popular in the market and has inspired many other companies to produce similar lens converters. The optical path of LiveLens is quite similar to the relay arrangement of the P&S Pro35, yet the purpose is very different. LiveLens controls the dynamic range of the subject image. Moreover LiveLens enables the camera to capture a wider dynamic range. How much wider? Our prototypes have increased the camera dynamic range by over four aperture stops.
At the intermediate focal plane of LiveLens is a microdisplay chip surface. This is specifically known in the industry as a Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCOS) chip. The microdisplay chip production process has been driven very hard through their application in the digital projector industry, and are now made to HD optical specifications. Live Technologies Ltd has patented a unique way of using this microdisplay chip technology for LiveLens.
We are leveraging the essential elements of this matured LCOS technology and have adapted the process to create a completely novel application, for the purpose of providing a lens based WDR solution for cameras. We are partnering with one of the global microdisplay corporations to develop our proprietary chip design.
Significantly, video signal processing and re-projection is not required to drive the LiveLens LCOS chip. Instead, the chip fully integrates the sensor array and the display array into the one surface. Each pixel of our chip has an independent sensor and a display circuit. This integration fundamentally simplifies the electronics of our device and is the main reason we were able to improve on patents filed by Sony and Panasonic for the similar optical dynamic range control devices.”
The only external electronics required to operate the chip is a voltage supply circuit. Each pixel is supplied a very precisely controlled voltage. Adjustment of this voltage level provides a sensitivity and density control in the LiveLens. The power requirements are small at only 100mA peak.
The LiveLens chip acts as a light sensitive mirror, reacting instantaneously to the subject image focussed onto its surface. Each pixel is able to measure the local level of brightness reaching it. It then converts this into a corresponding level of voltage which it supplies to the liquid crystal layer on the top of the pixel. The liquid crystal polarises the light in various degrees according to the voltage level it receives. Polarisation reduces the brightness of the light reflected off the pixel. Areas of the subject image with low light levels do not effect that part of the chip surface and the image light passes unhindered. Areas of the subject image with high light levels switch on that part of the chip surface, and the image light intensity in that area is reduced. This compresses the overall range of image brightness so that it is within the recording range of the camera. This enables the camera to capture greater detail.
Live Technologies has trialed LiveLens with their optical engineer partners at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia. Initially the optical chips were integrated into a bench test lens system for testing. Findings from this testing were used to develop an integrated lens for portable use for field testing.
Field testing of the portable integrated LiveLens was done using a CCTV camera system and also using a 1/3inch JVC professional video camera system. Findings from the trials of our chip run #1 have enabled development of the chip design to de-bug for colour balance, fixed noise levels, and switching speeds. The design for production run #2 of the chip is now ready. Typically three productions runs are required to develop a commercial ready microchip, so we are very pleased to have the initial demonstrations from the trials of our chip run #1.
In June 2009 Live presented the LiveLens technology to David Stump, ASC Chairman of the Camera Sub-Committee of the American Society of Cinematographers. Mr Stump is well regarded as a technical authority on professional film and digital equipment. His role is two- fold; to build awareness of the capabilities of cameras within the film industry and to remind camera and system manufacturers what kinds of time-saving tools are needed by cinematographers. Mr Stump is an enthusiastic supporter for the LiveLens technology. “Everyone in Pro video is looking for the point of difference which will give them their edge; the unique ‘look’ to their work. For this reason, a creative tool such as LiveLens would be, by it’s very nature, a very exciting product for cinematographers.” said David Stump. “The Pro video market immediately understands the opportunity LiveLens provides as a solution and will definitely be a most lucrative market for LiveLens.”
Jim Jannard of Red has expressed interested in LiveLens. Unfortunately that interest hasn’t gone as far as assisting to fund our development or endorsing the project.
Live has received expressions of interest from the Australian Defence Department through their Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO). The DSTO interest relates to opportunities for LiveLens in specialised defence applications including coastal surveillance camera systems and military area surveillance.
Live has put careful consideration toward the commercialisation path it will take. The strategy going forward is to complete refinement of the technology and engage a third party manufacturer on a partnership basis to commercialise the professional video retro-fit lens application. Live is currently conducting meetings with optical manufacturers in Japan, China and USA to explore the terms of a joint development agreement for product commercialisation.
We are currently seeking investors to enable us to refine our product and get it into the market.