Paul Darbee is a visionary, pun intended. He holds 40 patents, including a bunch a founder of Universal Electronics. But it’s taken close to 40 years for Darbee’s vision of image enhancement to become reality—dubbed DarbeeVision Visual Presence—and there’s still work to be done.
His goal of making a two-dimensional image appear more lifelike—as in how we see things in our everyday vision—grew from a video synthesizer project in 1972. Darbee wanted to create “3D information” by combining left and right stereo video camera images, similar to how our brain constructs depth, which you can simulate by opening and closing one eye at a time—and not by putting on a pair of 3D glasses. (Click here to go to DarbeeVision’s gallery, where you can slide over images to see the differences.)
“2D on TV is the exception to how we see things,” says Darbee. “The different viewpoints, that disparity, is the key to the depth cues that we extract when looking at things. I wanted to put stereo, or 3D, information into a 2D image, so the image would pop.”
He discovered that the solution was to defocus one of the cameras, and subtract that image information from the sharp image in the other camera—only he abandoned the project because in the early 1970s the predominance of analog filming and lack of computers rendered his work moot for real-world application.
Fast-forward to 2000, following the emergence of digital technology and powerful computer processing, and Darbee decided it was time to revisit image synthesis. He had also been studying brain theory and something called a saliency map, which is a visual representation that factors in our eyesight’s high selectivity. From that, Darbee realized that the defocused image didn’t have to be very good to be effective in the equation, and his new project even added a third, or “middle” TV, from which he’d subtract defocused info from the right and left.
He was excited by the results, and says his big stamp of approval came two years later when he showed some A/B screen comparisons to director Robert Altman, who was working on the DVD transfer of Gosford Park and incorporated the technology. Hollywood and its stringent post-production timetables prohibited fiddling around with master transfers to add Darbee’s enhancements, though, so he turned to other digital formats such as TVs, videogames, picture frames and more.
Now he and his company, DarbeeVision, finally have a product—the Visual Presence Processing Box—to enhance the depth and detail on any ol’ 2D TV. I experienced a taste of what Altman saw during a recent demo featuring Avatar and underwater IMAX video. The Darbee Box doesn’t disappoint in its pop and clarity.
But the box is a first step. Starting with “high-end” displays, we’ll be seeing the technology embedded into products over the next year. At last, Darbee’s vision will be realized.
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Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com
and Electronic House magazine.