Microsoft Techfest 2008: Multimedia technology

Microsoft unveils new imaging technologies in Redmond at TechFest 2008.

Craig Simms Special to CNET News
Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.
Craig Simms
3 min read

TechFest 2008 | One of Microsoft's strong points, graphics and audio, were on display in full force at TechFest. While there were a lot of demonstrations, here are some of the ones that caught our eye.

Worldwide Telescope
To be released in "Spring 2008" -- meaning our Autumn -- Worldwide Telescope was certainly pumped up as Microsoft Research's premiere achievement this year. The technology itself provides a view of space, with seemingly infinitely scalable and pannable views compiled from Hubble and other telescopes and sensors, providing terabytes of data that can be used for learning and expanding the human understanding. Microsoft showed the TED talk they gave prior to TechFest 2008 on Worldwide Telescope, and indeed it's the best example of the technology in action, so we've embedded it here.

From an application standpoint it will definitely have a high level of usability -- however from a technology standpoint it looked like it made use of the earlier previewed Photosynth/Seadragon, and so lacked a lot of the "wow" we think Microsoft was expecting when they showed it off.

Make low detail photos pop
Take an image that has some areas poorly exposed (that is, it has a low dynamic range) -- use the mouse to select this area, then stroke over areas of the image that are properly exposed. Detail will then be created to make the image look more eye-popping, in what the Microsoft researchers are calling "hallucinations". Amateur photographers (or even professional ones looking to enhance a scene easily!) will benefit from this in a big way.

Deep image editing
A quick and easy way to fill an empty landscape, the deep image editing application relies on the user to set where the horizon is in a photo, and from there it can figure out depth. It then offers appropriate "clip art" -- people, vehicles, objects -- that can be inserted into the scene, scaled appropriately depending on where they are placed, the edges blurred and a shadow added so it looks like a natural part of the scene.

The program does not alter the colour or shape of the clip art in anyway, rather relying on a huge image bank to suggest appropriately angled and lit objects to add to the scene. We're hard pushed to see the value of this outside of novelty as it doesn't offer the flexibility or power of something like Photoshop -- perhaps architecture firms could use it to easily add more colour into their concept renders. It's early days yet though, and no doubt the technology will become more robust, or be integrated into something that can offer those tools, as time goes on.

Multi-channel acoustic echo cancellation
Sitting in the middle of the surround sound set-up of a home entertainment system, an Xbox ad was played back to the viewer/listener while a microphone caught all the sound in the environment. A demonstrator spoke throughout the event, and at the end the sound captured by the microphone was played back -- revealing only the demonstrator's voice, the sound of the speaker having been cleverly stripped away.

The application? Voice controlled media centres that aren't affected by what's playing over the speakers, or perhaps a way to enable voice communication where the microphone won't pick up what the speakers output.

Disclosure: Microsoft Australia covered CNET's travel and accommodation costs while at TechFest.