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Watch Out, Wedding Videographers, AI Is Coming for You

Automated video editors will intelligently merge simultaneous streams of events

3 min read
A woman's hand operates a camera on a tripod at a wedding reception
iStock photo

Maybe you remember going to a wedding and finding a cheap film camera on each table, along with a note asking guests to snap photos of their wedding experiences. Or, more recently, maybe you added your videos of a wedding, children's soccer match, or other event to a shared online folder. In both these cases, the host of the event or their designee had a lot of work to do to turn those images and videos into a usable keepsake.

Although the quality of video recorded by smartphones has been improving dramatically in recent years, the hassle of collecting and assembling multiple recordings of a single event has changed little. Sure, TikTok mavens, Instagram influencers, and other dedicated amateurs have learned how to use editing software to piece together engaging, shareable, smartphone movies.

But that leaves a lot of us out of the picture—though not for much longer. The next frontier of consumer video creation will be powered by AI, not by a professional videographer or dedicated amateur. These systems will intelligently and automatically combine video from multiple smartphones and other video devices, including action cameras, drones, gimbal cameras, or virtually any other connected camera into one finished production. We think this kind of system will be available to consumers within 2-3 years.

This is consumer multicam video production, an ecosystem of technologies that may just put wedding videographers out of business, or at least give them a run for the money. The building blocks for this system already exist. They include the cameras and advanced video processing software built into today's smartphones, AI that's already great at image recognition, and high speed, low latency wireless communications, including high-speed LTE wireless, Wi-Fi networks, and 5G.

Here's how it will work.

Think of several members of a family recording video of an event. First, they use an app to join a shared project. When they start recording, software on their devices automatically determines what each person is filming, tagging the content with detailed metadata.

As the event progresses, these metatagged video streams move from smartphones to the cloud. There, the AI production system matches streams by checking for timestamps, syncing visual and audio content when possible, and rating the reliability of all the synchronization.

Next, it classifies the streams in terms of distance to objects, camera direction, and orientation. And it classifies them in terms of content, using object recognition, scenery detection, and facial and speech recognition. It also begins comparing content among streams, identifying what content is in one stream but not another. Algorithms assign ratings to the content based on the content itself (a person laughing in a scene may be worth more to the final product than whether a frame's composition adheres to the rule of thirds) as well as on quality parameters (a well-lit, well composed shot may be more likely to make the final cut than one that is not).

These ratings help the automatic editor put together the final video, making the decisions that a human editor would, like selecting clips and mixing audio. It can apply visual themes, compensate for gaps in the content through techniques like slow motion or still images, add in stock media as necessary, and include user-specified titles or captions.

Finally, the system converts the video into formats and resolutions appropriate for the user's selected platform, from social media to home theater, adding copyright information or even a video watermark to signify its authenticity. It can also prepare it for distribution, via social media, a text-based link, or simply a downloadable file.

In the future, as high-speed wireless networks enable a more real-time multicamera production process, we would expect this system to include a feedback loop. For example, if the AI system realized there is no close-up shot of, say, the family's daughter celebrating the game-winning goal, it can trigger a controllable smartphone camera to zoom in.

Of course, any application of multicamera video technology must include security safeguards to ensure those contributing content streams are known to the system and have permission to participate. Much of this can be handled at the application level, through logins, passwords, etc. But smartphones also generate identifying data about the phone itself and the user that can be analyzed by the system for information that could indicate unauthorized access. And this AI-based multicamera video production could also include safeguards for fighting a contemporary media scourge: deepfake videos, for a video produced through a multicamera video platform could be automatically watermarked, indicating that what was produced was not altered and was created from actual content.

With multicamera video production, the foundation is in place to expand the way we use our devices to capture the world around us, turning video creation, not just video consumption, into a truly social experience.

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The Inner Beauty of Basic Electronics

Open Circuits showcases the surprising complexity of passive components

5 min read
A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.
All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

Eric Schlaepfer was trying to fix a broken piece of test equipment when he came across the cause of the problem—a troubled tantalum capacitor. The component had somehow shorted out, and he wanted to know why. So he polished it down for a look inside. He never found the source of the short, but he and his collaborator, Windell H. Oskay, discovered something even better: a breathtaking hidden world inside electronics. What followed were hours and hours of polishing, cleaning, and photography that resulted in Open Circuits: The Inner Beauty of Electronic Components (No Starch Press, 2022), an excerpt of which follows. As the authors write, everything about these components is deliberately designed to meet specific technical needs, but that design leads to “accidental beauty: the emergent aesthetics of things you were never expected to see.”

From a book that spans the wide world of electronics, what we at IEEE Spectrum found surprisingly compelling were the insides of things we don’t spend much time thinking about, passive components. Transistors, LEDs, and other semiconductors may be where the action is, but the simple physics of resistors, capacitors, and inductors have their own sort of splendor.

High-Stability Film Resistor

A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.

All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

This high-stability film resistor, about 4 millimeters in diameter, is made in much the same way as its inexpensive carbon-film cousin, but with exacting precision. A ceramic rod is coated with a fine layer of resistive film (thin metal, metal oxide, or carbon) and then a perfectly uniform helical groove is machined into the film.

Instead of coating the resistor with an epoxy, it’s hermetically sealed in a lustrous little glass envelope. This makes the resistor more robust, ideal for specialized cases such as precision reference instrumentation, where long-term stability of the resistor is critical. The glass envelope provides better isolation against moisture and other environmental changes than standard coatings like epoxy.

15-Turn Trimmer Potentiometer

A photo of a blue chip
A photo of a blue chip on a circuit board.

It takes 15 rotations of an adjustment screw to move a 15-turn trimmer potentiometer from one end of its resistive range to the other. Circuits that need to be adjusted with fine resolution control use this type of trimmer pot instead of the single-turn variety.

The resistive element in this trimmer is a strip of cermet—a composite of ceramic and metal—silk-screened on a white ceramic substrate. Screen-printed metal links each end of the strip to the connecting wires. It’s a flattened, linear version of the horseshoe-shaped resistive element in single-turn trimmers.

Turning the adjustment screw moves a plastic slider along a track. The wiper is a spring finger, a spring-loaded metal contact, attached to the slider. It makes contact between a metal strip and the selected point on the strip of resistive film.

Ceramic Disc Capacitor

A cutaway of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor
A photo of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor

Capacitors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of static electricity. They’re used in countless ways, including for bulk energy storage, to smooth out electronic signals, and as computer memory cells. The simplest capacitor consists of two parallel metal plates with a gap between them, but capacitors can take many forms so long as there are two conductive surfaces, called electrodes, separated by an insulator.

A ceramic disc capacitor is a low-cost capacitor that is frequently found in appliances and toys. Its insulator is a ceramic disc, and its two parallel plates are extremely thin metal coatings that are evaporated or sputtered onto the disc’s outer surfaces. Connecting wires are attached using solder, and the whole assembly is dipped into a porous coating material that dries hard and protects the capacitor from damage.

Film Capacitor

An image of a cut away of a capacitor
A photo of a green capacitor.

Film capacitors are frequently found in high-quality audio equipment, such as headphone amplifiers, record players, graphic equalizers, and radio tuners. Their key feature is that the dielectric material is a plastic film, such as polyester or polypropylene.

The metal electrodes of this film capacitor are vacuum-deposited on the surfaces of long strips of plastic film. After the leads are attached, the films are rolled up and dipped into an epoxy that binds the assembly together. Then the completed assembly is dipped in a tough outer coating and marked with its value.

Other types of film capacitors are made by stacking flat layers of metallized plastic film, rather than rolling up layers of film.

Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

A photo of a cutaway of a Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

At the core of this capacitor is a porous pellet of tantalum metal. The pellet is made from tantalum powder and sintered, or compressed at a high temperature, into a dense, spongelike solid.

Just like a kitchen sponge, the resulting pellet has a high surface area per unit volume. The pellet is then anodized, creating an insulating oxide layer with an equally high surface area. This process packs a lot of capacitance into a compact device, using spongelike geometry rather than the stacked or rolled layers that most other capacitors use.

The device’s positive terminal, or anode, is connected directly to the tantalum metal. The negative terminal, or cathode, is formed by a thin layer of conductive manganese dioxide coating the pellet.

Axial Inductor

An image of a cutaway of a Axial Inductor
A photo of a collection of cut wires

Inductors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of a magnetic field. They’re used, for example, in some types of power supplies to convert between voltages by alternately storing and releasing energy. This energy-efficient design helps maximize the battery life of cellphones and other portable electronics.

Inductors typically consist of a coil of insulated wire wrapped around a core of magnetic material like iron or ferrite, a ceramic filled with iron oxide. Current flowing around the core produces a magnetic field that acts as a sort of flywheel for current, smoothing out changes in the current as it flows through the inductor.

This axial inductor has a number of turns of varnished copper wire wrapped around a ferrite form and soldered to copper leads on its two ends. It has several layers of protection: a clear varnish over the windings, a light-green coating around the solder joints, and a striking green outer coating to protect the whole component and provide a surface for the colorful stripes that indicate its inductance value.

Power Supply Transformer

A photo of a collection of cut wires
A photo of a yellow element on a circuit board.

This transformer has multiple sets of windings and is used in a power supply to create multiple output AC voltages from a single AC input such as a wall outlet.

The small wires nearer the center are “high impedance” turns of magnet wire. These windings carry a higher voltage but a lower current. They’re protected by several layers of tape, a copper-foil electrostatic shield, and more tape.

The outer “low impedance” windings are made with thicker insulated wire and fewer turns. They handle a lower voltage but a higher current.

All of the windings are wrapped around a black plastic bobbin. Two pieces of ferrite ceramic are bonded together to form the magnetic core at the heart of the transformer.

This article appears in the February 2023 print issue.