Q&A: Drs. Michael Korpi and Corey Carbonara

Michael Korpi and Corey Carbonara discuss 6P and the future of television

Q&A: Drs. Michael Korpi and Corey Carbonara

There are exciting innovations in the works for television, including a new transmission system that dramatically increases the range of colors that can be displayed on a screen. The new system is called 6P, and Baylor University is leading the research efforts to bring it into widespread use. 

In this Q&A, Randy Fiedler, director of marketing and communications for the College of Arts & Sciences, talks with the two Baylor faculty members who are helping to make 6P a reality — Dr. Michael Korpi and Dr. Corey Carbonara, professors of film and digital media.

Q: Let’s start with a bit of background. How does television work now using what they call the RGB — or Red-Green-Blue — system?

Michael Korpi: If you chart the range of colors of the spectrum that humans can see — all the colors God has made us able to see — it forms a roughly horseshoe or fingernail kind of shape. And when we try to reproduce the color that we can see, the traditional approach of doing that has been to choose three colors — usually some version of red, green and blue — that are within that horseshoe. By combining any of those three colors in a certain amount, you can recreate a specific color that’s within that triangle. We’re talking about perception here because you’re not really seeing that color that’s recreated. You’re seeing red, green and blue, but your brain is getting that data and interpreting it as other colors. It’s basically fooling your eye.

Corey Carbonara: One way to illustrate the limits of RGB is to listen to the experiences of astronauts. They talk about how when they are in space looking back at Earth, they see colors much more vividly than they do back here down on earth. The astronauts say there are so many more colors they can see while in space, and they’re disappointed when they look at the processed images that have come back from the space station, because they don’t do justice to what they saw up there. For example, when you look at photos or video made with RGB cameras in space, the oceans look blue. But the human eye in space can see many combinations of green as well as blue in the oceans, with finer distinctions between colors everywhere. RGB’s smaller triangle just can’t capture all of that adequately.

The chart above contrasts the range of visible color between current television RGB (the smallest interior triangle) to the new 6P (the largest interior shape, bordered in gold).
Q So, how is 6P an improvement on RGB? Is 6P a way to expand that small triangle of perceived colors?

MK: Yes. One reason to add another two or three more primary colors to red, blue and green is to create a different shape — bigger than that small triangle — which covers more of the horseshoe formed by all the colors that human beings can see. New technologies, such as high-definition television and digital cinema, have already made the RGB triangle larger, but to really cover significantly more of the horseshoe, additional primary colors need to be added. That’s the idea behind what is called 6P — which stands for “six primaries” — as a successor to a three-primary RGB system.

Q Of course, once 6P technology is fully developed and applied to cameras and playback devices, the additional primary colors will greatly enhance the picture. But if you watch an old film or television program that was recorded in RGB on the new 6P technology, will those old images look any better?

MK: Yes. Right now, there’s visual information recorded by most digital cameras that is outside of the RGB triangle, but this information is lost because colors on the display can only be shown within the range of the RGB triangle. If the original camera digital files are available, 6P can include all the colors captured. Similarly, there’s color on a film negative that nobody’s ever seen because it is lost in the transfer to the print. The 6P system allows us to go back and add those colors back in. You re-scan the negatives of classic movies such as “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Q But would you want to do that? If someone’s seen Lawrence of Arabia and they know how it looks, when they see it again under 6P, would it be a bit disorienting? With all those extra colors and all that extra visual information they’d be hit with, would the desert and the sky and other features look somewhat strange?  

CC: Well, in “Lawrence of Arabia,” the sky will be bluer and it’ll be more striking, but that would probably be the case if you saw the scene with your own naked eye. You’ll have gradations probably within the sand itself. But the colors will be not be macabre or anything like that. Once again, they’ll be very much aligned with what the experience might be looking at those landscapes with our own eyes.

MK: We’re pushing toward making the visual representations on the screen indistinguishable from reality.

Q Will consumers have to get rid of all their current video technology and buy new equipment to be able to use 6P when it comes out?

MK: No. The system is backward compatible. Some legacy RGB displays may need a simple dongle adapter to do the conversion, but many existing displays already have internal processing power sufficient to change 6P to RGB — colors outside of the RGB triangle can be scaled into the range that RGB can display. Of course, if you want to get all the added color capability of 6P, you’ll need to get a new display — but the 6P signal can deliver images to all of your current displays. 

Q Let’s back up a bit. How did Baylor become involved with research into 6P? And who had the original idea? 

CC: The original idea came from Gary Mandle of Sony, whom I used to work with when I was at Sony in the 1980s as the product manager of high definition for them. Gary was the catalyst for this entire 6P project because he had some thoughts about multi-primaries. We give Gary full credit for coming up with the original concept. When it came time to explore this further, he could have gone to any other school, but Gary decided to come to Baylor, because of the relationship he had with us. I talked to Dr. Korpi about it, we vetted it and realized, wow, there’s really something here. Then we took a proposal to Dr. Kevin Chambliss, vice provost for research here at Baylor, and 6P soon became a sponsored research project and started to blossom very quickly.

MK: Gary had the core patent on 6P, but he has donated that to Baylor. As a result of our further research into this, we now have more than 20 published patents — soon to be 40 or so, if you include everything that’s currently in the pipeline. It’s a big patent portfolio, and Baylor owns it.

CC: We also have outside industry consultants collaborating on this project, and our research team is really a dream team in terms of who we have working with us. For example, we have a former color scientist from Kodak who’s working with us, and he has been tremendous in terms of the development process. We also have the former senior vice president of technology for Fox, who has an enormous amount of experience. Many of these folks have received Emmys or Oscars, and many of them come with a lot of patents already under their belts.

Q That’s an impressive lineup.

CC: Another member who’s been enormously important to our team and an incredible catalyst is Steven Poster, ASC, a cinematographer who is the former president of the American Society of Cinematographers and a former president of the International Cinematographers Guild.

Q How have these people who work with film and photography for a living reacted to the promise of 6P technology?

CC: We’ve shown examples of 6P to a lot of cinematographers, including very notable ones. Their reaction has all been the same. They’re very excited about having a greater palette to work with. For example, Dave Stump, ASC (director of photography at the American Society of Cinematographers), said that as a creative, he’s looking forward to having things that are much more closely aligned to what our visual system can see, because that’s the type of creative opportunity he wants to have to be able to shape that color.

MK: Let me put it this way. It (6P) gives creatives the choice of what they want to do. If you have the box of 256 crayons, do you have to use all of those when you draw a picture? No — you pick the ones you want. Is it an advantage to the artist to have 256 versus 16 crayons? Yes. Could they still draw a picture with 16 or eight? Sure they could. But with 6P they’ll have a wider palette of colors to choose from.

CC: It’s a way to tell stories better. If we have better tools, and better understanding of how to use them, then those tools will become an advantage in telling stories. That’s why the creatives are extremely excited about 6P. 

Q Are Baylor film and digital media students involved in 6P?

CC: Absolutely. We don’t do research without our students coming with us and being a part of it. They’re helping us create test materials for this new technology, and are getting exposed from an early position to understand the power of story that can come from things such as color and increased color fidelity. As our students get involved in the research — being exposed to 6P and having conversations with the industry professionals we’re collaborating with — these students are finding increased opportunities to push the envelope, so they’re getting an edge. They’re becoming the world’s first 6P or “multi-primary” colorists, because nobody else so far has been playing in this area from a creative content use perspective. Our students are among the first to have an understanding of what happens when you go beyond red, green and blue. It’s been enormously exciting for them, and they can’t wait to come work with us.

Q I’m curious — how did your students respond when they first saw examples of 6P?

CC: They said, “Wow! It looks like 3D, but it’s not 3D.” They also said it opens up colors that are so different — both richer and more subtle — that when a side-by-side comparison is made [with RGB] it takes their breath away and gives them goosebumps.

Q Aside from entertainment, are there other possible applications for 6P? Could this possibly change other fields of endeavor?

MK: Yes. The field of medical imaging is the first one you think of. When you start to add various primary colors, in addition to the RGB, you can more accurately display flesh.

CC: Flesh color and detail are going to be very important to making a medical diagnosis, especially in telemedicine. What does that lesion look like? What does the skin look like? That could be one of the examples of where 6P would be valuable. Basically, any industry that needs visual data, whether it’s still imaging or motion imaging, can be affected by this.

MK: There could be other applications in agriculture, surveillance systems, geographic information systems, satellite data and oceanography.

Q Once the fruits of all this research — these Baylor-owned 6P patents — are reflected by the sale of new products in the marketplace, where will the profits go?

MK: A company called 6P Color Inc. was created through the Lab to Market Collaborative in Baylor’s Office of the Vice Provost for Research, with help from Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business. The current structure is that Baylor has licensed the right to use all the patents to 6P Color Inc. The Lab to Market Collaborative helped us get connected to the people who funded the start of 6P Color Inc., which gives money to Baylor for the sponsored research. So far, there has been about
$2.5 million in research funds. Since all the resulting patents are Baylor’s, if there is licensing revenue at some point in the future, then that revenue will flow back through 6P Color Inc. to Baylor.

Q Finally — I imagine that there’s a lot of research and development yet to be done, but can you give us a realistic ballpark estimate for how long will it be until the average consumer will be able to own some sort of 6P technology?

CC: With Baylor’s current emphasis on creating companies that can help stand up the research, I think we’re interested in seeing something such as that within a decade.

The chart above contrasts the range of visible color between current television RGB (the smallest interior triangle) to the new 6P (the largest interior shape, bordered in gold).
The chart above contrasts the range of visible color between current television RGB (the smallest interior triangle) to the new 6P (the largest interior shape, bordered in gold).