How GPU Technology Helps (Prime) Time Fly

by Tony Kontzer

Add the ability to manipulate time to the list of advances made possible by GPUs.

Cinnafilm, a small engineering-driven firm in Albuquerque, N.M., sells a package of hardware and software powered by NVIDIA Tesla GPUs that allows video to be shortened or lengthened by as much as 10 percent, in real time, without the need for any editing.

“It completely re-samples video to a precise length without changing anything,” Lance Maurer, Cinnafilm’s CEO and founder, told a roomful of attendees during a session at the GPU Technology Conference.

This is no mere fast-forward button. Play video faster, even just a little, and actors’ voices rise in pitch. Motion gets blurred. And closed captioning flashes by too fast to read. Without a way to subtly tweak video files to compensate, viewers will complain.

The solution, dubbed Tachyon Wormhole — in a nod to Maurer’s background as an astrophysicist — is helping TV broadcasters eke out additional revenue by shortening shows, making room for more advertisements. Similarly, if a broadcaster has to air a 23-minute video in a 22-minute slot, the discrepancy can be addressed lickety-split.

Hit shows such as Showtime’s Dexter and Comedy Central’s South Park have been using GPU-powered technology to improve their quality through Cinnafilm’s Tachyon technology.  Now Cinnafilm has released a new version of Tachyon called Wormhole, which can shorten or lengthen video by as much as 10 percent, in real-time, without the need for any editing.

Maurer told the audience that the explosive growth of video has spurred the development of new tools.

“The quantity of video being uploaded today is mind-boggling,” he said. “To catch up and guarantee quality, you have to create a system that can catch, create and deliver automatically.”

Users of Tachyon Wormhole set parameters for how they want to adjust the length of a video, drop it into a “watch folder,” and from there the system runs the needed computations and spits out the re-timed version. Maurer demonstrated Tachyon Wormhole’s capabilities by showing original and re-timed versions of a video segment side by side. The changes were essentially imperceptible — that is, aside from the fact that one finished first.

Not that there aren’t flaws. Maurer said most people start to notice the alterations once a video has been shortened by 8 or 9 percent.

“The science does break down at some point,” he said.

Generally, however, any such flaws typically rear their head at specific moments. For instance, if a video depicts a rapid-fire gun battle, the sound of the gunshots may start blending together. Or a kissing scene may seem obviously rushed. To combat that, Tachyon Wormhole allows production teams to specify that such segments shouldn’t be shortened when defining the parameters.

Maurer credits GPUs with making Tachyon Wormhole possible by greatly reducing the cost, time and power required to make it work.

“If you can leverage GPUs, your life gets 10 times easier,” he said. “I’ve been using GPUs for 10 years now, and I bet on the right horse.”