The name Kramer conjures up many references for many people and just as many faces. There’s Eddie Kramer, the legendary South African producer/engineer of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin fame. There’s David Kramer, the famous South African singer, songwriter and playwright that changed the face of Afrikaans music forever.

In popular culture there’s Kramer guitars used by Eddie Van Halen (not South African) in his earlier years and, of course, there’s Cosmo Kramer, the parasitic neighbour who lives across the hall from Jerry Seinfeld. Greg Bester digs deeper.
There is another Kramer that has made just as big an impact on the world. This impact was not felt in music or popular culture but instead in what we now know as the modern audio visual arena. I am, of course, talking about Kramer Electronics Ltd, founded in 1981.

Kramer Electronics is a company that has a long and progress-driven pedigree. From their first product in 1982, a PAL video image enhancement processor, to their current line of over 1 000 products, Kramer’s’ commitment has been to “developing creative, reliable and value-oriented audio, video and computer signal processing solutions and distributing them worldwide with an uncompromising level of service and support’. These are the words of Dr. Kramer – the founder of Kramer Electronics.

Currently Kramer boasts the originators of technologies used globally in a variety of modern audio visual systems. These technologies include automatic video noise gates, colour processors, screen splitters, symmetrical video boost/cut circuitry and eventually high bandwidth CAT5 products and their ProScale digital scalers/switchers, which he says, will endure for many years. Kramer was also the first to introduce PAL S-Video processors and DAs at the Photokina show in Germany, a testament to their relentless R&D and pursuit of quality. Quality, after all, is paramount for every step in their manufacturing process and this is most probably why they have enjoyed such longevity.

On Thursday 25 October at the Pick n Pay training facility in Fourways, Dr Kramer graced us with his presence on his first ever trip to South Africa. After some delightful tea and scones, the seminar started with an introduction into who he is and what his company has accomplished – told concurrently with a short history of audio-visual technologies – and then carried forward into a more in-depth history, encompassing the last 30 years. Emerging technologies and alternatives to HDMI such as DiiVA (Digital interactive interface for Video and Audio) and Thunderbolt were then touched on before moving into what is currently considered state-of-the-art. Let’s take a look at his summation of the journey and where we are now.

The present

3D is here to stay. Currently there are two versions: glasses-based, which comes in active and passive versions; and glassless, which by its namesake, does not require glasses. By 2013, Phillips and Samsung claim we will have glasses-free 3D television. Dr Kramer says he witnessed one of the early versions of this technology but it required standing in a very specific location in order to properly view it. He also says the technology has two further drawbacks, first, that brightness drops by 80% and, second that light interference creates annoying flickering, which requires you to view in total darkness. There are currently three technologies employed in glasses-free 3D and they are Lenticular, Liquid Crystal Lens and Parallax Barrier. All three, he claims, reduce resolution by at least half.

Laser Video Display, or Laser TV, for short. These displays use two or more individually modulated optical rays of differing colours to excite the pixels. He claims that the colour is richer, the screen is much faster and brighter and is vastly more power efficient.

New advancements in LED illumination.

LED lights are very efficient and this technology has been selected for projection technology. In an example, he showed a recently launched projector by Projection Design called the FL-35 LED with a resolution up to 2560 x 1600, which is massive. It emits 1 200 lumens and has a contrast ratio of 8000:1. However, the biggest selling point for this projector is the fact that it has a bulb life of 100 000 hours. It can run continuously for 11 years before you have to replace it!

  • A lamp-less 5 000 lumen projector the size of two packs of cigarettes was revealed from the Fraunhofer institute, the originators of the mp3. The interesting thing about this projector is that it was unveiled about three years ago but suddenly vanished from the public eye. The light output of the projector is 5000 candelas in monochrome (about half in colour) while a typical computer monitor outputs 150 to 300 candelas per square meter. Instead of having a lamp it has a tiny OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) screen which is so bright it is blinding to look at. He speculates that because of its low cost of $500 and immense power of the small projector, larger corporations might have bought out the technology so they could sit on it until the time is right.
  • Streaming is the media delivery format of the future, according to Dr Kramer. IP networks using data packets that are encoded and decoded is the means to this technology. Higher and higher data rates will be seen in the future and the H265 high efficiency video codec will become the norm. H265 will double the compression rate, which will enable us to store more movies in the same space.
  • Revolutionizing the way we watch TV already. No longer can the networks dictate what we want to watch because now, with technologies like Netflix and Apple TV, the choice is completely ours. Further, he explains, there are small, inexpensive dongles now on offer that include an HDMI output that connect directly into your TV that transforms it into a full HD smart TV. You can browse the Internet, watch HD video, play games and control it with the included remote.
  • Wireless home digital interface is the next step in home entertainment and is a consumer electronic standard for wireless HDTV transmission throughout the home. It can deliver uncompressed, high definition video through a wireless channel that is compatible with any video source to compatible display devices. To deliver such high resolution video, it supports data rates of up to 3Gbit/sec on a 40 MHz channel. Range and transmission loss is improved over standard WIFI with a figure of 30M, including through walls and latency comes in at less than 1ms.

The Future of Technology: Dr Kramer Predicts

  • Cheaper, Thinner, OLED and Laser-Based. In the near future we will see products that are thinner, cheaper and laser-based as technologies become more and more streamlined, efficient, and compact. Lasers and OLED’s will replace LED as the primary light source for displays and projectors.
  • All analogue material will be digitised and scanned back to the cloud, where all work will be done. Kramer muses, “I don’t know what will happen when the cloud starts raining, but that’s a different story.’
  • 16K is probably the next step. 8K video will penetrate our houses for the simple reason that we will desire to have glass-less, 3D, high resolution television. Eventually, 16K will emerge to take this experience to a new level. Considering glass-less 3D cuts resolution by half, 16K will enable us to have 8K resolution in that domain.
  • 3D sound can, in theory, be created by three loudspeakers in your living room. No more 7.1, no more 22.2. A total of three loudspeakers is probably all that will be needed.
  • Optical crystal lattice storage – that is the future. A major problem since the dawn of the digital age has been storage for the simple reason that magnetic data and digital storage devices are not reliable. The disadvantages are many. They glitch and if the microprocessor controlling them fails it is not uncommon to lose all your data. On an optical crystal lattice device the size of a grain of salt, you can store a Petabyte (1000TB). Once it is written there, it endures permanently.

The wrap

The flip side of all this wonderful, striding technology, Dr Kramer says, is that the world is still cluttered with an unfathomable amount of analogue technology. There are, 200-300 million CRT TV’s in use in the US alone. People, for the most part, are just not bothered. Staggeringly, there are some countries that have a market for specialist boxes that transform HD video to analogue so they can watch it on their CRT TVs they do not want to part with. In the words of Dr Kramer: “Composite and VGA are still continuing to the live because they are reliable. Simple and reliable. In most cases, after we have done an installation, everyone says: “VGA is bad’.

Yeah? Are you sure? Well our [VGA] sales are not going up this year, but they are not declining. It’s like last year and it’s for a real simple reason. If you take a 1920 x 1200 image and run it on a long analogue cable and you can get a super fit end image without all the HDMI trouble, why not use it? That is why [VGA] will continue to live. It’s a good standard that gives good quality images.’

By Greg Bester