LIPS talks to you in many tongues

DOORDARSHAN viewers in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Orissa and West Bengal can now watch a film simultaneously and read the subtitles in their own regional language -- thanks to a new, multilingual, telecasting technology called Language Independent Programme Subtitles (LIPS). The technology, evolved by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) in Pune, was introduced by Doordarshan to screen Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay during the recent International Film Festival of India. Eventually, news bulletins on the national network may be telecast with subtitles appropriate to each state.

Demonstrating LIPS at the film festival, C-DAC programme coordinator Mohan Tambe said, "It is a considerable advance over earlier subtitling methods. Not only can subtitles be entered and stored more rapidly and easily than was possible earlier, the same tape can store subtitles in upto 10 different Indian languages." Tambe claims, "Widespread use of this technology could lead to radical changes in the marketing and distribution of video software and in the options available to viewers." He expects LIPS to be of great interest to cable broadcasters and distributors because of its potential in overcoming the language barrier.

LIPS emerged from C-DAC's earlier Graphics Independent Script Technology (GIST), which enabled the processing of all the major Indian languages on standard computers. In developing LIPS, Shashank Poojari, who designed the hardware, and Sanjay Bakshi and Nikhil Karkhanis, who prepared the software, adapted and integrated existing technology to create a compact, user-friendly system. Said Tambe, "This is the first time in the world that such a technology has been developed. We have already applied for patents abroad, especially in the US. It has considerable potential, especially with the expansion of satellite television."

LIPS utilises the formula that a part of the output signal from any videotape consists of "scan lines" that are invisible to the viewer, but can be used to store information in digital form. Subtitles in various languages and information about the time slot for screening are recorded on these scan lines.

Recording subtitles on videotape begins with generating a time-coded copy of the master videotape. The time code carries information about the length and the sequence of consecutive frames in the programme and is stored on the videotape's scan line. Subtitles in desired languages are manually prepared by translating the original script and entering it on a VHS copy of the time-coded cassette, using a "subtitle creation station". This is a modified personal computer connected to both a television set and a video cassette recorder. The subtitles can be edited and repositioned flexibly on the videotape. The subtitle files for different languages are prepared separately and then merged and recorded along with the time code information on the scan lines of the videotape. Tambe said the cost of the electronic subtitle receiver is about Rs 3 lakhs, and this may make it too expensive for the individual buyer. However, he disclosed C-DAC expects to make available shortly a compact and affordable system for home use, comparable in size and cost to a video cassette recorder. Major users of the new technology, he added, will continue to be television studios and video production houses.