Amit Paranjape’s Blog

A BMW On Indian Roads – 1970s Bollywood Story

Posted in Cars, Current Affairs by Amit Paranjape on March 25, 2010

This sounds like a Bollywood story of the 1970s …. two twins get separated at birth. One gets to enjoy the luxuries of the modern world, a great loving and caring family and comfort…gets to have all the fun and entertainment he desires. Has a great bunch of siblings and friends.

And then there’s the poor brother! He is subjected to immense hardships…Uncaring step-parents (who for some reason seem to always wear white uniforms) ….A society that tries very hard (successfully I may add) in making sure that he doesn’t come anywhere close to realizing his full potential. He is perennially subjected to abuse and is often shackled by the environment he lives in. Rarely does he catch a glimpse of freedom (if at all)…and that too is extremely short lived.

Ok – enough of Bollywood…and why am I boring myself with it 🙂 .   But wait, I am not really talking about Bollywood, am I? The separated twins are in fact two impressive V8 BMWs that were produced together at the same assembly plant near Munich in Southern Germany. One had a small trip to make to Dusseldorf, and got to rule the Autobahns! While the other got ‘shipped’ to the Nhava Sheva Port in Western India, was subjected to the ‘misery’ on Indian Roads :-).

[Note you are welcome to create Tollywood and Mollywood equivalents of this story … just replace the BMWs with Mercedes and Audis.  ]

Isn’t it a sheer joy to see these beautiful, elegant and powerful performance machines, ‘steadily’ ambling on Indian Roads?  I am sure their designers in Germany would be proud to see their magnificent creations cruising at a ‘fast’ 20 kmph (what’s that – just a difference of a ‘0’ from their intended speeds)…I guess , as much pride as a breeder of thorough-bred horses would get from seeing a racetrack winner, carrying a groom in a wedding procession 🙂

I mean, you do need those 300 (or even 400) BHP engines that can do 0-100 kmph in less than 6 sec, to drive in Pune traffic…yes, definitely! And all those ‘Must-Have’ features like 4 Wheel Drive, Anti-Slip/Traction/Stability Controls, 8 Airbags, Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning Systems, Night Vision, etc…etc. are a must for Mumbai! And what better way to navigate on Indian Roads than use the latest built-in sophisticated voice-guided Satellite GPS Navigation System? The system for sure is more ‘intelligent’ and ‘effective’ than the neighborhood ‘Panwala’ when it comes to finding local street directions .

On a few small occasions these mechanical thorough-breeds get to gallop a bit…that is if they manage to escape Pune Traffic…and head to the Pune-Mumbai Expressway. The Expressway itself is a poor cousin of the German Autobahn (not with respect to the road quality itself, but the way some of the smaller brethren behave on these roads – endangering everyone around them!). Still, touching 100 kmph or at times even 150 kmph must be satisfying for sure. But just when the fun starts, these cars are welcomed by ‘Navi Mumbai’…and then by…Chembur and Sion…what more can I say!

Like in Bollywood, there are no happy endings to this story 😦

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High Definition Television (HDTV) Overview / HDTV in India

Posted in Current Affairs, Science & Technology, TV, Entertainment & Movies by Amit Paranjape on March 20, 2010

HD vs. Standard Resolution Comparison (image credit: Wikipedia)

   

(NOTE – To see a better impact of the comparison above, please go to the higher resolution image:    

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/HD_vs_SD_resolutions.png)      

Modern day High Definition Television (HDTV) began in Japan in the 1980s and in US/Europe in 1990s, but didn’t really get traction there and globally until the beginning of decade. As recently as 2002, there were only 3-4 ‘HD’ channels available in U.S. and even those had fairly limited HD Programming. I was one of the early adopters of HD (HD Ready TV and Set-Top Box Service Provider) in US in 2003. American Football (NFL) was one of the first sports to start airing some games in High Definition. Fast forward to present, and dozens (if not 100s) of HD channels are now available in the US. The old analog over-air broadcast technology has been long out of favor, compared to digital broadcasts through cable and satellite providers.             

HDTV has to be seen to be believed! Quantitatively it has over 5 times the resolution of normal TV. Qualitatively, its amazing! Today in India, HDTV coverage is still in a very nascent stage and in this blog post, I will make an attempt to provide an overview of the core technology, HD Ready TVs & Production/Distribution Equipment (hardware), and last, but not the least TV Programming (content).             

Transitioning from regular TV to HDTV is almost like the quantum jump felt by people in India when we transitioned from Black & White to Color Television in the 1980s! Myopics can understand this analogy the best: Remember when you get a new pair of glasses that corrects the power of you vision by 1-2  – how things look exceedingly crisp and clear for the first few days! You suddenly realize the vision sharpness you were missing. Well… watching HDTV for the first time is that kind of experience. Suddenly you realize that green patch on the ground that you are seeing on the TV  has distinct blades of grass..with dew drops. That huge stadium filled with blurry crowds are distinct faces…. That color complexion on a face is actually a freckle…that there is actually some small text written on that bottle in the kitchen.. that you couldn’t read before… I can go on and on with the examples..but I think you get the point!             

Unlike great progress made in areas like mobile phones, etc… India has been lagging the developed world in High Def TV. But there are some good signs of hope on the horizon.             

What is HDTV?             

HDTV stands for ‘High Definition TV’. TV resolution is usually measured in ‘lines’ (only recently did the notion of ‘pixel’ arrive…). Over the past 8 decades, TV images have been ‘created’ by scanning an electron beam onto a phosphorus-like material coated screen, to create lines at a fast rate to create a ‘picture’. These traditional TVs are also referred to as ‘CRTs’ (Cathode Ray Tube). Note that the human eye has an ‘inertia’ for image processing and if an image projected on the screen (principle used in motion picture) or scanned lines on a TV screen, change with a frequency of greater than 0.1 sec, then we ‘see’ a  ‘moving’ image. Traditional TV standards consist of pictures between 400-600 lines (Different Color Systems globally are a bit different: PAL that is used in India and in many EU countries uses 540 lines. NTSC used in North America uses 480 lines, etc.). Also note that in the 1930s, given the limitation of analog bandwidth and technology, a decision was made (that has stuck over all these years!) to go for a picture aspect ratio of 4:3. This was much ‘squarer’ than the 35 mm film aspect ratio in those days.             

HDTV changed the aspect ratio back to a more wide-angle movie like format to 16:9. The HDTV format has 1080 interspersed lines. (I will get into the 1080i vs 1080p discussion a bit later). With double the lines and greater ‘aspect ratio’ – the resolution of HDTV becomes much better than that of the conventional 480i(NTSC)/540i(PAL) 4:3 TV. In fact newer advances in HD (1080p, etc.) are realizing the dream of having motion picture level image quality on a TV Screen.             

What is 480i/540i/720p/1080i/1080p?             

Before I discuss the technology details, let me just say that its a sad sight to see all these HD Ready LCD TVs in Indian Stores/Homes with no HD Content! Think of Color TV Sets (actually this did happen in parts of India in the 1980s..) with Black & White Programming?!  I also get the same feeling seeing the fancy 6 cylinder BMWs/Audis/Mercs being driven on Indian Roads at 20kmph..but then thats a topic of a separate blog post 🙂             

As discussed earlier, in the old CRT TV set technology (540i for PAL, 480i for NTSC), lines were scanned by the electron beam. To reduce the bandwith requirement, a decision (again..many decades back) was made to scan the lines in an ‘interlaced’ fashion – in one pass only alternate lines are scanned 1-3-5…-537-539 and in the other pass 2-4-6…-538-540. This happens so fast that the viewer sees the full picture. But the resolution of this picture is approximately 1/2 of what it would have been if all the 540 lines were scanned simultaneously.  The HD standard of 1080i lines implies that the twice the number of lines are scanned in an interlaced manner. A new scanning approach that evolved with HDTV was that of ‘Progressive Scanning’. Here, all the lines are scanned in the same pass. Thus roughly speaking, a 540p scanned image is analogous to a 1080i image. (In actual practice, 720p image looks quite close to a 1080i image – and hence true HD is defined as 720p/1080i or higher).             

The first HDTVs were CRTs with a 1080i format (progressive scanning is quite tough in a CRT approach…but much easier in a flat screen where pixels are being used instead of an electron beam). Early LCD and Plasma TVs (until a few years back) didn’t have the necessary pixel count (manufacturing complexities, etc.) to to have 1080 lines vertically. Hence they settled on the 720p HD standard. However in the past few years, 1080p TVs have become common.             

HD TV Sets             

HD or non-HD TV Set? A few years back, this was a choice. Today (even in India) – there’s no choice! Almost all LCD/LED/Plasma/Projection/DLP TVs are HD Ready. Major companies have stopped making non-HD TVs (except in the sub 24inch CRT space…eventually these too would go away). In this section, I will provide a quick overview of the different HD TV Sets.             

CRT: The oldest technology format was used for HD in the 1990s and early 2000s. With a rear projection approach, the first big screen HD (and non-HD) TVs became a reality. However these are now virtually extinct.             

Plasma: Plasma TVs were the first big screen flat TVs to become popular 10 years back. Back then LCDs were not available in big sizes and also refreshed slowly. Plasmas had issues of burn-ins (static image getting burned in permanently onto the screen) and were very heavy (even though they were flat). While Plasma TVs have addressed these issues, they are getting replaced by LCDs.             

LCD: LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) TVs are today the most popular format for HDTVs. They have been able to address their earlier limitations of screen sizes and fast refresh rates, and contrast ratios. Now 1080p is quite common resolution available (1920X1080 pixels).             

LED: LED TVs represent the new exciting developments on top of LCD TVs – offering even brighter displays and contrast rations. With LED TVs – I doubt if there’s any rom left for Plasma TVs.             

DLP: The DLP technology and projection TV technology was developed by Texas Instruments earlier last decade. However, the rear projection screens are not flat and have lost out to LCDs/Plasmas. However DLP is still an excellent technology for HD Projection on big movie screens. In fact all digital motion pictures are being shown in some of the new Digital Theaters around the world using DLP Technology (No Film!).             

               

HD DVD Players             

Just to complete the picture, almost all the modern DVD players are ‘progressive scan’. This means that they deliver an output of 480p or 540p – much better than the 480i/540i standard broadcasts.
What is HD Content? Why is it not available             

Like any new technology, the primary constraints now are economic. Just as when the switch happened from Black & White to Color, the TV Cameras, the Processing, Transmission and Receivers and TV Sets had to change..the same applies for HDTV.             

Creating HD Content needs different higher resolution cameras and transmission equipment. Luckily for us in India, just as non-HD TVs increasingly getting rare, same applies to the Cameras and Studio Equipment as well.             

A big standards battle was being waged for many years in the HD DVD segment. Toshiba led HD-DVD and Sony led Blu-Ray standards went to head to head. This race brought the memories of the VHS vs. BetaMax standards race for the Video-Tape in the 1980s. Eventually Sony Blu-Ray won and is now the established standard for High Def DVDs.             

As I had mentioned earlier, 35mm Motion Picture resolution is close to (in fact a bit higher) than HD as well..so in that sense, every movie is HD Ready  Content. It just needs to be converted into a DVD Format.             

HDTV in India             

As explained earlier, just having a HD TV Set doesn’t buy you anything (well..maybe a little better picture clarity than non-HD TVs..but no where near the 5-10x improvement).  Like any new technology, many satellite TV players were ‘planning’ HD Content in India for the past few years. As an HD enthusiast, I was following this with keen excitement. However it turns out that none of the big players – DishTV, TataSky, Airtel, etc. actually launched HD Content. SunTV became the first one to debut it recently.             

From the point of satellite / cable providers there are two implications. 1.  They need to get HD Content (Chicken-And-Egg problem in India..HDTV not available, hence no good HD Content..). A good workaround option is to go with good international HD Channels that are already available: DiscoveryHD, National Geographic HD, etc. 2.  They need to upgrade their processing equipment, satellite feeds and set-top boxes to support HDTV.             

Sun DTH (Direct-To-Home Satellite Provider) provides DiscoveryHD, National Geographic HD and a few other Indian HD Channels (Note – the Indian HD Channels still don’t have a lot of good HD Content..but atleast the vehicle is now there). The big catalyst for HDTV in India, in my view happened earlier this week when SunDTH announced that IPL Games will be available in HD!  I believe with the popularity of Cricket in India – this can be the watershed event for HDTV in India. I think there’s no looking back. The big players of satellite TV will now have to scramble and get their plans in order..and fast!             

I think with the latest TV equipment (cameras,etc.) being  used for coverage of IPL –  they were anyways producing the content in HD. The HD feeds were available for international markets (US/EU/ec.) through local tie-ups. They just had to (I guess..) partner with a local player willing to have the set-top boxes to stream this content to India.             

As a big fan of HDTV, I would definitely thank the IPL and SunDTH for being the pioneers in finally getting HDTV to India!             

               

Useful Links             

   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-definition_television           

http://www.howstuffworks.com/hdtv.htm          

HD broadcast is now available in India through Sun DTH: http://SunDirect.in/HD          

Pune – A Global Leader In Green/Alternative Energy R&D – List Of Key Players

Posted in Pune, Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on March 16, 2010

Solar Thermal (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

  

Call it by whatever name: Green Energy /Sustainable Solutions /Cleantech /Alternative Energy /etc. The quest for environment friendly, cheap and renewable energy is probably the most important technology problems of the 21st century.
 

Wind Turbine (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

  

  Various options are being under development for a few decades but still all of these put together constitute a small percentage (in most countries – single digit) of total energy consumption. These options include: Wind, Bio-Fuels, Solar Photo-Voltaics, Solar-Thermal, Geo-Thermal, Tidal Power, etc. The only renewable energy form that has been used effectively(in non-trivial amounts) is hydel power.        

In this brief blog, I am attempting to capture a list of interesting companies and R&D organizations in Pune that are involved in these fields. Would appreciate any inputs (and details) on companies/organizations that you are aware of, and that are not listed in here. Please add them as comments, and I will consolidate them into this blog post.        

Praj Industries www.praj.net        

Praj is a global leader in  bio-ethanol, bio-diesel, etc. Their R&D work is focused on improving the chemical processes for synthesizing these fuels. Here is a brief write-up by PuneTech’s Navin Kabra about a visit to the Praj R&D Center: Praj Matrix – world class bio/chem/engineering research facility in Pune        

Thermax www.thermaxindia.com         

Thermax has been an important Indian (as well as global) player in Thermal Engineering for many decades. Their focus includes Solar Thermal, Geo-Thermal, Waste-Heat Recycling and related areas.        

Suzlon Energy www.suzlon.com        

Suzlon Energy is amongst the top wind power companies in the world. Headquartered and founded here in Pune, it has a global presence in Europe, North America, Australia and in many other countries.        

National Chemical Laboratory www.ncl-india.org        

National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) is the premier research institution in India (and one of the top ones globally), involved in R&D in chemistry and chemical engineering. Their work includes research on bio-fuels, associated enzymes, etc.        

 BAIF www.baif.org.in        

BAIF, based in Urali Kanchan near Pune has been at the forefront of sustainable rural development for many decades. Here is a list of their research areas: http://www.baif.org.in/aspx_pages/progress_at_a_glance.pdf    

Pune, a global automotive leader – List of major players

Posted in Cars, Pune, Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on March 14, 2010

Pune is the leading center for the automotive sector in India; as well as one of the top automotive centers globally. In the past year alone, 3 massive new plants from General Motors, Volkswagen and Mahindra & Mahindra were inagurated here. The Chakan-Talegaon Belt is becoming one of the most dense automotive clusters in the world. In this brief blog, I am compiling a list of major automotive companies in Pune and some brief information about them. Please add your feedback (additions/details, etc.) and I will update the blog post.                 

            

Tata Nano (Image Credits: Wikipedia)

Tata Motors                  

Tata Motors www.tatamotors.com  is the biggest automotive manufacturer in Pune, and the biggest one in India. The huge Pune campus consists of their corporate HQ, R&D Center and Manufacturing facility for their cars and trucks. 

Land-Rover

Land-Rover has recently started assembling some models near the Tata Motors Pimpri-Chinchwad facility.                 

Bajaj Auto                  

Bajaj Auto was one of the early automotive players in Pune. They have big base in Akurdi, Pune (R&D, Corporate and Manufacturing). A large new plant has been recently opened at Chakan.    www.bajajauto.com              

Force Motors (Formerly Bajaj Tempo)                  

Manufacturers of 3 Wheelers, Tractors, LCVs and Large Trucks. www.forcemotors.com                  

Mahindra Two-Wheelers (Formerly Kinectic Motors)                  

Manufacturers of Scooters, Mopeds and Bikes. www.mahindra2wheelers.com  Kinetic Motors has been an important player in the Mopeds and Gearless 2 Wheeler space in India. Their famous models include the ‘Luna’ and ‘Kinetic Honda’.                  

Mercedes-Benz                   

Mercedez-Benz entered the Indian Market in the 1990s, initially with a partnership with the Tatas. Later on, they setup an independent venture, Mercedez-Benz India. The Pune facility manufacturers and assembles a range of their well known luxury cars. www.mercedes-benz.co.in                  

General Motors                   

General Motors entered the Indian market in the past decade. The Talegaon Plant is a massive facility that recently started production. Cars manufactured here include the new Chevy Beat. www.gm.co.in                  

JCB                  

JCB manufacturers construction, earth moving and other industrial equipment. Their Talegaon plant and design center opened in 2006. http://www.jcb.com/india/homepage.aspx                  

Volkswagen                  

Volkswagen opened a massive new plant in Chakan Pune a few months back. Read more about this plant here:     This facility is presently geared towards manufacturing high-volume cars like the VW Polo and Skoda Fabia.   www.volkswagen.co.in                

Mahindra & Mahindra                  

M&M inaguarated a huge plant this past week at Chakan. Spread over 700 acres and built with an investment of nearly Rs 5,000 Crores (1 Billion Dollars), this plant will manufacture various models of SUVs and Commercial Vehicles.  Mahindra is also planning to manufacture new models from Sssanyong Motors.    www.mahindra.com              

Cummins Engines                  

Cummins, the world leader in Diesel Engines opened its Pune facility in the 1960s, in a joint venture with the Kirloskar Group. Later on, they decided to go solo. The Pune facility manufacturers a wide range of Diesel Engines and Generators, and also has a big design center. www.cumminsindia.com                  

Kirloskar Oil Engines                  

Kirloskar Oil Engines, part of the Kirloskar Group were one of the earliest auto-players in Pune. Presently they manufacture a wide range of Oil Engines for various applications. www.kirloskar.com                 

Premier Motors         

Makers of that famous Indian car of ‘The Premier Padmini’. Current models manufactured include Diesel Pickup Trucks and Vans. www.premier.co.in        

Fiat     

The new upcoming Fiat Ranjangaon Plant will manufactures the various models like Punto and Linea. www.fiat-india.com    

Bridgestone 

Bridgestone is setting up a big new plant in Chakan Pune with a total investment of around Rs 2,600 Cr. http://www.bridgestone.co.in 

Hyundai Construction Equipments    

Hyundai Construction Equipments is located on Talegaon-Chakan  Belt              

Research Institutes, Suppliers & Infrastructure Players                  

ARAI (Automotive Research Association of India)  www.araiindia.com   

ARAI is a the premier research and certification institution for the automotive industry in India. It has a beautiful campus on top of a hill in central Pune (near ‘Vetal Tekdi’).   

In addition to the Auto OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers), Pune has a wide range of  Tier-1 Tier-2 and infrastructure suppliers. Prominent Industry Players include:                  

Bharat Forge                  

Bharat Forge is one of the top forging companies in the world. They manufacture a wide range of forged auto components. Their Pune facility includes their HQ, Design Center and Manufacturing Facility. www.bharatforge.com                  

Sandvik                   

Sandvik is a world leader in cutting tools. Their Pune facility has been around for nearly 50 years. www.sandvik.com                  

PARI Robotics & Automation                  

PARI is one of the leading industrial automation companies and have setup factory automation systems at many global manufacturing facilities. www.parirobotics.com                 

Software & Information Technology       

Software and IT are increasingly playing an important role cars and automotive manufacturing. Many leading global CAD/CAM/CAE Software Leaders are based in Pune. These include: Siemens (formerly UGS), PTC, Ansys. Important IT Outsourcing Players in this space in Pune include Geometric and KPIT Cummins.       

              

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