3D Is for Real This Time

February 2, 2010

It’s Grabbing A Lot Of Mindshare, So You Had Better Be Ready

This display at Panasonic’s
This display at Panasonic’s CES booth was just one of many that brought 3D to the forefront of discussions at the show.

One of the innovations most relevant to our business at CES this year was obviously the massive introduction of 3D display devices. I saw mostly plasma or LCD, with a small smattering of projection. Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba, Sharp, JVC, LG, and Samsung among others all had it front and center in the booths. LG showed a 3D LCoS projector scheduled for release in mid 2010 with polarized/passive glasses set-up, which requires a polarizing screen, not standard white diffusing style.

Most of the manufacturers went with field sequential systems with active shutter glasses. Some, like Toshiba and JVC, even were showing an intriguing solution of 2D to 3D auto-conversion TVs. Yes, by using some very tricky intelligence to analyze the video content, the TVs did a pretty good job of creating dimensional layering in the content to look three-dimensional. One manufacturer called TCL was even showing a no-glasses approach using displays with directional cells that feed the spatial information to each eye independently. It worked OK, but clearly needed more resolution.

CONTENT IS STILL THE KEY
Content is a primary driver in the development of 3D. Lots of movies have now been released, with Avatar being a worldwide success story. Several of these movies are due for release on Blu-ray over the next few months. A standard for how to put 3D video data on Blu-ray discs has now pretty much been ratified by the relevant standards bodies. The end user will need special discs played on special 3D Blu-ray players.

With more than 100
With more than 100 years of production experience to draw from, film and video directors and producers have a trove of proven techniques to create “2D” content. The rules for creating compelling 3D content, however, are still being written. During a Thursday SuperSession at CES last month, 3D “creatives” discussed what they have learned about working in 3D so far. In the panel discussion, called "3D Creatives Panel-Learning on the Frontlines," moderator Buzz Hayes, senior producer, Sony Imageworks led a discussion with industry professionals Habib Zargarpour, senior art director, EA; Phil McNally, stereographer, Dreamworks; Steve Schklair, CEO, 3ality Digital, and Ted Kenney, stereographer, 3ality.

Direct TV announced that it will be launching three channels dedicated to 3D in June 2010, accompanied by a software upgrade for their set-top boxes. This deal is being sponsored by Panasonic, who also showed off a prosumer 3D HD camcorder with dual lenses at the reasonable price of about $20,000!

Sensio 3D was offering up a compression algorithm that allowed storage of the 3D video data on a standard platforms like Blu-ray. The advantage was no required change to the source hardware. The content does need to be “encoded” onto the disc, then decoded by circuitry in the display. Hyundai and Vizio are already licensees of the technology, and others are going to be announced soon. The short demonstrations I saw looked pretty good; I didn’t notice any evident motion artifacts or resolution loss from the compression.

YOU WANT MY OPINION?
There were plenty of expert opinions to go around regarding 3D at CES. Here’s my take: The presentations I saw in Las Vegas were all pretty impressive and fun, but in all cases the effects were not completely reliable. To my eyes, there are times when the dimensional effects break down. Effects that range from the plane of the screen backward are very clearly layered, but those that attempt to pop forward out of the screen seem out of focus and cause eye strain. This was especially true for popping effects at the edge of the image. Some people I talked to agreed with my assessment, and others disagreed. It seems that not all eye-brain systems are built the same, so expect customers to have varying experiences with 3D installations.

I also saw the shutter glasses lose sync in a number of the demonstrations from different vendors. The result is a gross effect of blur for a few second, which is very annoying.

I still contend that the large-screen ultra-highresolution 2D 4000x2000 pixel and 8000x4000 pixel video demonstrations I have seen at broadcast shows are more engaging and more comfortable long term. Going to more resolution allows much bigger screens, which is a major plus for the dedicated home theater client. I also contend that wearing the shutter glasses, which are heavier and bulkier than the passive glasses, is uncomfortable when worn for a two-hour movie. Invariably, the picture brightness is significantly reduced by the 3D processes, and that compromise does not excite me either. You will typically need to plan on at least double the light output specifications to overcome the light loss.

Assuming the speakers
Anthony Grimani (agrimani@ pmiltd.com) is president of Performance Media Industries, a California-based acoustical engineering firm specializing in home theater design and calibration.

UHD (whether 4K or 8K) in 2D doesn’t suffer from any of the issues above and is just more realistic. However, the reality is that I didn’t see any 4K material anywhere. The emperor was definitely cloaked in 3D robes, and it is obvious that the tide is pushing strong in that direction.

THE BOTTOM LINE
The fact is that 3D is grabbing a big part of mind share and you had better be ready to give it to your customers. The simplest way is via a new 3D BD player, hooked up directly via HDMI 1.4 to one of the flat-screen TVs designed for the Frame Sequential method that Panasonic, Sony, and others are promoting. The biggest size available for a while will be about 60 inches. Panasonic was showing a 153-inch plasma, but it was a concept device with no plans announced for its availability.

For projection, things are a bit less clear. You need a model that conforms with the Blu-ray 3D standard, and one that will take HDMI 1.4 and is able to display 1080p at 120 frames per second to allow the full HD sequential method. A few models are already available that do high-frequency frame rates (120 Hz), but at this point it’s not all too clear how the digital video interfaces will be handled. You may also need to ensure switching light levels for 2D to 3D changeovers, and that may take a dual-lamp projector. Stay informed and be aware that your customers will be asking.

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