January 1, 2010
By Phil Nottle, Technology Manager, Business and Professional Products Asia Pacific (a division of Sony Electronics Asia Pacific Pte Ltd)
There is no doubt that stereoscopic 3D is the next step that many in the movie industry and manufacturers of consumer electronics alike see as the evolution to delivering quality content to the home theatre market. Just how close are we to this reality? What exactly is available to fulfill this in both hardware and content? To fully explore this, let us take a closer look at some of the technologies that are already available today; the products that we have in the market; the products that are set to be introduced as well as the state of play regarding the development of necessary standards to govern this evolvement so that as it grows, there will not be conflicting technologies or situations where the industry is locked into proprietary hardware. Over the years, many consumers have already been exposed to the industry’s various attempts to bring 3D into the cinema. These early attempts made between 1950s and 1970s suffered due to the inadequacies in the technologies used at that time to provide the 3D experience. Most of the basic failings centered on the problems that were encountered with maintaining registration and phasing of the images while using two film projectors at the same time. Additionally, the need to employ anaglyph technology (usually red and green) meant that the colour space of the projected movie was either restricted to black and white or the resultant colours were nothing like real life. With the advent of the digital cinema, 3D had new life breathed into it. Gone were the issues of maintaining registration and phase for projection and, with the use of polarized glasses against the older anaglyph, issues of deficient colour space were much reduced. In the beginning, there was concern expressed by various industry experts that using glasses would be an inhibiting factor to the enjoyment of 3D. However, this does not appear to be the case. One of the main reasons this concern arose was as a result of earlier 3D experiences where a number of people have experienced nausea or general discomfort after viewing 3D movies but such conditions can be easily traced back to the earlier technologies used. Another possible contributor to this problem is the drastic changes in the depth map of a 3D movie which cause the brain to experience situations that are not possible in real life, thereby resulting in confusion which translates into headaches, nausea, etc. Such a problem can be eliminated by good production and post-production along with the sensible use of 3D. Today, the production of 3D content is increasing with Hollywood having proposed approximately 40 3D movies over the next two years. In addition to this development, various sports (NFL, NBA, etc), together with some recording artistes have developed and are continuing to develop 3D material for viewers. For those who are able to view these materials, the experience is an extremely immersive one. Whether you are at a concert or on the playing field, you will definitely be captivated by the emotions of the event. The whole experience becomes addictive and you will want more as good 3D content is not only exciting but is also extremely entertaining. With this, a whole load of other questions immediately spring to mind… When can we experience this at home? Where and when can I buy it? How much will it cost? Do I need glasses? Most of the ‘when-is-it-available’ is linked to getting international agreement on standards for encoding and decoding the left eye/right eye material. Once this is finalised and the HDMI standard for interfacing is signed off and the Blu-ray Disc Association completes the 3D specification, manufacturers can begin to build and supply products to the market. As it is, there are already a couple of major Japanese manufacturers that have announced plans to supply products to the market in 2010. Once the standards are in place, many more will surely follow. With regards to the cost of viewing 3D content in the comfort of homes, this remains unknown. Although by reviewing historical data, it is likely that in the beginning, the price point will be a premium one but as this form of entertainment gains momentum and popularity in the world, the cost will definitely be more affordable, such as in the case of the flat panel HDTVs. For now, wearing glasses to watch 3D content is definitely a MUST as the technologies for viewing 3D without glasses is still in its infancy and very much more work needs to be done to ensure that the final picture quality will be as good as what it is today when viewed with glasses. Depending on the technologies used by manufacturers, we will need either the same type of passive polarized glasses used in cinemas (with reduced resolution) or active shutter glasses that give greater resolution but have a slightly higher cost. Without the introduction of HDTV, 3D would not have had a chance to evolve but now as we look to the future of entertainment in the home, HDTV and HD movies via Blu-ray players will give way to a full 3D experience using the same technologies but with the added dimension and experience of stereoscopic 3D.