3D One year on


Bob Pank#
The month started with a trip to Sony to visit its very impressive 3D Customer Experience Centre where Paul Cameron (Training) gave a three-hour run down all about 3DTV production. This very compact version of Sony’s three-day course kept me on my toes. Early on he pointed out that 3D had been in favour, and then out, several times already, at about 30-year intervals over the last century: 1922-25, 1951-54 he called the golden age of 3D and 1980-86. Cameron says that the booms failed because of “poor technical quality and production values”. That was then and on celluloid, now it’s digital and we are still in the 2005 boom. Cameron points out that the Centre was created to help achieve high production values in 3DTV including live productions. It mirrors another in Culver City (Los Angeles area) that leans towards 3D for drama and cinema.
The compact course was excellent and included a wealth of detail including how we perceive depth of vision. After the history and theory we tried the practise, using a 3D camera rig and screen. Pretty soon I felt lost as it seemed impossible to recreate the 3D-ness of the room faithfully on the 3D screen but Cameron reassuringly said that people quickly get used to the set-ups and handling interaxial distance, zoom and so forth. Maybe I would be much better after the complete three-day course!
As 3D Diaries is one year old this month, it’s a good time for a brief retrospective view of what’s happened over the period. During the year 3D has been shaping up for business, moving on from the initial excitement and ‘wow’ that largely ran on 2D kit in fold-fold configurations that cost £x2 – and more. Now there is a whole lot more dedicated 3D equipment and great progress towards a practical approach for production to bring down the 3D price premium to a more realistic value. This involves technology, the equipment and how 2D and 3D is shot.
High quality cameras have recently been performing an amazing shrinking act so the 3D rigs have got lighter and smaller. RED EPIC, Sony NEX-FS100 and DSLR video, especially Canon D5/D7 cameras, are examples. Also there is a choice of twin-lens all-in-one 3D cameras from Panasonic, and others, for the pro-am videographers. Test equipment is now available to make it much easier to keep within defined depth budgets with Cel-Soft’s cel-scope 3D. This provides a live display of what’s inside and outside chosen ‘depth budget’ 3D limits.
Post production has truly stepped up to the mark with, at the high end, offering a range of sophisticated tools that help finish good quality 3D in less time and widen the scope of what can be economically done. There is a choice from SGO (Mistika), Quantel with a range of products from high-end to broadcast post, and Assimilate... and many others.
Sony has made much use of its powerful MPE-200 ‘3D box’ processor (developed in Basingstoke, I believe). With several ‘apps’ now available, this can play many roles including coordinating camera zooms with interaxial distance, convergence and correcting disparities between left and right lenses that show up as the glass rotates. Other such processing boxes that sit between the cameras to keep them in step have also appeared on the market.
It’s good to see some really practical joined-up thinking now applied to 3D. For example, moving a roving 3D camera rig through a crowd was found to be more difficult than it was with 2D. New smaller cameras may help but another solution is to use the usual 2D rig operating via the MPE-200 box running its real-time 2D-to-3D conversion app. Joined-up thoughts that appeared in 3D Diaries and has also been put forward by Steve Schklair, CEO of 3ality Digital, suggested that running separate 2D and 3D productions for the same event was, in the long run, too costly, and merging the productions into one could be done. That has to be the way forward. I predict more 3D production in 2011.
During the year we have had the launch of Sky 3D, which reported 75,000 homes which the service early this year. Recently we have also had the DVB-3DTV Specification published and sent to European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) for formal standardisation. Hopefully it will soon be easy for consumers to buy compliant 3D TV sets and set-top boxes.
My one disappointment is not surprising. There appears to have been no great move towards the glasses-free 3D screens. Yes, there are screens out there but, so far, they are limited to viewing zones – defined angles to the screen where you can see the 3D effect. I don’t expect the screen I want to appear anytime soon but there are some rather complicated ideas. So we should not have too many expectations in this area and must accept that we will have to watch 3D through glasses for a long while yet.
There are other problems. Last night I went to the cinema and didn’t realise till I got there that the film was in 3D. The couple ahead in the queue baulked at the £10 entry fee (inc glasses) and so missed Wim Wenders award-winningfeature length documentary ‘PINA’. The 3D was well produced and shots on-board the Wuppertal Schwebebahn (suspended monorail) were excellent. That couple’s budget is a reminder that money is tight and people may not be so keen to pay the extra for the 3D experience in 2011. In the USA 3D cinema has had a bit of a reality check as audience figures for the first three months of 2011 have not matched those of 2010. The Guardian (UK) reports US ticket sales running 20% behind for the period. But then who could match the 2010 string of blockbusters, ‘Avata’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Toy Story 3’? A year later Disney's recent 3D animations, the ‘House of Mouse’ and ‘Mars Needs Moms’ have not done so well and failed to fill the blockbuster gap.
The argument goes that the successful blockbusters would have done well even without 3D and ‘storytelling’ is what matters most. Yes the story always does come first, but there is little doubt that the 3D versions did considerably add to the revenue. It’s easy to mud-sling at 3D, especially while we are still wearing glasses, but there is a growing consensus that it will remain as ‘a special’ until viewing gets easier, so most TV and, probably, cinema, will remain 2D for a while yet.

Tags: iss053 | 3d diaries | sony 3d customer experience centre | RED EPIC | Sony NEX-FS100 | MPE-200 | DVB-3DTV | Bob Pank#
Contributing Author Bob Pank#

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