It was never going to be easy. Even now, over four years into the modern 3D era, reliably creating and displaying 3D still presents many challenges. Everyone says that the footage must be technically ‘good’ and, for television, the need for glasses is an issue for viewers, though glasses are pretty well accepted for cinema. The good news is that huge efforts continue to be devoted for laboratories and manufacturers to make it easier and, probably, cheaper to make ‘good’ 3D. However the most discussion is still about producing better viewing systems.
Although competition is generally a healthy thing a multiplicity of standards is definitely not. I sensed another ‘Betacam’ moment as I read that Sony, Panasonic, Samsung and X6D Limited (XPAND 3D) have announced their intent to collaborate on the development of a new technology standard for consumer 3D active glasses, under the name, “Full HD 3D Glasses Initiative.” The word ‘Active’ should be added to that. The work is to develop and license radio frequency system 3D active glasses technology, including RF system protocols between consumer 3D active glasses and 3D displays – televisions, PCs, projectors and 3D theatres with XPAND active shutter glasses. We won’t have long to wait as the initiative is targeted for release in September 2011, when the development of new standardized active 3D glasses will begin. The resulting ‘universal’ active glasses will be available in 2012 and should be backward compatible with 2011 3D active TVs.
However, please remember this will be a standard for glasses, not the standard. It is far from being an industry-wide initiative as the world’s second biggest screen manufacturer, LG, is ploughing its lonely ‘passive glasses’ furrow. And I think that their much lighter and cheaper passive glasses are a better bet. I hear you say, “Yes but what about the screen filters?” It is true that this technique requires a filter on the front of the screen that is known to be expensive. However LG has developed a way to make them much cheaper. So, as with Betacam, the best technology and performance may well be swept aside by the marketing might of multiple competition. Though there is another point here. The majority of 3D cinemas already use passive glasses so, maybe, one set of LG glasses will cover both TV and cinema. ‘My 3D Glasses’ could become fashion items and wearing them could be as natural as wearing... glasses.
The cheap passive glasses system may win for another reason. Have you noticed how retailers tend to hide the 3D sets at the back of the display section, near to the office? My experience was to find two pairs of chunky active glasses available... but securely tethered to the shop’s fabric. I could just stretch the tether to reach a prime position in front of the large 3D Sony screen and donned the glasses. As I just saw the same ‘double’ images I twigged that I needed to turn them on. I found a switch on the left side, and another on the right side... Could I get them to work. No. Was there any help on hand. No. So, would they be able to sell me that big Sony 3D TV set...? I have since learned that the retailer is now showing LG screens at the front of the department, with ample supplies of untethered passive glasses that, of course, work perfectly without any switches. So which one would you buy?
Speaking of screens, there seems to be a competition running for the biggest 3D screen... well screens actually as there is a category for LED screens as well as reflective ‘cinema’ screens according to Guinness World Records. On the 28 May at an event in Gothenburg, VIDEOFORCE specialist in technical support for video for events, together with Viasat, set a record for the world’s largest 3D LED display. The screen measured 7.11 m (23 ft 3.92 in) diagonally and the display area is 6.192 m (20 ft 3.78 in) x 3.483 m (11 ft 5.13 in). You think that’s large? You ain’t seen nothing yet! Christie helped set a world record when it displayed the French 3D premiere of Warner Bros Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows – Part Two on a 29.9m wide by 12.33m high (98 ft by 40 ft) screen at the Palais Ominisports de Paris-Bercyon 12 July. Guinness World Records has certified the event. Illuminating the vast screen required the light of six Christie Solaria Series CP2230 DLP Cinema projectors, configured in two clusters of three, with each projector’s output rated at 32,000 lumens. This must have cost but with an audience of 8,500 the Euros per eyeball were probably not so bad.
Of course what we really want is autostereoscopic ‘no-glasses’ screens. Most of these use a lencticular filter in front of the screen to direct the left and right images to each of our eyes. This technology has been around since you could buy stereo postcards. General drawbacks are a loss of image resolution and being able to see the full 3D effect only as particular angles, or ‘zones’, to the screen. The more zones the better. It is popular for digital signage but may yet prove to be the best alternative to glasses. The best results are delivered if each zone has its own version of the picture, as the 3D effect should be presented slightly differently for each. A good deal of work is going into this area and the Hungarian company iPoint (now with a UK office in Oxford) has been impressing viewers at shows. Interestingly the demo uses an iPoint processing box, a small rack-full, to process the stereo video for each zone. If this is to work for the wider consumer market that box has to be boiled down to a cheap chip. This process has happened many times before but it only becomes commercially viable if there is a large enough market. This is a space to watch.