Summer of 3D


Bob Pank# TV-Bay Magazine
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Having put 3D to one side for a few months it was very interesting to jump back into the third dimension. With 3D not making the headlines much, if at all, you might be lulled into thinking it has faded away, but that’s not the case. Many events are being shot in 3D, including the Olympics and, although there has been nothing happening that could be called a revolution, there is a great deal of evolution going on.
At NAB there was a real change of direction with several manufacturers announcing very new (ie, not available for a while yet) glasses-free 3D screens. Obviously they have realised that glasses are not widely acceptable for home viewing – which makes me wonder why so many ads for 3DTV, and even on the sides of 3D OB trucks themselves (see picture), often depict viewers wearing the unloved eyewear. I think there was a brief period when it was cool to wander around wearing 3D glasses, but it didn’t last long.
Back at NAB, it was exhibitors including Sony and a collaborative development between Philips and Dolby, called Dolby 3D, showing autostereoscopic screens. Both of these were very impressive but the Dolby / Philips project potentially has a greater significance as it claims that the technology automatically optimises the content for the specific device and screen size and allows viewers to customise the “3D intensity” to their liking. It adds that, unlike existing autostereoscopic screens that offer a number of “narrow sweet spots”, (presumably viewing angles to the screen, or ‘zones’, where the 3D effect is seen), those using Dolby 3D “get the optimum balance of comfort and 3D effect wherever they sit.” This sounds good but we are still very much in the ‘honeymoon’ period so we’ll have to wait and see exactly what the technology can deliver.
There was a lot of talk about ‘The Summer of 3D’ and I had the opportunity to see something of what this was about when I visited the Sky Sports OB at the Goodwood Festival of Speed – where I was welcomed with a spectacular display by the Red Arrows! But before heading out into the country I was brought up to date by Mark Grinyer, Head of 3D and Sports Business Development at Sony. I asked if 3D had stalled. He replied, “I’ll be honest, there was a little bit of a lull early in the year. I think that was while everyone was sorting out what the impact of the Olympics would be and what rights packages they might get from that. And then it all ramped up again. Now production has sucked up all the equipment out of the marketplace. There’s none spare to be had.”
Sony’s ‘Summer of 3D’ kicked off with a production in France at Le Mans, but was not to do with the 24-hour race. Then there was the Isle of Wight Festival that was, according to Grinyer, “a massive 3D event”. Next was Goodwood and then Wimbledon. There has also been a lot of studio work with Sky where Sony built a flyaway, owned by Onsite, that can also plug into a studio environment. A fourth Sony 3D truck has been delivered to Telegenic. Sony has also delivered another to TV Mobiles in Ireland.
But there is also plenty of interesting activity on the product side, as Grinyer explains. “The big focus this year has been on camcorders that, rather than being used only as stand-alone ENG-style camcorders, can also be used in rigs as well as RF ‘Steadicam’ rigs. These cameras are ideal for particular locations and they save a lot of bulk. For example, at Wimbledon we have a location known as Camera 4 which is very painful in terms of getting a rig into its tiny ‘gnome house’ location. Last year we used a mirror rig there to get the size down but still we were limited in the shots we could do because you could not pan it around in the very small space. That usage is brilliant for the TD300, and the camera has the right (3D) distance for a tennis court – or halfway across a football pitch – down to about 1.5 metres.”
First, I approve of shooting 3D with one camera. Second, Sony has made the TD300, a 3D dual-lens XDCAM camcorder, very flexible so it can look like a rig and be built into the live environment. These are already available for hire. Although long-range 3D does not really work with the TD300, nor does it for us, as our stereo vision only works to 30 or 40 feet. While the big, heavy expensive long zoom side-by-side rigs can increase their interaxial distance to capture 3D image at much greater distances, they tend to produce a ‘cardboard cutout’ effect where objects, such as people, look flat. As the last line of my favourite movie says, “Well, nobody’s perfect.”
Sony is also making it easier to edit 3D. To date, for best quality, left and right eyes have generally been recorded independently to SR tape – and these can be sync’d to produce the 3D output. Now, using SR Master memory card (a 1TB card records 4.5 hours of Wimbledon quality stereo 3D – enough for most matches) in the new R1 recorder that goes on the back of the TD300, it provides, for the first time, SR-style quality on a camcorder package. That was first used by Sky at the Isle of Wight. At Goodwood the technology went one step further with the recorded memory card being plugged into a reader on the Avid editor for direct file transfer. Grinyer says, “We have a great relationship with Sky and they are willing to experiment and push the envelope. They have an interest in making 3D easier to do and easier to edit.”
It’s clear that this new equipment will make shooting and editing 3D easier, more efficient and quicker. That should translate into lower costs and better results. And that was the same message I got on the Sky truck at Goodwood. For a start this was a 14-camera all-3D shoot – a huge change from the minimal numbers deployed, and the seemingly ‘obligatory’ 2D/3D camera mix, only a couple of years ago. Stereographers were able to work two or three cameras each, partly possible because of the nature of the event, and surely partly reflecting the efficiency of the equipment and the competence of the experienced operators. 3D production is definitely growing and moving in the right direction. Now bring on those glasses-free screens!

Tags: iss068 | 3d | autostereoscopic | philips | dolby 3d | goodwood | wimbledon | Bob Pank#
Contributing Author Bob Pank#

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