Thursday, March 18, 2010

3d is loose in the world! Part 2

After the SMPTE presentation the night before, I was looking forward to the Sony presentation. I was thinking that they’d have some equipment - at least a 3D television and glasses - and a great demo.


The only equipment they had at the presentation was a stereo video camera setup constructed by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution using two new HD cameras that cost about $30,000 each. It was actually a pretty cool looking rig, but it was just sitting on a table and not connected or even on; we didn’t get to see it do anything.

The talk was primarily a history and theory of 3D technologies, and it started with a quote from someone in 1939 saying that the time was right for 3D to finally catch on!

There followed an explanation of what was driving the 3D movement: revenue from 3D theatrical releases, and the desire to sell new hardware(!) Not that 3D in theaters is new (and it didn’t just die out in the 50’s.) Evidently there was a movie in the 70’s called: Stewardesses in 3D. Even though it was never in wide release, it constantly made money over several years; though that might have been the subject matter, rather than the 3D component!

The real kicker - even ignoring the recent success of Avatar - is that revenue-per-screen for 3D movies released in the past five years has been much higher than for the same 2D release. Of course, there are several variables that the speaker acknowledged aren’t factored into the raw numbers; the smaller number of 3D screens, and the over saturation of the 2D theaters may skew the figures. Also, the additional income from the fees charged for glasses may inflate the numbers.

The speaker did pitch Blu-ray as one of the best ways to view 3D in the home, because there wasn’t really enough bandwidth to send it over cable in high-res. And by the way, they have finalized the Blu-ray 3D specs (in December 2009.)

There was some discussion about both the technology needed to send a 3D image through cable (side-by-side, top-bottom, combined, or using increased frame rates.) For a variety of reasons they have ended up with the side-by-side solution.

And there was an overview of the technologies for viewing 3D content:

Auto Stereoscopic
This technology does not required glasses, but has reduced resolution and limited viewing positions. This may improve.

Time sequential
Uses passive glasses, but projected at high frame rates

Active Glasses
This seems to be the method in ascendancy for home theater. The left and right image are displayed rapidly one after the other. An infra-red transmitter on the TV talks to the shuttered glasses and tells them when to open/close each lens. Persistence of vision makes the whole thing work, and there’s limited brightness loss.

Sony plans to release a Bravia 3D LCD TV, with LED backlight, 240fps motion flow display.

There was a brief slide listing the problems you can encounter with 3D production, though it was really a list of issues, with was no discussion of the problems (or solutions.):
  • Visual parallax
  • Excessive disparity
  • Pseudo stereo inversion
  • Hyper stereo
  • Boundary violations
  • Occlusion violations
  • Depth budget
  • And many more

Evidently Sony is busy running training classes on how to produce 3D as there’s “a lot of interest!”

Surprisingly, there wasn’t much talk of the camera technology being used, or editing/production methods, though there was a spreadsheet of companies that have built 3D rigs. In addition to the Woods Hole rig, and other "traditional" two-camera setups, there was a picture shown of a mirrored rig where one camera is mounted perpendicular to the other.

Sony has also shown a prototype single lens 3D video camera that has an internal beam splitter. There are evidently pros and cons to this technique though I didn’t find out what they were, and there’s no specific plans to release a product at the moment, though they are continuing development work on it.

Finally, the multiple mentions of the drive to sell 3D TVs reminded me of the announcement last week that Sony planned to release a 3D consumer camera. At the time I wondered whether it would be a still or video camera. After thinking about it, I have to conclude that Sony would be more likely to focus on creating a consumer 3D video camera - rather than a still camera - because it will help sell TVs. But that’s just a guess on my part.


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