As the largest consumer electronic show rolls into action (CES) and makes announcements this week, 3D TV is now coming of age. Now that digital television is the de facto standard (or will soon be) and 1080p is becoming standard fare for flat screens- the next horizon in home electronics is the 3D TV.
A bit of background on this-
3D displays have been around for some time, but there has not been the distribution platform to make them viable or to create sufficient content. The red/green glasses didn’t provide sufficient quality and so few titles were available in the movie theaters, that it just didn’t have critical mass. Theme parks, like Disney (e.g., Bug’s Life exhibit) and later movie theaters started to use the polarized (sun glasses type) of 3D glasses and due to an uptick in theater receipts and a growing list of top revenue generating animations that have used the technology- now there is sufficient interest to seriously deploy the technology for the home. In addition, higher performance chip sets in Blue Ray boxes, TVs, game systems as well as higher capacity discs (e.g., Blue Ray) provide the necessary capabilities to provide 3D to the home.
I think that 3D will invade the home theater first- as this is a more controlled environment, where people will use the 3D glasses, rather than in the kitchen or living room while they eat their pizza or read the paper (if they are still reading papers in the next 2-3 yrs). In addition, 3D is focused more on the ‘big screen experience’ – such as the home theater. Furthermore, people are always looking for ‘bragging rights’ to differentiate their home theaters- and to invite others over- it is much more enticing to say “let’s watch it in 3D…” Home theater projectors are more likely candidates for 3D than the flat screens – as 3D is more fun as a group experience- and the displays are typically larger.
I have created 3D movies for trade shows and it is a lot of fun- especially to see the audience dodge a large object as it moves. In one case, we created an animation of the bladder, prostate and other organs and showed it to hundreds of surgeons- they loved it).
In my experiences with 3D interactive programs- there is an art/science to the creation of compelling content- the end-user experience is influenced by the type of movement, use of color, number of simultaneous object movements, etc. The reason that I bring this up is to point out that 3D movie/interactive experiences need to built from the ground up and typically are not just an after thought or ‘conversion’ from one media type to another. Hence, we will see some conversions of titles from 3D on the big screen to the smaller home theater screen; but I doubt/hope that we will not see poor quality, after thought 3D featured in media as a ‘check the box’ feature of the media… if this occurs, acceptance of this ‘new media’ will be hindered by its low quality…
With computer animation as a standard for movies- the animators have the tools to very cost effectively produce 3D versions of their fare. It is a bit more costly for live action- but with the increasing amount of all digital production- this too is much more affordable. Game developers, authoring computer games- particularly using Xbox360 and Playstation3 offer HD graphics- and are also in the running for 3D interactive experiences that can be displayed using this technology. Interactive 3D game play is a compelling application of the technology as well.
Some background on 3D:
As humans, we (or about 70% of us) have pretty good stereoscopic vision. The 3D material is stored in two ‘viewpoints’ – there are movie frames that alternate between the left and the right eye’s perspective. These views are polarized so that they are visible through the corresponding polarized lens of the glasses. Hence, the left eye, sees the left frames and the right eye sees the right frames. The movies are typically rendered (if animation) with about 45 degree offsets so that they achieve a stereo appearance. Feature live action films achieve the effect by using 2 cameras to capture the action that have a similar offset.
Our eyes need about 15 frames per second (preferably around 30) to have ‘flicker fusion’ – or to make action continuous. With 2 eye viewpoints, the 3D devices need to operate 2x this speed- with a minimum of 60 frames per second. As you may notice, many LCD TVs are now advertising 120Hz (or 2x this speed– faster means better rendition of movement which is especially important in action adventure flicks and sports). So, the technology is now at a reasonable point in terms of speed in generating images to support 3D as well.
From an evolutionary perspective, predators have stereo vision (eyes close together on the front of the face to enable more accurate tracking and leaping to get prey- think of lions, tigers) and prey give up the stereo vision to have a larger field of view (think of mice) so they can see a predator sooner. I think that we have a more ’emotional/visceral’ reaction to stereoscopic motion pictures because of this evolutionary history…