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Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt

Tom Butts is the Editor in Chief of TV Technology.

Mention 3DTV at an industry trade show these days and watch the eyes roll. Consumer acceptance is lackluster, based on the latest sales figures for 3DTV sets and who wants to watch yet another 3DTV demo flyover that gives you a headache? Consumers are into multitasking while watching TV today and 3DTV requires a commitment of focus.

CPG’s Shadow 3D was used to cover the US Open in 3D last month. Yes, the 3D backlash has been in full swing for awhile now, ever since attendance at 3D films started to wane a year ago. But I tend to think of it as the perennial "sophomore slump," akin to what HDTV went through in its early days. Initial excitement for a new format gives way to skepticism and doubt when consumers don't embrace it fully right away.

But back then, it was not only the price of the sets that hindered consumer acceptance, but the lack of content as well. Today, the price factor is quickly being removed from the equation as more manufacturers add 3D capability to HDTV sets and the price differential between HDTV and 3DTV sets decline. Within a year or two, it might be difficult to find an HDTV set on the market NOT 3D capable

That leaves the availability of content and the ever present "glasses" issue as the two main hurdles to the format's success. Toshiba and LG, among others, are slowly rolling out "glasses-free" 3DTV but initial reactions are muted and the feeling among industry watchers is that nobody has achieved that Holy Grail just yet.

Two men who clearly believe in the future of the format are James Cameron and Vince Pace, whose collaboration on the 3D production of "Avatar" helped pave the way for a new era in 3D. Earlier this year, at the NAB Show, they announced the launch of the Cameron|Pace Group, dedicated to developing new technologies and production techniques for 3D. In Hollywood, they are clearly among the most vocal and public advocates for the format.

I got a chance to talk with Cameron and Pace at the recent IBC Show where they continued their campaign to foster a more positive attitude towards 3D and promote their company to the broadcast industry. Cameron, for one, is bullish on the prospects for 3DTV.

"In general, broadcast is the next big thing on a global basis as markets begin to open up," he said. "It's really filling a gap in content between the fact that the consumer electronics screens arrived but there wasn't anything to show on them yet and Hollywood couldn't fill that gap. Even now where we're making 30 to 40 films a year, it's still not enough. We need that steady deluge of content from all over the world."

The two men believe that 3D is moving beyond the technology to the narrative stage, an important step in the acceptance of 3D. "We're beginning to migrate to tell the whole story in 3D," Pace said. "I think we're going to see a revolution now."

Pace attributes some of this to the "Shadow 3D" (also referred to as "5D") technology patented by the group and now being used in live productions, including the recent US Open (see related story, p. 14). The technology, which allows one camera operator to capture both 2D and 3D footage from a dual camera configuration, not only reduces the footprint occupied by the 3D setup, but also promotes the concept that anything can be rightly shot in 3D, regardless of the subject matter.

"I think the big revolution is going to be covering every sport from every angle, it's that kind of mentality," Pace said. "Don't start putting it into 'well this would make it better in 3D and this would not make it better.' No, it's every sport in every angle."

The shadow 3D concept, according to Cameron, promotes 3D and 2D production as a single workflow. "It shouldn't be thought of as a completely separate creative process. It shouldn't be thought of as a completely separate technology," he said. "The two workflows need to merge, that makes it cost effective. It's the only business model that makes sense."

The two men firmly believe that in order for 3D—in the theater or in the home—to succeed, that it needs to go beyond the initial "wow" factor of just mindlessly throwing elements in the viewer's face to a more natural part of the storytelling, whether it be a live sports event or a scripted show. And that that evolution has to start with those of us behind the camera.

"The issue's not technical," Cameron said. "The hardware can support any way people want to do it. It's cultural, it's the rate in which people are comfortable changing when they're dealing with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of production and narrow margins."