This year, the broadcast industry aimed to make stereoscopic 3-D a mainstream medium for home-delivered entertainment, in hopes that it would become as successful an introduction as high definition. But if you read my blog from the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center (blog.broadcastengineering.com/3-D), you know I maintain a healthy skepticism over whether stereoscopic 3-D will ever rise above being a tantalizing, but limited, event experience. There's a big difference between paying a premium ticket price to see stereo 3-D in a theater and trying to watch it on a daily basis in the living room.
However, it is always exciting to feel the electricity in the air when new ideas rise up to challenge the existing broadcasting landscape, and new stereoscopic 3-D innovations made this one of the most interesting NAB conventions ever. (For simplicity, I'm going to drop the “stereoscopic” modifier from now on since single-stream, or “anaglyph,” 3-D has rightly become a poor stepchild in the minds of NAB exhibitors enthusiastic over the possibilities of home-delivered 3-D entertainment.)
3-D industry announcements
There have been interesting experiments in over-the-air 3-D broadcasting in Japan, Holland, Korea and the UK using various formats, and just before the 2010 NAB Show, a slew of announcements were made regarding 3-D delivery to U. S. homes. ESPN will start 3-D broadcasting with the World Cup games this month, Mark Cuban declared that most of the prime time and weekend shows for his HDNet will be shot in 3-D, Next3D is gearing up for 3-D VOD channels in conjunction with Turner Broadcasting, and the Discovery Channel revealed a joint venture with Sony and IMAX to launch a 24/7 3-D network later this year. Even during the NAB 2010 Show itself, Comcast presented select coverage of the Masters Golf Tournament in 3-D, seen at several exhibits.
While roaming the halls of the convention center, concerns over the public's acceptance of this new medium started to arise. First, only JVC and Hyundai have plans to market home 3-D TVs that can be seen using cheap, passive polarized glasses — the kind you get in most movie theaters. All of the rest — including Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, Mitsubishi and Vizio — will require active shutter glasses to see Z-space on their home screens because those displays are less expensive to manufacture. However, those “flicker” glasses are costly, easily breakable, require charged batteries and, most significantly, are in large part incompatible with competing brands.
But these concerns don't show up in public opinion surveys about the desire for home 3-D. After all, Blu-ray has released its specs for 3-D discs and expects robust sales. In fact, Futuresource Consulting, a market research firm, has predicted that 70 percent of U. S. households will have a 3-D-ready home display by 2015. The question is whether viewers will use them enough to support around-the-clock 3-D entertainment delivery, or if these pricey sets will be switched to their 3-D modes only for special occasions.
3-D technology at NAB
At the NAB Show, many companies created a buzz over their new 3-D gear. Crowds gathered at the Panasonic booth to see its AG-3DA1 single-body 3-D camera fitted with twin lenses and two 1920 × 1080 2.07-megapixel 3MOS imagers that can record up to 180 minutes on dual 32GB SD cards in AVCHD PH mode.
Panasonic also showed depth-enhanced images on its new 25.5in BT-3Dl2550 3-D monitor, which can be connected directly to the AG-3DA1 and other 3-D cameras via HD-SDI inputs. The BT-3Dl2550 is designed as a production monitor, so it uses Xpol polarizing that enables engineers to view it with passive 3-D glasses.
That phenomenon was also on display in Sony's 3-D technology installed in the 53ft double Expando 3-D-enabled HD production truck built by All Movie Video. The remote vehicle was equipped with an MVS-8000G multiformat switcher that can combine two camera inputs into a single 3-D source. All of the screens at the engineering stations used polarized displays so the engineers could watch multiple screens in sync with each other.
One of the most impressive 3-D displays was TVLogic's TDM-150W. It's one of the first 3-D organic light-emitting diode (OLED) monitors, boasting a 100,000:1 contrast ratio. The display is only 15in in size, and due to limited production runs, it will be relegated to broadcast production use for the time being.
Grass Valley disavowed the need for 3-D-specific equipment, claiming all its existing gear is 3-D ready today. The company underlined this with a 3-D camera demo by linking two LDK 8000 cameras side-by-side, introduced the latest version of its K2 Dyno replay system with the ability to handle super slo-mo and 3-D projects, and detailed a 3-D workflow through a Kayenne video production center.
For 3-D format conversion, Miranda showed off its Densité 3DX-3901 signal processor capable of converting multiple 3-D formats, and brought out a new 3-D option for its Imagestore 750 channel-branding processor capable of providing up to four 3-D keying layers and offering a variable “Z-plane” for graphics depth control. To see those signals, Miranda had its Kaleido-X16, a 16-input, dual output multiviewer for 3Gb/s/HD/SD/analog 3-D monitoring.
Post production remains the budget sinkhole for anything but live 3-D production, and few NLE manufacturers have addressed it directly. Avid offers dual timeline mainstream 3-D editing with direct output to full 3-D displays.
Adobe Systems unveiled its Creative Suite 5 product family. However, its editing component, Premiere Pro, can handle 3-D projects only with the help of CineForm plug-ins, despite the boost it gets from the remarkable new GPU-accelerated Adobe Mercury Playback Engine.
Autodesk gave 2011 labels to its NAB 2010 releases of Flame, Flare, Flint, Smoke and Lustre and claimed many had enhanced 3-D capabilities even though that usually referred to 3D graphics, character animation or compositing.
Quantel trumpeted its 3-D post-production products, although unless you have the budget of “Avatar,” it's hard to afford them. There is little that you can't do in 3-D with the company's new version 5 software for eQ, iQ and Pablo systems.
Even this skeptic recognizes there is gold in them there 3-D hills: gold for special events, gold for theatrical blockbusters, and by all means gold for home video game players who can vegetate for hours under those 3-D glasses. With all the ballyhoo at NAB 2010 over home-delivered 3-D entertainment, time will tell if it can become a mainstream medium capable of being popular enough to support 24/7 delivery channels.
L.T. Martin is a freelance writer and post-production consultant.
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