The 2008 3D Biz Expo held here at the Universal Sheraton at the end of September provided a crucial snapshot of the current options for making 3D home theater a reality. The exhibition demonstrated current 3D display technology, a factor commonly referred to as "visualization" capability, and also revealed several options for putting content on those screens in the future.
Chris Chinnock, president of Insight Media, the market research firm that sponsored 3D Biz Expo along with the FlexTech Alliance, characterized the current state of 3D in the home as "a bit of a chicken and egg conundrum.
"But the logjam is already starting to be broken," he added. "We forecast that there will be 1.9 million home displays sold this year that are 3D capable."
It has to be understood, however, that the term "3D capable" or "3D ready" is similar to the "HD ready" labels put on many early high definition displays that did not have a built-in HD capable tuner. Today, "3D ready" is being used by the home theater industry to designate a flat panel or projection display that has an increased frame rate (120 Hz or 240 Hz). However, these HDTVs have to be connected to an outside computer or set-top box through an HDMI 3 port to prepare source material for 3D display.
With the help of this additional equipment, these 3D-ready sets can present alternating left eye/right eye images that have to be decoded either with passive, polarized glasses favored by LCD and LCoS displays or the active "shutter" glasses most often used by DLP rear projection systems and plasma screens. If the latter type of glasses are needed, the system also requires plugging a special transmitter into the HDTV's VESA sync port to beam out the signal that triggers the LCD lenses to alternatively turn on and off in sync with the left eye/right eye images.
Many people insist that 3D home theater won't gain general acceptance until the special viewing glasses are eliminated. The exhibition floor at 3D Biz Expo demonstrated there have been great strides toward improving glasses-free or "freeview" autostereoscopic screens that employ either lenticular lenses or parallax barriers to present pairs of 3D "views" to the observer. Previously, lenticular displays had commonly been capable of only seven or eight views, which meant if observers moved their head, the illusion of depth was disrupted.
Philips used 3D Biz Expo to introduce their new 56-inch Quad Full HD autostereoscopic LCD display benefiting from a new rendering technique presenting 46 views on a 3840x2160 screen. Based on the Philips WOWvx technology, the set—for professional use only, according to the company—is fully 2D and 3D compatible.
"This is a major step toward a consumer-based 3D HDTV that doesn't require glasses," said Jeroen Brouwer, marketing and business development director at Philips 3D Solutions, who added that the 56-inch QFHD set will be available in the middle of 2009.
AVAILABILITY OF CONTENT
Finding content is the catch. Currently, there are no 3D Blu-ray HD discs available in full color from the major studios. However, Sensio Technologies, a Montreal-based developer of 3D technologies, has developed a standard definition 3D encoding technology and has used it to produce 18 3D disc titles that can be played on any DVD deck. They have also developed an Advanced Spatial Compression Format that networks and studios can use to encode their original 3D programming for broadcast.
"The beauty of our approach is that one 3D studio master can provide content to any 3D display." said Richard LaBerge, executive vice president of Sensio Technologies, "and transmitting it requires no more bandwidth than HDTV."
Dynamic Digital Depth (DDD), an Australian company with U.S. offices in Santa Monica, Calif., is another company that has developed processes for converting 2D sources into 3D at the studio during post production mastering. But they also have a unique system called "TriDef" that can extract a 3D image in real time during an HD broadcast.
"We do that through a combination of analyzing the motion in a scene and the color combinations involved," said Chris Yewdall, DDD CEO. "That lets us isolate the areas of the picture that are moving in relation to each other. We then create a 'depth map' which is essentially a monochrome representation of what is happening in a given frame and use a proprietary rendering process to let the depth map produce a stereo 3D version of the 2D picture on a home HDTV."
During the show DDD used their technology to output sequences from an NFL football game in real time onto an HD screen and the result, although not as dimensional as studio-prepared stereoscopic images, still had an impressive depth. Samsung has already committed to including a low-cost 3D chip based on DDD's TriDef 3D functions in their 2009 line of 3D HDTVs.