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Stereo 3-D and 4K: What’s the attraction?

I have always been skeptical about stereoscopic 3-D. It seemed like a ruse to sell new TVs to consumers who already own first-generation flat-screen displays and for theater operators to hike ticket prices. Although I enjoyed “Avatar,” it was a visual experience more than a great story, and as for the budget, well, dream on if you are in television.

I was listening to Christopher Nolan being interviewed about his latest movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.” The interviewer asked him about 3-D. He is clearly not an advocate, explaining, “A film is a 3-D image presented on a 2-D screen. Stereo is a refinement to fool the eye into seeing parallax; the illusion breaks down the closer the subject to the camera. Where it breaks down is where the convergence is on the screen versus where the focal plane is of the information. The eyes are doing something they never do in real life, so you never forget you are watching a film. For me, that takes me out of the film. They can be solved, but haven’t yet.”

With a dismissal, he said, “You are weakening the dramatic potential of what you can do with a film.”

He is an advocate of IMAX. Not everyone can get to an IMAX theater, but “The Dark Knight Rises” is showing in 100 IMAX theaters worldwide. What attracts Nolan to IMAX is the big screen, with the peripheral vision adding to the immersive experience.

What has all this to do with television? Well, television is also producing stereoscopic 3-D programming — predominately sports — and television is also moving inexorably towards 4K. The standards have been set, and consumer displays are starting to appear.

The corollary here is IMAX and 4K. 1920 x 1080 HD was conceived to give a 30-degree viewing angle. That means each pixel subtends around one arc second, around the minimum resolution discernible for someone with 20/20 vision. 4K is going to allow a wider viewing angle — not extending to the periphery of vision (that’s where 8K comes in) — but definitely creating a more immersive viewing experience than HD.

In the days of CRTs, we sat far enough back so we couldn’t resolve the line structure. Now it is the pixels that set the close viewing limit. If you can see the pixels, it spoils the illusion. Without projection, CRTs could not be manufactured in the large sizes common with flat-screen displays, but as the displays get larger, the pixels become more obvious. So the bigger the screen, the farther away you have to sit to avoid discerning the pixel grid. 4K offers a solution to those wanting a wider view of the action.

4K is becoming more common for film acquisition, and as the technology of Super Hi-Vision filters down into real products, I am sure we will start to see 4K products for live production. One issue is going to be the bandwidth to deliver the pictures. Will Google come to the rescue here with 1Gb/s fiber to the home, being installed right around the corner from Broadcast Engineering’s offices?

And talking of film, one of the great names in film transfer, Cintel, is in the news, with the announcement of its purchase by Blackmagic Design. What they intend to do with the IP is yet to be revealed. However, there is no doubt that there are some large film libraries out there, a treasure trove of entertainment and documentary from the 20th century. Although the manufacture of film cameras has ceased, expect the medium to be around for a few years yet, and that needs film scanners.

There’s life in those sprockets yet.