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What's in Store for 3D Tools at NAB


LAS VEGAS
Just as 2009 marked the final phase of the DTV transition in America, 2010 will be known as the year that the 3D revolution began in earnest, partly thanks to "Avatar"'s spectacular box office performance. By the same token, it looks like 3D will be touted as the "next big thing" at the NAB Show. Despite a sluggish economy, the launch of 3DTV by ESPN, Discovery, DirecTV and Europe's BSkyB is pushing the 3DTV train down the track and possibly creating a temporary seller's market for 3D content much as existed for HD programming in the early years of the HD revolution. Hence, it behooves pioneering producers to scour the NAB Show for 3D production tools.

Element Technica’s Quasar was recently used to capture a Dave Matthews Band concert in 3D. Much as in the early days of the HD revolution, the initial toolset is limited and rather pricey, but with one key difference: many existing hi-def cameras, lenses and recorders can be used to capture 3D HD imagery as the core component of 3D camera rigs. To date, most 3D rigs have been custom-made and quite expensive especially when the cost of a matched pair of high-end cameras and lenses is included. With the daily rate on a fully outfitted rig well into five figures, the big question is whether "Avatar" emulators realize their 3D dreams today without Avatar-sized budgets to match.

RIGS

Fortunately, NAB attendees will find plenty of new 3D tools on the show floor—many geared to making 3D production accessible and affordable to a broader pool of producers. At the leading edge is Element Technica which began by making accessories for Red One and has capitalized on that success to dive headlong into 3D production. At NAB they will feature not one, but three different 3D camera rigs, for large, medium and small cameras. Moreover, each of the three models can be reconfigured for all 3 primary methods of 3D acquisition.

Their largest rig, the Quasar, is designed to accommodate large cine-style digital cameras like Red One, Genesis II, Sony's F23/35, 1500 and Arri D21, and can be configured for all three principal 3D capture modes: beamsplitter under and thru (setup), beamsplitter over and thru (setup), and side-by-side. All three models can be reconfigured from one shooting style to another by changing the alignment of two key components, the motion module and the alignment module, in less than 30 minutes (with cameras off). Quasar is compatible with small zoom and all prime lenses, from 15-250 mm focal lengths. If it performs as well as advertised, it and its smaller cousins could be gamechangers by making high-end 3D production much more affordable.

Although it lists for $67,000, Quasar costs less than a typical two-day lease of a 3D HD rig and crew in Hollywood, according to Element Technica marketing director Joey Romero, who said that 61-plus Quasars have already been sold and ordered worldwide.

A slightly smaller, mid-sized model, the Pulsar, is geared for mid-sized cameras like Phantoms, Silicon Imaging's 2K, Scarlet, and Epic. It retails for $57,000, and should be shipping shortly after NAB. Their smallest model, the Neutron, is geared for smaller cameras like Sony's HDC-P1, EX3 and various HDSLRs. It lists for $47,000 and should be shipping by summer.

ZGC, distributor of P+S Technik products in the United States, will display P+S gear at NAB. Perhaps the most interesting is their 3D Freestyle Rig, designed for use with a Steadicam. Different plates adapt it for cameras from Red One and SI 2K to various Sony, Panasonic and even film cameras. All key functions are motorized and list price is $53,900.

There are also two versions of the P+S Technik "mirror rigs." The 3D Medium Mirror Box is designed for use with wide angle lenses, but with the full range of cine-style cameras from Red One to Sony F35s. Their 3D Standard Mirror Box is for use with lenses 24 mm and up. Priced at $35,000-$40,000, it can accommodate the same range of cameras (as 3D Medium Mirror Box) with custom camera-specific plates.

Also new is their attractively priced 3D Side by Side Maxi Pro, which will accommodate the same broad range of cameras from Red Ones to Canon Mark 5Ds. A non-motorized version may start as low as $13,500. All P+S Technik 3D rigs employ carbon fiber materials for maximum strength and minimum weight.

For smaller cameras, Polecam will introduce the 3D Narrow Pan and Tilt Head, as a standard feature with all new systems. Polecam will also offer a new 3D-Wide head for more pronounced stereo effects, even with long shots. Whereas normal 3D convergence flattens out images beyond 30 feet, and thus negating the 3D effect, the wider head extends the minimum operating distance. Normally used with a pair of mini-HD cameras, side by side, camera height and forward angle can be adjusted and synched with finely calibrated verniers.

CAMERAS & LENSES

Last month, Sky Germany beamed Europe’s first live 3D soccer match to a beer hall in Munich. This P+S Technik 3D Freestyle rig was outfitted with a Sony PMW-EX3 camera. Photo copyright Sky If you prefer a fully integrated approach to shooting 3D you'll want to check out Panasonic's new one piece 3D HD camcorder. The AG-3DA1 features twin lenses side by side, and two full 1920x1080 3-MOS imagers with dual HD-SDI out and XLR audio, plus HDMI. It records 1080/60i, 50i, 30p, 25p and 24p (native) and 720/60p and 50p in AVCHD. Up to 180 minutes worth of 24p can be captured on dual 32GB SD cards. While they won't be ready to ship until fall, Panasonic will be taking orders at their booth. For a deposit of $1,000, you can be among the first to take delivery on the world's first 3D camcorders for $22,000.

Astro Systems (at Band Pro's booth) may also display some of its stereoscopic box cameras including: the SVC 01, SVC 02CG, SVC 03 SG, plus a similar looking series of 3D cameras paired with (Panasonic) pan/tilt heads.

3D-one, based in the Netherlands, is also offering an integrated 3D camera solution. It actually has two 3D HD camcorders: the CP20 and the CP30. Both have dual camera heads that are identical except for their capture resolution. The CP20 captures 720p, while the CP30 captures 1080p. Both feature adjustable convergence control and 16-bit audio at 48 kHz. The captured MJPEG video is stored to an internal hard disk. The big drawback is that they currently only capture at 25 fps, the European version of 24p.

Canon Broadcast will also show what may be the world's longest portable telephoto HD lens for use with compact 3D camera rigs. Although designed with sports in mind, weighing in at 5.5 pounds, the 18x, 28 mm-500 mm EFP-style lens is surprisingly portable despite a maximum focal length of 1000 mm (with 2x engaged).

For those sitting on the fence, who would like to test the waters of 3D production but without all of the challenges of 3D acquisition, JVC may have an answer. Its IF-2D3D1 Stereoscopic Image Processor is a real-time 2D to 3D converter which can also be used as a 3D L/R video mixer. Its output can be adjusted for parallax (image displacement) and 3D intensity with natural, anaglyph and sequential viewing modes.

Also, the 3D Unit of Japan's NHK network will display a wide range of film samples and gear including: 3D rigs, follow focus units, monitors and other production gear developed by and for them by various collaborators over the past two decades of 3D experimentation and production by the NHK 3D unit. Many of their prototypes have become products since or have inspired variations on display throughout the NAB Show.