Get Ready For 3D

Technology and infrastructure have reached critical mass; rollouts to ramp in next three years.

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By Pallab Chatterjee

The advent of digital imaging in the production, broadcast and projection of films will drive the current 3D craze into a sustainable long-term trend. The digital medium allows for “headache-free” viewing and is expected to produce about $1 billion in revenue this year in North America.

What’s changed this time is 3D formats will not be limited to feature films in theaters. The technology is going to be used for feature films in digital cinema, IMAX movies, Blu-ray home video, video downloads, 3D home television, cable broadcast, and even gaming. For the next few years all of these 3D formats will require some form of glasses (circularly polarized, active switching, etc.) and will be viewable on standard digital silver screens and properly equipped flat panel and DLP displays. Portions of the last Olympics and the upcoming 2012 Olympics are targeted for 3D live broadcast and in Europe, where a full 3D channel is planned next year.

To manage these broadcast signals and digital workflow, all of the editing and post-production work is being done on 2D objects, with 3D effects added in. The four leading 3D systems are RealD, XPand, Dolby 3D and Master Image (MI). Worldwide, MI is the leading format. To date, the largest installed projector is a Texas Instruments DLP-based system that projects two 2K images to make the 3D. The newest most versatile system is from Sony and is a digital 4K projector, which can put out a single 4K image or two 2K images for 3D.

The home format for TVs and Blu-ray players is being addressed by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE). The group is targeting formal specifications and standards by 2011, but the Blu-ray Disk Association and the associated 3DDisplay Association will have a working standard at the end of December 2009 that will support full 2D compatibility with existing players and existing displays. At this time, they are targeting an encoding system that will allow them to keep a full-length movie under 50 GB so it can stay on a BD50 disc. The cable industry indicated its rollout, which is on a three-to-five year timetable, would be the standard definitions, then silicon, then set-top boxes, then encoders and finally displays.

On the gaming side, the game play is being enhanced for 3D, as well as just the graphics. The games will be playable on 3D televisions with special glasses and on standard laptop displays and large-format flat panel displays, as the rendering is done in real time through the graphics card. UbiSoft, Electronic Arts and Blitz games either have existing 3D titles or will have them by this holiday season, including the UbiSoft release of “Avatar” on all three console systems and the PC.

Some of the challenges that are being faced for live broadcast have to do with the real-time marker on the broadcast. These include the familiar telestrator drawings, current position and first-down markers on the football field, scoring and scoreboard banner position, etc.

On the Blu-ray side, one of the major issues is creation and placement of subtitles. Depth of field and making sure subtitles are not obscured by objects in the 3D foreground are systematic issues that need to be addressed.

The last technical issue is to whether to shoot the original content in 3D, which is limited by the sheer size of the stereoscopic rig, or whether to shoot in 2D and convert to 3D in post processing. This gives a more predictable cost but not always the best effect.

There is $500 million available for the digital cinema upgrade in North America, which is driving the creation of almost 30 titles in 3D in 2010. The current rate of expansion should have 11,000 digital cinema screens worldwide in early 2010, which will be a large enough base to carry the films on an ongoing basis. These digital solutions are in addition to film based projections solutions from Technicolor and Trioscopics3D. The Trioscopics solution already has been deployed on over 20 million hom


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