3D TV


[image: skooal on Flickr]

I went to a BAFTA event tonight, cunningly titled ’3D: the next dimension in TV and Games?’. It served up a panel of Andrew Oliver (CTO and founder, Blitz Games Studios), Colin Smith (Technical Analyst, ITV), Brian Lenz (product design and innovation, Sky), chaired by Guy Clapperton (freelance journalist who has been writing about 3D TV for the Guardian).

The event began with a chance to learn about the three major approaches to full-colour 3D display today, and a chance to try out a couple of them. They are:

  1. Active LCD shutter glasses darken one eye, then the other, in sync with the alternating image being shown on a standard display. This halves the effective frame rate by sharing the display across both eyes, and being an active system requires power to operate the shutters and also to be in sync with the display. Expensive glasses, but off-the-shelf (though high-end) screens or projectors. [more on wikipedia]
  2. Passive polarised glasses work much like the old red and green glasses, but using polarised filters rather than red/green means you get a full colour experience. It means cheap, passive glasses but complicated and expensive screens and projectors. If you’ve seen a colour 3D movie, this was probably the way it was delivered. [more on wikipedia]
  3. Autostereoscopic display is a stupid name for a screen which displays 3D without needing glasses by use of a lenticular or ‘parallax barrier’ layer in front of a specialised (usually LCD) display, presenting a different image based on viewing position. No glasses, but a very limited viewing angle. [more on wikipedia]

Of the three systems, all have benefits and drawbacks. There were no autostereo (i.e. glasses-free) products on display in the room, but the one I tried a couple of years ago was far lower quality than the two passive and active glasses systems I tried tonight. Both worked beautifully well, and in my quick test it was difficult to distinguish between them in terms of quality. Perhaps I need to see a more recent example of an autostereo display. (Any suggestions?)

For the other two, it’s really a tradeoff between cheap glasses and an expensive screen on the one hand, and a cheap(er) screen with expensive glasses on the other. Scale matters too; fitting out a cinema for an audience of hundreds is obviously a very different problem to kitting out your personal games computer, with equipping a living room TV (for broadcast or games) for a family of 4 falling somewhere in between. Does anyone out there have enough experience with the two technologies to have a preference for home use? I would have lived to see the same source being shown on both systems to compare them properly.

Technology: tick. What about the content? Starting with games, it’s simple enough for existing 3D games to be rendered in ‘real’ 3D rather than being flattened to a flat screen. It’s rendering problem, and since the graphics card in your computer already knows where the various objects are in three dimensions, spitting out the required output for any of the available 3D display systems is already possible.

To prove the point, Nvidia had provided an Nvidia ’3D Vision’ equipped PC running Burnout Paradise in stereo 3D, and I must say it worked beautifully.

While rendering 3D games in 3D may be a more or less solved problem technologically, Andrew from Blitz pointed out that it’s also a design issue. Existing games have not been designed for 3D display, and while it works for some, Blitz wanted to start with a simple game designed for 3D and explore from there. They have a commercial release coming in the next couple of months; a console game which is a platformer with the 3D limited to just a few planes. It’s an intentionally simple first stab at a form in which they know they have a lot to learn. Andrew’s point was that games designers, like cinematographers, now have a new toybox of tricks, techniques and conventions to start playing with to get the best results out of 3D displays.

In television and film, stereo 3D content is equally easy in the case of computer generated (and hence a great many 3D movies so far have been CG), so perhaps it’s unsurprising that ITV’s biggest exploration of 3D TV so far seems to be building on Headcases, a satirical computer animation created in 3D, which obviously translates to stereo 3D telly very nicely (as I can confirm, having enjoyed a few minutes of it tonight).

Sky, meanwhile, have been using their existing infrastructure and experimenting with shooting everything from boxing to ballet, Gladiators and Keane in 3D.

The idea of taking existing 2D content and adding 3D perspective to it was mooted. Colin from ITV and Brian from Sky were both eloquent on the subject, saying that the filming and editing techniques used in creating good 3D content are not the same as in creating good 2D content. Eye strain is caused by making it difficult for the eye to resolve what you’re seeing, and cutting between shots forces people to re-focus, so 3D content will probably involve fewer cuts. The phrase that (I think Brian) used was “linger longer”. Taking what works well in 2D and simply 3D-ising it was repeatedly compared to Hollywood’s fad in the 20s of ‘colorization‘, something everyone seemed keen to avoid.

Brian (Sky) seemed tantlisingly close to wanting to announce something. He talked about getting past the experimentation phase and into the production phase: “we know exactly how to get there, it’s just a question of timing and conversations with TV manufacturers. You’ll see things happening in the next couple of years, for sure”. And later, “We’re not at the point right now of announcing a launch, but if the possibility of being part of another revolution in the way people watch TV is there, we want to be part of that, and we will be there, sooner rather than later.”

Other random points of interest…

  • Someone from the audience pointed out that the idea of a fixed ‘ocular distance’ of 2.5 inches (to match your eyes) between the camera lenses, is a myth. He pointed out that in fact, 2.5 inches is one of a myriad of distances that you’ll need to create depth, depending on what you’re filming. The panel agreed, saying that anything from a few millimeters to thousands of miles could be used, depending on the scale and distance of the thing you’re filming.
  • Where do you put subtitles? Andrew (Blitz) – found that ‘Hollywood 3D’ (‘things jumping out at you’ from the screen) can be too much, and they like to limit it so things very rarely seem to come out from the screen, especially because subtitles, heads-up displays etc, work well at the 0 distance, ‘on the glass’.
  • Colin (ITV) – “this is a significant evolution”. He adds that in the film industry they say it’s the biggest evolution since colour. A bigger jump than SD (Standard Definition) to HD.
  • The DTG (Digitial Television Group) is leading the first consultation into 3D TV, is the consortium of consumer electronics manufacturers and broadcasters that will probably be responsible for bringing the industry together around common standards for 3D TV.
  • There are some great terms in this 3D TV business: ‘inter-ocular distance’, ‘decreasing binocular disparity’ and ‘multi-view auto-stereo’ were just three that I wrote down.

Great event. Fascinating stuff. Glad I went.

Update: Alan Patrick was there too and took much better notes than I did.

Update 2 – disabling comments on this post for now. Too much 3D TV spam.

16 Comments

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  1. 3D you say? How very Jetsons! Let me just go park my jet car.

    Comment by Darren — June 18, 2009 #

  2. You also need head tracking to do it properly. If you tilt your head from side to side, the two images being shown to it are completely wrong otherwsie.

    In TV and film, this is usually ignored..

    We’ve had this technology and had it good for years. People have largely dismissed it as a fad in part because they can’t bring themselves to put on magic glasses to watch tv or play computer games. It’s just too much faff, even if the effect is cool. Also, ones that connected to your home computer, have tended to be quite expensive, or at least more expensive than people wanted to pay.

    As well as these problems, there are other problems with the technology – we use a number of different cues to give us a sense of depth, including focus (accommodation), convergence and motion parallax which most 3D viewing technologies have ignored while concentrating on binocular disparity. This mismatch between cues is something thing that makes prolonged 3d viewing a pain. Also the cues are of varying importance in different people, while in most binocular disparity is enough to provide an illusion of 3d, in a small but significant percentage of the population it simply doesn’t work at all.

    There’s also technological problems as well. If there is even a small amount of cross talk between the images for the two eyes (particularly common in old coloured 3d glasses, or linearly polarised systems), it can give a nasty effect.

    I believe that this time it may be different though. The main reason for that is that the cinemas have realised that they need something to distinguish themselves from home cinemas, and they have a system with rotationally polarised glasses that is reasonably cheap, reasonably easy to deploy to digital cinemas and the eyewear is passive, so reasonably not clunky for the audience. Also, with the advent of much computer generated content, it is easy for the film companies to do a render for 3d and a render for 2d, without worrying about the cost of special cameras and filming during the bootstrapping period when it’s only a minority of cinemas equipped to show the 3d version.

    I’ve see three 3d films at the cinema over the last year, the first of which was Journey to the Centre of the Earth (review), and they were all fun.

    Watching them has made it clear to me that there are significant differences in making good 3d cinema, and if we want people to accept 3d cinema and tv, we’re going to have to get over the whizz bang popping out of the screen thing. It just doesn’t work very well with modern technology.

    Comment by kybernetikos — June 18, 2009 #

  3. There was an interesting piece on the Guardian blogs last month, making the point that 3D has so far added absolutely nothing to cinema, except novelty. 3D doesn’t help tell a story in anyway, it’s just a marketing gimmick.

    Does your experience at the BAFTA event knock any holes in this argument?

    Even for games, which seem to me the most natural arena for this sort of stuff to succeed, 3d glasses / VR headsets have been around for almost as long as 3d accelerators, and yet (as noted above) they’ve remained a sideline.

    Comment by skink74 — June 18, 2009 #

  4. Fascinating stuff Roo, must have been fun to be there in person.

    Comment by Giles perry — June 18, 2009 #

  5. Excellent post, interested to hear more of your thoughts on this. Appreciate the comprehensive roundup (and the above comment offering another view).

    Comment by Chris — June 18, 2009 #

  6. Great post. The Headcases entertained at MIPCOM in Cannes last year just as much.

    I was on the panel and wanted to make a comment (alas not enough time) that in order for something to develop it needs alignment between the business model and technology. If you get the wrong formula you don’t have traction. If you get it right then things can snowball. Freeview is a good example of a great business model and we would not have digital switchover without it.

    In order for 3DTV to work it needs to be introduced as optional. If you don’t want it or don’t like it then no problem as a 2D version will be there. That way you avoid the argument of “do people really want this” as nobody would force you to have it. Just like we had with the introduction of colour broadcasting. I recall we had the similar argument of “do people really want this” when Nokia introduced the concept of a camera in a mobile phone!

    History is full of great lessons. Take for example, Andreas Pavel inventor of the personal cassette player. He went to consumer electronics manufactures with his great idea only to be told that the companies felt the public would never wear headphones in public for listening to music. How wrong they where.

    Certainly you can show new things with stereoscopic 3D that you could not in 2D. Shots with clutter can appear clearer. Methods of drawing your focus are widened beyond the use of focus and lighting. This does not preclude the notion that we all will want 3D. Many of us cannot view this new generation of 3D for many reasons. RNIB have recently made a statement they want 3DTV to be standardised so the needs of the few are not dominated by underlying commercial motivations of pay television platforms. Simply put between 5 and 10% of us will have various issues in viewing stereoscopic 3DTV. Weather that’s at all or for sustained viewing.

    BSkyB has done a great job in showing the production potential yet they have a commercial dilemma that it has to work with their existing HD infrastructure (yes that includes all the boxes they have in the field they have subsidised). Traditionally every time we have had a great evolution in broadcasting it has required a new signal of some type. Often this has been delivered with technical grace. Colour broadcasting was backwards compatible with B&W for example and we had a gradual introduction. Technology options are possible in the very short term (i.e. months not years) to permit something similar with 3DTV. This way 3DTV will be a minor, yet for the viewer optional, extension to 2DTV.

    Many of us in the industry want an auto-stereo option to provide the viewers with the ideal method of viewing 3DTV yet we know that this is not possible today. Accordingly we want a considered evolution from glasses based 3DTV to the type that we think would be the ideal method.

    Any commercial broadcaster has to consider its business model with any new proposition to the consumer. Content matters considerably. The recent viewing figures for a 2D SD program from ITV recently gives a hint that 2DSD television is dead. Of course it would look better in HD and you could argue the winning act would have looked stunning in 3D. Yet this has to be commercially viable.

    At the BAFTA event last night we had two types of 3DTV. One that could take in a format known as side-by-side or line-by-line and the other in a format known as checkerboard. The latter has some 2+ million displays in people’s homes around the world. Many product launches of 3D capable projectors are being introduced that would only support either checkerboard or full resolution per eye time sequential modes. The only way you can deliver a signal to both those types of displays/projectors is to abstract the signal from the display. This seems to indicate we will need a new generation of 3D ready receivers and this is the crux of the issue. BSkyB has some 1 million HD set top boxes and naturally would wish them to be in your homes for a period of time. A notion of a new 3D set top box may generate early churn. Accordingly it is natural for Sky to wish for a standard to let them deliver to consumers using what they have.

    This will not be decided by Sky, ITV or Blitz. It will be decided by the shared view between SMPTE, Hollywood, Blu Ray Association and all the consumer electronics companies. They will go to market for physical media before broadcasting standards are made by DVB or ITU. Commercial logic will then apply how to deliver any 3DTV content to those consumers. If we have many defacto methods of driving a display then we will have fragmented displays and generate consumer confusion. Abstracting the signal from the display may be the only way to unite this discord between physical media, games platforms and broadcasting.

    Blitz demonstrated the first full colour per eye (i.e. non colour filtered based) stereoscopic platform game. They are able to abstract the games stereoscopic visual rendering from what the display requires as its input. Accordingly it is able to generate checkerboard as well as the modes required by the JVC display. It is also able to drive all the various 3D consumer projectors that have recently been announced. This seems considered and reaches the widest consumer audience of 3D displays/projectors.

    Many in the industry know that both active and passive 3DTV methods will be delivered to the market. Panasonic has put the gauntlet down with its full resolution per eye message and the 2D+Delta (also know as MPEG MVC) is able to deliver this at approximately 35% greater than an existing 2D HDTV signal. Critically it then provides backwards compatibility to legacy HDTV receivers and provides standards based HDTV 2D version of all 3D content. This way 3DTV would be optional to the viewer and all display types can be reached. It also means Freeview are not out the frame as 35% extra is considerably easier to achieve than 100% extra. We are talking months not years for this and you will see demonstrations by the end of this year for that format. HDMI 1.4 could not have come along at a more appropriate time.

    ITV have no plans to broadcast 3DTV yet we have an interest in insuring the interests of a commercial free to air broadcaster are representing in trade and standards bodies so we have a viable option to consider in the future. We also have a desire to reach all social groups and don’t believe long term that we will have separate live productions events from the 2DHD and 3DHD production. So long we have glasses based 3DTV we will have to have it in 2D mode. Often I am on my laptop with the TV on in the background. I that mode I would never want to wear glasses to view the content. So pause, think, the issues of 3DTV fall far beyond to you wanting it or not. Separate your personal view from what you think might be the view of your child or a friend that has raved about a 3D film they have seen. If people want to view 3DTV with glasses then fine. It affects all of us in the coming years and just like Pavel’s Stereobelt or Nokia’s camera phone – we don’t truly know if the public will embrace it.

    Comment by Colin Smith — June 18, 2009 #

  7. I think that it’s a mistake to be concerned about whether TV will or will not be 3d. We watch TV in many different modes. It’s often social, or semi social, it’s often a background rather than foreground focus of attention.

    Someone coming into the room without eyewear and not being able to work out what’s going on on the screen would defeat a whole bunch of that.

    Films have got a big advantage, because when people watch films, they are intentionally setting aside a significant piece of time to watch the film as their main activity, so it doesn’t matter if there is a small initial barrier to enjoyment. Some (but by no means all) games on a PC are the same.

    So TV in general (in so far as that has a future at all), will always have broadcasts that do not require extra viewer worn equipment to appreciate. Perhaps a channel might occasionally broadcast a 3d film, but until there is technology to provide multiple different people in different places in the room with a 3d view without extra viewer worn equipment (which no current technology can do with remotely reasonable cost), then by far the majority of TV broadcast will remain 2d.

    Computer games and Films have a much better chance of achieving 3d in the near term.

    As to Blitz being the first full colour per eye game, I played a full colour per eye game on a 3d parallax barrier screen in ’96. As skink says above, we’ve had a number of 3d displays for home computers that thanks to the magic of 3d accelerator cards can turn games intended for flat display into true 3d games, and yet even at the 250-300 quid price point they didn’t take off. And this is despite good reviews. Maybe if they get down below the 100 (additional if the tech is built into the screen) quid price point…

    To be honest, I think the ‘colorization’ trap is a much less serious one than the ‘ooh, let’s use this new shiny technology regardless of its effect on the story’ trap.

    Comment by kybernetikos — June 18, 2009 #

  8. Gosh, you’ve been busy.

    kybernetikos said “there are significant differences in making good 3d cinema, and if we want people to accept 3d cinema and tv, we’re going to have to get over the whizz bang popping out of the screen thing.” – I think the panel in the room would have agreed with you (in fact, a couple of them made the same point).

    skink74 asked whether there was anything to refute Ronald Bergan’s the claim in the Guardian that 3D is a shortlived gimmick doomed to failure. Well, I haven’t seen Coraline or Monsters vs Aliens yet, but Andrew Oliver from Blitz mentioned both as examples of innovative 3D films which had both introduced new techniques. Going beyond finding reasons to point-things-at-your-eyes (which all the 3D short films I have seen, such as Shrek and the Terminator thing at Universal Studios when I was in LA) have all been about, is clearly where the fun is to be had. Andrew mentioned a technique of encouraging the eye to focus on a certain part of the scene, such as the hero, by making it particularly comfortable (or the rest of the scene particularly uncomfortable I suppose) to settle on. This idea really stayed with me afterwards, and I’m looking forward to watching Coraline, and Avatar of course, to see what works and what’s new.

    Colin Smith (who was on the panel! Hello, Colin) points out that “In order for 3DTV to work it needs to be introduced as optional” and I was going to say that the panel would have agreed with him too, but the fact he was on the panel making that very point means I’ll just say that he *did* make that point on the night, and I forgot to write it down. As you say, “so long we have glasses based 3DTV we will have to have it in 2D mode”. This makes a lot of sense, and completely resonates with kyb’s addition that “We watch TV in many different modes. It’s often social, or semi social … Someone coming into the room without eyewear and not being able to work out what’s going on on the screen would defeat a whole bunch of that.”

    Thanks, to all of you, for your other additions and insights too.

    Comment by Roo — June 19, 2009 #

  9. Hi Roo.. As kybernetikos mentioned we do consume television in many contexts. I put this over in January at an EBU presentation (Geneva) – the key point that it will start very slowly, existing, as an extension to a HD channel. Just like the method colour broadcasting was introduced it would start from only an hour or two a week and develop according to public interest. We don’t yet know the level of the public interest for two reasons, the displays are not at consumer price points and no 3D content is being transmitted. My point on Pavel was to let history decide the true level of public interest and the level of glasses blocking consumption.

    The notion of television in people’s homes has many ‘use cases’. Often it’s on in the background. Certain formats may suit 3D well and some less so. So long we have glasses based 3D it may reach a large audience but an audience of relatively few hours per week consuming the content in 3D mode. This factor affects the nature 3DTV may be introduced as I suspect it will be reached by a call to action to go from 2DTV to the 3D mode. The 3DTV option of auto-stereo may take some years to get the technology to an acceptable quality point but it looks possible. We need a roadmap from where we are today to that method more suited to home consumption yet one that at least can start.

    Many shots can be creatively improved in 3D to convey the subject. Take a classic shot of horses racing. Front on you can you figure out who is in the lead by the size of the horse (closest should be one that appears largest) yet in 3D it would be far more apparent.

    3DTV with the glasses is complicated by many issues – such as when in 3D mode all the viewers would have to wear glasses to view content without it looking blurred. At Christmas time I think this will be a challenge for many of us in the UK!

    Comment by Colin Smith — June 23, 2009 #

  10. You may have heard about this already, but there’s been a lenticular demo on display at St Pancras for the last couple of weeks. Looks like it finishes tomorrow.

    Been past a couple of times, without much of a chance to hang around and watch at length, but my sketchy conclusions:

    Works vividly for anything artificially generated, as you’d expect. For live action the effect seems much more subtle, to an extent where it’s almost pointless. You spend more energy figuring out whether you can see the effect than you do actually appreciating it (or the content). Extremely narrow viewing angle too, so I’m not sure how it’d work for anything other than solo viewing (maybe multiple viewers would all have to sit on each others’ knees?)

    Comment by Robin Morley — September 27, 2009 #

  11. Id like to add a point to the stat that 5-10% of people will not be able to see 3d. then add the rest of the family members who are also affected by that if you cant have 2d and 3d at the same time

    Comment by Carlos — December 18, 2009 #

  12. 3D TV is now being rolled out by Sky, starting in pubs for football games in April and then the domestic market. I think if Sky are onto it and Samsung are apparently preparing to produce loads of screens for 3D TVs then there must be something in it, but for me it still seems like a novelty thing that you’d only want for the occasional film.

    Comment by Supertelly — January 29, 2010 #

  13. I think 3D Tvs will be successful but it will take time. Few months ago I got a HD Tv and that was quite expensive so I don’t think I will be spending more cash on a 3D TV in a hurry. http://www.3dtvsuk.co.uk

    Comment by Harry — February 19, 2010 #

  14. In regards to the glasses will all makers of 3D TV’s have their own type of 3D glasses? or could the Panasonic glasses work on the Samsung TV. It would be great if the TV manufacturers came out with a standard.

    Comment by 3D LED HDTV — April 6, 2010 #

  15. I’ve had the DLP samsung 3D Tv for about a year and a half now and can say quite certainly that 3D TV will eventually catch on, but not the shutter glass type. No guest that I invited to watch a movie wanted to wear the slightly top heavy shutter glasses for the entire movie. And this was with the relatively light Xpand D glasses. They all wanted to know why I wasn’t using the cinema style polarised glasses.
    Another problem was losing sync with the TV. If it happened to many times the guest was done with 3D TV. Oddly enough some prefered the old Red / Cyan or Red / Green glasses as they said they were lighter and they didn’t have to worry about losing sync,ie going to the rest room , turning their head to talk to one another etc. The problem with the active 3D TV system being pushed in America is the shutter glasses are way to expensive and lose sync to quickly. Let alone being to heavy.
    In short polarised is the way to go. I recently reviewed the new Samsung TV in Best Buy. The picture was excellent and the glasses were lighter than my Xpand D’s. But when I went to show my wife the new technology the next day a customer and already broke one pair and the other pair was already starting to show a double image. Needless to say she was unimpressed and advise me to wait till polarised TV’s come out. So I’ll watch my shutter glass DLP TV until a good polarised set comes to the US market.

    Comment by Ron Stewart — April 11, 2010 #

  16. This is my 3rd Samsung TV, and my 2nd LCD. Both my previous generation Sammy LCD and this one suffer from cloudiness and flashlighting. Why can’t these guys fix this problem? The cloud on this model is on the left upper quadrant and is so bad it’s visible even in brightly lit scenes. I now have the dilemma of sending this one back and rolling the dice that the replacement wont be worse. Amazon shipped it free via UPS two day air Prime…so gotta love that.

    Comment by Samsungun — June 14, 2010 #

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