[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:
- 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]
- 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]
- 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.
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).
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.