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August 16, 2009

SIGGRAPH: Stereoscopic 3D

Filed under 3D, Gadgets, HDTV, Movies, SIGGRAPH


Stereoscopic 3D (S-3D) was big at SIGGRAPH this year and left me thoroughly impressed. For me, it was the biggest news of SIGGRAPH 2009.

What is S-3D? S-3D creates the illusion of depth, like you would see with a View-Master. Instead of a single image, each eye has a unique perspective of the image.

Why is S-3D hot all the sudden?

Hollywood has taken notice of the increased revenue, and it shows. There is a surge in the number of 3D movies coming out.

There are many ways you can see S-3D. Two technologies that standout as the best:

RealD has most of the market currently. I don’t have any stats, but I believe I heard in the SIGGRAPH panel that over 1,000 theaters are RealD-capable now and they have more than 90% of the market for 3D cinema. To use RealD, theaters need a special silver screen to reflect more light and keep the light polarized. They also need a RealD filter device in front of the projector to polarize frames for the left eye and right eye. The glasses are cheap to produce and can be recycled or replaced.

Dolby 3D uses color filters instead of polarizing light. Each eye can only see certain colors, but amazingly appears as a full color image. Dolby 3D uses a standard white screen. A big advantage is there is no special screen to buy and thus 2D movies are not impacted by a theater’s move to 3D-capable. I’m not sure how a 2D movie looks on RealD’s silver screen, but I’ve been told it does look different than using a standard white screen. The Dolby 3D glasses are not cheap like the RealD glasses, and theaters must be careful not to lose the glasses.

I’ve seen both RealD and Dolby3D and I can’t pick a winner…both look really good.

Movies are obvious candidates for S-3D…but I saw other forms of entertainment that *really* shine in 3D. In the SIGGRAPH panel, I watched a demo reel from 3ality Digital that showed scenes from an NFL game, an NBA game, and a U2 concert. Seeing a live event in 3D is *very* compelling.

Two scenes stood out in my head:

  1. A running back trying to break through a wall of linemen and eventually forced out of bounds and into the 3D camera made the entire audience react as the running back kept getting closer to us. We had the same reaction as if we were standing there preparing to get hit.
  2. Watching the kicker kickoff. Seeing the ball from the opposite end zone is nearly impossible with the sea of people in the background…but in 3D, the ball popped out in front and was very clear, even though it was very small.

I can’t wait for movie theaters to start hosting NFL/NBA games in 3D…I’ll definitely shell out some cash to see that.

I’m a believer in 3D for movie theaters…I’ll definitely go see every movie in 3D that I can.

But what about in your home?

That is getting very interesting very quickly.

JVC had a 46 inch LCD on display at SIGGRAPH that uses the same technique as RealD…and it looked really good. The bad news: You lose half your resolution because each frame contains the left and right images instead of just a single image. That means you *cannot* do 1080p currently in 3D.

However, HDMI 1.4 fixes this with its “3D over HDMI” feature.

Panasonic should have a 3D-capable set by next year. Sony has not made a 3D  announcement yet, but was very active in the SIGGRAPH panel…so you can draw your own conclusions.

So you get a Blu-ray player and TV that supports HDMI 1.4…what about 3D content? There is *no* standard for 3D yet…so anything you buy now may be worthless when a standard is decided.

My advice for 3D in the home: wait. It is coming, but it looks like it is still a few years away.

As soon as 3D for the home is standardized…I’m jumping in…I’m hooked on this stuff.

The SIGGRAPH panel left some good websites to follow for information on this topic:

Comments (5)

Kelvin Hickman:

This is a fascinating repeat of what happened over 50 years ago in the film industry. Although most people remember 3D films of that era being cheesy sci-fi or horror flicks (spoofed in SCTV's Dr. Tongue's 3D House of Stewardesses) there was a real move toward this technology in the major studios. Warner Brothers was so concerned about the impending change of format that they closed their animation division for fear that 3D cartoons would be prohibitively expensive to make (they reopened it a year later but it did help kill the golden age of WB cartoons).

Its ironic that the first foray into the new 3D age has been mostly animated films (mainly because there is no special equipment required to render a stereo image the way a real life film does).

So will this be a repeat of history or a vindication of the early adopters from a half century ago?

(ref: Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons by Leonard Maltin)

The panel pointed out that the history of 3D has two "golden eras"...the 50's and the 80's.

Both periods were reactionary to perceived threats to cinema: TV and VCR's. It was hoped that 3D would save cinema...and was quickly abandoned as cinema lived on.

This latest era of 3D is different, though. There have been many improvements so that 3D is no longer just a gimmick, but a film maker's tool:

- Full color
- Over a thousand theaters support 3D,
with more on the way
- Better glasses now let you tilt
your head without losing the 3d effect
- The glasses are not dorky
- 3D movies have toned down the extreme use
of 3D so that it feels more natural
- No eye fatigue

I suspect this latest era of 3D is going to stick.

Content is still king. For whatever shortcomings the technology had in the 50s, the films they chose to use it on where not A or even B list. SCTV had this great bit with "chiller Monster Horror Theatre" (the affore mentioned Dr. Tongue) and the wretchedly obvious use of the 3D effect. The 80s movies repeated that same mistake (Jaws 3D anyone?)

But "Up" in 3D is a great opportunity to showcase the tech with a quality story.

The content is gaining momentum.

Here's a current list of recent and future 3D releases:

Chicken Little
Sharkboy and Lavagirl

The Ant Bully
The Nightmare Before Christmas (reissued annually)
Monster House

Meet the Robinsons

U2 3D
Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds
Journey to the Center of the Earth
Fly Me to the Moon

Jonas Brothers: the 3D Concert Experience
My Bloody Valentine 3-D
Final Destination 4
Monsters vs. Aliens
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
A Christmas Carol
Toy Story
Toy Story 2

How to Train Your Dragon
Alice in Wonderland
Shrek Forever After
Toy Story 3
Beauty and the Beast
Tron Legacy

Crood Awakening
TinTin 2
TinTin 3
Puss in Boots: The Story of an Ogre Killer
Battle Angel
Cars 2
The Bear and the Bow
Monsters, Inc. 2
King of the Elves
Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom of Doom
Star Wars

The 3D trend is unstopable and I like it. Once 3D-home entertainment enters the mass market it will be a technology for everyone and a real benefit for the viewers.

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