3-D: To Be Or Not To Be
Following up on Wednesday’s portable game console-specific post (itself a follow-up to an early-April cover story), I thought that for today I’d pass along some other (and application-broader) recent developments in the 3-D content delivery industry:
- Traditional lenticular lenses, parallax barriers and overlay films aren’t the only ways to implement glasses-free autostereoscopy, as it turns out. From the Slashdot coverage, “The Microsoft Applied Sciences Group has developed a new lens that lets you watch three-dimensional content without 3D glasses. The new lens is thinner at the bottom (about 6mm) than at the top (11mm) and steers light to a viewer’s eyes via LEDs along its bottom edge. The 3D display uses a camera to track viewers so that it knows where to steer the light; the idea isn’t new, but the required CPU power is now affordable and small enough to pull it off on a large scale.” Ars Technica also weighs in with thoughts.
- Nintendo wasn’t the only company making 3-D-related waves at E3. Sony was showcasing 3-D games at the show, with 3-D Blu-ray movie playback subsequently also enabled via a console firmware update. In order to keep frame rates, the per-frame resolution of 3-D gaming titles will be capped at 720p. And for unknown reasons, you won’t be able to play back 3-D Blu-ray movies using Dolby or DTS’s lossless audio options, only the traditional lossy versions. Nonetheless, initial E3 impressions were generally positive; see the takes from the folks at Ars Technica, Engadget, and Gizmodo.
- In late August, Intel and Nokia announced a partnership research project into 3-D interfaces for mobile devices, specifically leveraging the two companies’ jointly developed MeeGo operating system, and to be hosted at the University of Oulu in Finland. Here’s an Intel corporate blog post on the subject, along with additional coverage from IEEE Spectrum.
- 3-D mobile interfaces aren’t MeeGo-specific, of course. Ars Technica got an Android- and Tegra-based demo at Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference from a company called Scaleform, who’s developing a middleware layer…although Jon Stokes was justifiably skeptical of the results, that is unless the 3-D visual interface was accompanied by haptic feedback and other 3-D sensory cues. Here’s more coverage from CrunchGear and Gizmodo.
- More mobile 3-D news: at the end of last month, Irish chipmaker Movidius unveiled the Myriad MA1133, an ARM-tailored coprocessor that captures and displays 3-D images, along with on-the-fly translating 2-D content to pseudo-3-D:
- Blu-ray player presence in households remains underwhelming from a percentage standpoint, even when you factor in the PlayStation 3 game console. But as my recent cover story pointed out, it’s still got at least one more shot at success, linked to consumers’ embrace (or not) of 3-D content.
- Alas, early sales trend indicators are discouraging, at least in the U.S. Heck, even a tech geek like myself couldn’t recently justify the notable price uptick of a 3-D-cognizant LCD versus its 2-D-only counterpart. But since pretty much all modern displays are inherently capable of delivering the refresh rates and response times necessary for credible 3-D realism, I expect the price differential to quickly shrink, commensurate with the minor bill-of-materials cost differential of a somewhat more robust video processor and associated circuitry.
- 3-D remakes of classic movie hits may jump-start the market. Specifically, cyberspace was atwitter (both figuratively and Twitter-literally) a few weeks ago with the news that George Lucas was remaking all six Star Wars films in 3-D for release beginning in 2012. I’m honestly not sure why this was such a revelation to folks; I personally mentioned in late 2005 that the ‘dimensionalization’ conversions were underway in partnership with In-Three (although Lucas didn’t hit his original 2007 schedule for the first movie’s release), and six months later I reported on my audition of impressively converted sample content at NAB.
- The Star Wars series, along with other blockbuster remakes like the planned 3-D conversion of Titanic, will start out in theaters but will inevitably sooner-or-later also show up in homes on Blu-ray. Glasses-based LCD and plasma TVs are obvious eyeball-attraction candidates, but if Toshiba is to be believed, glasses-free autostereoscopic displays will also contend for consumers’ wallet contents. Keep in mind that these initial production experiments are Japan market-only, come in 12″ and 20″ diagonal dimension variants, and respectively cost ¥120,000 ($1,443) and ¥240,000 ($2,886). Keep in mind, too, that Toshiba’s autosterescopic LCD announcement curiously came just a few days after admitting that it was getting out of OLEDs. Frankly, I’m not sure which display alternative I’m less skeptical of. Autostereoscopy’s rigid, narrow, widely spaced, and few-in-number applicable viewing positions seem incompatible with home theater layouts…not to mention that the technology doesn’t look very good to my eyes even when I’m supposedly in a viewing ’sweet spot’.
- George Lucas may be fond of 3-D, but many of his directorial peers seem to disagree. And speaking of disagreements, while I admit to being cautiously optimistic about 3-D’s chances as sooner-or-later consumer electronics generational next-step, one of my peers, Harry McCracken, takes a contrarian stance (more from Slashdot). Admittedly, creating compelling content isn’t easy, regardless of whether you’re a game developer or a sports videographer. But I’ve long believed that both kinds of material represent potential 3-D ‘killer apps’, and at least some folks concur.
- Meanwhile, back to Blu-ray, Sony continues to speak out of both sides of its mouth. On the one hand, it pushes the PS3 game console as the ideal platform for playing back next-generation physical media (and I can’t disagree, at least for Blu-ray fans). But on the other, commensurate with my recent praise for the seeming inevitable online-content successor, it’s just worked with Netflix to upgrade the console’s streaming content capabilities beginning next week. 1080p peak resolution (if your broadband connection supports the proportionately larger downstream payload, that is), 5.1 channel surround sound, and a no-disc interface…remind me again why we need Blu-ray? And does anyone doubt that 3-D playback is one of the next features on Netflix’s list?
In closing, and speaking of 3-D, grab a pair of anaglyph glasses and check out a “stereo 3D movie of a flight into a Hubble [space telescope] image“, showcasing the Carina Nebula. And hey…have a great weekend!