Lots of Talk Lately About 3DTV!

I’ve spilled plenty of pixels talking about HD, and 3D TV and 3D video within this blog — now, it seems, 3D TV is becoming mainstream in a big way. Every other day, there’s some announcement from a cable operator offering 3D pay-per-view (Sky, Verizon FiOS, Comcast, etc), movie studios spinning up the buzz machine for new 3D films (Avatar, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs), and TV manufacturers are getting into the game (Samsung, Mitsubishi, Panasonic).

HDTV has been confusing enough for a lot of people. If you ask the proverbial Man On The Street to define HDTV, and the answer seven times out of ten will not involve anything about resolution, pixels, bandwidth, or even clarity of the picture, but — believe it or not — some variation on “the video is wider”.

3D TV is going to be easier to market to viewers — while explaining HDTV properly (e.g. why does Satellite Operator X’s HDTV look sharper than Cable Company Y’s HDTV on the same HD channel? Or why does Y’s look more “blocky”?) requires a whiteboard and lots of waving of the hands, if you ask that same proverbial “Man On The Street” to define “3D TV” they can pretty much describe the concept correctly. Their collective expectations might differ, but the notion is not hard to grasp.

However, delivering 3D content to a viewer is fraught with difficulties. It’s all too easy to make your audience literally sick by making their eyes cross and go in directions and focus combinations that nature never intended or anticipated. Some of this is due to lousy technology, some due to lousy execution. As an example, color anaglyph (such as with red/cyan glasses), when done very carefully, with respect for the limits of the human visual system (HVS), can work very well. Go outside those limits and people will either a) get sick. b) be uncomfortable c) get a headache or d) not be able to perceive depth at all, and perceive “double images”. On top of this, with red/cyan glasses, one has to accept that color perception will be severely degraded.

Of late, there are some very nice “3D-Ready” HDTV displays that allow the use of shutter and polarized glasses, not unlike what you experience in the theatre with the latest generation of 3D films like “Up”. Unlike anaglyph, they allow two full-color images for each eye, separately — enough for full color depth perception. However, the problems of lousy content (or technology) presenting 3D imagery to the viewer that goes outside of the “bounds” will still cause problems. This problem is a major contributor to why nothing has been standardized by way of storage, transmission, signal format, displays, or glasses for 3D TV.

Hollywood has dabbled in 3D for a while, and through trial and error of the last 100 years (yes, 100 years!) a lot of the “limits” of the HVS I mentioned before have been discovered. With a couple of notable exceptions (I won’t name the guilty) most stereo 3D movies today are well-executed.

However, we’re a long way from standardizing good technology and processes to ensure 3D TV is well-executed and a worthwhile experience for the audience. Right now, most of the knowledge of the HVS necessary to do this is either kept secret, or there’s no consensus. This will have to change.

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~ by opticalflow on August 29, 2009.

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