Dolby Ups the Ante in 3D Digital Cinema

"Following the conclusion of 3D BizEx last week, attendees had a chance to travel to Dolby’s cinema screening room in San Francisco. Here, they were treated to a special screening of the company’s new 3D Digital Cinema projection technology. As we overheard one attendee say, "Dolby hit a home run." It’s true.

And, we also learned that Dolby is quite far along in its commercialization drive. According to Dolby’s VP of Marketing, John Carey, Dolby plans to have 50 theaters outfitted with the new technology in time for the debut of the next big 3D release, Beowulf, in November.

Dolby’s 3D technology approach is quite different from what is rolling out now in digital cinema theaters equipped by rival REAL D. In the REAL D approach, the left and right eye images are created by changing the polarization of light using a switch on the exit side of the projection lens. Movie watchers don passive polarized glasses to separate the right and left-hand circularly polarized light coming to each eye. The effect works very well as I can attest having seen it in a local theater.

Dolby on the other hand, has licensed a color filtering technology from a German company called Infitec. Dolby’s approach creates two sets of tri-notch color filters. Each tri-notch filter allows narrow-band red, green and blue light to pass, while absorbing the rest. The two filters have slightly different peak wavelengths for the RGB passbands. In this way, left eye images pass thru one filter and right eye images pass thru the second filter. Moviegoers wear glasses with filters that are matched to the filters running on the digital projector. The result is a very impressive 3D effect.

The demo consisted of several 3D clips. The first, an animation about moon-going insects had one scene that blew away attendees. In the sequence, the insects, complete with little space suits, float in weightless space bouncing into each other. These little critters do this ballet at what appears to be about 10 feet in front of the viewer. The 3D effect is strong, easy to acquire and created no ill effects. Each viewer looking at this display saw it in the center of the screen. But if you looked around the theater to see where they were actually looking, the gaze angles varied with their seating position. That is one cool effect of good 3D.

There were some minor problems with the content, however. This was most obvious when the 3D effect was over exaggerated, violated some rules of thumb or featured transitions that were too abrupt. It was these transitions that bothered me the most, as it required my eyes to re-accommodate for the new depth perspective, causing momentary eyestrain. This is not a reflection of the Dolby/Infitec technology, but rather to choices made by the content creators. It is also an indication that content creators are still learning the ropes when it comes to creating eyestrain-free 3D content.

While 50 theaters is a great start for Dolby, they do have a big hill to climb. REAL D has reached 1,016 3D theater installs already. And while the 3D effect can be thrilling with both approaches, there are also differences in the business models. Suffice it to say that Dolby thinks they offer an alternative that will be appealing to the exhibitors (theatre owners)."

By Chris Chinnock, Display Daily