Is 3D Over the Internet the Next Big Opportunity?

Distribution of 3D content over the broadcast infrastructure and via Blu-ray packaged media has begun. However, if you want to get over the top or direct streaming (or even downloaded) 3D content, one would be hard pressed to find a source. That could change if a new company called General 3D (New York, NY) is successful.

In an exclusive meeting with Insight Media, General 3D CEO Keith Fredericks sat down with us to explain the company’s technology, strategy and near-term plans. To start, Fredericks is a long time hand in the 3D world. He was most recently with Newsight as their CTO, but had lived through several previous versions of the company, too. Newsight focused on autostereoscopic 3D, but General 3D will focus primarily on glasses-based solutions.

Newsight finally folded last April and Fredericks began to look for the next opportunity in 3D. He had a strong relationship with the former Newsight group based in Germany, so together they decided to focus on streaming 3D over the web. With some seed capital, the company has developed some very interesting technology, which the company will publicly debut on Oct. 10, 2010 as a live 3D streaming demo. The company has nine employees.

The new service is called 3DFEED (the Es are supposed to be reversed, but my keyboard does not like to do that). Fredericks hopes to grow this into a 3D channel built upon aggregated 3D content and delivered to consumers via its proprietary 3D player, to be built into next-generation web browsers.

In fact, focusing on these next generation browsers, which will be based on OpenGL and HTML5, is key to their strategy. The Firefox, Chrome and Safari next-generation browsers are now in alpha or beta level development, which is good enough for General 3D’s purposes. The big unknown is Microsoft - what will they do with their Silverlight streaming technology and its support for 3D?

Currently, videos that play in a browser use a plug-in, like a Flash player. Next generation browsers will allow integration of the video player into the browser so there is no plug-in to download. The 3D player that General 3D is developing will be integrated into these browsers, allowing for the streaming of 3D videos and even 3D graphics.

The horsepower to decode, transcode and playback 3D to various output devices is not insignificant, which is why General 3D will focus on PC-based solutions to start, but migrating this to a set-top box, Blu-ray player, or eventually, the 3DTV, is not unreasonable.

Fredericks explained that the player can be used to view the web page in 3D, too. That allows users to keep their glasses on as they scroll around the net looking at web sites in 3D and viewing thumbnails of 3D content in 3D. He also wants the content to be scalable, which he defines as being able to display on multiple platforms with various 3D formats and resolutions.

Fredericks also gave us a demo of the streaming capability in our offices. He simply connected to the Internet and began to stream 3D content from his web site to his 3D laptop. We have a relatively fast download capability in the office (up to 10 Mbps), and it was not clear at what bit rate and resolution the content was coming, but the end result was impressive. Click on an icon of a 3D movie and it almost immediately starts playing in 3D — no caching or waiting. And, the image quality seemed fine.

General 3D will initially build up its site and service for early adopters and developers, who can help build out the capabilities. Then, advertisers may start to become interested if enough content is aggregated and as the next-generation web browsers get installed on millions of PCs. The company has time to build out this capability and it will be fun to watch.

By Chris Chinnock, Display Daily