Interview of Tim Partridge, EVP Dolby Laboratories

"What is Dolby’s working relationship with Infitec? What roles did each of your companies have in the development of this Dolby 3D solution?
Our basic requirements for the system, based on feedback from theater owners around the world, were that it should work with the regular white screens that are currently installed, and that the glasses should not require batteries. We discovered at Infitec some core technology that we thought would enable us to meet these requirements. So we licensed the Infitec IP (Intellectual Property) for use in cinemas, and using this idea, developed at Dolby the necessary components of software and hardware for the theater, and of course, the glasses.

What were the biggest technical challenges you wanted to overcome in the development of your stereoscopic 3D (S-3D) solution?
One big challenge with any 3D system is the amount of light that is lost as you go through the filters at the projector and then through the glasses. This then limits the size of the screen you can use in the theater so we are always looking for ways to get more light.

One way we do this is by putting the filter inside the projector in between the lamp and the sensitive picture forming parts of the digital projector. The filter reduces the heat from the lamp that gets to those parts and therefore allows for a bigger lamp giving more light. We also wanted to avoid putting a moving filter in the path of the image since that inevitably has a negative impact on the final picture quality, another reason why we put the filter inside the projector.

The biggest challenge for cinemas though was the need to replace their screen with a silver screen for the other 3D systems. Not so much a technical challenge, but a very practical one since the silver screen is expensive and the picture quality provided by a silver screen is not as good as that with a white one. So we are very pleased we have been able to provide them with a 3D system that allows them to keep their white screen.

The biggest technical challenge for us in developing the system was being able to make glasses with the exact filters we needed for each eye, and manufacture them in high volumes. But we did it working with several specialist vendors and the results are stunning.

In your experience, what are the leading objections by exhibitors or movie theaters to adopt S-3D movie hardware/projectors? How are you acknowledging and circumventing those objections?
So far we have had an overwhelmingly positive reaction from exhibitors to our system. Compared with the other offerings out there, they of course like not having to change their screen, they love our quality on the screen, they appreciate the flexibility of being able to move the 3D movie from one screen to another easily, and also being able to switch quite easily from 3D to 2D on the same screen.

They also like our business model since it is the same way we have done business with them for over 30 years.

I would say the only questions we get are around the glasses - which is where the real technology lies. Since these are not $1 glasses, the exhibitor will be reusing them many times and cleaning them between each use. Once we explain how easily this can be done, and also that by reusing them many times they have a much less expensive per use model, plus they are also being kinder to the environment by not throwing all that plastic away after each screening, they see all the benefits of the Dolby 3D system.

Tell us about the technology. A colleague told me that your solution is "anaglyph on steroids". Can you explain how the technology works?
It is true that we use color to separate the left image from the right one, but that is where the similarity with anaglyph techniques ends. With anaglyph you had one color per eye, with Dolby 3D you have every color in each eye - and this leads to superb color fidelity, something that everyone who sees it instantly comments on.

How it works is that we choose a red, a green, and a blue for the left eye, and a slightly different red, green, and blue for the right eye. Once you have R, G and B you can create all the colors of the spectrum in each eye.

If a viewer watches a movie in 3D and blinks one eye at a time, will there be any ghosting, and will the colors be identical between the eyes?
One advantage of our system is that the crosstalk, or ghosting, from one eye to the other is particularly low which is why we have such sharp and beautiful images on the screen. The difference in color from one eye to the other is so small (that is why the filters in the glasses have to be so precise) that it would be hard to notice, and when both eyes are open (as is usually the case!) the brain compensates for that difference.

I understand that the glasses used for your solution are $50 a piece. Can you explain what makes these glasses special and why they cost a lot more than traditional polarized or anaglyph lenses?
It comes down to the filters. They are extremely precise which gives us superior crosstalk cancellation (i.e. the right eye image doesn’t get through the left eye filters). To do this, we have to lay down fifty layers of filters on each lens. Plus we also wanted a curved lens design to improve the viewing experience even further, and laying down fifty layers with extreme accuracy onto curved lenses is no small feat!

We also make the lenses scratch resistant and very tough so they can withstand hundreds of uses, so the cost per use comes down to just a few cents.

I wear glasses, and I can tell you first hand that they get dirty pretty quick. In a room filled with buttery popcorn, even more so. How do you clean these glasses and how often?
The glasses will be cleaned after each and every screening so they will always look perfectly clear.

What is the DCI (Digital Cinema Initiatives) standard, and how does it relate to Dolby Laboratories?
The DCI standard is a set of technical specifications written to help multiple manufacturers design and build digital cinema equipment to a common standard so that movie files packaged in Hollywood, or anywhere else, can be guaranteed to play on all these pieces of equipment in any theater.

Not only does it specify file formats and interconnects to enable this interoperability, but it also specifies high degrees of security both in hardware and software to protect the digital content files from piracy. Dolby has designed a Digital Cinema server to accept, manage, decode and play out these files, and as such, it has been designed to the DCI specification to ensure we fully meet the requirements of the studios and the exhibitors. Some of these specifications have not been quite finalized yet though, which is one of the issues we are still working through.

How much money should an exhibitor expect to spend to upgrade their equipment to Dolby 3D?
The hardware is around $20k, and each screen will need 2 pairs of glasses per seat to make sure there is always a clean pair available.

How is Dolby Laboratories positioning their offering to help justify the expense to exhibitors? What ideas have been brought to the table?
Exhibitors told us they would just like to buy the equipment up front and outright without any ongoing commitments. This is how we have always done business with them so we were happy to oblige. We are open to other models, but this is what they seem to prefer right now.

In terms of justifying the expense, exhibitors trust that Dolby equipment lasts a long time, and with the proven ability to charge a premium on each ticket for 3D, and the number of 3D films in the line-up for the next few years, I don’t think they have a problem justifying the investment.

I understand the movies have an invisible imprint that shows up on bootlegged movie copies, and this can trace a movie right down to the theater and the time it was shown at. There is a lot of pressure on exhibitors to cut down on movie piracy because of this. How does S-3D help ease the burden on movie theaters?
There are many security features built into digital cinema to combat piracy but preventing the camcorder from capturing the image on the screen is an issue that technology has yet to solve. 3D, however, is inherently protected against the camcorder copy since the image on the screen is a double image (one for the left eye and one for the right eye), and would be unbearable to watch on a pirated copy."

By Neil Schneider, Meant To Be Seen