How long before we actually see 3DTV at home ?

"In the previous issue of 3rd Dimension, Mark shared with us his astonishment regarding how fast a 3DTV made its way into his living room. Since then, a flock of 3D industry news has surfaced. Put together, they suggest that an imminent 3D content delivery to Mark’s 3D TV could surprise him too. 3DTV emergence needs three components: 3D displays, 3D content, and a 3D distribution channel, all at a price tag that makes economical sense.

3D displays: As for 3D displays, Texas Instruments announces that 500,000 3D-compatible HDTV were sold since their introduction a few months ago. Dedicated 3D glasses are already for sale at Best Buy online. Note that these 3D glasses have a “shared screen” mode where two sets of glasses will see a different 2D picture, so that you can share the TV set without fighting for the remote, or play games with friends without peeking at each other’s screen. This function is important, for it will extend the sales far beyond the 3D crowd. We can also speculate that this new 3D DLP chip will soon be sold in 3D video projectors.

You’ll object that most HDTV sales are flat screens. Kerner Optics presented an amazingly efficient 3D HDTV, soon to be sold under the SpectronIQ brand, with an objective of 70,000 units by next Christmas. Many prototypes of such polarized 3DTVs have been presented over the last years, and competitive products will surface soon.

3D content: This addresses the displays issue. What about the content? First, the list of released and under production 3D movies keeps getting longer every month. Disney recently acknowledged having projects regarding 3D DVDs. Current 2D movies make more money from DVD releases than from ticket sales. With 3D cinema going mainstream, we will see increased competition for 3D theater patrons. In the long run, 3D cinema needs 3D DVDs.

Real-time 3D is getting ready for cinemas. 3Ality already broadcasted the Superbowl in live 3D. The new generation of computerized 3D cameras can perform real-time stereoscopic optical optimization. In Europe, a fullscale live 3D project is under construction, with ENG trucks retrofitted to 3D production.

Let’s not forget the crowd of P2P network users. After bringing video encoding and distributed file sharing from the nerd’s nest to the headline news, how long will it takes before a 3D-savy pirate brings a stereo camera to a 3D theater? That will be illegal; and I definitively do not condone it. Nevertheless, it will be a strong sign of the audience interest for 3D, and another incentive to release legal 3D content.

3D distribution channel: With 3D content on our left and 3D displays on our right, we still miss the link from producer to consumer. I bet you the plug will come from the IPTV and GPU industry. Why? Let’s consider the GPU first. You may have heard about the rumored nVidia new policy regarding “consumer stereoscopy”. For years, nVidia was the sole 3D vendor in the field with its line of professional Quadro graphic cards natively supporting LCS glasses and all sorts of stereoscopy, under a versatile “OpenGL Quad Buffered Stereo”. What is less known, is the availability of a stereoscopic software add-on for the GeForce consumer products. This would turn most Direct-X games into 3D. With a snap edit of the registry, one could even unlock the support to a dozen 3D displays. These times could be over soon with the long-awaited release of a Vista version that will be restricted to nVidia-approved 3D displays. This new policy is expected to come with an updated marketing approach that makes the stereo a key fature rather than a geek’s Easter egg. Note that the Quadro line is not affected by the move. Expect to see stereoscopic PCs sold by the 3DTVs at a store near you.

The last key player expected to bring 3D to your home is IPTV. We are used to technological switchovers that took decades from prototyping to standardization and mass production. IPTV will change the dynamic of technology deployment. If the 3D content is to be played via an Internet-connected PC, 3D formats compatibility can be updated almost daily with a new version of the player. If we are to watch 3D in DVB from a satellite dish or overthe- air, chances are we will be using a 3D set-top box. Read: an embedded Linux appliance with a GPU-based graphic engine. In other words, just another 3D format-agnostic PC.

Mark, here is my suggested scenario for the 3D flood soon to append into your living room. First, 3D is now an affordable option in all display technologies but plasma (who said Infitec photophores?). Second, this 3D serves also two 2D TVs in one. Screen sharing will sell this function for TV and video games long before 3D content is even here. Third, right owners are increasingly shelving 3D content that looks for a repurposing biotope. Four, GPU technology is already in the chipsets of modern set-top boxes, PCs and consoles. Five, video-on-demand keeps eating into market shares against all other distribution schemes. And it’s the most versatile distribution system ever.

Watch your mailbox, Mark, next year 3D buzz could be a Comcast-NFL-Samsung marketing partnership. Or a Netflix-Disney-nVidia release of Hanna Montana 3D. Maybe not next year, but sooner than expected..."

Bernard Mendiburu is a visual effects artist and digital cinema engineer working in Los Angeles. He started working on 3D in the mid 1990s as R&D engineer in Paris, where he developed HDTV and 3DTV interactive advertising. As the production company CTO, he built a production pipeline for auto-stereoscopic displays, from acquisition to playback computers, including visual effects and interactive players. In 2003 he moved to the US, and worked as scientific visualization engineer at the UCLA School of Medicine. He worked at Walt Disney Feature Animation on the stereoscopy of “Meet The Robinsons” and is writing a book on 3D movie making. He is an active member of the SMPTE 3-D Cinema group, ISU (International Stereoscopic Union), and writes for the French stereoscopic magazine "Images en Relief".