3D Future Almost Upon Us?

The IFA trade show opens it’s doors in Berlin on Friday but the build up is already under way. Sony held its press conference yesterday and Sony’s CEO Sir Howard Stringer, as predicted, stood up to tell the audience that the “3D train is on the track and we’re the ones to drive it home”.  Sony plans to have 3D-capable Bravia televisions on the market by the end of next year alongside introducing the technology to Viao laptops and of course our PS3s.

Glasses All Round

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While you will not be using a pair of glasses made from cardboard and sweet wrappers or found at the bottom of a cereal packet to watch the new 3D TVs you will still be wearing glasses.  The first 3D TVs that are available now, from LG and Samsung, use the same kind of polarizing technology as you will be familiar with if you have seen one of the recent 3D movies (e.g., Monsters and Aliens) at the cinema.

This polarising 3D technology has passive (require no moving parts or electonics) glasses that contain polarising filters in the lens, similar to glare-reducing sun glasses, where the filters are arranged at right angles to each other and therefore make alternate frames displayed on the TV only visible to one eye.  With each eye seeing a different image you get your stereoscopic vision.

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Sony and Panasonic have gone with a different technology.  They use active glasses with electronic ‘shutters’ that alternately block the vision of each of your eyes.  These glasses are more complex requiring a battery for power, in-built electronics and a receiver for a synchronising signal broadcast be the TV so that they open and close the shutters at the right time.

The simple polarising glasses require a more complex TV as it needs to be fitted with a special filter to change the polarisation of the emitted light.  Conversely, the more complex shuttering glasses means manufacturers simply need to display alternate frames on their TV screens.  One addition consideration when looking at the competing technologies is that the polarising system has a limited field of view.  This is okay for cinema where you will always be sat in front of the screen but in the home environment where you may be sat off to one side it may mean that you cannot benefit from the 3D and as you will be seeing both images the display will likely be unwatchable.

Philips, though displaying a prototype 3D-capable TV at IFA, has said that it is yet to be convinced by the public’s desire for 3D in the home and will instead continue to focus on the 21:9 ratio TVs that it has started to sell as it believes there is greater consumer hunger of the “cinema experience” these extra wide TVs are capable of giving.  For the record I am yet to be convinced by the practicality of either 3D or 21:9 in the home.

Blu-ray Standard?

Back at the start of the year Panasonic called for the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) to get to work on the prompt creation of a Full HD 3D version of the Blu-ray standard as the current Blu-ray specifications do not define it.  Five months later the BDA leapt into action and formed a taskforce to work on the “integration of 3D technology into the Blu-ray Disc format”.  Panasonic is the company that has been working closely with James Cameron on his film/game/hype-machine Avatar and it had threatened to come up with its own 3D standard if the BDA could not or would not come up with one.

The latest on the standard’s development from the BDA, announced on Tuesday is that the Blu-ray 3D standard will be a 1080/24 x2 format.  That means it would essentially contain two stream of 1080/24 content, one for each eye.  One thing we can be sure of is that the standard will be pushing the boundaries of Blu-ray’s capacity due to the need for backwards compatibility.  The BDA have said, “3D discs will also include a 2D version of the film that can be viewed on existing 2D players and 3D players will enable consumers to playback their existing libraries of 2D content”.  Still no actual standard though.

If you have ever been geeky enough to work out how much space existing films take up on a Blu-ray disc you will be aware that fitting another copy of a long movie (and James Cameron, for one, is not known for making short films) onto the disc will be a struggle.  In labs around the world Blu-ray discs have been produced with extra layers to increase their capacity.

Additional layers (the current Blu-ray standard allows up to two of 25GB each) would be one way of making more room on the disc for the 3D version of the movie but that has obvious implications for the capability of existing players, including our PS3s.  This is pure conjecture on my part but in a year’s time you may be able to play 3D games on your PS3 and Sony TV but only be able to watch 2D movies.  As always we will keep you up to date with any developments.

One further stumbling block for the take up to 3D TV is that half the world (gross oversimplification) has only just gone out and bought new HD TVs so are not likely to be looking to upgrade for a few years.  How about you?  Are you anticipating 3D enough to have been convinced into buying a 3D HD TV within the next twelve to eighteen months?

Via Engadget, RegHardware & BBC TV World News

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