July 11, 2013 11:48am PT by Adrian Pennington, Carolyn Giardina
Glasses-Free 3D Tech Makers Forge Ahead Despite Setbacks
3D TV has suffered two high-profile setbacks this past month. In mid-June, ESPN announced that it would discontinue its 3D channel by year’s end. And as the 3D coverage of Wimbledon drew to a close last weekend, the BBC said that after two years of testing, it would not pursue the format further at this time.
Even before ESPN and BBC pulled back, there were a limited number of 3D broadcast stakeholders worldwide.
Two high-profile ones — BSkyB in the U.K. and 3net (a Discovery, Imax and Sony joint venture) in the U.S. — insist the recent blows won’t impact their 3D course. Others continuing to offer 3D include Al Jazeera, Sky Deutschland, Sky Italia and China's CCTV.
Also holding firm are technology developers who believe that glasses-free 3D is needed to unlock the format’s potential in the home.
Even the BBC itself seems to view that as a factor. "3D does cause people to switch off in its present form. … Arguably up to half the audience for 3D content is put off by having to wear glasses,” said Andy Quested, BBC’s head of 3D and HD, last month in London.
Dolby and Philips are working to get their Dolby 3D glasses-free development into products in early 2014. Commenting on the BBC and ESPN news, Dolby 3D project leader Guido Voltolina told The Hollywood Reporter: “The halt of some 3D productions is only referring to content for home consumption like live sport, major events, etc. 3D movies are established and continuing at the same rate. This also means that as soon as the 3D without glasses is available, premium content and great movies will be available. Monetization of 3D content at home is on hold until 3D at home will not require glasses, that is why we are investing in it.”
Also investing — and poised to introduce glasses-free 3D this year — is Stream TV Networks, a Philadelphia-based outfit with manufacturing deals to introduce its glasses-free 3D TV technology in 4K flat panels from China's Hisense, Taiwan's Pegatron (which assembles Surface tablets for Microsoft, among others) and the U.K.'s Armour Group. “We are showing the first unit [Hisense-built] to the market in London [on Thursday] and a couple other places, and it's now in the process of being rolled out worldwide,” said CEO Mathu Rajan.
The exec was tight-lipped on reports that his company has also signed up consumer electronics giant LG Electronics, but he said announcements of rollout were imminent.
The company also is rumored to be sponsoring a number of sports and other events to be recorded in 3D to promote its technology, announcements of which Rajan indicated were in the works.
At this year’s CES, 3D took a backseat to developments in 4K — roughly four times the resolution of today’s HD. And CES also hosted some demonstrations of bleeding-edge 8K technology, representing 16 times the resolution of HD.
Stream TV Networks claims that the technology inherent in its current 3D system for glasses-free TVs and tablets is capable of turning content into a resolution as high as 8K.
“Our technology is capable of taking in 1080p HD content and outputting it for display at 2160p [the same resolution as Ultra-HD 4K, where 2160 represents the number of lines vertically displayed], and if you have native 4K content it will produce 8K,” said Rajan.
The exec claims, “If we take in content with two million pixels, we will display content with eight million pixels (4K), and with eight-million pixel content we can output 16 million pixels. … Our proprietary algorithm measures the disparity between images, then releases all the pixel and occlusion information, which in turn causes the resolution to go up.”
Consumers soon will be able to test this for themselves when the first Stream TV Networks' powered products hit stores in a matter of weeks.
Stream TV Networks is positioning the technology — which it brands Ultra-D — as a means for consumers to watch glasses-free 3D, 2D 2K and 4K content.
“Our view [when launching the company] was that stereo 3D was a transitory technology,” Rajan said. “Aside from watching it in the cinema, we did not believe that stereo 3D was viable. 3D stereo needs left- and right-eye views, which diminishes the resolution, and there are clear issues with viewing with glasses. The much bigger issue — for 3D and for 4K — is the lack of content itself. What the consumer wants is for all their content to be available in formats from 2D to 3D and 4K."
Stream TV’S R&D subsidiary SeeCubic is headquartered in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, home of consumer electronics giant Philips, from which a part of Stream TV's IP is believed to be derived.
Philips shelved plans to develop its own autostereoscopic displays in April 2009. More recently, it partnered with Dolby on the Dolby 3D format.
SeeCubic founder and CTO Hans Zuidema is a former employee of Philips 3D Solutions, where his scope included 3D display design and manufacturing process development.