It's not your grandpa's 3-D as technology expands


You've got your popcorn and a drink, your main squeeze is by your side, and you're settling in to watch the latest hit movie. You slap on your 3-D glasses and fixate on the big screen.

You're in your living room.

Sound odd? It might not be that far off. While the digital cinema movement has prompted a rebirth of interest in stereoscopic 3-D in movie theaters, the dialogue is quickly expanding to home entertainment.

"We will have 3-D in the home, definitely," said Chris Cookson, president of Warner Bros. Technical Operations and chief technology officer for the Warner Bros. Entertainment group of companies. "All the things that we need have been invented. It's just a matter of someone committing to bring it to market. The question we all have is: Does it become a fad or part of the mainstream?"

Buzz Hays, senior producer 3-D stereoscopic feature films at Sony Pictures Imageworks, believes that with today's more advanced digital projection methods, special glasses and production techniques, the perception of 3-D as a gimmick is beginning to change. "It was a different time," he said of the 3-D fad in the 1950s. "It seemed to be more about the technology (than content). Now I think we are past that."

On the theatrical side, such leading filmmakers as James Cameron and Robert Zemeckis are serious about developing quality theatrical 3-D content, contributing to a new level of confidence in the market. Paramount Pictures expects about 1,000 3-D-ready digital cinema screens to be installed in North America theaters in time for the studio's Nov. 16 release of Zemeckis' "Beowulf."

With all this, some stakeholders predict that the introduction of 3-D home entertainment is imminent. "We can and have started to migrate many of these (3-D) technologies into consumer products for shooting, editing, broadcasting and displaying 3-D content in the home," 3ality principal Sandy Climan said.

So what will home viewers need in their living rooms? A 3-D-ready display (some of which are already on the market), special glasses and modified playback means (coming soon).

Several set manufacturers have unveiled 3-D-ready displays. Texas Instruments' DLP technology was developed to be 3-D-ready, and that capability is built in to many DLP displays. Said TI's DLP brand and marketing manager Doug Darrow: "We're basically giving the consumer the option to future-proof their TV purchase."

Many of Samsung's 2007 DLP HDTV sets are 3-D ready, and next month the company plans to release a package that includes new Tri-Def 3-D Experience software from DDD, LCD shutter glasses and other accessories to enable 3-D from a PC platform. Samsung and DDD, a 3-D software and content company, said the package means that such popular PC games as "The Sims" and "Dome" can be played in stereoscopic 3-D. In addition, DDD CEO Chris Yewdall said that features played through the system also could be viewed in the format.

Others believe that video games will be the first 3-D application to penetrate the home entertainment market.

As for features, industry leaders report that both Blu-ray Disc and competing HD DVD could accommodate the content, and some suggest standard DVD could as well. Numerous studios are examining this opportunity to create another market for its 3-D-produced content.

This is not a completely new idea. Robert Rodriguez's "Spy Kids 3-D" was released in a DVD package with glasses for 3-D viewing in the home.

Further out is the development of auto-stereo methods -- stereo imagery that is viewable without the use of special glasses. "The problem (with auto-stereo) is marrying the technology with 3-D content production," Real D CEO Michael Lewis said, explaining that the production requirements would be different. "I think realistically it's three to five years away."

Real D offers a digital 3D theatrical projection system that uses circular polarized glasses that are certainly much sleeker than the cardboard ones of yesteryear that resided uncomfortably on your ears.

Broadcasting in 3-D, most seem to agree, also is further out because the content needs to be created in the format, though the industry already has seen the potential through successful demonstrations of live 3-D event coverage to digital cinema environments. The 2007 NBA All-Star Game screenings in March is a high-profile example.

Meanwhile, a call for 3-D home entertainment technical delivery standards has started, perhaps the biggest indicator that Hollywood is getting serious about this subject. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, for instance, is beginning to explore this topic.

"I believe that probably within the next several months we'll create a work statement," said Warner Bros. Technical Operations vp technology Wendy Aylsworth, who chairs the SMPTE DC28 digital cinema standards committee. "I think we'll see activity start up on that."
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