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The ABCs of 3-D for the small screen

Feb 19, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The large-format 3-D film “Haunted Castle” could open big this week in Imax theaters. Written and directed by nWave Pictures’ executive producer Ben Stassen, the controversial (for its violent images) 40-minute film will debut in 3-D on the five-story-high screen Feb. 23.
Large-format film is state-of-the-art for 3-D, though the medium is also featured on numerous Web sites. Print media has likewise celebrated 3-D-with Sports Illustrated and Astronomy magazines using red/blue anaglyph glasses-as has the home video market, with numerous alternating field 3-D releases.
In fact, 3-D seems to be everywhere-except on television.
The anaglyph process works fine on computers, which use “component video” and a discrete separation of red, green and blue signals-but the quality is marginal at best on TV. That’s because the color fidelity of broadcast TV’s “composite video” format is much lower.
But there is at least one new contender on the scene that offers a new 3-D experience-one without the glasses.
Digital Dynamic Depth, based in Santa Monica, is driving this alternative “autostereoscopic” process. Using “dynamic depth cueing,” the DDD software converts 2-D images to 3-D by unlocking depth content via a gray scale, which is used to produce the eight views of the subject necessary for 3-D without glasses.
“We are going to see a combination of high-resolution TV display screen technologies with different optics, one of which is the wavelength filter, which will make 3-D without glasses very high quality and plausible,” said Chris Yewdall, CEO of DDD. “Some of the newer display manufacturers are going beyond the CRT, LCD or plasma to new reflective silicon devices to create the 3-D image that appears on screen.”
DDD said it has a number of strategic alliances for autostereoscopic TV in place with display manufacturers such as Motorola, Dimension Technologies and 4-D Vision.
Last November at the Western Show in Los Angeles, DDD teamed with Motorola to showcase 3-D TV without glasses on a standard 50-inch flat-screen plasma display fitted with a wavelength optical filter. The filter was designed by 4D-Vision of Germany and works by deflecting light from the screen according to its color to create left- and right-eye views from eight adjacent viewing zones.
DDD also formed an alliance with Apple Computer in October to introduce OpticBOOM, a downloadable stereo plug-in for QuickTime users that works with both anaglyphic and alternating-field 3-D.
Mr. Yewdall believes it will take two to three years before pricing on display technology makes 3-D TV afforable for the consumer.
From January 1999 to November 2000, a company called C3D made an attempt to operate as the world’s only dedicated 3-D TV network, which served premium subscribers to Vision Comm, Telepro, Cable America and GTE Ventura cable services. And Internet users could catch the 3-D programming in condensed, interactive form at the C3D Web site.
The company is now in reorganization and no longer produces original stereoscopic programming.
“We did nine first episodes of new TV shows, but there is very little viable content in the world for 3-D programming,” said Doug Stanley, former general manager of C3D. “The technology is there. But content is king.”
“The issue was that C3D never had nearly enough content,” echoed Jeff Fergason, president of i-O Display Systems, the California company that provided the electronic shutter glasses for 3-D viewing. “They [the folks at C3D] were trying very hard. But they never really had programming that was significant. Installing the glasses is easy, but you need compelling programming.”
In addition to helming i-O Display, Mr. Fergason is a principal in Razor 3D, which acquires, creates, produces and publishes stereoscopic 3-D entertainment. New releases include a 30-minute Sports Illustrated “swimsuit” video and the 3-D multimedia CD-ROM “Sharks.” Razor 3D will be offering bundled packages in the future that include two pairs of electronic shutter glasses, a stereo driver and three 3-D videotapes for less than $100.
C3D alumni such as Doug Stanley and former programming director Brendan Kinkade still have the 3-D bug.
Mr. Kinkade, the director of video entertainment for Razor 3D, has licensed his extreme sports 3-D production of “Planet X3” (cubed) for Razor 3D and is also working on launching a 3-D pay-per-view project.
Mr. Stanley has formed a new 3-D company called Experiential Media Group, which is working on a pay-per-view event to be videotaped in 3-D in Cancun, Mexico.