By Natalie Finn
Special to TelevisionWeek
While the very mention of 3-D conjures up images of 1950s-era sci-fi movies and multicolored glasses, manufacturers are at work trying to usher in new era of three-dimensional entertainment. And this time around it will be minus the specs.
When we see something in stereoscopic 3-D, our brain is basically playing a trick on us, with the right half processing the left eye’s visual field and the left side processing the right eye’s visual field. Advancements in flat-panel display technology have enabled viewers to achieve the same sensation without wearing those red and blue glasses, and good HDTV sets enhance the experience by adding depth perception.
Then there’s what’s known as real 3-D, which is produced with lasers and holographs.
To date, 3-D display applications are limited to video games, medical equipment and computer-aided design used by architects and engineers. But some feel that 3-D in broadcasting is just around the corner, despite the fact that more than half of the country is still enjoying its prime-time programming in standard definition.
Fox Sports tested the format in 2004 with football, boxing and a basketball game, the results of which Fox executives called encouraging. But at that time viewing still required the donning of glasses.
Samsung predicts that 3-D technology will show up soon in mobile phone and PDA displays. Meanwhile, Wired News reported in August that Philips had successfully melded stereoscopic 3-D and an LCD flat-panel screen, using its Wowvx technology to cover the screen’s red, blue and green pixels with tiny lenses that project light from nine angles. A processor in the screen then produces nine views corresponding to the various angles.
Philips debuted the HD panel at the Society of Information Display 2006 International Symposium in June.
“3-D TV is the next frontier for those in the professional display market seeking differentiation to gain a competitive edge, and for consumers seeking the next level in the immersive entertainment experience,” Philips 3-D Solutions CEO Jos Swillens said at the time. “Best of all, we have accomplished this without the need for special headgear, and with the ability for multiple people to enjoy the same 3-D experience at the same time.”
The 42-inch screens were initially going to be sold to retailers willing to create 3-D ads to attract passersby. Whether consumers will want them in their living rooms and whether broadcasters will want to provide content for them anytime soon is another matter.
“It’s definitely the Holy Grail that people are looking for, but it’s hard to do,” said Michael Gartenberg, VP and research director for JupiterResearch in New York. “I think what we’re going to see is greater emphasis on getting the market over to high definition. And frankly, the leap from SD to HD is as dramatic for most folks as the leap was from black-and-white into color.”
Mr. Gartenberg suggested that a vivid HD picture, coupled with a good signal from one’s cable company, will be enough of an upgrade for most consumers.