The buzz at last month;s consumer Electronic Show was all about the plethora of 3D television sets due to hit the market this year. The technology for displaying 3D may well turn out to be the easy part. It’s the content that’s tough.
You can get great lesson in why it’s hard to make good 3D content by watching the video of a panel held at the Sundance Festival. The panel moderated by Phil McKinney, chief technical officer of Hewlett-Packard’s Personal Systems Group, features experts with extensive 3D experience explaining the process. The most interesting piece is a five-minute 3D film school (it actually runs about six minutes) covering the psycho-optics of 3D by Buzz Hays, senior vice president of the Sony 3D Technology Center.
The bottom line of the presentations is that 3D will force directors and cinematographers to relearn their craft. A simple example: Almost from the beginning of filmmaking, control of depth of field has been a basic technique since the viewer’s eye is naturally and powerfully drawn to the point of sharpest focus in the frame. But this doesn’t work in 3D because the view expects the entire frame to be in focus from front to back. Filmmakers will have to learn to live with the idea that viewers will choose what to look at in the frame. Another casualty of 3D will be the jump cut, an abrupt shift for one image to another. This staple of 2D filmmaking has a nauseating effect in 3D. As Phil McNally, stereoscopic supervisor at Dreamworks Animation puts it: “Filmmaking is the 3D to 2D conversion process. Filmmakers are experts at 3d to 3d, and they are the most disturbed with 3D when it comes into the process. They have to overcome the desire to make everything flat.”
HP is involved in both the technology of 3D production and research into 3D displays. “Auto-stereoscopic” displays, those that let you see 3D images without those dorky glasses, are a major research target. Most current auto-stereoscopic displays use lenticular technology which allow 3D images to been seen properly only from a fixed, and relatively small, number of locations relative to the screen. The challenge is to produce a display that can be watched from anywhere in a room. “we can do it in the lab on a 2-foot by 2-foot display,” say McKinney. “This can scale, but its a long path to commercialization.”
Beyond getting rid of the glasses, a big advantage of such a display is that it would allow the free mixing of 2D and 3D images. “The ultimate vision is that the dimension gets embedded in the technology.” says McKinney. He says he hopes the first auto-stereoscopic displays will hit the market in two to three years.