Xpand making aggressive moves in the market

For about a year, stereo 3D (S3D) for the home has been the “next big thing,” though official standards have been slow to arrive and devices have been mostly at the demo stage. Fox’s “Avatar” is expected to be the “dam-burster” (in Jeff Katzenberg’s parlance) for live-action S3D pics and to further boost fan interest in S3D movies.Tokyo — Bandai Channel, a toon specialty channel, plans to encode its pay toon content to protect copyright holders and foil freeloaders.

But home S3D devices are expected to be a major component of next month’s Consumer Electronics Show, and at least one player in the S3D space isn’t waiting until then to make a splash.

Xpand, the only current purveyor of active/shutter glass S3D for movie theaters, is making an aggressive move in hopes of becoming the de facto standard for home 3D, introducing technology that will make millions of existing computer monitors and laptop screens “3D-ready” overnight — but only with Xpand glasses.

Company’s active shutter glasses have electronics built in that cause each lens in turn to darken to solid black, then lighten again, many times a second, so the viewer only sees out of lens at a time (a.k.a. “frame sequential”). The glasses pick up a signal from the projector to stay in sync with the screen. Imax 3D led the S3D revival in the 1990s with a similar active-glasses system.

Because there’s tech in the glasses, active-glasses systems require less tech in the projector or screen — and that is the key to Xpand’s play for the home space.

Coming at CES is the announcement of “DLP Link,” a new way of syncing active glasses with the screen. DLP Link will be built into all home-theater projectors with the Texas Instruments DLP chip. Xpand will support DLP Link with new glasses.

Moreover, DLP Link works on laptops and PCs with a small sync transmitter that plugs into a USB port. According to Xpand CEO Maria Costeira, the new system works with any existing laptop or personal computer “with a decent graphics card.”

If it works as promised, the DLP Link/Xpand combo it can offer consumers a powerful value proposition: Turn your PC or laptop into an S3D display with glasses and a USB dongle. That would open the door for S3D streaming and provide a ready-made user base for S3D Blu-ray.

Xpand is also looking to make a statement in theaters. Arclight Hollywood is installing Xpand systems in the Cinerama Dome and several other screens in the complex. “Avatar” will play in Xpand 3D when it opens there next week.

Move comes at the expense of the third major player in theatrical 3D, Dolby, which has been in several Arclight theaters.

RealD dominates the S3D market in North American cinemas but Xpand has much more market share in Europe and Asia. Its system was used at Cannes for the “Up” preem earlier this year.

Xpand plans to compete with RealD in offering personalized 3D glasses. Xpand glasses will be modular and adaptable to children’s sizes and different colored frames.

Some S3D televisions use polarized glasses compatible with RealD but converting existing TVs or monitors to work with passive glasses requires larger, more complicated add-ons than the DLP Link.

Some S3D experts prefer shutter-glass systems because they are the best at keeping the left and right-eye images separated. Others dislike them because, since frame-sequential viewing can worsen motion artifacts, a.k.a. “strobing” or “judder.”

Acer has already introduced an S3D enabled laptop, the Aspire 5738DG, but with no commercial S3D content available to play on it, its S3D features have met a sometimes skeptical reception.

The S3D laptop/monitor market may well take off faster than television. Much adult entertainment is already consumed on PCs, and porn has driven adoption of several generations of home entertainment tech.

Meanwhile, Xpand’s competish is still making deals. RealD recently announced an agreement to equip up to 40 screens in the U.K.’s Apollo chain for S3D. Multi-year agreement covers all 13 Apollo locations.

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The channel will shift to a pay service for its toons tomorrow (Dec. 10), while teaming with Adobe Systems to encode toons using Adobe’s Flash Video Encoder software.

Launched in 2002 and currently a subsid to Bandai Namco Holdings, Bandai Channel programs TV, OVA (“original video animation”) and feature toons, both new and classic, in a wide range of genres. Site users can stream content, but not download it. The channel can be seen on PCs, mobile devices and TV monitors via cable-and-satellite providers.

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BITS & BYTES: S3D hasn’t had a great repuation over the years; one stereoscopy leader told us recently it has long attracted “eccentrics and charlatans.” But one more sign that is changing comes with the creation of a Center of Excellence in Stereoscopic 3D at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver. The project is a parnership with Kerner Group, which — as regular Techbytes readers know — has been pushing hard to become a leader in the S3D space. …Creature & monster shop MastersFX has opened a digital division, with Andre Bustanoby set as visual effects supervisor. Bustanoby is a vet of the digital division at Stan Winston Studio and Digital Domain. Among its many credits, MastersFX is thriving these days doing vampire f/x, including work for the latest “Twilight” pic, “True Blood” and “The Vampire Diaries.” Company is based in Arleta, Calif. and has a Vancouver branch. … Culver City-based vfx house Zoic Studios has launched a Design Division under the leadership of newly hired executive producer Miles Dinsmoor and creative director Derich Wittliff. Zoic already has the show opens of “CSI” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” among its design credits. Zoic has been growing while much of California’s post and vfx business has been in a slump. … Along with S3D, performance-capture is likely to get a boost from “Avatar.” Organic Motion recently announced a markerless motion-capture system for more than one person. They unveiled the system last month and are targeting the training and simulation market.

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