CES Daily Spotlight: Future of 3D

An estimated 3 million people already have 3D-enabled TVs. Most use the “active” 3D system, which incorporates the 3D tech into the glasses. Active 3D TVs are easy to manufacture and command very little premium. Active-glasses 3D gives the viewer a full-1080p image in each eye. So they looked like a natural way to introduce 3D TV to consumers.

But active glasses are pricey, need to be charged and can be heavy. Active 3D is also hard to show at retail, because they use infrared emitters that interfere with each other, making it difficult to show sets side by side. Plus there’s the risk of those pricey glasses walking away.

But active glasses are so 2011.

Passive 3D
Passive 3D puts the tech on the TV display, using polarizing filters. Lightweight, cheap passive glasses are similar to those used by RealD and MasterImage theaters. LG, Vizio and RealD are all working on passive 3D.

Passive 3D flatscreens cost more than active 3D TVs but the difference evens out once the cost of glasses is included.

Passive has a downside, though. Today’s passive 3D TVs split the 1080p resolution in two, so each eye is getting 540 lines instead of 1080. (LG says it has solved by doubling the display rate per image.) Also, if the viewer is seated below the set at any great angle, the 3D illusion breaks.

Autostereoscopic
Autostereoscopic — glasses-free 3D — is the holy grail of stereoscopic displays. Early models suffered from “sweet spots” and “dead spots” so the viewer had to be perfectly positioned or the image would break.

Today it’s improved, but tricky to manufacture and expensive. Toshiba put an autostereo TV with 4K resolution on sale in Japan last month, for $11,000.

Meanwhile, autostereoscopic is thriving on mobile phone screens. Jon Peddie Research states that, within the next four years, 80% of smartphones will have 3D screens and cameras.

Multiview Video
Multiview Video or Free Viewpoint Television goes beyond stereoscopic. Instead of two cameras, it uses an array of several or many — like “bullet time” setup in the “Matrix” movies. One application would be to let viewers choose what viewpoint they want to see. Another would be use all those views to create a single image, with more lifelike depth than stereoscopic.

The MPEG-4 standard used for 3D Blu-ray already includes an annex for Multi-view, and Multiview has been demonstrated in labs on TV, laptops and computer monitors. But one expert told Variety it’s probably a decade from being a practical product.

Volumetric/multidomain
Volumetric/multidomain creates a physical volume that allows the viewer to peer 360-degrees around everything on the image. Volumetric technologies are in the R&D phase, with projection and laser solutions as well as flat panels that spin around an axis. All of them require a much bigger space than the typical living room, so volumetric 3D is mainly the domain of digital signage or specialty applications.

If developed for home viewing — and that’s a big if — screenwriters, directors and actors will have to take 360-degree viewing into account, radically changing the creative parameters of TV fare.

Holographic
Holographic is the most futuristic of the 3D TV technologies. A holographic image might float in space, like Princess Leia’s message to Obi-wan Kenobi in “Star Wars,” or a flat holographic display might behave like a window, where what you can see depends on where you stand and how close you get.

A decent image requires at least 8K resolution and a way to transmit the massive amounts of data needed to drive those millions of pixels.

But simple holographic TV already exists in labs. What’s needed to improve it seems to be faster microprocessors — and Moore’s Law dictates those processors are sure to come. Japan included a promise of holographic TV coverage in its bid for the 2022 Olympics. Japan’s NHK has promised functional holographic TV in four to five years. So holographic TV may be an option about the time you’re ready to upgrade that new flatscreen you brought home for the holidays.

CES Daily Spotlight: The Future of 3D
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