3-D Closer to Home


by Brian Schowengerdt

More than a year ago at Display Week 2008, the Society for Information Display highlighted the renaissance of 3-D cinema with a number of talks from speakers at the forefront of the technical development and content generation that has been enabling this resurgence. Since then, the continued commercial success of 3-D in the theater has fueled interest in bringing 3-D entertainment into the home. Accordingly, this year's Display Week saw a number of technical presentations and demonstrations featuring enabling technologies for 3-D home entertainment.

In the exhibition hall, LG Display demonstrated a bevy of advanced 3-D displays targeting the 3-D home-entertainment sector, joining ongoing efforts by Samsung, Mitsubishi, and Hyundai to provide displays to this growing market. In addition to a number of talks on general 3-D display technologies in the technical symposium, a session entitled "Advanced TV and 3-D" featured presentations by Samsung, Toshiba, and others that provided a preview of 3-D-television solutions on the horizon.

Although 3-D displays targeted for home use have been commercially available for quite some time, they have not achieved widespread consumer adoption – nor has there been a successful system put into place to generate sufficient high-quality 3-D content and distribute it into the home. This has posed a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, with adoption of 3-D display technologies hampered by a paucity of stereoscopic content, and creative teams reluctant to invest resources in the production of 3-D content without widespread consumer adoption of the technology necessary to display that content. A number of factors are helping to break this deadlock, with the most salient being the success of 3-D cinema.

The recent proliferation of 3-D-capable theaters, spearheaded by Real D, has convinced filmmakers that there is now sufficient infrastructure to allow 3-D movies to reach a broad audience, and the demonstrated increased revenue from 3-D screenings has provided assurance that there is money to be made in stereo. Animation studios such as DreamWorks Animation have been among the first to embrace the transition to 3-D, largely because existing computer-generated content can be readily adapted to render the two camera views needed for stereoscopic presentation. Following on the heels of the box-office successes of 3-D animated films, many live-action studios have started to film their movies with stereoscopic cameras.

The 3-D movies that are being generated for cinematic presentation promise a wealth of stereoscopic content that can be tapped for home entertainment. With revenue from DVD and Blu-ray Disc sales far outstripping box-office revenues for the movie industry as a whole, there is a strong motivation to expand the market for 3-D films by creating a compelling 3-D home-theater experience. Success depends on two critical factors. First, home-movie watchers need televisions that can display high-quality stereoscopic imagery with good viewing comfort. Second, the full-content generation and distribution pipeline must be streamlined to deliver great 3-D content from the filmmakers to the consumer's home-theater system.

This issue of Information Display features articles by two experts ideally suited to addressing each of these components. Our first article, entitled "3-D Displays in the Home," is written by Andrew Woods, research engineer at Curtin University and co-chair of the annual Stereoscopic Displays and Applications Conference. Woods provides a broad survey of stereoscopic display technologies available for use in the home – past, present, and those just entering the market. Good options for viewing 3-D content are already available, and the new crop of displays promises an even better viewing experience.

The primary bottleneck is delivery of a readystream of high-quality stereoscopic content intothe home. A number of organizations are working on the development of standards for the 3-D formats for mastering and distribution. A leader in this effort is the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE). The chairman of the SMPTE Task Force on 3-D to the Home, William Zou of DTS, Inc., has contributed an article entitled "An Overview for Developing End-to-End Standards for 3-D TV to the Home." The article provides a com-prehensive snapshot of the current standards development effort under way at SMPTE, as well as at the Consumer Electronics Associa-tion (CEA), the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA), the DVD Forum, ISO/IEC/MPEG, the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), and the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE).

While it is clear that it will take time for consumer adoption of 3-D TVs to become widespread and for the finalization of appropriate standards to enable a seamless flow of stereoscopic content from the creators to the viewers, it is also clear that there is a high degree of interest on the part of content producers and display manufacturers to facilitate this process. Most likely, stereoscopic films distributed on Blu-ray Discs will serve as an initial beachhead for the large-scale penetration of 3-D content into the home. As Woods mentions in his article, in many cases manufacturers have included 3-D compatibility in their television sets for little added cost, and many consumers already own a 3-D-ready set. With the promise of an emerging Blu-ray standard, display manufacturers may increase the percentage of sets that are 3-D compatible. There may also be a useful synergy with 3-D gaming, with next-generation video game consoles supporting stereoscopic output, providing consumers an additional impetus to purchase a 3-D-ready TV. It seems like the deadlock has finally been broken and that 3-D TV in the home is only a matter of time. •

Brian T. Schowengerdt is with the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Human Interface Technology Laboratory at the University of Washington, Box 352600, Seattle, WA 98195-2142; telephone 206/422-1927, e-mail: bschowen@u.washington.edu.