3D: ready for transmission, now all we need is the content... (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this piece
we looked at how Technicolor is bringing its expertise in broadcast, cinema and disc authoring and duplication to 3D content delivery for the home.

But while there's a content distribution system in place for 3D over existing broadcast platforms, it's unlikely there'll be free-to-air 3D for at least three years, said Futuresource analyst Bill Foster, speaking at the press launch of Technicolor's 3D broadcast suite.

Broadcasters will wait for standards to be set, and there are still spectrum issues. That's hardly surprising given that even a reduced-resolution line alternate 3D service takes up as much 'space' as an HD station.

Simpler 3D cinema
Interestingly, Technicolor has also been addressing a similar 'spectrum' problem in the cinema world, where there's a lot more 3D content in the pipeline than there are 3D cinemas to show it. It's expensive to kit out a full active 3D theatre, and so Technicolor has developed a more affordable solution for cinema owners.

Its system puts the two images required for 3D on a single 35mm film frame, and leases a special splitting lens to the cinema on a royalty/pay-per-play basis. All the cinema needs do is install a silver screen – as it will have to do eventually for full HD – so costs are kept minimal.

Technicolor expects to have up to 150 screens so equipped in the next two months, and the system will debut with the release of How To Train Your Dragon (above), closely followed by the remake of Clash of the Titans.

But the company's also been doing a lot of thinking about the 3D experience in broadcast and domestic viewing. Its R&D people have been looking at ways to avoid problems such as those created when channel-flipping in search of something to watch, or when some members of the family want to watch in 3D while others are half-watching, half-reading, or – as I am now – working on the laptop with the TV on.

3D depth control?
One idea is to have a depth control on the TV, so that 3D images can be flattened down a bit for casual viewing: that would enable those with the glasses on to see diminished 3D, while those without should be able to watch a pretty respectable 2D picture.

It's also possible to design the system so the TV reverts to 2D for channel-surfing, only popping back into 3D when a channel is selected: it's all about delivering the most comfortable viewing experience.

Sound in 3D, too
As is the work Technicolor is doing on sound, and ensuring the soundstage matches the 3D image. If something leaps from the screen, or recedes back into it, and the sound stays on one plane, the result can be unsettling: as a result, the company is working on algorithms to make the sound positioning track the image.

It's the thoroughness of the approach that impresses the most, as was shown by the fact that it's been working hard on the way text appears on screens with 3D content.

Getting the titles right
As Will Berryman, Global COO of Digital Content Delivery, showed us, the kind of stuff it does at the moment – overlaying station logos, promotional content and subtitles – is a bit trickier on 3D. Conventional 'flat' content creates all kinds of problems for the viewer when superimposed on a 3D image, as the eyes try to process the combination of 3D and 2D material on the same screen.

The solution is subtle alterations of the positioning of such content in the Z depth – the apparent front to back plane – of the image. Berryman demonstrated what can happen when the simple approach of putting subtitles out in front of the image is followed, and the results ain't pretty.

From where I was sitting in the 3D broadcast suite the titles floated out in space, and I found myself focusing on them, not on the picture 'behind'.

Instead, Technicolor now has software to analyse the 3D content, and make smooth shifts of the titles and other content in the Z depth, giving an entirely natural result.

Using clips from How To Train Your Dragon, the 3D short The Caretaker, starring Dick Van Dyke, and a 3D cookery show, all with the usual 'coming next' bumpers, subtitles and so on, it was possible to get an idea of how 3D broadcast TV is going to look sometime in the near – or at least not too distant – future.

It's all a very long way from Cliff driving that London bus in Summer Holiday back in 1963 – in Technicolor, of course...

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Andrew has written about audio and video products for the past 20+ years, and been a consumer journalist for more than 30 years, starting his career on camera magazines. Andrew has contributed to titles including What Hi-Fi?, GramophoneJazzwise and Hi-Fi CriticHi-Fi News & Record Review and Hi-Fi Choice. I’ve also written for a number of non-specialist and overseas magazines.