3D TV is coming… but don’t hold your breath

27 Oct

October 27, 2008

By Geoff Meeker

Just when pretty much everyone has high definition TV, what do they go and do?

They develop a new format, one that is supposedly even better, so that we can all rush out any buy yet another TV.

And if they can indeed pull it off, this will be quite an impressive piece of technology.

In this case, three dimensional – or 3D – refers to viewing technology that creates the illusion of width, height and depth. Many of us associate 3D with those shlocky movies, where everyone in the theatre wears large, coloured glasses and gets poked and prodded from the screen by a variety of intrusive objects, from flaming spears to hungry sharks.

But 3D technology has come a long way. There are now Imax Theatres – those massive screens that literally surround you – offering movies in 3D, using a more advanced stereoscopic system. The movies are played from two different rolls of film, running simultaneously, simulating the difference in perspective from right eye to left. Special (and cooler looking) polarizing glasses bring it into focus, for a jaw-dropping 3D effect.

The Imax experience is astounding – I can only imagine how immersive it must be in three dimensions. There are quite a few Imax theatres in Canada, with at least one of them offering Imax 3D.

Now, Philips claims that it has developed the first television set that displays programs in real 3D – without the aid of special glasses.

It started with a monitor developed for corporate, commercial and trade show use; essentially a wide screen TV that displays its content in 3D. Philips calls the technology WOWvx. According to the 2D illustrations at the web site (www.wowvx.com), the images don’t rest on the screen; they actually life away and project into the space in front of the screen.

I have read the technical description several times (you can download a technical brochure in pdf format) and I can’t say that I understand how it works. It appears to be a quantum leap forward in hologram technology, in which light is fired from slightly different angles so that images appear wherever the light intersects. Here’s a sentence I found helpful:

“A characteristic of all 3D displays is the tradeoff between pixel resolution and depth. In a scene viewed in 3D, pixels that in 2D would have contributed to high resolution are used instead to show depth.”

At its web site (www.philips.com), Philips says it is working to bring this technology to home consumers.

“The availability of 3D content is of key importance,” says the web site. “Therefore, we are developing tools for automated conversion of 2D content into 3D, and for dedicated creation of 3D content. Furthermore, we are partnering with industrial and academic players in a European consortium to further develop a broadcast format for 3D television.”

Depending on how well that goes, we may be seeing 3D TV within five years. Early generations of the technology will be expensive, so I predict longer than that before it really penetrates the home entertainment industry.

The real question is, if 3D TV were available, would we want to buy it? With all 3D films I’ve seen thus far, the novelty of watching in three dimensions – and the in-your-face sight gags – destroyed the willing suspension of disbelief that is so essential to movie enjoyment. It distracted from, and thus diminished, the story itself.

On the other hand, it would certainly be amazing for sports.

Fortunately, we have plenty of time to consider such questions.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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