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Dolby Demos the Best No-Glasses 3D Yet — But Is It Good Enough?

 
If you're still thinking about buying a 3D TV in order to keep your home-theater experience up to date, don't bother. Rather, don't bother just yet — Cameron-Pace Group (CPG) joined a technology partnership with Dolby and Philips at NAB that's meant to pave the way for glasses-free stereo 3D in the home.
 
Dolby's core stereoscopic technology is the new Dolby 3D format, which was being used to encode content that was demonstrated at NAB on a 55-inch 4K display made by Philips. CPG, which is led by James Cameron and Vince Pace, has now agreed to use Dolby 3D as part of its production workflow. What's more, The Foundry intends to integrate Dolby 3D into future versions of Nuke and Ocula. You can read Dolby's take on all this over at the company's Lab Notes blog.
 
During demos at the Dolby booth, a spokesperson declared confidently, "There are no sweet spots in this technology." That's not really true — it's more accurate to say there are more sweet spots. Through a lenticular lens attached to the screen of the TV, 28 different "views" of the content are generated on playback, so that the 3D effect is visible from multiple positions in a viewing area. If you hold your head still, the effect is crisp and impressive. If you move from side to side, or walk around the room while watching the screen, the picture seems to warp, and the depth effect can be seen to reverse when the right- and left-eye views are transposed. The artifacts are subtle enough that many viewers may not notice them, but they're definitely visible.
 
That being said, Dolby's current 3D demo represents a big improvement over previous iterations of autostereoscopic technology. The display has been finessed so that the transitions between views are smoother and less jarring than before. And officials say there's still room for improvement. Guido Voltolina, general manager of the joint project between the three companies, told StudioDaily that the key is pixel density, combined with a more precisely designed, faceted lenticular lens — "precision down to the micron" — instead of the current round design. An 8K display could generate 56 different views, he said, further improving the viewer's experience.
 
Meanwhile, Dolby's format includes metadata that describes a film's depth map, specifying the parameters of stereoscopic viewing intended by the filmmakers. "The Dolby 3D format carries the information about creative intent all the way to the display," said Voltolina. However, Dolby reps told us that display manufacturers are likely to make the degree of depth scalable, allowing home viewers to adjust depth effects to suit their personal tastes. What's more, the sense of depth is limited in the current state of the technology — scenes from Avatar didn't seem to occupy the same three-dimensional space on the demo screen that they did in the theater. That, too, can be improved, Voltolina told us.
 
The main push right now is to try to convince display manufacturers to commit to make panels that will take advantage of the Dolby 3D technology. It might happen. To my eyes, the demo last week wasn't great, but it was probably good enough for a first-generation consumer roll-out. The image is decent from a stationary position, but if you move around much the picture seem to swim a bit, especially in the background, as the views move in and out of alignment. The effect is a little discouraging, and I'm not sure I'd want to pay big money to look at it in my living room. I queried a couple of other show attendees at the Dolby booth, and both seemed to feel the picture was impressive and yet a bit strange. One said it felt like "something's missing." It's possible that 3D won't become truly compelling in the home until the next generation of glasses-free systems is implemented on even higher-resolution displays.
 
And even then, who knows? Technology moves so quickly that stereo 3D might be old hat by then. According to trade pub The Wrap, at least one new study indicates movie audiences are already tired of paying extra for 3D viewing privileges. Hard to imagine them paying much of a premium just to get the same old thing at home.

7 Comments

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  • David Cole

    I don’t get this….

    We can buy an existing, inexpensive passive TV with EXCELLENT 3D capabilities and lightweight, cheap glasses and have a great home 3D experience.

    OR… an expensive but mind-blowingly good UltraHD passive 3D TV with EXCELLENT 3D capabilities and lightweight, cheap glasses and have a world-class home 3D experience.

    – BUT INSTEAD –

    We should wait for autostereo TVs? Technology that is fundamentally a science project and has failed every freaking time in production to materialize. Wait for 8K screens to laminate lenticular filters on? Wait for view-synthesis to be able to violate the laws of physics and generate the missing occlusions out of thin air?

    This is a massive PR blow to 3DTV that could plunge the entire 3D ecosystem into analysis paralysis.

    Thanks a lot, CPG.

    • Alfred Poor

      …and then hold our heads very, very still.

  • edfrat

    I saw the demo of this myself, at NAB. I thought it was excellent. Sure, there is still some work to be done, but it was pretty cool to be able to just walk up to the display and see stereoscopic video. I was not prepared for this and it took me by surprise!

    Why do people use pictures like the one in this article to represent stereo displays with things coming out of the bounds of the display. This drives me nuts and it is TOTALLY misrepresenting what stereo TV looks like.

  • jk

    Uh, please put the 3D gimmick back in the close for another 20 years. Very few movies benefit from it, fewer do it right. In general, 3D makes the movie experience more irritating and that’s not just because you’re paying more for something less. 3D is better suited for games and other VR experiences than the majority of movies.

  • c3

    I have two 3D systems. One 55″ LG 3D in our living room which works fine with the standard glasses like you get from the theater (very inexpensive). The other is a 3D projector in our theater room which requires the more expensive shutter glasses. We actually use the projector more as it gives off the Theater Experience much better. Now… In order to view the HD style 3D it has to be in the Blu Ray format… Additionally, you have to have a BluRay player that can decode the 3D. Then you have to have BluRay 3D DVD’s (which are starting to become more and more available, but more expensive). In our area, only Direct TV offers any content in 3D (which works on both of our 3D viewing sources).

    Should you hold off for new technology ? Quite simply, if you do, you’ll Never get anything. There is always something new and more advance in development. With the new 3D without glasses TV, the price tag will be high, not to mention availability of viewable content.

    You can get a nice 3D HTDV setup (with glasses and player) for under $700 (Example… LG 46″ 3D TV combo pack with 4 sets of glasses and BluRay 3D player). Larger ones slightly higher.

    If you don’t like 3D…Don’t watch it. For those of us who do, I would not hesitate in move forward with your next TV with 3D capabilities.

  • Philip

    I agree with David, Life is short so why not enjoy some of it in 3D.

  • Jim C

    Haven’t seen it, but I have passive 3D in the home and love it. In some cases, it was better in the home than in the theater. I do agree that the upcharge for 3D glasses in the theater is kinda bad, my reason, because they want them recycled anyway. I myself keep them, because I can use them on my system at home. I basically have an endless supply of glasses for my use.

    Has anyone given a thought to 3D lens contacts worn in the eyes?