3-D enthusiasm is anything but flat
Like high-def television before it, 3-D technology is ahead of its content, and consumers are hungry.
South Central Los Angeles
In a converted warehouse near one of Los Angeles’s toughest neighborhoods, a coterie of professional “techno-speculators” is playing around with what a growing number of entertainment industry folks hope the future of the small screen will be, namely 3-D.Skip to next paragraph
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This is the Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California, where the Home 3D Experience Lab, ETC’s newest brainchild, is currently housed in a bare-bones room. The 3-D lab just opened this past week and isn’t complete yet, meaning the team is still assembling all the various iterations of 3-D as it will be experienced in consumers’ homes. But the fundamentals are in place – glasses, screens, and playback devices – says Bryan Gonzalez, the lab’s technical project specialist.
“For the state of the art in 3-D for the home environment, this is where the industry leaders can gather to discuss where it’s going,” says executive director David Wertheimer. The nonprofit research center is funded by content and technology companies, including nearly all the major film studios.
First and foremost, of course, there are the glasses. Not those flimsy, two-tone cardboard specs, but snazzy, lightweight, polarized shades or active-shutter glasses, battery-powered eyewear that whips up left and right eye content as fast as 120 times in a second. (A “auto-stereoscopic” type of 3-D content not requiring glasses is being developed, and the lab has an early version of it, but most observers say the low resolution makes it years away from viability in the home market.)
At the first setup, Mr. Gonzalez dons the passive, polarized eyewear and plunks down in front of an impressive screen.
“This is just one of many options,” points out K.C. Blake, director of business development. There are at least three different 3-D ready screens commercially available. And the Blu-ray players that the lab uses are just like those being sold at any consumer electronics outlet. Even the glasses are relatively available, both the polarized and active-shutter type.
But the one element in this “ecosystem” – as the group is fond of calling its area of study – that’s missing is the one part the folks at home really care about: the content. Right now, the team is playing a trailer from Disney’s animated film, “Bolt,” footage donated by Disney that is not available to the public.
“Similar to what happened with high-definition TV, the technology [for 3-D TV] is here before the material to watch,” points out Mr. Wertheimer.
The current momentum behind the home 3-D experience is coming not just from the movie industry but from video-game developers as well. Not unlike past flirtations with 3-D back in the 1950s and ’70s, studios are once again looking to 3-D to help prop up the theatrical release of films. And now, equally eager to get more return on the 10 to 20 percent premium spent to film in 3-D, they hope to expand the home 3-D market as a potential support for the DVD release.
At the same time, video-game enthusiasts have long pushed the evolution of consumer technologies, searching for greater verisimilitude in gameplay. The battery-powered glasses are made by a major gaming accessory developer.
As consumers get a taste of the newest 3-D technology, they are sending a clear message that they want more. Moviegoers are overwhelmingly flocking to the 3-D version over the 2-D at theater complexes. The box office for the current 3-D version of “My Bloody Valentine” has been six times that of the 2-D experience.