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CES 2011: lack of 3D content
Like last year, CES was dominated by 3D. It has now become one of the main sales arguments for TV manufacturers and TVs are a vital part of CES. Unfortunately, while the products are developing, content is still limited and Blu-ray 3D releases over the last year have been limited to a handful of films, which are often difficult to get hold of in any case.
Whether the cause or effect of this state of affairs, expensive exclusivity agreements negociated by TV manufacturers limit access to the few films available even further. For example, if you have a Samsung model or a PC equipped with 3D Vision and you want to watch Avatar in 3D, this is officially impossible as Panasonic have obtained exclusivity until 2012. The only solution for viewing the film is to buy it at an inflated price on eBay or pirate it.
In the world of PCs, AMD and NVIDIA do of course regret the lack of Blu-ray 3D availability but physical support for playback is one of the innovations on offer in their latest ranges. NVIDIA has been the most active in making up for this lack of content and has just introduced a video section on its 3D Vision Live site which provides a platform for the first users of 3D cameras to publish their films. NVIDIA is taking advantage of the introduction of 3D Vision support in window mode in its latest drivers so as to be able to display 3D straight onto a web page. Similar 3DTV Play support should also soon come on stream. However, and this is the paradox, NVIDIA refuses to support any other than its own hardware, claiming that it sees no advantage in helping the competition out of the impasse it finds itself in.
In addition to 3D photos, 3D Vision Live now supports 3D video.
The availability of content isn’t however the only problem with 3D. The other major drawback comes in having to wear 3D glasses. Though they do give something different to your cinema viewing experience, they quickly become tiresome for users at home. This brake on the adoption of 3D is no doubt also linked to the lack of available 3D content: 3D is as yet still a very small market and the immediate profitability of a 3D version of a Blu-ray is doubtful.
It’s probably with a view to getting out of this chicken-and-egg type cul de sac that most TV manufacturers decided to really push glasses-free 3D at this year’s CES. While some of them are talking about availability for end 2011 or 2012, we’re still sceptical about the 3D experience these products will be able to offer.
On TV, 3D without glasses relies on the display of more than two images (interlaced vertically and/or horizontally) using a slightly different projections angle for each (interplay of lenses). When you’re ideally positioned this means each eye sees a different image. The problem is that the viewer’s position isn’t easily predictable, especially when there are several of them! In contrast to a games console, for example, the technique has to be more complex to give enough different angles (and therefore positions that can be taken up by the viewer to obtain good quality). Increasing the number of angles does however cause various problems: resolution and brightness are reduced and, as the images are narrower, the probability that one eye is exposed to two different images increases.
Sony, who were showing the most effective prototype we’ve seen up to now, were using 16 fixed angles, combined with a resolution of 4k x 2k. Such a panel more or less removes any resolution issues. However, the demo was carried out under particular circumstances: dark room and limited viewing area ((1m², up to 4 people). In spite of this, just moving around a little or leaning the head slightly in one direction or another meant that one eye would be exposed to two images, which broke up the impact of the 3D effect.
And this is without taking into account that the demo was no doubt carried out on special video footage, for which all viewing angles had been calculated in advance. In reality, these TVs will have to be able to generate these images in real time and thus combat ifficulties similar to those you get in 2D to 3D conversion.
Although glasses-free 3D is developing faster than expected, you can see that we are still confused as to how it’s going to become a practical reality in the short term, at least with sufficient quality to be more than a gadget. All the same, if the prospect of its introduction can help in persuading the big studios to offer more 3D Blu-rays, without the exclusivity deals, the early buyers of 3D TVs or PCs will only be too happy to see the arrival of these prototypes!
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