Why 3-D TV Technology Is All Hype

DreamWorks’ announcement earlier this week that all its films will be produced for 3-D production beginning in 2009 is the next step in a partnership with Intel that began on the processing side and aims to end up making 3-D a reality in the living room. The news really just adds the InTru3D brand name to DreamWorks’ previous announcement with Intel, but the fact that it comes just two weeks after we reported on the University of Southern California’s Entertainment Technology Center testbed for emerging 3-D television technologies got me thinking about how real 3-D really is.

The Intel-DreamWorks announcement doesn’t go into a lot of details, and neither did the answers I received from the nascent ETC effort. David Wertheimer, executive director of the ETC, wouldn’t disclose the companies involved or even the name of the Dolby executive heading up the group. Dolby has been active in creating standards experienced in 3-D movies such as this summer’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “Beowulf.”

Today, there are really two ways to do 3-D: with glasses (polarized, spectral or active-shutter) and without them (autostereoscopically). In autostereoscopic 3-D display, images are refreshed rapidly to give the illusion of a three-dimensional image without requiring the viewer to stare at a fixed point on the screen. There are some technologies that allow for content to be delivered without special hardware, but to get the kind of quality seen in the theaters, one needs specialized hardware in the set to synchronize the images.

Wertheimer says the goal of the ETC group isn’t to establish a codec or a primary technological standard, but to create, “the facility where Hollywood will test their content to ensure that the content and the display systems convey the artistic intent.” Sounds lovely, but with any consumer-oriented technology, getting a standard together is important for the buyers of the end devices and the purveyors of those devices. Think about the uncertainty the fight over Blu-ray and HD-DVD caused for everyone.

Samsung and Mitsubishi have 3D-capable TV sets on sale at Best Buy today, but unfortunately for anyone hoping for an immersive experience this weekend, the sets are only “3-D ready.” My local Best Buy was remarkably informed about the technology, but the salesman said he didn’t know when Samsung might release the $400 box that would actually enable the 3-D imagery. In the meantime, I could shell out for a 3-D ready projection television that will one day be able to offer 3-D imagery for movies originally shot in 3-D.

For all the buzz, I think the moment of in-home 3-D is still far into the future. We’re going to need more content shot in 3-D as well as the hardware to make it all worthwhile. I think the masses, having recently shelled out a lot of money for HD equipment and Blu-Ray DVDs, may find InTru 3D, well, intrusive.

photo courtesy of nickstone333 via Flickr