What Will the Glasses Cost?
Although no specific announcements were made about the pricing of active 3D glasses, I heard guesstimates of retail prices ranging from $50 to $100 a pair. Expect a slew of models to appear on the market from a variety of vendors as the 3D market heats up. I also asked around about battery life, and was informed that 50 to 60 hours is the typical battery life expectancy. Many of the demo glasses were fitted with a 3V CR-2032 disc battery (not terribly expensive to replace nor hard to find), and going forward it isn’t unreasonable to expect that rechargeable 3D glasses will arrive at some point. The cost of active glasses needs to be considered for those with large families, and for others who invite guests over for a 3D football game for example, as without the glasses the 3D picture is hardly pleasing to watch.
Projectors Are Going 3D, Too
Passive 3D (using polarized glasses) was at the show in the form of a few front projection demos. JVC put on a demonstration using not one but two of their state-of-the-art D-ILA (LCoS-based) 4K super resolution DLA-RS4000 projectors (each priced at a whopping $175,000), in their so-called “Million Dollar Theater” which also featured a requisite polarized-type 3D screen from Da-Lite. During the demo, I noted a distinct shadowing or ghosting effect at various times, which served to degrade the 3D effect, and was most noticeable on white titles.
LG Electronics debuted their CF3D 3D front projector, a 1080p model with a dual imaging engine incorporating LCoS imaging panels sourced from Sony (SXRD), and is also passive (polarized) based. While no pricing or availability details were announced, their introduction of the first single-chassis 3D home theater projector should pave the way for similar announcements from other front projector makers in the coming months. The demo was quite good as well, with a crisp 3D image that was quite pleasing.
Broadcast 3DTV Solutions Are Coming
On the broadcast TV front, Panasonic and DirecTV partnered up to announce a forthcoming 3D sports channel from ESPN, scheduled to be online this summer in time for the FIFA World Cup soccer championships in Johannesburg, South Africa in June. The UK-based BSkyB satellite broadcaster has already done limited 3D trials of soccer games, garnering valuable insight into how best to provide a pleasing 3D image while at the same time minimizing 3D-induced side effects (headaches, dizziness and even nausea have been reported by some viewers). Factors such as camera positioning, fast panning and switching between various cameras in the stadium need to be considered, as well as handling of on-screen graphics.
There’s no question that 3D is very popular in movie theaters these days. At Samsung’s CES press conference, Dreamworks Animation head honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg (himself a noted 3D evangelist) pointed out that in 2009 there were 176 studio-released movies, 16 of them in 3D, and that four of the top ten grossers for the year were 3D releases.
While the Blu-ray consortium has now finalized the 3D spec (and at that same Samsung conference Mr. Katzenberg presented a ready-for-retail 3D Blu-ray of Dreamworks’ hit Monsters vs Aliens to Samsung executives), getting high definition 3DTV into the home via other means isn’t yet fully defined.
One of the main challenges is how to handle the higher bitrate (or overhead) of 3D. 3D is coded with the baseline being the left eye image, with additional data mixed into the stream for the slightly different right eye image. Depending on the amount of action in a scene and the amount of left eye/right eye differentiation, the overhead can vary anywhere from 50% to 75%, or more. For Blu-ray, with its very high bitrate capacity, that’s less of a concern. For over-the-air broadcast, satellite and internet streaming, it’s very much a concern.
The satellite companies have been upgrading their delivery systems for some time now, adding more MPEG4-encoded channels, which provides for greater bitrate efficiency and the ability to provide a wider selection of HD channels. 3D on Blu-ray will be similarly coded, using the MPEG4/H.264/AVC Multi View Coding (MVC) codec, which was developed for 3D. Presumably, that’s what DirecTV will use for their upcoming ESPN 3D channel.