Although a number of Panasonic’s new 2011 3D TV, camcorder and camera models were previewed at the January CES in Las Vegas, the firm organized an open house of sorts at their Panasonic Hollywood Labs facility at Universal Studios, where CE journalists and reviewers got a chance to see a number of demos and connect with various CE and movie industry execs.
Highlights of the event included a multi-media presentation in the facility’s 3D digital screening room, which boasts a 30-foot wide projection screen powered by a Christie Digital 4K 2D/3D DLP projector. Unlike commercial 3D movie theaters that employ passive 3D polarized glasses technology, the PHL screening room is equipped with 3D IR synchronization “blasters”, and attendees donned the same Panasonic 3D active shutter glasses that you’d use with their home 3D HDTV displays.
During the presentation, it was pointed out that even though first year “guesstimates” of 3D HDTV sales were somewhat off the mark, actual 3DTV shipments achieved a remarkable level of consumer acceptance, compared to HDTV when it was first launched. Acceptance of 3D HDTVs in 2010 was at a rate of about five and a half times that of HDTVs in the first launch year back in the late 90’s, and sales figures showed that in nine months consumer acceptance of 3D HDTVs achieved a sales rate that took twenty-six months to achieve with HDTV.
On hand for the presentation were various Panasonic and industry executives including DirecTV’s Steven Roberts and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s Mike Dunn. DirecTV partnered with Panasonic to launch 3D via satellite last year, and is on track to have five 3D channels this year, including 3D video on demand and their n3D channel, along with Discovery 3D and 3NET channels, which together aim to have 300 hours of 3D programming. Upcoming 3D events include Champions League soccer in June, and even a poker competition in 3D on the Game Show Network.
Attendees were treated to a 3D clip from Avatar, with a twist. The image was divided into two portions, one of which was the uncompressed master with the other being the compressed Blu-ray version. We weren’t advised as to which was which until later in the demo (there was no demarcation of any sort), and in a wonderful sleight of hand trick, found out that the screen wasn’t split horizontally as you’d expect, but rather diagonally. An exec pointed out that noticing any difference would take a very trained professional eye, and for this viewer at least, it was impossible to guess which was which, which speaks to the quality of Panasonic’s 3D Blu-ray mastering and compression.
We also viewed a clip from the 3D animated movie Rio, which looked spectacular. Addressing the popularity of 3D vs. 2D films in movie theaters, it was pointed out that Rio achieved a boffo box office worldwide gross of $400 million in its first three weeks of release, with two thirds of the gross receipts coming from 3D presentations.
After the big screen 3D presentations, we were able to visit a 3D mastering suite, where Panasonic’s Mike Page presented a number of 3D clips captured via Panasonic’s pro 3D camera. A dual lens affair, the tapeless AG-3DA1 features dual CMOS HD image sensors (Panasonic calls them 3MOS), dual DSP processors and dual compression processors, with data streams for the left and right images captured and stored on dual SDHC memory cards. With a cost roughly in the $25,000 range, the AG-3DA1 is far less expensive and cumbersome than traditional dual-camera 3D rigs, and is the same size as a conventional professional shoulder-mount 2D HD video camera.
If all goes according to plan, an AG-3DA1 will accompany the astronauts on board Atlantis for NASA’s final space shuttle mission STS-135, scheduled to launch in July. An upgraded model, AG-3PA1, is set to become available this fall.
Afterwards, attendees moved to a meeting room at the nearby Sheraton hotel, where Panasonic had a number of demos set up, including side-by-side comparisons of their new 3D Viera GT30 and VT30 series plasma displays with competitor’s products such as LG’s passive 3D LED/LCD HDTV and a Samsung 3D LED/LCD model. These “us vs. them” comparos at such an event have to be viewed with a jaundiced eye, as there’s no polite way of finding out what the various settings are on the competitive sets.