3D comes to NAB

If you're headed to the National Association of Broadcasters convention running from April 12-15, you'd better bring your best pair of 3D glasses. Here's a look at some of the new camera rigs and products designed with 3D in mind.
March 31, 2010

With record high unemployment levels and sluggish spending at retail one might question whether this is a good time to launch a new technology requiring consumers to shell out thousands of dollars per household for new 3D-ready TV sets – especially after they’ve purchased pricey HD sets in the past few years. Nevertheless, many of North America’s biggest players in the mass media market are signaling that they’re ready to go ‘all in’ for 3D TV at this year’s convention of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) in Las Vegas, April 12 to 15.

With 3D TV seemingly just around the corner the question for those on the production end of the equation might be, ‘Can I deliver Avatar on today’s TV budget?’ While the fast answer is obviously ‘no,’ a closer look at the 3D toolset currently available, and tools soon to be unveiled at NAB 2010, should be instructive.

For starters, the good news is that producers won’t have to wait for even higher resolution cameras and lenses to be invented in order to begin shooting in 3D. Even Avatar was shot with existing, albeit high-end, HD cameras and lenses. What you will need is a pair of each, and a proven 3D camera rig to synchronize their output to achieve pleasurable 3D (vs. the sickening 3D of the 1950s). The other good news is that not only do such rigs exist, but this year there will actually be enough of them available for purchase to create some healthy competition

One 3D player that will be tough to miss is 3ality, a Burbank-based developer of tools for 3D production and post production, due to its pivotal role in one of the biggest eyeball-grabbing exhibits at NAB. The first 3D live truck in America will be parked in Sony’s booth and will demonstrate live 3D HD capture with 3ality’s 3D rigs. Specifically, the demos will feature 3ality’s mid-sized rigs for middleweight cameras like Phantoms, the SI-2K, Red’s Scarlet and Epic, Sony’s new HDC-P1s or its HDC T1500s used for Avatar. ‘There will also be a set next to the truck designed specifically for S3D, for folks interested in seeing firsthand what it’s like to shoot S3D,’ says Angela Gyetvan, 3ality’s VP marketing and sales. ‘We’re also demonstrating the feasibility of retro-fitting HD remote trucks for shooting 3D live.’

At its own booth, 3ality will demonstrate its largest 3D camera rig, the TS-4, designed for full-sized HD and cine-style cameras like the Red One, Arri D21 and the Sony F35. Fully assembled, this creates a hefty camera package as the TS-4 rig alone weighs 72 lbs. without cameras, lenses or batteries. Unfortunately, the 3ality rig ideal for most non-fiction production won’t be ready to demonstrate until shortly after NAB. The TS-5 is designed to be shoulder-mounted and used with Steadicams.

Element Technica is a relative newcomer to 3D, but has a solid track record in camera rigging for Red cameras. The company will demonstrate three 3D camera rigs at NAB 2010 for small, medium and large cameras. The Quasar handles full-sized cameras like the Red One, Sony’s F35/23 or Panasonic 3700. Its advanced alignment mechanism simplifies and speeds up camera and lens alignment while integrated high torque motors and electronics precisely control interocular distance and convergence. Its mid-sized rig, the Pulsar, handles middleweight cameras like Phantoms, SI 2Ks and Red’s Epic and Scarlet, while the Neutron handles smaller HD cameras like the Sony EX3, JVC HM 700 and HDSLR cameras.

P + S Technik will have several different 3D rigs to show and sell in the ZGC booth. Doc and reality shooters should check out its 3D Freestyle Rig, which is designed for Steadicam work but can also handle full-sized cameras such as the Red One, Genesis II and most larger models from Sony and Panasonic, among others. Its 3D Medium Mirror Box is similar but is designed for use with wide-angle lenses, and its 3D Standard Mirror Box is for use with the same broad range of cameras, but only with lenses 24 mm and up. All P + S Technik 3D rigs use carbon fiber materials for maximum strength and minimum weight.

Panasonic may be the first and only camera maker at NAB 2010 with an integrated 3D camcorder in its arsenal, eliminating the need for a perfectly matched pair of HD cameras and lenses as well as the hefty and pricey 3D rig. Its AG 3D A1 camcorder features twin lenses side by side, and two full 1920 x 1080 3-MOS imagers with dual HD-SDI out and XLR audio, plus HDMI.

Canon Broadcast will introduce what may be the longest portable telephoto HD lens in the world for use with compact 3D camera rigs. Although designed with sports in mind, at 5.5 lbs. the 18x, 28-500 mm EFP-style lens is surprisingly portable. Canon will also feature its full line of HDSLRs including the 5D Mark II, the 7D, the 1D Mark IV and the brand new Rebel T2i, all of which can record full frame 1080p at 30, 25 and 24p frame rates. All but the Mark V can also capture 720p at 60 and 50 fps. The big buzz generated by these cameras for 1080p capture is already spurring new business for accessory specialists because despite excellent image quality, HDSLRs were designed for still photography, with HD video as an afterthought, let alone audio. Be sure to check in with Canon for HDSLR audio solutions by third parties including Beachtek, Juicedlink and others.

In terms of 3D, it is notable that Canon’s HDSLRs have already been incorporated into the design specs of multiple 3D rigs by at least two of the 3D rig makers named here.

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.