NAB report: Making 3D easier on the eyes and wallet

3D had a large footprint at last week's NAB convention and conference in Las Vegas, with manufacturers unveiling products designed to make 3D an easier process for the viewer and the producer alike. (Pictured: filmmaker and co-founder of Cameron Pace Group, James Cameron)
April 25, 2012

While the movement to 4K acquisition, display and workflow was the pre-eminent technological paradigm shift at NAB 2012, 3D still had a large footprint at the Las Vegas Convention Center last week.

Nearly 190 companies listed 3D products, albeit some with a single 3D accessory. Others, like James Cameron and Vince Pace’s Cameron Pace Group, showcased a fully loaded production suite and truck built on their ‘Shadow 5D’ production system.

Among the many conferences and super sessions at this year’s NAB, several featured 3D in part, and one with the technology as its main focus, Thursday’s ‘Broadcast 3DTV’, sponsored by Broadcast Engineering. While most of the white papers were aimed at engineers, one in particular, dealt with the key question underlying whether 3D can and will ultimately be a mass market medium – that of the feasibility of viewing 3D without glasses.

In that area, Masahiro Kawakita, associate director of Japan’s National Institute of Information & Communication Technology (NICT), discussed¬†its 200-inch glasses-free 3D display, which was showcased at Research Park during the conference.

“We created a large glasses-free screen which displays 3D images on large screens using multiple projectors and a special diffuser screen,” he explained. “We expanded the viewing area to 200 inches by using almost 200 HD projectors. Viewers can experience the 3D images even if they move closer or further from the screen by two meters (from a neutral viewing distance of three-four meters). With it, we can reconstruct natural, life-size, moving 3D objects like cars and people using many parallax images.”

In their NAB demonstration they also super-sized various 3D images including a bunch of sunflowers, resembling Van Gogh’s iconic painting, only scaled up for King Kong.

The goal of NICT’s glasses-free 3D display is not to wow viewers with eye-warping images sans eyeware, but to enhance communication. “We aim to create an ultra-realistic communication environment so that people can enjoy ‘shared reality’, i.e. that people in different locations can experience the same visual environment simultaneously,” said Kawakita. The ongoing surge of visitors to the mini-theater suggested that this was fairly feasible.

Sony showcased a much cheaper (US$150), portable solution for mobile, glasses-free 3D viewing for the masses. Their VGP FL3D combines software (compatible with current laptops) with a dense laminate diffuser screen which overlays the LCD screen of a Vaio laptop to enable glasses-free viewing of 3D content wherever and whenever, as opposed to requiring 3D glasses, a 3D theater or 3DTV.

With or without glasses, improving the 3D cinematic experience with high frame rate stereoscopic (HFRS) display, was a hot topic in 3D circles. At a special session sponsored by Nvidia, Douglas Trumbull, lifetime-achievement Oscar winner for special effects (2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner) discussed his plans to experiment with HFRS.

“Most 3D films are two-three stops under when projected, which causes even more eye strain than 3D per se,” he said. “HFRS offsets this by increasing exposure and contrast at multiples of 24 fps – the higher the frame rate, the better. We plan to push the envelope up to 120 fps, while keeping costs down.”

Economy of scale was filmmaker James Cameron’s core theme in his presentation, “The Secrets of Making 3D Profitable”, a highlight of the “Super Sessions” track. Partners Pace and Cameron elaborated on their 5D production philosophy which utilizes their patented Shadow 3D rigs and ancillary technology. Initially, that technology comprised one broadcast (2D) camera, with a stereo side-by-side camera with synched matching lenses. In the Shadow System the 3D rig “shadows” the 2D camera and is calibrated for proper stereo auto-alignment and synchronization.

“Everything we’re doing now is geared to producing 3D for the cost of 2D. You can’t do that if you have to add crew,” Cameron maintained. “Our Shadow System enables a 2D cameraman to double as a 3D cameraman simultaneously. I’ve always shot 3D from a 2D perspective, and vice versa, even in Avatar.” Still, he qualified that a trained stereographer is provided for most multi-camera productions to insure good 3D depth throughout the production.

Pace and Cameron elaborated on their newly expanded production suite which includes multiple hardware and software elements particularly designed to coordinate multiple camera shoots. “We now have a profile manager for matching all 5D camera rigs and a Shadow control panel for managing a 5D shoot of up to 40 rigs,” said Pace. “We actually used 35 5D rigs for the Winter X Games.”

The team was particularly excited about the newly developed ‘Handheld Shadow’ which will enable handheld 5D shooting for the first time, offering a range of dynamic, new 3D perspectives for live sports, concerts and other special events. It will be an important addition to the 3D production system the company leases to teams for myriad 3D projects.

“I was amazed at how much Vince and the team added to the 5D system in the five months I was away on expedition [to the Mariana Trench, for the National Geographic Channel special Deepsea Challenge, airing this weekend],” enthused Cameron. “Our Shadow System is a fully integrated production system now, just what’s needed to implement our ‘zero delta’ [or zero cost difference) philosophy of 3D production.”


About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.