Posts Tagged ‘3D’

NAB 2010: A Show in Transition

Some of the big questions facing attendees as their flights landed in Las Vegas were these: Can NAB survive? Will it evolve into something different? Is it even that important to attend NAB anymore?

The answer to all three questions is “yes.” Even though attendance was still down from 2008 (NAB claimed 83,000 ‘officially;’ my guesstimate was more like 55,000 to 60,000), there were plenty of companies in attendance with lots of cool products to check out.

That said, the show is undergoing a rapid transformation away from a traditional ‘broadcasting’ show to a mix of InfoComm and CES – hot new products for professionals. Of course, 3D was all over the place. But so was networked video, which dominated the upper and lower South Hall exhibit areas.

Booths were smaller this year, and that’s not going to change any time soon…not when the typical booth is showing products that have price tags in the hundreds and low thousands. Contrast that with NAB shows 15 years ago, when most of the price tags had three and four zeros in them!

You know attendance was off when this was one of the largest booths in the Central Hall!

On the other hand, the alternative wasn’t too attractive…

The smaller booths and lower number of exhibitors resulted in wider aisles and less traffic – a plus. But it also resulted in NAB placing the main registration area smack in the middle of the Central Hall, something I’ve never seen before.  And there was plenty of wide-open space at the end of that hall, as well in the North and South Halls.

Can NAB be staged in three halls? Absolutely! And can you see everything you need to see in three days? Try two days. (Thursday has become ‘exhibitor bonding day,’ to quote a fellow editor.) I could have covered my beat in two days if necessary.

THE TRENDS

Not surprisingly, 3D was a big topic this year, although not to the same extent as it was at CES. The SMPTE/ETC/EBU Digital Cinema Summit focused entirely on 3D for both days, and I was fortunate enough to deliver one of the papers to a jammed room of 500+ attendees.

Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Canon, Grass Valley, AVID, Doremi, Harris, Evertz, and Ross Video were just some of the companies showing 3D products in Vegas. Those products ranged from 3D monitors and cameras to 3D workflow (acquisition, editing, post, effects, and playout) software and hardware.

Sony’s LM4251TD 42-inch LCD monitor uses micropolarizers for passive 3D viewing.

Other specialized 3D brands were in attendance, too. TD Vision, Miracube, Mistika, and HDlogix had nice exhibits in the South Hall, down the street from Grass Valley. Smaller companies like Cine-tal occupied the 3D Pavilion nearby, while Motorola and Ericsson showcased 3D transport and format recognition products upstairs.

Although the consumer TV market is seeing a big push towards active-shutter 3D TVs and monitors, the emphasis at NAB was on passive 3D viewing (cheaper glasses, more expensive displays). JVC, Hyundai, and LG all manufacture them, and there were plenty of folks standing around with RealD X-pol eyewear watching the demos.

The projector guys were on top of things, too. projectiondesign showed a stacked pair of 3-chip 1080p lightboxes in the Mistika booth, using linear polarized glasses. HDI showed a 100-inch, 1080p LCoS rear-projection TV in the HDlogix booth, also using X-pol glasses. Christie also had suitable 3D projection systems out for inspection.

There were also some demos that left me scratching my head, such as Canon’s dual-projection X-pol 3D demo, using a pair of REALiS WUXGA (1920×1200) LCoS projectors. While it worked well, it requires two separate projectors and outboard 3D filter holders – too klunky! (A Canon rep told me that was because of the 60 Hz frame rate limitation on the internal video processor.)

Well, it IS 3D, but I doubt Canon will sell very many of these rigs…

Broadband video and IPTV were also big this year. This market for MPEG-4 AVC over Ethernet, fiber, or private data networks is exploding, and encoder companies such as Adtec, Vbrick, Harmonic, Ericsson, Harris, Motorola, and Digital Rapids were showing a full range of compatible products.

Sezmi also occupied a booth at the show. This company has a unique selling proposition – a set-top box that receives both terrestrial (read: free) digital TV and selected cable channels carried on secondary terrestrial channels. It also accesses a video-on-demand server through broadband connections (SDTV only) and has a customizable program guide for each user.

While not technically broadband, the nascent MH broadcast format was in abundance at NAB. MH uses MPEG-4 AVC coding in multiple streams with IP headers to send low-resolution video to handheld receivers, such as mobile phones and combo PDA/receiver products. MH is catching on in popularity with broadcasters, who see it as a more sensible alternative to simple multicasting of secondary channels that very few people may be watching.

ATSC MH on an iPhone? Brilliant! (There’s an app for everything!)

MY PICKS

After three days of walking around, I came up with a list of “finds” that I’ll share here. These are all products that represented clever thinking, breakthrough technology, and/or new price points. Some were easy to spot; others required quite a bit of digging. But they all made the trip to Lost Wages worth it (and that’s saying a lot, considering how airlines jam you in like sardines these days!).

TV Logic: This manufacturer of LCD broadcast monitor showed the world’s first active-matrix OLED broadcast monitor (unless you think Sony’s press announcement hit first, which it didn’t.) The LM-150 ($6,200) uses a LG Display 15-inch OLED panel with 1366×768 pixel resolution and come equipped with all the expected niceties including markers, crop marks, caption displays, over/underscan, and HD/SDI, HDMI, and analog video jacks. There’s also a 3D version in the works (TDM-150) that will sell for about $7,700.

This was the coolest product at the show. But will it REALLY last 30,000 hours?

Ericsson: In addition to a host of MPEG-4 and IPTV encoders, the ‘big E’ also showcased an innovative, iPad-like LCD touchscreen remote control/video viewer. Dubbed the IPTV remote, this product can dial up video from broadband, cable, satellite, and even your home network. Not only that, it can monitor weather sensors and your home security system. (Sound much like a Crestron product?) The IPTV remote will not be offered for sale at retail. Rather, it’s intended to be a content provider offering.

Christie: Have you seen their MicroTiles yet on the Colbert Report? These innovative ‘mini’ DLP projection cubes use LED light engines to power 800×600 DMDs (the actual working resolution is 720×540) and measure about 12” x 16.” They can be configured in just about any format you wish, including floor and ceiling projection, and up to 1024 can be driven at one time. The LED light source is specified to last over 60,000 hours. Think of LED-powered LEGOÔ blocks, and you’ve got the concept.

And YOU thought iPads were all the rage…

SmallHD: It wasn’t easy finding these guys behind the Sony booth, but they’d come up with a focus assist monitor for video and still cameras that they claim is the world’s smallest HD video monitor. The actual size is about 5.6 inches and the glass is WXGA (1280×800) LCD. It comes in two flavors – one for digital SLRs ($899) and one with SDI input ($1199). The monitors are an inch thick, weigh 10 ounces, and mount to hot shoes.

Z3 Technology: I found this booth on my last pass through the South Hall, and it was worth the stop. They showed the Z3-MVE-01 MPEG encoder, a compact box that codes HD up to 1920×1080 resolution using H.64 High Profile (up to 30Hz), with Ethernet and ASI outputs. Input compatibility includes composite, component, HDMI, DVI, and HD-SDI video…all for $5,000.

JVC’s 46-inch X-pol monitor always drew a crowd.

Adtec: I didn’t expect to see an HDMI-to-QAM modulator at the show, but that’s exactly what Adtec pulled out for me. The HDMI2QAM is a dual-channel design that encodes anything from the HDMI inputs (yes, they are HDCP-compliant) to a pair of quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) channels, using MPEG-2 encoding. The modulation format is selectable between 64-QAM (SD), 128-QAM (not widely use), and 256-QAM (HD). Bit rates are constant and optimized for each mode (i.e. 38.8 Mb/s for each HD channel).

 

Cydle: This new start-up demonstrated an app for iPods and iPhones that allows viewing of ATSC MH (A/153) video. Along with it comes the i30,  a battery-powered docking station with built-in antenna (UHF). This means that your ‘i-whatever’ has two batteries to draw from, so if you run low on talk power, simply switch to the i30 battery. Both can charge simultaneously. Cool!

Sezmi’s personal program guide rivals TiVo for user-friendliness.

Panasonic: I’ve seen it before at CES, but it now has a model number. The company’s first production camcorder now goes by the moniker AG-3DA1 and is yours for the low, low price of just $21,000. (Well, all things are relative, I guess.) The camera weighs about 6 and a half pounds and uses a pair of 2.l07 MP sensors (full 1920×1080) to record 1080i and 720p HD content to SD memory cards. Convergence and horizontal and vertical displacement are fully adjustable.

Panasonic gets another mention for the AG-AF100, which they claim is the world’s first Micro 4/3-inch (1.33:1) HD camcorder. That’s a big deal because the 4/3” format matches the coverage area of 35mm film frames…which means you can use standard 35mm film camera lenses to get effects like shallow focus, soft focus, and vignettes. The camera records to SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards using the AVCHD format and supports 1080i/p and 720p formats, including 23.98/24/25 Hz.

Sony gets extra credit for announcing the world’s second (or first) AM-OLED professional video monitor. The PVM-750 ($3,850) is a bit smaller than TV Logic’s offering at 7.4 inches (16:9), and is not quite full HD resolution at 960×540 pixels. (Not that you’d notice on such  small screen!)  The PVM-750 has 3G HD-SDI, HDMI, and composite video inputs, the full range of adjustments from tally and markers to blue screen mode and AC/battery power operation. No word on lifespan of the display, but Sony uses small molecule (SM) OLED technology, as does LG Display.

LP Technologies rounds out my list with one of those ‘too good to be true’ products: An LCD-based 9 kHz to 3 GHz spectrum analyzer with USB 2.0 interface, built-in preamp, and Ethernet connectivity for remote monitoring. Sorry, no internal battery pack!) The USB hook-up can be used to save data in the Excel format, while the internal memory can tore 900 different waveforms. The display is a 6.4” 640×480 (VGA) LCD type. And the cost? Just $4,500…

Stick one of these on a Canon 5D MK II, and you can shoot an entire episode of ‘House!’ (No kidding!)

HDTV Tech Talk Tutorial: 3D Program Formats

Here’s a quick tutorial on 3D program and transport formats, all coming to a TV near you.

Have you heard enough about 3D yet?

Probably not. Samsung and Panasonic are long out of the gate, while LG just started its advertising campaign for INFINIA LCD TVs during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.  And there will be more companies following with 3D TVs, Blu-ray players, and a host of accessories.

One question I’ve gotten repeatedly is this: “How do they pack a 3D signal into a conventional cable TV channel?” Another one: “How can DirecTV send out 3D, which is progressive scan? They’re not broadcasting in 1080p!”

Time to wheel out the whiteboard! In a nutshell, here’s how the different 3D transmission formats work.

THE DETAILS

Earlier this month, the 3D amendments for the HDMI 1.4 standard were released. These standards include a host of broadcast 3D formats, along with the Blu-ray top/bottom packed 1080p frame format. (I’ll touch on that, too.) These mandatory 3D formats must be supported if the HDMI interface is a ‘true’ 3D connection.

That’s not to say that a TV manufacturer won’t support other formats: They can, and they are! Examples of ‘other formats’ include checkerboard, interlaced 3D, line-by-line, and alternate frame. There are even 2D+ depth and other ‘overlay’ formats (think of the FM subcarrier for stereo from the 1950s) that are backwards-compatible with older TVs.

What we’re interested in is what DirecTV, Dish, Comcast, Cox, Discovery, and possibly major TV networks like CBS, NBC, and Fox are doing, and might do. Here’s the short list:

Side by side: This is the format that DirecTV will launch in June. It’s also likely to be used by Comcast, Dish, Cox, and any other multi-channel video system. In the side-by-side system, the left eye and right eye images are anamorphically squeezed to fit into a single 1920x1080i/30 frame. (Figure 1)

Figure 1. The side-by-side (2x 960×1080) 3D format. Image copyright ©2010 DirecTV. All rights reserved.

That means that each image has half the horizontal resolution, or 960×1080 pixels, when expanded back to its normal shape and presented sequentially. Does this look bad? Not really, considering there’s still over 1 million pixels in each eye. As it turns out, HDMI 1.4a calls for side-by-side exclusively with 1920x1080i video content.

Top + Bottom: This format is more likely to be used by stations transmitting progressive scan signals. Once again, the left and right eye images are anamorphically squeezed and packed into a single frame, except they are aligned one atop the other. This is the standard for 1280x720p/60 and 1920x1080p/24 transmissions. (Figure 2)

Figure 2. The top + bottom 3D transport format. Image copyright ©2010 DreamWorks Animation. All rights reserved.

In this case, each image has half the vertical resolution of a full HD video frame. For a 1080p program, that’s no big deal – each eye works out to 1920×540 pixels. But 720p comes up short, with an effective resolution of 1280×360 pixels in each eye.

The thinking here is that it’s better to sacrifice vertical resolution in a progressive scan TV system than horizontal resolution. I don’t think it makes much of a difference with 1080p content, but 720p? It may not look as good as it should.

What about the alternative? Using a side-by-side format, this would reduce the resolution of each left and right eye image to 640×720 pixels – not much more than a regular DVD. As a result, adopting 720p as an HD format may leave something to be desired with respect to 3D.

HDMI 1.4a: There are two formats here. One uses a top/bottom dual-frame structure (Figure 3) with a total of 1920×2205 pixels. (45 pixels are a blanking or metadata interval.) This retains full 1080p resolution and the frame rate is 24 (23.98) Hz. The other format is for video games, and oddly enough, it’s at a lower resolution – 1280×720 pixels, with either a 50Hz or 60 (59.94) Hz refresh. (Figure 3)

Figure 3. The HDMI 1.4 Blu-ray frame packing structure.

To summarize, these are the ‘mandatory’ HDMI 1.4a 3D formats. A compatible 3D TV will support all of them. On the other hand, set-top boxes and media players only have to provide one of these signals (for Blu-ray players, it’s the full 1080p top + bottom format exclusively), based on the content being served up.

It’s important to remember that, not matter what delivery (transport) format is used, the 3D TV will present ALL of these as sequential left eye/right eye images, using the same active shutter glasses. Only the physical resolution of the images will vary, along with frame rates.

And now you know the rest of the story…to quote the late, great Paul Harvey.

Game On! Early tests of 3D plasma vs. 3D LCD

Consumer Reports has posted a short video clip that shows their preliminary tests of Panasonic 3D plasma and Samsung 3D LCD TVs. You can find it here.

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/video-hub/electronics/televisions/16935238001/

During the clip, they point out that while both technologies exhibit high contrast 3D images, the Samsung images essentially go black if the viewer lays down while watching TV with 3D glasses. (This puts the polarization axis of the glasses at 90 degrees to the screen, and is not recommended in any case!)

Performing the same test with the Panasonic plasma resulted in a slightly dimmer image, and nothing more.

There’s an easy explanation as to why this happens with LCD TVs. Liquid crystals can only shutter light that is already polarized, which is why each LC pixel element has two polarizers – one mounted at the rear of the pixel wall, and one at the front. Rotating a pair of active shutter glasses 90 degrees in front of the screen in effect acts as a third light shutter and cancels out whatever light remains after the LC imaging process.

Ever hold two pairs of polarized sunglasses at right angles to each other? Then you’ve seen the same effect.

Now, let me state that lying down on your side while watching 3D is a pretty dumb idea all around. The images are oriented in the wrong axis with respect to your vision, and it’s also got to be uncomfortable!(Come on, how lazy can one get?)

Even so, this video demonstrates clearly that moderate changes in polarization angles make images from 3D LCD TVs noticeably darker, so if you tilt your head to one side or the other while wearing glasses and watching a 3D LCD TV, you will experience this effect.

Why doesn’t this happen with plasma? Because it doesn’t use polarized light, just a burst of light from color phosphors. OLED 3D TVs (if and when they ever get here) are also free from this cross-polarization problem.

This is another example of why 3D TV needs to be thoroughly explained to potential buyers so that they don’t run into any unpleasant surprises after the sale.

Alice in 3D Land

Last night, I took my daughter to see Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, presented in 3D at the Regal Cinemas Warrington Crossing multiplex.

Things got off to a bad start when the pre-movie trailers shut down and the digital projector failed to run. The theater manager came out and did a song-and-dance, stalling for time while the projectionist tried to get things running again.The digital projector was a Sony 4K SXRD (LCoS) model, by the way.

About 20 minutes later, the system came to life and we settled back to watch a movie that has grossed an amazing $116M over its opening weekend, despite tepid reviews by several media outlets.

It’s important to note that Alice wasn’t shot in 3D. All of the 3D effects were added later, in post production. And for the opening live action sequences, it was hard to see much in the way of 3D effects using the RealD circular polarized glasses.

Photo Copyright © 2010 Walt Disney Pictures

Things improved somewhat after Alice entered Wonderland and the movie shifted to a mix of live and CG effects and backgrounds. However, the projected image didn’t have as much contrast and snap to it, compared to the showing of Avatar I saw back in December that used a Christie DLP Cinema projector. Black levels were higher than I’d expected, but that’s not surprising – none of the Sony 4K demos I’ve ever seen had really good blacks and low grays.

Tim Burton went berserko with vibrant colors for the Wonderland sequences and those were spectacular to watch.  And the 3D effects got better as the movie wound on. In fact, the most dramatic 3D effect was the closing title sequence, with characters and key credits presented inside a rectangular trellis that I swore was just a few feet in front of me – I even reached out to try and touch it.

The verdict? Alice in Wonderland is indeed entertaining, although a bit slow at times. Many of the 3D effects aren’t all that intense or even perceived. The live action sequences at the start and end of the film are largely flat, and Disney and Burton could have taken a Wizard of Oz approach by leaving those sequences in 2D, requiring the glasses only for the Wonderland sequences.

If you go to see it, head for a theater that uses Christie or Barco DLP projectors. You’ll see a lot more contrast and better color saturation.

Samsung, Panasonic Get a Flying Start on 3D

This past Tuesday and Wednesday, Samsung and Panasonic showed they’re serious about marketing and selling 3D TVs in the United States with some significant product announcements.

Samsung’s press event, held at the Samsung Experience in the Time Warner Center, showcased numerous demos of 3D plasma and LCD TVs.  Content from 3D Blu-ray discs and DirecTV was featured, and DreamWorks Animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg even stopped by to add his two cents to the proceedings, attracting a crowd of paparazzi along the way.

In the LCD line, the LN46C750 (CCFL) will be first out of the gate with 3D support and 240Hz image processing. It is expected to retail for $1q,700 and will be in stores in May. Over in the LED BL LCD line, eight models ranging in size from 40 to 55 inches will handle 3D playback, starting with the $1,999 UN40C7000 and topping out with the 55-inch UN55C9000.  Look for shipments to start in March with selected models.

Here’s the UN46C9000 in action, showing 3D content from DirecTV.

Plasma is still part of the 3D equation at Samsung, and six new PDP TVs are ready to deliver 3D. The 63-inch PN63C8000 sits at the top of the line and will set you back $3,800 (May 2010), while the 50-inch PN-50C7000 can be yours fro just $1,800 (also May 2010).

Got Blu-ray? The BD-C6900 is BD3D compatible and ready to deliver the goods (which is a neat trick, considering that Silicon Image just finalized the HDMI 1.4 delivery formats last week!) for $399. It should show up later this month. Each 3DTV and the Blu-ray player will  come with one pair of active shutter glasses. (Samsung is also running a limited-time promotion with two pairs of glasses and a 3D BD copy of Monsters Vs. Aliens with each new TV.)

On Wednesday, Panasonic unveiled its first 3D TV entry, the 50-inch TC-V50PT20 ($2,499). This set will come with one pair of active shutter glasses.  Larger models will be rolled out as the year progresses, and there aren’t any plans currently for 42-inch or 46-inch 3D models. (No surprise, considering how inexpensive 50-inch glass has become!)

There’s also a new Blu-ray player, the BDT-300. It will retail for $399 at Best Buy. Want the TV, player, and glasses? You can have the lot for $2,900.

It should be noted that plasma TVs have always had the ability to switch at the high speeds required for 3D (120 Hz)..they just haven’t had the correct interface and HDMI 1.4 support. LCD TVs that process at 240Hz can also juggle a 3D signal nicely. (For that matter, so can 120 Hz sets, but the faster refresh rate does a cleaner job with motion detail.)

It’s possible that many of these sets will be purchased and not used for 3D viewing right away, as consumers want to “future-proof” themselves. Considering how few Blu-ray players are on the market, it’s probably not a bad idea to wait a few months until more product is on the shelves and the market figures out pricing.

Here’s an actual side-by-side 1080i video frame from DirecTV.

As for DBS and cable-delivered 3D, you’ll need an upgraded set-top box with HDMI 1.4 support to view the side-by-side 3D content that most networks are likely to use. DirecTV has already stated its intention to use side-by-side, while ESPN is still in the planning stages.

Keep in mind that both side-by-side and top/bottom 3D delivery formats cut resolution in half. Side by side slices horizontal resolution, while top/bottom pares vertical resolution. For a 1080i image, that means 960×1080 pixels in each eye, while the 720p format gets whacked down to 640×720 pixels per eye…not much better than a DVD.

In contrast, the Blu-ray format delivers two complete 1920×1080 progressive frames (left eye on top, and right eye below) with a blanking interval of about 40 – 45 pixels. So you can expect 3D content from Blu-ray to look much better than network content.