Posts Tagged ‘Passive 3D’

What If They Gave A Party, But No One Came? – Pete Putman

In a recent AP news story, writer Ryan Nakashima details how, despite millions of dollars in advertising and promotion over the past 3+ years, American TV viewers have basically ignored 3D TV.

According to the story, “…fewer than 115,000 American TV homes are tuned in to 3D at any given time. That’s less than a hundredth of the 20.2 million-strong audience that watched television’s highest-rated show, NCIS, this week.”

The AP story details that The Nielsen Company can’t capture any significant data about the viewing preferences of this tiny group of viewers. It would also explain the complete lack of ‘buzz’ about Panasonic’s August 3D TV coverage of the 2012 Olympics.

Audience indifference to 3D TV is why DirecTV turned n3D, its barely two-year-old 24-hour 3D channel, into a part-time 3D network, carrying only the rare original 3D broadcast. And it also resulted in AT&T’s U-Verse system dropping ESPN 3D from its channel lineup, citing the high $10 monthly cost for the full ESPN package of channels.

Tom Morrod, an analyst with research firm HIS (formerly iSuppli), was quoted as saying, “There’s very little direct consumer demand for 3-D. They don’t see a value with it. Consumers associate value right now with screen size and very few other features.” That observation, along with consumer disdain for 3D TV, has been backed up by numerous consumer preference surveys. The demand for larger, cheaper TVs above all else is mirrored in Canada and the United Kingdom.

Last November, the Leichtman Research Group polled 1,300 viewers who had watched 3D TV. Of that group, 38 percent rated 3D TV ‘poor,’ as opposed to just 8 percent who rated it excellent. Those numbers have been pretty consistent in several polls since the first 3D TVs came to market in early 2009.

A story that appeared on the CIO Asia Web site earlier this week, offering preview coverage of the annual CEATEC trade show in Japan, stated that “…TV makers appear to be shifting away from years of emphasis on 3D, a technology that has failed to capture the imagination of consumers, even as an value-added offering.”

The emphasis was on the emerging crop of 4K TVs from Sony, LG, JVC, Toshiba, and others. In the story, analyst Keita Wakabayashi at Mito Securities stated that “TV makers weren’t able to use 3D to boost the prices of their sets, so it has just become a drag on their profits. 4K technologies have much more appeal, though at current prices just for the wealthy.”

This inability to capture any premium for 3D means that support for the format will just become a standard feature in most TVs that can be accessed through the user menu. What’s not clear is whether TV manufacturers will continue to supply active shutter or passive 3D eyewear with new TVs to take advantage of that function.

My thinking is that, in an era of squeezed profit margins and red ink, they won’t for much longer. 3D glasses will transition to an accessory item as manufacturers shift their focus to raising consumer awareness of 4K TV. Currently, the latter sets are quite expensive, hovering in the range of $20,000 right now. That’s about what a 50-inch plasma TV cost in the late 1990s.

But we know those prices will come down. NPD DisplaySearch analyst David Hsieh, in a September blog post, stated that 4K TVs will make it to market faster than large OLED TVs and at a more affordable price before long. The yield issues with large OLED panels that have stumped LG Display aren’t a problem with 4K LCDs, even with oxide TFT backplanes still waiting in the wings.

Hsieh states that both AUO and Chi Mei Innolux have shown they can manufacture 4K x 2K LCD panels using a conventional amorphous silicon process, and that a 50” 4K x 2K LCD panel with conventional backlighting is priced at $800, compared to $400 for a 2K 50” panel with slim (edge) LED backlight. He also cites a price of $5,000 for the 84” 4K IPS panel that LG, Sony, and Toshiba are currently using.

Your takeaway? Simply that 4K has a much better chance of stimulating consumer interest than 3D ever did. And I say this knowing full well that (a) there is no 4K content currently available for home viewing, (b) the infrastructure to deliver it over Internet connections doesn’t exist at present, and (c) the early crop of 4K TVs and projectors are just too expensive for the masses for now.

4K TV has a big advantage over 3D, though. It provides an immersive, life-like viewing experience that you don’t need glasses to enjoy, even if you have an eye disorder like 20+% of the U.S. population does. 4K is scalable across a wide range of screen sizes, from 24” on up. All of the mainstream projector technologies (HTPS LCD, DLP, and LCoS) already support it, as do the mainstream direct-view platforms – LCD and plasma. And OLED will, too – when it gets out of the starting gate.

From the content side, there are demonstrable advantages to those who choose to shoot, edit, and finish productions in 4K; particularly with live sporting events and concerts. One 4K camera can cover a wider range of the field and stage, and downstream image processing is used to ‘extract’ multiple 2K segments of the captured images for replays and cutaway views – resulting in a savings in equipment and labor costs. (This approach has already been shown by NHK using 8K cameras).

Those advantages, coupled with more affordable pricing, will drive 4K acquisition and production. That, in turn, will stimulate solutions to home delivery of 4K content, which will consequently light the fire under consumers for 4K TV demand. And all of those underlined qualifiers I listed three paragraphs back will disappear.

This won’t happen overnight – HDTV took 6+ years to become a mainstream production and viewing format – but it will happen. DisplaySearch is currently forecasting that 4K will account for 2% of LCD TVs in 2017 – five years from now – and 22% of the 50”+ TV market.

Most importantly, 4K TVs don’t have to contend with nearly four years of active vs. passive vs. autostereo format wars, battery-operated shutter glasses, film-patterned retarders, critical viewing angles, and half-resolution frame-compatible content; issues that have haunted 3D TV and turned off consumers.

No wonder there are all those empty chairs, unused party favors, and stale slices of cake over at the 3D TV party…

 

This story originally appeared in Display Daily 10/15/12.

Product Review: A Tale of Two (3D) Televisions

The great 3D TV debates continue as 2011 winds down. “Active 3D is best!” cries one group. “No, passive 3D is better!” replies another. “Don’t jump in yet, wait for autostereo TVs!” warns yet another group.

 

Here are the facts. At present, there are a handful of manufacturers of active 3D TVs, including market leaders Samsung, Panasonic, and Sony. On the other side of the street, we have passive 3D TVs available from LG, Toshiba, and Vizio.

 

There are other companies playing in the 3D space to a lesser degree, including Sharp (active 3D) and JVC (passive 3D). And Toshiba is trying to be all things to all people, supporting a few active models and also announcing that they will bring a 55-inch autostereo TV to the Japanese market this fall.

 

All of this back-and-forth volleying is accomplishing one thing, if nothing else: It’s confusing the heck out of potential buyers. No one wants to sink a few thousand dollars into a 3D TV system and realize belatedly that they picked the wrong horse in the race.

 

Problem is; no one can say for certain which horse will win that race. Active 3D has its detractors for using expensive, battery-operated glasses that can create eye fatigue in certain individuals from flicker. However, an active 3D TV delivers all 1920×1080 pixels for every video frame in both 2D and 3D mode. And there are no patterned barriers attached to the screen surface to affect 2D viewing.

 

Passive 3D has simplicity and lower cost going for it – you can use the same circularly-polarized glasses you brought home from the local Cineplex – but presents a visible artifact in the form of horizontal patterned film retarder lines when watching 3D content and sitting closer than 2x the screen diagonal. And passive 3D TVs have very narrow ‘usable’ viewing angles, compared to active 3D TVs.

 

As for autostereo, let’s just say right now that it’s not really ready for prime time yet, based on what I saw at CES 2011 in the Toshiba booth. The appeal of glassless 3D is easy to understand, but it makes the design of the TV much more complex. Plus, there’s a tradeoff: The more ‘views’ you have on an autostereo TV, the lower the overall resolution of each view.

 

SEEING DOUBLE

 

In my tests of 3D TVs, both active and passive, I look very carefully for evidence of ghosting, or double images. Ghosting is caused by insufficient suppression of opposite-eye images, and results in double vision (and often, headaches).

 

The ability of a 3D TV design and its associated eyewear to suppress ghosting is called its extinction ratio.  The laws of physics say that active LCD TVs will have a harder time suppressing ghosts than plasma TVs, and that’s because of all the polarizers used in a typical LCD TV: They interact with the polarizers used in 3D eyewear and can cancel each other out.

 

There is even an inconsistency among active 3D TVs. Samsung and Panasonic use dual polarizers in their active eyewear. Sony, however, opted to go with a single polarizer for two reasons. First, the resulting images are brighter. And second, it helps to minimize flicker and eyestrain. But there’s a trade-off, and that is a lower extinction ratio and lots of ghost images with small head tilt.

 

Passive 3D TVs don’t get a free pass here. One set of polarizers is mounted on the TV screen surface (those afore-mentioned film patterned retarders) to work with the other set in the ‘el cheapo’ passive glasses. At certain narrow viewing angles, their extinction ratio is quite high. But at comparatively small offset viewing angles, the double images are apparent, as I’ll demonstrate shortly.

 

TWO FOR THE MONEY

 

I decided to see what the fuss was all about with passive 3D TVs and lined up a pair of 47-inch models to see what they could do. LG’s 47LW6500 ($1,399) is at the top of their 3D TV line and comes with four pairs of passive glasses. It’s a 240 Hz LED-backlit LCD TV with four HDMI inputs (1.4a compatible, of course), plus a host of network functions (Smart TV) and other bells and whistles.

Figure 1. LG's 47LW6500 3D LCD TV

Figure 2. Toshiba's 47TL515U 3D LCD TV

Toshiba’s 47TL515U ($1,299 SRP) just came to market and offers much the same goodies as the LG Set. (I’ve been told it even uses LG Display panels.) This is also a 240 Hz LED-backlit LCD TV with 4 HDMI inputs, Net TV, and one leg up on the LG set: It’s equipped with the new InstaPort HDMI connector. That means fast switching between HDMI sources.

 

To be honest, there’s not a whole lot of difference between the two TVs. The LG scans TV channels faster; the Toshiba changes inputs faster. Both TVs have multifunction remotes, but the Toshiba remote is far more complicated and difficult to use. There are just too many small buttons, and the navigation mousedisk is mounted coaxially inside a second navigation ring, which also has four pushbuttons on it. You can’t use this remote easily even with the lights on.

 

The LG remote is FAR more user-friendly, with big, white buttons, large blue volume and channel controls, and a simpler mousedisk for navigating through menus. In addition, the LG’s 3D on/off button is nestled between the volume and channel rocker switches and clearly marker “3D” in bright red. In contrast, it took me a while to find the 3D mode button on the Toshiba – it’s part of a row of four tiny black buttons near the bottom of the remote.

Figure 3. Which remote would you rather use? And can you find the 3D buttons?

Figure 4. Here they are!

MENUS AND ADJUSTMENTS

 

The menus on both TVs leave a bit to be desired. Toshiba’s menus appear as rotary icons near the bottom of the screen. You scroll (spin, rotate) left or right to bring up the desired menu, then hit select and start making your choices or adjustments. It’s a bit different than the usual horizontal bar menus, but you’ll get used to it quickly enough.

 

On the LG set, pressing the Home button brings up a master screen that shows Smart TV icons, a settings icon, and an input icon. Whatever you’re watching on screen is reduced to a small window. You then have to navigate to the ‘Settings’ button and select it to get into any menus. It’s slightly annoying, but you shouldn’t have to adjust it very much.

 

I usually go into more detail about menu settings here. Suffice it to say that both TVs give you a full range of adjustments over images, with the exception of 3D. The 47LW6500 has two ISF Expert modes in addition to Intelligent (ambient light sensing), Vivid, Standard and Cinema presets, and you can get the TV’s white balance very close to the BT.709 target of 6500 degrees pretty easily. Ditto the 47TL515U, which also has an ‘expert’ mode for calibration, and offers two Movie modes, Sports, and Autoview (ambient light sensing) presets.

 

As mentioned earlier, both TVs offer 240 Hz scanning and de-judder circuits that can convert a film look to live video, along with automatic contrast, adjustable gamma, and black level settings. All routine stuff and all things you should shut off if you want to calibrate either TV to work at its best. The digital noise reduction circuits are handy if you are viewing video content that has been over-compressed. That shouldn’t be much of a problem with HDTV programs, but is quite common with standard-definition programming.

 

TUNING THEM UP

 

What I was interested in seeing was how well each TV worked in 2D mode after calibration, and what happened to image quality when 3D mode was selected. Here’s where the biggest difference was found between the two TVs – the 47LW6500 will not let you make ANY adjustments or access any menus in 3D mode, while the 47TL515U will. And if you think that’s not such a big deal, have I got some histograms for you…

Figure 5a. Here's the gamma curve for the 47LW6500 after calibration - a beautiful 2.31 arc.

Figure 5b. And here's the corresponding after-calibration 2.44 curve on the 47TL515U.

Figure 5a shows the final gamma curve for the Toshiba, while 5b shows the LG gamma after calibration. Both curves are consistent coming out of black and mimic the performance of a CRT. Where things get dicey is when 3D mode is switched on. The LG TV switches to a much brighter image with higher black levels and an S-curve gamma, which measures approximately 1.5 – and there not a thing you can do to fix it.

 

On the other hand, the Toshiba set exhibited a remarkably consistent gamma after its 3D mode was turned on, with a curve similar to 2D mode that measured 2.36. AND you can go back into the menu and tweak it if you want to.

Figure 6a. Yikes! What happened to the LG's gamma performance?

Figure 6b. Toshiba maintains its gamma settings even in 3D mode.

How about color temperature? Figures 7a and b show grayscale tracks for both sets in 2D mode, and they’re looking pretty good, eh? But switch to 3D mode, and as you can see in figures 8a and b, the 47LW6500 jumps way above 9300 degrees, while the 47LT515U doesn’t move nearly that high (about 6800 degrees) – and again, you can fix it.

 

This is what you don’t hear about 3D TVs: Their 2D calibrations usually go out the window when 3D mode is selected, and most of the time, you can’t do a darn thing about it. Fortunately, Toshiba does preserve your ability to compensate for any shifts caused in 3D mode.

 

Let’s talk about color accuracy. HDTV content for television and released on Blu-ray disc is supposed to conform to the ITU BT.709 color space, which produces colors that are somewhat less saturated than the full color gamut of LCD and plasma TVs. So to be ‘precise,’ any TV ought to match that color encoding as closely as possible.

 

Guess what? Both TVs do just that, as seen in figures 9a and 9b. LG gets the blue ribbon for coming closest to the desired RGB and CMY coordinates and both sets provide color management software (CMS) to fine-tune the x,y locus of each coordinate. Note that the coordinates shift on both TVs when in 3D mode (why is that???) and the shift is more noticeable on the LG TV, as evidenced by the green, cyan, magenta, and yellow targets.

Figure 7a. The 47LW6500 tracks a stable grayscale in 2D mode...

Figure 7b. And so does the 47TL515U.

 

Figure 8a. Switch to 3D mode on the LG, and all bets are off with respect to color temperature.

Figure 8b. Meanwhile, everything is rock-steady in 3D on the Toshiba.

Figure 9a. Here's the 47LW6500's color gamut. The dark outline is the BT.709 color space.

Figure 9b. And here's the 47TL515U's color gamut, mapped against the BT.709 color space.

VIEWING 3D

 

For my viewing tests, I used a Blu-ray copy of Avatar, played out from a Samsung C6900 3D BD player. Since both TVs use circular polarization in their eyewear, I was able to watch with many different pairs of glasses and saw no difference in the results.

 

First off, 3D images seemed to have more depth on the Toshiba. Can’t tell you why that was, but I definitely noticed it. Not to say that the LG set didn’t do a good job  – it did, but the Toshiba 3D images seemed to be more realistic, especially in the scenes with people gathered around the sacred trees, campfires, in the lab, and in the war room.

 

Color quality was better on the Toshiba for the reasons enumerated in the previous section. It doesn’t jump that far out of calibration in 3D mode. The LG TV does get considerably brighter and colder in color temperature, and the overall picture quality isn’t as pleasing to the eye.

 

Both TVs seem to switch on their motion de-juddering circuits in 3D mode, so you need to make sure that function is disabled completely if you want a true ‘film’ look when watching 3D Blu-ray discs. Look for a menu function that shuts down 240 Hz mode. (And make sure you’ve shut off ALL other picture enhancements like dynamic contrast, auto black levels, etc.)

 

Now for my viewing distance suggestions. I generally counsel people to shoot for a seating distance equal to 1.3 – 1.5x of the screen diagonal, in order to get a more immersive 3D effect. That rule of thumb works great with active shutter TVs, and also holds true for 3D front projectors, but it doesn‘t hold up with passive 3D TVs.

 

The reason? You’ll see the FPR lines, which appear as thin, horizontal black bands. Close one eye or the other, and there they are! In fact, you’ll see them with both eyes open, and it’s like the old ‘screen door’ effect with low-resolution LCD projectors from the mid-1990s. Kinda distracting, in my opinion.

 

So it forces you to sit farther away from the 3D TV, which is exactly the opposite of what you want to do! The best 3D experiences come when the screen fills 50% or more of your field of view, and you’ve removed as many distracting 3D artifacts from outside that field. That’s one reason why 3D works so much better in movie theaters than at home – there is practically zero ambient light and the screens are big, so your brain locks onto the 3D illusion much more quickly.

 

Practically speaking, you need to sit about 2x the screen diagonal (94”, or about eight feet) to minimize the FPR lines. I’ve tested this viewing distance with a variety of viewers, young and old, and it holds up. And that, in my mind, is the big strike against passive 3D: You want to sit closer, but you can’t because of this picture artifact.

 

The other artifact you’ll notice from time to time is crosstalk. It depends on your viewing angle and the type of content, but it is most often seen with titles, high contrast fine detail, and angular objects on light backgrounds. I created a few test patterns to check for crosstalk and you can see the actual results in figure 10a. Both TVs suffer from this problem – it’s a direct consequence of using FPRs.

Figure 10a. Here's what crosstalk looks like on a passive 3D set.

Figure 10b. Here's the view through one eye of a passive 3D image. You can see the FPR lines running horizontally along the walkway in the foreground and across the railroad tracks.

Figure 10c. Here's a close-up view of the FPR artifact.

THE WRAP-UP

 

Did I mention that both TVs make some beautiful pictures in 2D mode? No FPR artifacts are seen here; just full-resolution 1080p images with good contrast and color saturation. In fact, the 47LW6500 is one of the better 2D LCD TVs I’ve tested recently, and the 47TL515U is right up there with it.

 

The devil is in the details, and in 3D mode, the 47TL515U is clearly the better performer. Just the fact that it lets you fine-tune image settings while in 3D mode is a BIG plus in my book. It is nice to know that all of your hard work in 2D mode won’t be lost, and you’ll see some really good-looking 3D as a result.

 

With the 47LW6500, you are out of luck. 3D pictures will be a lot brighter, black levels will elevate, and white crush will be present… and you’ll just have to live with whatever the TV shows you. If there’s any consolation, you’ll get into 3D mode a lot faster with the LG TV ( that big fat 3D button is a great idea) and the Toshiba isn’t as user-friendly when it comes to the remote control.

 

By the way, both sets support all standard 3D formats, including side-by-side and top + bottom frame compatible, and the frame-sequential Blu-ray format is recognized automatically by both TVs. (You can also horse around with converting 2D to 3D, if you have nothing better to do…)

 

 

Is The Bloom Falling Off The Rose for Theatrical 3D?

According to a story in yesterday’s New York Times, the box office take for 3D versions of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Kung Fu Panda 2 is falling far below Hollywood’s expectations.

 

In the past, so-called ‘tentpole’ movies have realized as much as 60% of their revenue from 3D screenings. But that’s not the case for Pirates, which had a softer opening than its three predecessors and is seeing only 47% of its revenue coming from 3D screenings.

 

Granted, the Pirates franchise may finally be running out of steam – reviews of this movie have generally been tepid. But the drop for Panda is of greater concern, as animated movies generally do very well in 3D.

 

The Times article stated that Panda sold only $54 million in tickets from Thursday May 26 through Sunday May 29. That is considered a ‘soft’ opening when compared to the original Panda. Of greater concern is the fact that 3D screenings only accounted for 45% of the total box office, even though Panda is expected to be one of the top animated releases for 2011.

 

Ironically, 3D screenings of Pirates are doing very well overseas, where 3D is still a novelty. The movie earned $256 million internationally in its first weekend of release, with 3D driving a good deal of the box office.

No one is quite sure of the reasons for the decline in 3D ticket sales. Richard Greenfield, an outspoken analyst of the entertainment industry for BTIG, stated flatly that “The American Consumer is rejecting 3D,” while Greg Foster of Imax Filmed Entertainment implied that moviegoers have finally “caught on” to the higher prices being charged for mediocre movies presented in the 3D format.

 

The importance of strong 3D box office can’t be understated. A total of 16 movies will be released in 3D by September, and this weekend’s tentpole 3D flick will quickly become yesterday’s news, especially with the likes of Green Lantern and Transformers 3 looming on the horizon.

 

The fact is; a good movie is a good movie – period. Even the best animated films like Toy Story 3 don’t give up anything when viewed in 2D, and it’s rare that an animated feature comes along that actually works better in 3D than 2D (think 2010’s How To Train Your Dragon, one of the best 3D animated movies ever).

 

The Times article opines that it might be a better idea for Hollywood to cut back on the number of 3D releases as American moviegoers are increasingly blanching at paying a premium of $3 to $5 for the privilege of wearing RealD glasses. Greenfield agreed, stating that the Memorial Day results show audiences are quite happy with 2D, thank you very much, and that too many screens have been allocated to 3D.

 

While it may be too early to declare a trend, the 3D picture has clearly changed from 2010. Have 3D movies peaked? If so, what will this trend mean for 3D TV and Blu-ray sales down the road?

James Cameron Says Half-Resolution 3D Is ‘Good Enough’ for the Home (Updated 4/28/11)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Some readers have taken exception with my description of James Cameron’s statements pertaining to the half-resolution side-by-side and top+bottom 3D formats. Cameron did not endorse passive 3D at NAB; his comments below were limited only to these two frame-compatible 3D delivery systems. Accordingly, I have changed the headline to more accurately reflect his statements.

 

At the NAB show a few weeks ago, James Cameron and Vince Pace announced a new company to assist cinematographers and videographers in the production of 3D movies and TV shows by developing, selling, and leasing 3D camera systems.

 

Cameron feels that in the not-too-distant future, all feature film and TV series production could be mastered in 3D with 2D versions extracted from the digital files. The company has already developed a system for simultaneous 3D/2D production at live events, known as Shadow. It was used during the recent CBS broadcast of the Masters golf tournament.

 

While none of this is earth-shattering news, something Cameron said later during the question and answer period bears mentioning. In response to a question about carrying 3D over conventional broadcast channels, Cameron replied by first describing the side-by-side and top+bottom frame-compatible 3D formats, both of which sacrifice resolution.

 

Side-by-side is used exclusively on 1080i 3D broadcasts, resulting in left eye and right eye images that are anamorphically squeezed into the same video frame. For side-by-side 3D, each image winds up with 960×1080 resolution, while top+bottom images are re-sized to 1280×360. The lost pixels must be interpolated when each frame is anamorphically stretched back to its original size, which is why neither 3D system looks particularly sharp when compared to 3D Blu-ray discs.

 

After Cameron correctly identified side-by-side and top+bottom as being the only practical systems right now for broadcast, he then went on to say, “…full HD 3D would require a doubling of bandwidth, but it’s not necessary right now…you only need full HD for each eye for cinema-sized displays. You don’t need it for home displays. That’s my opinion right now.”

 

You can watch Cameron’s response here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OI8OmPdSfBw&NR=1

 

That comment opened quite a few eyes, particularly mine. Here is the most influential filmmaker of his time when it comes to advanced technology, saying that full HD isn’t needed in the home, and that half-resolution 3D is adequate for now.

 

Really?

 

What about frame-packed 3D Blu-ray discs? I’m sure the Digital Entertainment Group would like to hear Cameron’s perspective on that one. So would any manufacturer of active-shutter 3D TVs. So would any person who just purchased a 3D TV measuring 46 inches and larger.

 

What about passive 3D TVs, which throw away half the vertical resolution from any 3D content? Why would you want to watch less-than-full HD 3D movies and TV shows on one of these sets and just make the problem worse?

 

I would think that Cameron would be strongly advocating for full HD across the board, particularly since one company (Sisivel) already showed a system at NAB 2011 that would accommodate two full-resolution 1280×720 views in a standard 6 MHz channel using H.264 AVC coding. Here’s a picture of what it looks like:

And that is how you pack two full-resolution 1280x720p 3D images into one standard 6 Mhz broadcast...with the help of a little MPEG4 encoding, of course.

The Sisivel system keeps the left eye frame intact; that is the normal 2D view. The right eye frame is broken up into three smaller tiles that are stitched together in the decoder/receiver. It’s not a new trick and is relatively simple to pull off with today’s powerful software and hardware.

 

Granted, ATSC broadcasters do not use MPEG4 encoding. But that’s not the point: Sisivel tried a different approach and came up with a way to handle 720p 3D content without sacrificing any resolution, something that ought to be of interest to ESPN’s 3D content producers who could deliver this format right now over cable and DBS systems.

 

MPEG2 compression systems have also gotten a lot more efficient, perhaps 100% better than they were a decade ago. While it’s not feasible to put a pair of 1920x1080i full-frame signals into a 6 MHz channel, it can be done now with 720p, based on the demos I saw at NAB.

 

No one should ‘settle’ for lower quality 3D if they are simultaneously trying to get the format to take off. There are plenty of sharp technical people out there that are coming up with creative ways to pack multiple HD programs into standard TV channels without compromising image quality. Stay tuned!

NAB 2011: It’s All About Streaming, Displays, and Connectivity

With each passing year, NAB looks less and less like a broadcaster’s show and more like a cross between CES and InfoComm. It’s a three-ring circus of product demos, panel discussions, conferences, and media events that all points to the future of ‘broadcasting’ as being very different than what it was at the end of the 20th century.

 

Officially, slightly less than 90,000 folks showed up to walk the floors of the Las Vegas Convention Center, and it was elbow-to-elbow in some exhibits. But there was another trend of smaller booths for the ‘big name’ exhibitors like Panasonic and JVC.

 

That reflects the reality of selling products that have mostly three and four zeros in their price tags. At my first NAB in 1995, it wasn’t unusual to see $50,000 cameras and $80,000 recorders. Now, you can buy some pretty impressive production cameras for about $5,000.

 

Streaming and over-the-top video was big this year. Ironically, NAB featured an enormous streaming media pavilion back in 1999, but it vanished the next year. The reason? A lack of broadband services across the country that could support streaming at reasonable bit rates.

 

Obviously, that’s all changed now, what with Netflix at 21 million subscribers and climbing, and MSOs deploying multi-platform delivery of video and audio to a plethora of handheld devices. Concurrently, the broadcast world is trying to roll out a new mobile handheld (MH) digital TV service to stand-along portable receivers and specially-equipped phones.

 

And behind all of this, the FCC continues to make noise that it wants to grab an additional 100 – 120 MHz of UHF TV spectrum to be repurposed for wireless broadband, a service you’ll have to pay for. Attendees had mixed thoughts on whether the Commission will actually be able to pull this off – there is some opposition in Congress – but there appeared to be a high level of opposition to the plan, considering there is plenty of other spectrum available for repurposing, much of it already used exclusively for government and military purposes.

 

Like last year, there were lots of 3D demos, but the buzz wasn’t really there. 3D still has a ways to go with its roll-out and it simply can’t compete with the interest in content delivery to smart phones, tablets, and other media players. Still, there were some cool 3D products to be found here and there.

 

Here are some of the highlights from the show.

Is that an MH receiver in your pocket, or are you just glad to watch DTV?

ATSC MH Pavilion – several companies exhibited a range of receivers for the MH services being transmitted during the show from Las Vegas TV stations and low-power rigs in the convention center. LG and RCA both showed some snazzy portable MH receivers, with LG’s exhibit putting the spotlight on autostereo 3D MH (as seen at CES) and a service call ‘Tweet TV’ which would allow viewers to comment on shows they’re watching and have those tweets appear on their MH receiver.

 

Another demo had CBS affiliate KLAS-DT transmitting electronic coupons for local retailers and restaurants during the show. These showed up on a prototype full-touch CDMA smart phone with a 3.2” HVGA screen.

 

In a nearby booth, RCA unveiled a lineup of hybrid portable DTV receivers. There are two 3.5” models (DMT335R, $119, and DMT336R, $159), a 7” version (DMT270R, $179), and a pocket car tuner/receiver that connects to an existing car entertainment center. It will sell for $129.

Believe it or not, this was a commercial for Coca-Cola.

Motorola had two intriguing demonstrations. The first showed full-bandwidth 3D content distribution, using the full 38.8 Mb/s bandwidth of a 256 QAM channel to transport frame-packed 1080p video with full 1920×1080 left eye and right eye images, encoded in the MPEG4 H.264 format and sequenced through active shutter glasses.

 

Nearby, an HD video stream was encoded for four different displays, with all four signals carried simultaneously in the same bit stream. First up was a 1080p/60 broadcast; next to that a 720p/60 version, followed by a standard definition version (480i) and a version sized for a laptop computer or tablet. Both MPEG2 and MPEG4 codecs were used.

 

Red Rover attracted quite a crowd with their 28″ 4K (3840×2160) 3D video monitor which uses two 4K LCD panels arranged at 90-degree angles to each other (one on top, facing down). A half-mirror with linear polarization is used to combine the left and right eye images for passive viewing. Both LCD panels are Samsung vertically-aligned models, and the whole works will sell for (ready for this?) $120,000.

Only $120K? That's a steal!

Volfoni showed dual-purpose 3D glasses at NAB. When powered on, they function as active shutter eyewear. Powered off, they are usable as passive 3D glasses. The whole shebang is controlled by an external power pack the size of an iPod nano that clips to your pocket or shirt, and this ‘pod’ can ‘learn’ any IR code from active shutter TVs.

 

The pod controller can step through several neutral density filters and there are several levels of color correction possible from the remote power pack. (Electronic sunglasses – imagine that!) The glasses use 2.4 GHz RF signaling technology to synchronize with any active shutter monitor or TV. And despite all of the bells and whistles, they weigh just over an ounce.

 

Sony’s 17″ and 25″ BVM-series OLED monitors that were first shown at the 2011 HPA Technology Retreat now have siblings. The PVM-E250 Trimaster OLED display is structurally the same as its more-costly BVM cousin, but has fewer adjustments and operating features. And it’s going to sell for quite a discount over the BVM version – just $6,100. There’s also a 17-inch version which wasn’t operating at the show, and it is expected to retail for $4,100.

 

Up at the front of the Central Hall, Panasonic was showing the TH-42BT300U, their first plasma reference-grade monitor. It’s not all that different from the exiting 20-series industrial plasma monitors in appearance, but there’s a big difference in operating features. Black levels have dropped and low-level noise has been minimized with a half-luminance PWM step. This results in more shades of gray and a smoother transition out of black.

 

In addition, the TH-42BT300U supports 3D playback for side-by-side and top + bottom color and exposure correction. Panasonic has also added automatic ’snap-to’ color space menu options, along with a user-definable color gamut option. When calibrated, it was an eye-catcher. There’s a 50-inch version also in the works, and both monitors will go on sale this fall.

Sony knows OLEDs. Make. Believe. (Nah, it was real...)

Panasonic's TH-42BT300U (left) maps color accurately to the BT.709 color space, unlike its sibling the TH-42PF20U (right).

Hyundai unveiled the B240X, a new 24″ passive stereo LCD monitor. It sports a 1920×1200 display with circularly-polarized film-patterned retarders and supports 3D side-by-side and top + bottom viewing formats. The pixel pitch is about .27 mm and brightness is rated at 300 nits. Hyundai also created an eye-catching 138″ (diagonal) 3×3 3D video wall for NAB, using its flagship S465D 46″ LCD monitor.

 

Sisivel has come up with a unique way to deliver higher-resolution 3D TV in the frame-compatible format. Instead of throwing away half the horizontal resolution for 1080i side-by-side 3D transmissions, Sisivel breaks the left eye and right eye images into two 1280×720 frames. The left eye frame is carried intact in a 1920×1080 transmission, while the right eye is broken up into three pieces – the top 50% of the frame, and two half-frames that make up the bottom.

 

All of this gets packed in a rather unusual manner (see photo), but some simple video processing and tiling software re-assembles the right eye fragments into one image after decoding. Then, it’s a simple matter to sequence the lefty eye, right eye images as is normally done. The advantage of this format is that it has higher resolution than ESPN’s top+bottom 3D standard (two 1280×360 frames).

So THAT's how you pack two 1280x720 3D frames into a 1920x1080 broadcast. Clever, eh?

 

JVC announced two LCD production monitors at NAB. The DT-V24G11Z is a 24-inch broadcast and production LCD monitor that uses 10-bit processing and has a native resolution of 920×1200 pixels. The extra resolution provides area above and below a 1080p image for metering, embedded captions, and signal status. The incoming signal can also be enlarged slightly to fill the entire screen.

 

The DT-3D24G1Z is a 24-inch passive 3D monitor with circular polarization patterned films. It has 1920×1080 pixel resolution, 3G HD-SDI and dual-link inputs, a built-in dual waveform monitor and vectorscope, left eye and right eye measurement markers, and side-by-side split-screen display for post production work including gamma, exposure, and color/white balance correction.

 

Nearby, crowds gathered to see two new 4K cameras that use a custom LSI for high bitrate HD signal processing. The demo used a Sharp 4K LCD monitor, and the cameras were running at 3840×2160 resolution. They have no model numbers or price tags yet.

 

Ikegami’s field emission display (FED) monitor that attracted so much attention a few NABs ago, but was written off when Sony pulled out its investment from the manufacturer, is now back. Its image quality compared favorably with Sony’s E-series BVM OLED monitors, and the images displayed with a wide H&V viewing angle and plenty of contrast pop. It was being used to show images from a Vinten robotic camera mount at NAB, and no pricing has been announced.

Forget the Canon SED, Ikegami's got an FED! (A 'what?')

Dolby showed their PRM-4200 42-inch HDR LCD reference monitor at NAB. While this product is not new, there was a substantial price cut announced at the show to $39,000.  Initial comments from the post production community have indicated the price is too high for today’s economic environment. As a result, Dolby has apparently sold a few to video equipment rental houses for location and studio production work.

 

Digital SLRs are being used to shoot TV productions such as “House” and independent films, and they could use a couple of good monitors with hot shoe mounts. Nebtek had a 5.6” model at the show, as did TV Logic. Both models sport 1280×800 (WXGA) resolution, compatibility with HD-SDI and HDMI inputs, and have on-screen display of waveform/vectorscope details, focus assist, and chroma/luma signal warnings. Embedded audio from the cameras’ HDMI output can be displayed on screen, and there are several scan and pixel mapping modes.

 

One of the more significant announcements at the show – at least, at first reading – was Verizon’s Digital Media Services. The idea is to serve as an electronic warehouse for everyone from content producers to digital media retailers – in effect, an Amazon e-commerce model, except that Verizon wouldn’t sell anything; merely ‘warehouse’ the assets and distribute them as need to whomever needs them.

 

Numerous companies showed real-time MPEG encoders, among them Z3 Technology, Visionary Systems, Haivision, Vbrick, Adtec, Black Magic Designs, and (of all people) Rovi, otherwise known for their electronic program guide software. Many of these encoder boxes can accept analog video (composite and component) as well as HDMI and DVI inputs. The general idea appears to be ‘plug-and-play’ encoding for IPTV streaming across a broad range of markets. The Black Magic encoder was the cheapest I’ve seen to date at $500, while price ranges on other models ranged as high as $9,000.

A Tektronix monitor for color anaglyph 3D? REALLY?

Do NOT let your children get any ideas from this photo...

Tektronix had one of the funnier (unintentionally) demonstrations of test and monitoring gear. A new combination monitor, the WFM300, has a color anaglyph mode where you can see the interocular distance for red and cyan color anaglyph program material. Never mind the fact that color anaglyph isn’t being used for much of anything except printed 3D these days, so what were the folks at ‘Tek’ thinking?

 

Finally, Sony showed they can be all wet but still on top of things with their demonstration of an HXR-NX70U 1080p camcorder operating normally while getting a pretty good hosing. The camera is completely water-sealed and dust-sealed for use in hostile environments, and records to internal hard disc drives and memory cards. The shower ran continuously during the show and the camera never even hiccupped. Fun stuff!