Home > Views > Industry Views > 3-D Heads to Blu-ray Disc

3-D Heads to Blu-ray Disc

Mar 17th, 2009
Panasonic leads the way.

A few weeks ago I shared some thoughts about the history and future of 3-D and its relationship to cinema (in this article here). This week I turn my thoughts towards its relationship with Blu-ray Disc.

Where home-video has been

If you’ve experienced 3-D done right, you know how impressive it can be, and you know how pathetically short every attempt to deliver 3-D on home-video as come to the real thing. In their effort to sell the sizzle of something new, television and disc producers have marketed “3-D!” in a variety of grossly compromised means on broadcast, cable, and disc-type media. One approach involved a handful of DVD titles designed for use with “alternating field” 3-D encoding (480 interlaced) that produced some interesting tricks on older 480i NTSC televisions when used with synchronized LCD shutter glasses, but because each “eye” was limited to one half of the 480 lines (the even-lines field for one eye and the odd-lines field for the other), the jittery 3-D result combed horribly and could hardly be taken seriously. But despite the flaws, at least the interlaced-field approach produced an image with natural color fidelity… unlike the horrid anaglyph approach most commonly used on DVD (and Blu-ray) with the red/blue filter glasses. In short, consumers have been offered every type of 3-D excuse on home-video media except the legitimate full-fidelitiy 3-D experience afforded by real dual-eye polarized projection (you can refresh your understanding of 3-D technologies here if all these terms sound like a foreign language).

3-D’s biggest hurdle today: its past mistakes

The fact that the studios have marketed such sub-standard fare as “3-D” on the disc cover attests to the majority of consumers who are ignorant about how breathtaking real 3-D can be and how willing they are to tolerate headache-inducing pictures to make the kids happy with a first-time novelty. But the industry has done itself a disservice from false advertising: by repeatedly disappointing viewers with over-hyped 3-D products (stooping so low as to even project anaglyph pictures in the theater), they’ve essentially “Cried Wolf” a few too many times on the 3-D front. At this point the minute you say “3-D”, Walmart shoppers and home-theater aficionados alike usually roll their eyes, recall some lackluster memory of trying to make it all the way through some 3-D film that they had expected to impress, and the conversation is over. Even if today someone waved a wand and brought the perfect 3-D home-video delivery technology to market at a reasonable price, convincing consumers to take it seriously would be almost impossible.

Change is coming

Getting consumers who have already formed a negative impression of 3-D to experience the real thing to whet their appetite is the first challenge to paving the way for 3-D on Blu-ray Disc.

The good news is that this is exactly what is slowly starting to happen. The developing trend with theaters offering high-quality polarized 3-D digital projection for virtually every new computer-animated feature (and a few non-CGI works like Coraline) is gradually going to accomplish this first step of establishing consumers' faith in the 3-D concept. As more and more folks walk out of digital 3-D features with enthusiasm and share their experience with their friends who in turn test the 3-D waters for themselves, over the next few years the public’s impression of “3-D” will move from overridingly negative to resoundingly positive. That will create incentive that can support what those of us who love real 3-D have been waiting for: full-fidelity 3-D 1080p delivery on Blu-ray Disc.

And the Blu-ray Disc association, studios, and hardware manufacturers are ready to catch that wave. In his January report from CES, Bill Hunt had this to say about what he saw from several hardware manufacturers:

“On the 3-D front, there were in-booth demonstrations of 3-D HD from LG, Samsung, Sony and Panasonic on the show floor. All of them were fairly impressive, though it should be noted that all were technical demonstrations, requiring special plasma and LCD displays or projectors, and also requiring the viewer to wear glasses (either shuttered or with polarized lenses). It's clear that there are a variety of technologies being explored for 3-D HD, but most of the demos were actually driven by Blu-ray Disc players. The demo material was a mix of film (U2 3D), CG animation (Bolt) and other sources. At the BDA press event yesterday, it was revealed that the BDA is currently evaluating all the different approaches to 3-D on the format, and will be working with the various manufacturers to pick the best one.”

Will they screw it up again?

If LG has their way, they’d like to milk you for a few more dollars marketing another badly conceived 3-D gimmick that will likely be the final straw for many consumers ever considering 3-D again (read about LG’s plan to piss off enthusiasts with fake 3-D from 2-D sources here). While there's nothing wrong with the idea of offering synthesized 3-D from traditional 2-D sources as an extra option for devices capable of delivering real 3-D natively, trying to market synthesized 3-D system as "3-D" on its own will only reinforce the public's disdain for the false promises surrounding the label even more. This pivotal time of formulating specifications and standards for delivering 3-D on Blu-ray Disc is the most critical period. The danger right now is that to make things easier for themselves in the short-term, some hardware and display manufacturers are going to put pressure on the BDA to agree to a compromised approach that could derail the widespread adoption of a proper standard. Some groups may even attempt to go it alone without industry support (remember the chos that happened the last time a manufacturer tried to do that? hint: Toshiba) without regard to the consequences. More now than ever, it’s important for the film and home-theater communities to generate some pressure of their own and ensure we get what we and our films deserve: full stereoscopic high definition transparency. If companies like LG have their way, the “3-D!” logo will turn into another overpriced gimmick that doesn’t deliver, and this time it could kill the consumer’s willingness to invest in 3-D for good. As Paul Laio from Panasonic says so succinctly in the article mentioned just prior:

“Liao was even blunter in his view of LG's approach. "It could kill 3-D," he said. He characterized interim 3-D -- anything short of 3-D full 1080 HD -- as another gimmick. The gimmicky nature of 3-D movies is what killed 3-D in the 1950’s.” Agreed.

What the home-theater community, and our films, deserve with 3-D on Blu-ray Disc:

  1. An encoding/decoding process that preserves the full 1080p resolution of each eye at the content’s native frame-rate (typically 1080p24 for each eye). It doesn't matter how it's literally stored on the disc as long as you get out what you put in: two discrete full-fidelity 1920 x 1080p images each in 1080p24 (up to 1080p60).
  2. Dual-HDMI output on all playback hardware enabling one to send each discrete 1080p24 or 1080p60 left/right image via its own HDMI carrier to drive dual-projection with polarized filters (the holy grail of 3-D reproduction) or any other type of optimized 3-D system. This is the ultimate “future proof” protocol and it is an absolutely essential requirement for all 3-D players.
  3. Video compression that provides fidelity for each discrete eye image that equals or exceeds current 2-D Blu-ray capability.
  4. All of the above along with enough bandwidth to spare for 7.1 24-bit/96 kHz lossless audio.
  5. A toolkit of packaged software solutions enabling all 3-D BD players to easily configure the native stereoscope video signals into a variety of supported video formats (such as a single 1080i60 or 1080p60 stream over a single HDMI carrier) for use with synchronized LCD shutter glasses and 3-D enabled HD displays.

Thankfully, there are voices in the industry that give a damn and want to do it right. Panasonic has been leading the parade for incorporating 3-D encoding and playback capability in Blu-ray products and full fidelity stereoscopic HD is just what the doctor ordered. From EE Times, Yunko Yoshida writes: “Meanwhile, Panasonic is pushing "3-D full 1080p HD," with no compromise. Paul Liao, chief technology officer of Panasonic North America, said Panasonic's proposed 3-D TV standard is using MPEG's Multiview Video Coding (MVC). While Panasonic is adding a few things to MVC to fill in the gap, "the bulk of the work is already done," said Liao. "If we wanted, we wouldn't have had to wait until next year." Panasonic is planning on the introduction of 3-D Blu-ray and 3-D TV in 2010.”

Praise be to Panasonic.

As for delivery to your display, in this quote from HomeMediaMagazine Chris Tribbey explains: “Panasonic’s solution revolves around adding a second HDMI channel for hardware and software, allowing for left- and right-eye video streams.” That’s a good sign because it suggests that whatever encoding system might be employed, a discrete 1080p24 (or 1080p60) right and left eye image could be retrieved from the disc and output via its own dedicated HDMI carrier. This is absolutely critical to allow the highest quality 3-D experience with polarized filters. Displaying images via Polarized light takes a little more effort on the equipment side (it generally needs two projectors) but the results are well worth the effort for serious 3-D enthusiasts (and price won’t always be an obstacle as the cost of consumer 1080p projectors continues to fall as the image quality continues to improve).

And for consumers who’d prefer a slightly lower tier but more convenient 3-D approach, any system that starts with two discrete full-fidelity 1080p images could easily be made to marry the two via a single HDMI carrier in “matrixed” or interlaced form for a variety of television scan-rates that could be synchronized with LCD shutter glasses (read here about a very cool though slightly-compromised solution sending the 3-D stream via a single HDMI as 1080i60 to a display). The beauty of building a 3-D architecture that can store and deliver full fidelity 1080p24 discrete left/right images is that the output stream could be easily tailored in any way you need at any frame rate over any type of carrier. Heck, even on-the-fly color coding for use with those horrible anaglyph red/blue glasses for folks who don’t want to spend any money to upgrade to a 3-D ready display would be just a menu-click away. Win-Win-Win.

How quickly will it get here?

Susan Ault writes in her article at VideoBusiness:

“Eisuke Tsuyuzaki, Panasonic VP of corporate development and general manager of its Blu-ray Group, says he believes the company will simultaneously launch a 3D-enabled TV display and Blu-ray player in 2010. That rollout also would be supported by available 3D content, potentially hailing from Panasonic’s own recently launched 3D Blu-ray authoring facility at its Hollywood headquarters.”

For this to really work, the BDA would need to adopt Panasonic’s or other full-fidelity proposal and the industry would need to back the move to create unity among content providers and hardware solutions. The BDA is considering all good options to try to make that happen, and while the exact timing of an agreed-upon 3-D protocol isn't known, the writing is on the wall. 3-D is coming to Blu-ray Disc, and soon.

Comments (0)

Leave a comment

smaller | bigger