Jim Cameron set the tone for this year’s NAB convention with a keynote address in which he announced the formation of a new company with long-time 3-D technology partner Vince Pace, called, (don’t be shocked), Cameron-Pace. In their matter-of-fact, no-hype way, both Cameron and Pace described their vision for bringing 3-D content to the home. Their credibility lies in promoting a vision that is not reaching for overnight success. In fact, Cameron says that the success to which 3-D has penetrated the market has exceeded his expectations. He proceeded to show clips of his latest 3-D work with Cirque du Soleil, all shot in Las Vegas. Cameron called this shoot the most fun he’s ever had, and it was hard to believe that the footage was from live shows. You’ll see shots of it on their web site.
Cameron’s ability to promote 3-D is now legendary. But a measure of the actual strength of the 3-D format is the depth to which it penetrates non-cinema media. While some pundits look for consumer sales of 3-D sets, this one looks at the production tools marketed for content makers. NAB showed how quickly 3-D production tools are maturing.
Nothing in 3-D is simple. The need to capture and record stereo imagery is only the beginning. Stereo cameras cannot zoom (without spawning headaches) without perfect tracking of the lenses. Digital mapping and control of zoom lenses were first introduced when stereo cameras were needed for major games, such as the World Cup. Now that technology is pervasive. In fact, as one traveled the show floor, 3-D language, previously reserved for the few geeks that knew what they were doing, was spilling out of mouths everywhere. Words such as “vertical disparity” were commonplace. (Vertical disparity is one of the no-no’s of 3-D images. Horizontal displacement of images between left and right eyes is used by the brain to judge distance. Vertical disparities simply cause headaches.) One could only feel that manufacturers are serious about 3-D, and content producers are pushing them to fix the problems and make it simple.
Companies such as 3ality, which specialize in high-end 3-D production tools, are finding their techniques filtering down to much lower priced products. Teranex, for example, introduced a 3-D processor that could correct disparity issues in live cameras and in post production. They were not alone. While probably not having the same quality of performance as a product from 3ality, the new mainstream products are a big improvement in the effort to produce quality 3-D, and more likely to fit in strapped budgets. We should expect to see such processing reduce even further to the chip level, where it’ll find its way into the camera itself.
NAB is not the show for displays, but one could only feel that this was the missing element for 3-D. The displays used required either shutter glasses or polarized. Perhaps more polarized displays this year than last, if that indicates a trend. No auto-stereoscopic displays were seen, probably because they wouldn’t deliver the quality that the demonstrations required.
All of this is driven, of course, by the demand of broadcasters that have established 3-D channels. Dedicated 3-D cable channels for movies, sports, and of course, porn, are all indicative of the investment that continues to pour into the 3-D format. With pioneers such as Cameron leading the way with quality imagery, there’s high end work against which all others will be judged.