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3D + 4K = 3DTV Without Glasses?

5/07/2012 8:22 AM

In the stuttered timeline that is 3D television, a new potential intersection of technologies is giving engineers reasons to hope for an eyewear-free viewing environment. The hope is this: that the extra resolution that comes with “4K” video could eventually obviate the technical difficulties associated with “autostereoscopic” 3D viewing on TV.

Translation: Autostereoscopic is tech-talk for no glasses. With apologies to purists and people who know Latin, it breaks down like this: “auto” as in “matic”; “stereo” as in “both”; “scopic” as in “eyes.”

Those of us who spend a week every January pushing through the Consumer Electronics Show know that so far, autostereoscopic 3DTV isn’t something we’d really want to snuggle up to in our living rooms. Watching it requires keeping the head fairly still. Forget about horizontal viewing, like from the couch or recliner.

Refresher: Making 3DTVs that work without eyewear is hard, because what’s needed is more (lots more) than two camera angles, one for each eye. And each additional camera “view” divides the resolution. Experts have noted that living-room-grade autostereoscopic 3DTV could require picture resolution as much as 100 times greater than HD.

Enter “4K,” which emerged at this year’s CES as a complete visual stunner.

What’s four thousand about 4K is the resolution: just about 4,000 horizontal pixels. State-of-the-state in mainstream HDTV resolution right now is 1,920 by 1080, where the 1,920 is the horizontal pixels and the 1,080 the vertical pixels. So, 1,080 rows by 1,920 columns.

Double the resolution is hardly 100 times, but still, progress is progress.

This is all fun to imagine, of course, and timely because 4K was among the technologies shown off at the recent National Association of Broadcasters convention. Glasses-free 3D could easily refresh the category, if it looks as good as HD and doesn’t require an investment of $50 to $100 every time you sit down and hear a sad crunch of breaking plastic.

But then there are the other realities - bandwidth comes to mind. Even using the best compression on the market today (which goes variously by H.264, AVC and MPEG-4), a 4K stream requires as much as 17 Megabits per secon d to convey, over wires or wireless, to get from where it started, to that glasses-free screen.

One! More! Time! Bandwidth is not unlimited, nor is it free. As it is, we as smartphone, tablet and laptop users are chewing up bandwidth at alarming rates. “Alarming” meaning 45% to 50% compound annual growth in broadband usage, everywhere.

That’s a marathon at a sprint pace. Suggestion: Go do something nice for your bandwidth planners.
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Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis at www.translation-please.com or multichannel.com/blog.

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