3-D Video Comes Home

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You'll probably still need special glasses. But 3-D movies and other video could become routine home-entertainment options within the next few years.

The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, a New York-based technical society for the motion imaging industry, has established a task force to define the parameters of a “stereoscopic 3-D mastering standard” for home video.

The 3-D Home Display Formats Task Force intends to define standards for 3-D content, distributed via cable, broadcast, satellite, packaged media like DVDs or the Internet.

“The impetus for this is that digital display technology is getting much better at rendering 3-D — without causing headaches,” SMPTE engineering vice president Wendy Aylsworth said.

Aylsworth, who is also senior vice president of technology for Warner Bros. Entertainment, was referring to newer 3-D display systems that use glasses with polarized lenses to generate independent views for left and right eyes.

She also pointed to the popularity of recent 3-D theatrical movie releases, including New Line Cinema's Journey to the Center of the Earth and Walt Disney Pictures' Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds concert.

“We want to take the 3-D methodologies that have worked in the theaters and take that into the home,” Aylsworth said.

Some 3-D content has made its way to TV. Disney Channel was set to air the Hannah Montana concert in 3-D on Saturday, July 26, but the broadcast will use those conventional red-and-blue cellophane glasses, referred to as anaglyphic stereoscopy.

Using polarized lenses to create a 3-D image delivers a much sharper image and displays the full color spectrum, according to Aylsworth.

And TVs with newer 3-D display technologies are already in the market. For example, Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America and Samsung Electronics sell 3-D high-definition TVs that use DLP chips from Texas Instruments.

But there are only a handful of movie and gaming titles that are compatible with each proprietary 3-D rendering technology, an issue the SMPTE hopes to address by standardizing the format.

One of the key challenges for the SMPTE task force will be picking a method that works well on packaged media like Blu-ray DVDs as well as broadcast and cable television, Aylsworth said.

“We want master elements that could go through all those different pipes,” she said.

Some 3-D display techniques use two distinct left and right image streams — emphasizing quality at the expense of efficiency — while others use a single stream and then use data to describe the three-dimensional attributes of objects on the screen.

SMPTE executive director Kimberly Maki said the group is actively reaching out to other standards-setting bodies that are looking at 3-D technologies, including the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers, the Advanced Television Systems Committee and the Consumer Electronics Association.

The first meeting of the 3-D Home Display Formats Task Force, slated to feature technology demos, will take place Aug. 19 at the University of Southern California's Entertainment Technology Center.

Among those planning to attend is SCTE vice president of standards Steve Oksala, who said it's “early days” for 3-D home entertainment standards.

“My goal in attending the task force is to get a better idea of what is coming,” he said.

The SMPTE's 3-D task force hopes to complete a report on the issues involved and provide a recommendation on what standards need to be written within six months.