Sony, Discovery Working On New 3D Camera

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Las Vegas -- Hoping
to overcome some of the problems faced by documentary producers trying to use
large 3D camera rigs, Sony and Discovery Communications have unveiled a
lighter, easier-to-use stereoscopic camera prototype they believe will produce
high-quality images.

The as-yet-unnamed rig, unveiled at the National Association
of Broadcasters convention here, was built by Sony and is being co-developed by
both companies, said John Honeycutt, executive vice president and head of
international business operations for Discovery Networks International.

Honeycutt delivered a keynote address on Discovery's 3D
plans and some of the challenges facing  producers at the Digital Cinema Summit 3D:
Cinema and the Home at the National Association of Broadcasters conference here.

The camera system will be field-tested in July and used in
productions for the 3D channel that Discovery, Sony and IMAX
are planning to launch
sometime later this year.

Large, bulky and difficult 3D camera rigs have been an
impediment to 3D factual production, Honeycutt said in his keynote.

"The camera technology a year ago was limited to two cameras
bolted together on a rig," he said. "Think about the type of content we create
and trying to send crews out into the jungle with one of those [bulky] rigs.
You can't do it."

The prototype of the new rig is relatively small, but has three-and-one-half-inch
CMOS sensors for each eye with full 1920-by-1080
resolution. It also has a number of features to make it a more flexible
production tool, including the fact that it can use a variety of interchangeable
lenses, and it will have full support for metadata, which is extremely
important for 3D graphics and visual experience.

No date has been set for when the rig will become
commercially available.

The development of smaller 3D rigs was only of many areas in
which the industry needs to improve its 3D production techniques, Honeycutt said
during his 50-minute presentation.

The growing popularity of 3D television sets show there is
"a real audience for this channel," which will be targeted to 25-to-49-year-old
early adopters, he noted. "Panasonic announced two weeks ago that their first
run of 3D sets in the U.S.
had sold out. There is clearly a lot of consumer interest and some of the
analysts have upped their initial numbers of 3D set sales. Some numbers of over
3 million have been announced."

Honeycutt also argued that high quality content will help
drive set sales. When Discovery launched its HD service "we believe we helped
promote millions of set sales," he noted. "Our job now is to get people to say,
‘Wow,' and get in the car and go buy a 3D set. So we have to deliver good
content."

But he also admitted that Discovery has faced a number of
challenges as it moves to ramp up its 3D production. Besides the need for
better cameras, Honeycutt highlighted the high cost of 3D production, problems
with existing post-production tools, issues with metadata and changes TV
producers would need to make in the way they organize their productions.

A major issue for Discovery is finding ways to quickly
produce 3D on tight production budgets and schedules, he said.

"We're not sitting there in a scripted environment where you
have the luxury of setting up cameras, getting talent in place and making sure
the lighting is right," he said. "Our challenge is how do we run and gun on
productions while limiting the amount of problems we create."

During the keynote, he presented several clips from TLC
series Cake Boss that showed some of
the problems that can occur while shooting factual 3D programming. In one
instance, each camera was set at a different exposure, producing a washed-out
image for one eye; in another, glare smudged the image.

To overcome some of those problems, it's important to plan
ahead and to have a stereographer and convergence technician on set to ensure
proper camera alignment.

Such requirements and the need for specialized rigs are some
of the factors that make 3D production more than 30% more expensive than
two-dimensional production.

Given some of the complexities of 3D production, Honeycutt
also called for better post production and conversion tools.

"We can fix it in post is a dangerous and expensive notion in
3D," he said. "We must get to the point where we have confidence in what we are
capturing."

Still, the development of better post production and
conversion tools would ultimately save the expense of having to re-shoot scenes,
he said.

"Spending hours in post to fix something is
economically better than have to spend money on original production," said
Honeycutt.

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