Analysis: Glasses-free 3D
Adrian Pennington, October 1, 2012
With 3D glasses seen as the greatest barrier to 3D viewing outside the cinema, manufacturers are pumping R&D into solving the technical issues behind cheap and quality autostereo devices, says Adrian Pennington.
While it will be several years before we see autostereo screens in the home, take-off is happening in digital signage and will be driven into consumer’s hands via personal devices.
Indeed Matt Liszt, MasterImage 3D’s vice-president of marketing believes autostereo mobile devices will be mainstream by next autumn: “Devices will be shipped glasses-free as a standard. They won’t necessarily be marketed as a 3D product.”
MasterImage 3D has worked with Intelligent Avionics to devise an in-plane seatback 3D screen which it demonstrated at the Aircraft Interior Show in Hamburg in April.
Fellow single-user display developer, SeeFront 3D, provided Daimler and Continental with the technology for an autostereoscopic cockpit instrument in the concept car Mercedes F125 shown at IAA in 2011. SeeFront’s detachable 3D panel is also used by Sony for its consumer Vaio SE series, and the German company linked with eye-tracking specialist Tobii Technology to create a glasses-free 3D version of the world’s first eye-controlled arcade game, Tobii EyeAsteroids.
“We believe that the market for glasses-free 3D will take-off in the personal mobile devices segment as well as in displays in cars and planes, and also gaming-gambling machines,” says SeeFront’s founder and ceo, Christoph Grossmann.
Meanwhile large-screen, multi-view autostereo displays are improving in quality and reducing in price so they can be applied to an increasing range of outdoor signage applications.
“The market is developing as we expected but it is starting to progress a little faster,” says Eric Angello, cmo and creative director, Exceptional3D. “It is a disruptive technology because of all the 2D screens out there, but it is also one to which the market will make a logical transition.”
The most compelling case for out-of-home glasses-free 3D is that the experience attracts eyeballs, increasing dwell time on content.
“While some studies have shown that typical 2D digital signage experiences resulted in an average dwell time of less than two seconds, some glasses-free 3D digital signage studies have proven dwell times of around 10 seconds per impression,” says Angello.
The case studies are stacking up. In the US, Travel Plaza TV has rolled out 350 glasses-free screens across its network of service stations (placing lenticular panels over existing 2D 46in and 32in displays).
In UK pubs and clubs, 3D display developer Tridelity partnered with Ram Active Media to trial live broadcasts of the Heineken Cup and Champions League Finals on a 65in autostereoscopic screen.
Exceptional 3D’s displays have been installed on the gaming floor at the Atlantic City casino Revel and at 36 stores of the El Super grocery chain in California, Nevada and Arizona. The Hispanic 3D Ad Network of 46in screens is sponsored by Coca-Cola and managed by 9D Media featuring ads from Coca-Cola brands, Kraft Foods and Nestle.
LG Electronics promoted its Optimus smartphone with a glasses-free, 3D point-of-sale campaign at 200 stores in nine European countries, devised by Inition and using 24in 3D displays from France’s Alioscopy.
Advertisers are monitoring results. Media agency Ogilvy, for example, features a screen from Magnetic 3D in its New York Digital Lab. Nike introduced its new Lunar Eclipse footwear into India in March with the help of a 110in xyZ 3D videowall supplied by Dutch firm Zero Creative. Pearl & Dean wants to install a glasses-free 3D foyer screen network once it has found a sponsor.
Multi-view autostereo displays have reduced in price from $20,000 per unit to around $8,000 in the last few years. Toshiba’s 56in home tv is available for £7,000 and several other CE manufacturers including Samsung, Sony and Apple, are researching the area. But problems remain.
Parallax barrier technologies – which consist of a layer of material with a series of precision slits allowing each eye to see a different set of pixels – work best where there is one sweet spot and hence are most suited to single-viewer applications. On the other hand, lenticular lenses are bonded to the host screen to provide multi-views and are most common in larger sized displays.
“Freedom of movement can be achieved for single-user applications by an integrated eyetracker,” says SeeFront’s Grossmann. “For multi-view screens resolution and freedom of movement remains the main challenge.”
Most lenticular displays are capable of generating nine views (technology from Dutch firm Dimenco can generate 28) but the gap between each view is not seamless and barely HD quality. Each view in a multi-view screen divides the original screen resolution. A four times HD panel (4K 3840×2160 pixels) with nine views is able to achieve a picture roughly equivalent to HD 1280×720.
Futuresource Consulting’s director and co-founder, Jim Bottoms believes 4K displays will push the price up: “To get mass market prices (for multiview screens) we are probably looking to 2015 at the earliest. Not only must manufacturing costs be reduced to a level where the displays can be sold at a mass-market price, the sets must also be able to deliver a 3D experience equivalent to, or ideally exceeding, the quality of today’s active shutter 3D displays,” he says.
Even when we do get affordable autostereo screens the only content of quality they may be able to show would be animated or computer generated. Acquiring live action stereo content requires a rigged pair of cameras but to create pictures for nine views then nine camera angles would be necessary.
There are other methods. One is to capture picture and depth information from one source camera and then an array of ‘witness’ cameras or perhaps infra-red style imaging techniques which can be recombined in post-production. Another solution is to capture light fields from a scene via dozens of miniature-lenses, as does the system from Lytro. Inition has a novel approach (see box).
Another cost-effective route, but one generally considered sub-standard compared to native captured multi-view, is to convert stereo 3D content.
For example, Dimenco is converting the 3D library of stock footage company Stereobank; Alioscopy is offering a stereo-to-autostereo conversion service with Germany’s Fraunhofer HHI; and Dolby and Philips have developed a codec that is able to optimise the 3D effect from one source for distribution over multiple platforms including tv and smartphone.
Most mind-boggling is a prototype from the Japanese government-backed National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) of a 200in, rear-projection from 200 mini-projectors. NICT is developing a system using 200 cameras to achieve multiview images.
“3D is slowly becoming a standard for AV, though sometimes still used as a gimmick,” says Jean-Pierre van Maasakker, Zero Creative’s ceo. “I am confident that 3D and interactivity is the next frontier of digital signage.”
Inition has devised a clever means of capturing the multiple angles required to generate video content for multi-view display.
DepthCatcher works by shooting objects rotating on a turntable and multiplexing together eight different angles. The software is currently only compatible with eight-view Alioscopy displays but will shortly support Dimenco and Phillips displays.
“This offers great opportunities for point-of-sale and museum displays, breaking down the barrier of expensive content creation and allowing content to be changed and updated with ease by simply swapping the object, “ explained Dowsing.
Although a natural fit for small objects, the set-up is not restricted to them. Anything from a single diamond to a motor vehicle will work if a suitable turntable is used. The software allows objects to be positioned in 3D space and the amount of depth selected via an on-screen control.
Future versions will include the ability to record sequences and create playlists – a feature targeting those with large collections, such as museums.