09 Oct 2019

3D’s comeback is inevitable - but next year?

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3D might be coming back from the grave. 3D might be coming back from the grave. Shutterstock

Like the Python parrot, it was only restin’. Far from dead, stereoscopic 3D was always due for resuscitation once the technology for glasses-free (auto-stereo) high-fidelity multi-viewing could be solved.

It still hasn’t – but there’s an inevitability about its development because it’s just so obvious that there’s a need for it.

We see in three dimensions so why not get all that immersive performance into our screened entertainment. It’s the argument which continues to be made by die-hard practitioners of native stereo 3D filmmaking like director Ang Lee. Everyone knows glasses block out the light, not to mention other people, and they’re grossly uncomfortable.

Computing technology is becoming wearable, friction-free (seamless to use is the jargon) and the goal is to make the interface as transparent and natural as possible.

There is a legion of developments in this field, from Microsoft HoloLens to Magic Leap One, but a couple of recent patents by other tech giants are worth recording.

Apple AR

Last month, Apple published a patent for a mini-projector or series of mini-projectors, which would fire laser beams into your retina to create 3D imagery. Perhaps this would have to work with some form of AR glasses which seems an open secret at Cupertino, or perhaps fitted to your iPhone for viewing augmented reality rendered by ARKit.

The patent would seem to fit with Apple’s purchase a year ago of Akonia Holographics, makers of AR headset HoloMirror.

Then, this month, Sony was reported by a Dutch website Letsgodigital as patenting a 3D holographic display screen.

The patent speaks of pixel elements, light emitters and micromirrors with “at least one micromirror positioned and moveable to direct light from the first emitter outwardly from the display, and to direct light outwardly from the display at a second time at a different angle than light is directed the first time”.

It then states: “Facial recognition can be used in conjunction with the eye-tracking of a viewer to identify the viewer or viewers that the images are being displayed to”.

This plan ties in with an earlier patent filed by Sony for eye-tracking and head motion tracking technology so that the 3D image can adjust in line of sight.

Games consoles

Since the patent goes on to say that such components could be used in Sony PlayStation consoles and name-checks Microsoft and Nintendo and other manufacturer’s VR/AR headsets, there’s speculation that Sony is lining up a holographic device for PS5.

Since the PS5 launch is a year away, that’s possible but we think unlikely. The tech simply is too rudimentary at this stage.

RED’s Hydrogen phone and holographic media ecosystem was premature, to say the least and even NHK, the broadcaster which has cracked 8K broadcasting (albeit at huge Japanese subsidised expense) only has prototype of a basic auto-stereo screen. Its Integral 3D Display was demonstrated at IBC2019 and looked like an interesting novelty.

Volumetric content is widely considered the future generation of video where the user can experience a sense of depth and the sense of parallax. Arguably, it is the creation of content using light-fields which is even harder to crack than the holo-display. It’s the reason why holographic camera maker Lytro folded with the brains of the company forming Light Field Labs to concentrate on the ‘slightly’ easier nut of holo-displays.

Naysayers to the whole volumetric video/holographic display enterprise remind us that all the attributes for a completely immersive audio visual experience are contained in current obtainable UHD specs: 4K/8K, with High Dynamic Range; high bit rates and surround sound - no special glasses needed.

Title image: Shutterstock


Adrian Pennington

Adrian has been writing about the media industry for 20 years in a wide number of leading publications. He is a longstanding member of The IBC and ISE Daily teams, International Editor for CinemaEditor, award winning film critic, conference moderator and copywriter of white papers, press releases and marketing materials for a wide range of organisations. He lives in Liverpool and absolutely loves it.

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