Is Mud Any Clearer in 3 Dimensions?

OK, 3D has a new theme song, and it is “My Name is Mud” by Primus.

Despite some murmurings of a pseudo standard emerging, (the standard only encompasses two of several manufacturers and addresses only one of the many delivery methods), the questions behind 3D seem to loom larger than ever.

Some have tried to lend insight to the technology and the underlying rivalries.  Pete Putnam is one such individual at ProAV, whose articles like 3D: It’s No Slam Dunk Yet  and 3D: Nanny-Nanny Poo-Poo are obviously skeptical, but at least offer some education, although even they miss the essentials in some cases and mis-classify (is that a word?) some of the information.  You can’t blame Pete though, or anyone who has tried to help the consumer or professional navigate the new depths of our previously shallow pictures.

We have a product that has been rushed to market to try and address falling sales, that was not completely vetted out before it was given to the marketplace.  As a result, other manufacturers are having to create bridges from their current offerings to 3D on the fly.  They have to take the quickest path to market in fears of being left out of the equation, or being seen as irrelevant.

3D viewing is not new.  In the broad sense, it has been around almost forever, literally.  Since eyes of some animals moved form the sides of the head to the front, we have had bifocal depth perception.

In the narrower context of displays, it has been around for decades.  So what happened in this new introduction?  It has been said that “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”, so I would counter that “Desperation is the Mother of Concoction”.

That is what we have here, a manufactured demand for a product that has been Scotch taped together to provide an easy path to market for the purposes of generating revenue with no long term product road map. 

For instance, the main reason we have an active 3D system emerging is to eliminate the need to change the manufacturing process of LCD screens as it currently sits.  Add an emitter with a frame sync and a 3D input to a 2D display, and you now have the ability to make it a 3D set on the assembly line.  So what if it means glasses are $150+, or you have viewable angle issues with the emitters, or that you are strobing peoples eyes 240 times per second.  What does it matter that there is little content to watch, and that even the content being made available will sacrifice color, contrast, viewing angle, and resolution in most cases (Broadcast, Cable, and Satellite don’t currently have the infrastructure to supply 1080p in 3D)?

New products should offer advantages over older technologies to keep the bar rising.  Truth be told, true passive 3D systems, with dual projectors using polarizing filters, and displayed on a silver screen are still just as good as any of the new technology.  Hence Runco’s move to adopt that format.  Use circular polarization to mitigate issues with people tilting their heads and losing the picture, and then you can use passive (inexpensive) glasses that are light weight, don’t require batteries, and don’t strobe your vision.

Any reintroduction of 3D should be an improvement on that.  Proponents of the active technology argue that set-up is easier in the new 3D systems.  How is that good for us as integrators again?  Make it easy enough that the homeowner can do it, that’s a great idea!  Who needs us?  As for being easier, I propose that may not be the case anyway when you consider 3D vs. 3D ready, different communication standards between brands on syncing the glasses, battery replacement, emitter placement for large rooms or wide viewing angles, DLP link vs IR for glasses syncing, etc.  Easy huh?

There was a much better road map for 3D here that could have been developed.  But I’m not one to offer criticism without a solution.  So here is how I think 3D could have been much more relevant and better for the professional and consumer and more viable for revenues long term.

Step 1- “Passive” Movie Promotion

The commercial theaters are using 3D as a draw to get people back to the cinema and away from their 50″ flat panels.  That lead should have been followed.  (Some theaters actually use an active shutter, but at the projector as opposed to at the glasses side, which at least allows the glasses to be passive and still utilize one projector).

Dual projector passive systems should have been promoted for the home, and 3D Blu-Ray Players, TV boxes, and 2D converter boxes could have been developed to push content to the dual set ups, regenerating the desire for dedicated home theater.

Opportunity for sales: double projector sales, double lamp sales, double HDMI cable sales, polarizing filters, passive glasses, 3D Blu-Ray, 3D set top box rentals, 3D converter boxes.

Step 2- Play the Game

The main proponents of 3D now, when faced with the argument of the absence of any substantial viewable content, usually resort to the gaming applications that can be made available now.

A change in the LCD process to create dual layer LCD monitors would have been a great next step.  Gaming monitors would have been smaller in size, so the monitors would not have been exponentially expensive.  The layers could then be assigned left and right content, again allowing for passive glasses while eliminating the resolution decrease apparent in the horizontal interlacing versions of the current passive glasses 3D monitors.  Gamers who spend several hundred dollars on a graphics card, or multi-monitor arrays, would have been primed to buy a premium 3D monitor at an elevated cost. 

Opportunity for sales: double LCD panel sales, double HDMI cable sales, passive glasses, 3D graphics cards

Step 3- Look for the Signs

Digital signage is a great market for 3D in an auto stereoscopic format, meaning no glasses are required.

The 2D content is much better in an auto stereoscopic display so digital signage is a natural fit.  Companies like Phillips were doing this long before 3D became the new buzz.  Since these are retail corporate clients, cost is less of a factor, and auto stereoscopic could have been developed as the above formats were being utilized for motion, with the ultimate goal being to get auto stereo to a place where full motion HD is possible.

Opportunity for sales: Auto stereoscopic displays, 3D content creation software suites, 3D signage players and servers

Step 4- “Visualize the Future”

Corporate medical and aerospace, as well as engineering firms are using 3D for data visualization and simulation.  Again dual layer LCD displays with passive glasses and the dual projection systems above would be great fits as the cost is not a barrier to entry in this world, and large edge blended systems need professional set up anyway. 

Opportunity for sales: double projector sales, double lamp sales, double HDMI cable sales, polarizing filters, passive glasses, 3D Blu-Ray, 3D set top box rentals, 3D converter boxes, double LCD panel sales, double HDMI cable sales, passive glasses, 3D graphics cards

Step 5- Mass Adoption

With the above taking place in the high end theater and corporate arenas, as well as in the malls and homes in gaming systems, the consumer would have been exposed to 3D and real demand would be generated.  Revenues for the early phases, where margins could have been maintained, would have been used to develop efficiencies, driving costs down over time, and creating a mass market product at a reasonable, yet premium price.  Content would have a chance to develop over that time, and the early adopters would have the kinks worked out, as they are more resilient than the market at large to glitches, and the now ready for prime time 3D, whether in its passive or auto forms, would be ready to conquer the world.

Opportunity for sales: limitless

So am I off base?  Did “revenue now” squash the development of a great product over time?

Chime in and let me know what you think. 

I’ll look at your feedback on my 2D monitor, which you may have guessed, I am not upgrading anytime soon.

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