Lunch & Learn: Step out of the plane: The 3rd dimension is next for consumers with Doug Dixon


image: rivalee, Flickr

Doug Dixon, an independent technology consultant, author, and speaker specializing in digital media, presented an overview of the burgeoning market for consumer 3D devices– as well as explaining the technology behind those devices– this past Wednesday at OIT’s Lunch n’ Learn session.

Armed with an array of 3D viewers, from a stereoscope (invented in the late 19th century), to a ViewMaster (invented in the late 1930s), to the Magic Eye books (popularized in the last two decades)–to the latest in 3D cameras (a Fuji FinePix 3D)–Dixon proved to his audience that 3D technologies have already experienced a long history in home entertainment, particularly in the area of vicarious travel and special events.

The success of recent films such as Avatar, and the 3D-capable and 3D-ready TVs now available in the consumer market, introduce the latest chapter in the 3D experience. These displays promise viewers a new, more immersive way to enjoy movies and broadcast TV at home.

3D technology for movies and television is not actually as great a technological leap as was the recent transition from low- to high-definition in broadcast TV, Dixon explained. Many current blu-ray players will only require firmware upgrades to be able to display 3D images; some 3D-ready TVs on the market now only require a moderately-priced upgrade kit to be able to display images in three dimensions. Existing 2D media will also be able to be ‘dimensionalized,’ and transformed retrospectively into 3D video for those films that warrant this enhancement. For most consumers, transitioning to 3D technology should be relatively painless, should they wish to upgrade their current home equipment when purchasing their next TV.

The glasses currently required to view 3D TV content, however, are a shift from the sort of home viewing practice to which we have grown accustomed. “Glasses are a commitment to focus on the entertainment,” Dixon explained, a dedication to the screen that is at odds with many kinds of TV content. At the same time, the glasses “are an impediment to the social aspect [of watching a movie or broadcast TV at home].”

“HD works for everything, including Jay Leno;” said Dixon, . . “3D works for special events and movies and things like that, so I think there’s a little less demand, a little less leverage you get by going to 3D, but in niches like games, for example, [3D is] going to be very successful.” Dixon remarked by way of example that watching a basketball game at court level was nothing short of “spectacular.”

Dixon outlined the technologies that underlie 3D displays to his rapt audience (all of whom were given 3D glasses in order to view several images of 3D technology done right — and wrong. “You don’t turn a 3D camera sideways,” Dixon pointed out, after showing one particularly disorienting 3D image that elicited groans from the audience.

Inexpensive 3D glasses with magenta and cyan lenses–such as the ones Dixon gave to his listeners–use colored lenses to achieve an anaglyptic effect that simulates three dimensions. Movies such as Avatar used more expensive polarized lenses to achieve a more natural effect. Home 3D systems come equipped with shutter lenses that coordinate with images presented separately to each eye in rapid succession. These glasses, which currently retail for about $150– provide an additional social impediment to the 3D experience at home — “are you going to buy 40 pairs of these glasses when your friends come over to watch the big game?,” Dixon asked.

While the consumer market has so far settled on either anaglyptic technology for viewing 3D content on 2D screens or shutter-glasses and transmitter technology for dedicated 3D TVs, Dixon explained that creating 3D images was something that anyone with fairly basic imaging tools could achieve. Dixon demonstrated the new 3D YouTube channel, and showed various ways of making 3D images with a 3D camera. He also showed some inexpensive computer software for creating 3D images. In all cases, images of the same scene, taken approximately 2.5 inches apart, were used to replicate the stereo quality of human vision.

3D, Dixon explained, is not only for blockbuster films; it can be enjoyed by anyone who owns a decent computer and basic photographic equipment, and it can be enjoyed at very little cost.

“3D is coming,” Dixon concluded, “and it’s lots of fun to play around with. I hope you enjoy it!”

More information about the many technologies described by Doug Dixon can be found at this link to his website, Manifest Technologies.

Links to a podcast from this session have been posted; the podcast will also be available on the Princeton’s iTunesU channel dedicated to the Lunch n’ Learn series. (For more information about Lunch n’ Learn podcasts at iTunesU, click here.)

The next Lunch n Learn talk take place on Wednesday, December 1st. Matthew Salganik, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Princeton will speak on Bottom-up Social Data Collection with www.AllOurIdeas.org, a research project to develop a new form of social data collection.

For more information about this, and other upcoming talks, visit the Lunch n’ Learn homepage.

[Photo courtesy rialee on Flicker.com (Rebecca Cottrell). CC license, 2009.]

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