Anyone at CES 2014 could not help but be dazzled by the latest 3D TVs from LG and Samsung. The 30-foot LG passive 3D video wall was the first thing to grab your attention when entering the main exhibit hall, overloading your senses with immersive content.
Both LG and Samsung touted curved OLED 3D TVs, and the 4K 3D TV offerings were outstanding. For those who understand the technology, it's obvious that 4K and 3D are not mutually exclusive TV features; they are mutual killer apps. 4K creates a better 3D experience, and 3D makes 4K a far superior experience.
That said, the average consumer is likely not even aware that their 4K TV is actually also 3D. Unfortunately, 3D did not substantially move product sales over the past two years. As a result, to help drive sales, the consumer electronics industry is offering 4K TVs that are starting to appeal to everyday users for home theaters. That's four times the resolution of traditional HD TVs. I mean, more pixels are better, right?
4K, aka ultra high definition (UHD), remained a CES buzzword, but it was high dynamic range (HDR) TVs, demonstrated by Dolby, that really won over attendees. Frankly, HDR was visually far superior to any 4K or even 8K TV on the CES floor. HDR displays a wider range of colors and it's considerably brighter than a normal TV. The whole image is enhanced to the point where it looks "photo real."
I'm encouraged to learn that SMPTE, the engineering and standards body representing the TV and motion picture industry, solidly supports HDR technology. When a 2K HDR image wins hands down over a 4K or 8K TV, it becomes a no brainer that increased spatial resolution (the sheer number of pixels available on the screen) is the wrong direction for TV manufacturers. It's the depth of image data that those pixels represent that creates a superior viewing experience. Coupled with dramatically increased brightness and remarkable contrast, it will ultimately create a 3D experience that rivals theatrical exhibition. I believe that 2015 will be the year of HDR.
Memo To TV Manufacturers: Lose the Automatic 2D-to-3D Conversion Button
Automatic 2D-to-3D conversion technology is inherently flawed. Manufacturers have to understand that the 2D-to-3D conversion button that comes standard in most 3D TVs is not only ineffective, but it also hurts the 3D industry. It does not, as advertised, give the viewer an opportunity to watch their favorite 2D soap opera or game show in 3D. It simply distorts the image to the point where it is unwatchable by anyone with an eye for 3D TV or 3D cinema.
Speaking of inherently flawed technology, autostereo (glasses-free) 3D TV (at least in its current lenticular or parallax barrier format) does not produce an acceptable home viewing experience. Autostereo technology requires the viewer to stand within an invisible sweet spot cone where the refracted images for the left and right eyes line up correctly. The technology works fine as a curiosity for perhaps point of purchase advertising or cinema lobby cards, but other than that it's costly and ineffective for home TVs.
The only autostereo displays that I consider acceptable are single user mobile devices such as cell phones, tablets and laptops that also contain eye tracking technology. Eye tracking is essential to actively adjust the positioning of the visual sweet spot so that an individual using the device will always be in the invisible cone that projects acceptable stereo to their eyes. While not perfect, eye tracking assures that the 3D stereo effect doesn't fall apart. For the home 3D TV market, I hope consumers are not being duped into thinking that glasses-free 3D is either here or imminent because it’s not.
3D TV Will Become Unavoidable In Home Theaters
I firmly believe that the clear winner when it comes to quality 3D experiences at home are passive TVs, those TVs using polarizing glasses that do not require batteries or charging. LG appears to be the clear winner in that category. The image quality of its 3D TVs is outstanding. I have no vested interest in LG’s success; I simply have kudos for the company’s consistent innovation to bring the highest quality passive 3D experiences to the consumer.
To the average consumer looking to purchase a big screen TV, 3D is somewhat unavoidable. Today it's difficult to purchase a big, flat screen TV from a reputable manufacturer that isn't 3D ready, even if the consumer did not purchase the set specifically for that feature. Once in the home, the 3D feature will inevitably be used. And despite what one might read in the media, there are plenty of 3D Blu-rays for sale today of all genres. In fact, a lack of content is no longer an excuse. Furthermore, in the near future 3D content will be streamed to smart TVs, dramatically increasing the voluminous choice of 3D content.
The consumer electronics market is placing the consumer in a state of confusion. Consumers are continuously being given options without the full scope: 3D TVs, passive systems that use inexpensive 3D glasses, active 3D TVs that require more expensive battery operated glasses, or glasses-free TV (despite them being technically being far off). The unnecessary, rushed progression to 4K TVs that have the 3D feature, can befuddle a buyer’s decision even more. What's in store for the consumer at next year’s CES will be the addition of yet another decision point, HDR 3D TVs. Personally, a passive 4K 3D TV with HDR would more than satisfy me, but today I'm absolutely thrilled with my current passive 55" LG, bringing the cinema experience right into my home.
Barry Sandrew, Ph.D. founded Legend3D, Inc., and is an internationally recognized visual effects pioneer and digital imaging expert with more than 14 VFX patents and 23 years of feature film and TV experience. In 2001, he developed the Company’s technology for the original patented digital systems and processes for colorization which he then later utilized as the platform from which he created Legend3D’s proprietary 3D conversion software.
He was previously the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of American Film Technologies (AFT), a pioneer colorization company and utilizing his patented technology, AFT colorized more than 200 motion pictures, 170 television programs and 90 animated cartoons under his management, accounting for over 80% of colorized product worldwide. After leaving AFT, Dr. Sandrew was a founder of Lightspan, Inc. in 1993, one of the largest educational software companies in the U.S. From 1978 to 1986, Dr. Sandrew was on the faculty of Harvard Medical School where he established three laboratories in neuroscience, including the first Neuroscience Imaging Laboratory in the Department of Radiology centering on MRI, CAT, and PET imaging of the brain. He also served on the staff at Massachusetts General Hospital and Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons.