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3D, Part 2: Take Off the Glasses, Get Ready for Holograms

Next in the revolution — more 2D-3D conversions, no glasses and even an image right in your lap

(See also Part 1: "A 3D Revolution: But Will the People Show Up?")

While the new 3D Blu-ray players and flat screens are hogging the spotlight at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, technologists are already preparing for the next stages in the 3D revolution.

Down the line, that means taking off those bulky glasses … and even holograms (imagine watching Princess Leia’s hologram beg Obi-Wan for help in “Star Wars” — as an actual hologram).

But the first step: Providing more conventional 3D product to consumers – especially with providers like DirecTV, TK and TK devoting entire channels to the format. 

On that front, the conversion of existing 2D programming to 3D is getting a lot of attention, especially as advancements push the price down. And for good reason: Not only would a flood of conversions provide instant content for 3D-ready homes, but it would breathe new life not into everything from recently released movie hits to classic TV series, such as “Star Trek” or even "CSI."

The technology has already been used to convert library titles such as “Toy Story” and “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas,” as well as Disney’s upcoming “Beauty and the Beast” re-do.

“There is a lot of heat in this space,” said David Wertheimer, CEO of the Entertainment Technology Center at USC. “Virtually all of the companies that have great libraries are going back and doing projections on which titles might lend themselves to conversion. It is a very active area of discussion.”

The technique is also considered an option for new productions. Disney’s “G-Force” was the first new title to be made in 2D, then converted.

Challenges include pricing and quality. A year ago, conversion estimates ranged from roughly $50,000 per minute to more than $100,000 per minute, depending on the complexity of the content. As additional companies entered this market, pricing started to drop — although rates still vary greatly as not all methods are created equal.

“You can automate the process, but to make it look really good, it is an artistic process,” Wertheimer told TheWrap.

Conversion techniques also have to create quality 3D that is comfortable to watch.

“The trend is that we are breaking the $20,000-a-minute range,” Joshua Greer, president of 3D provider RealD, told TheWrap. “Sub $10,000 or $5,000 — we can unlock new content at those price points.”
All that may change.
JVC recently unveiled the prototype for an automated conversion box. If it actually reaches the market, JVC aims to sell the system for about $50,000. Total.
This mean that for an investment of $50,000, a network like ABC or Fox could inexpensively convert all its programming to 3D.
And that’s just the beginning. In the not-too-distant future, it might be possible to finally remove the glasses.
Philips was instrumental in getting this dialogue started. Back in 2008, the manufacturer demonstrated the prototype of a 3D TV that didn’t require the use of glasses — but earlier this year it made a surprising decision to abort further development. “Philips probably would have stayed in the game if they thought it was just around the corner,” said USC’s Wertheimer.
Most insiders generally agree that this technology is at least five years away from a consumer rollout — but it is coming.
Marty Shindler, principal of industry consulting firm the Shindler Perspective, told TheWrap: “As 3D TV set penetration grows, those companies making TVs will start perfecting glasses-free products.”
“We’ll see it first for signage,” RealD’s Greer said. “Right now, the content needs to be produced differently.”
Looking further into the 3D crystal ball, some experts conclude that there’s no question that not just glasses-free viewing — but holograms — are the future.
Offering an early glimpse at the potential, the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology in Japan demonstrated a moving hologram at this year’s National Association of Broadcasters convention.
Among 3D watchers, it was one of the exciting and most-discussed exhibits. NICT intends to try to interest the broadcast industry in holograms for home entertainment — although a company spokesperson admitted that this is probably a decade away.
“I think holograms will happen, but it is way out there,” Shindler said. “Just the regular 3D TV market is going to take a long time.”