A little while back we looked at the future of 3D in the cinema, covering the movies, the technologies and the market forces that could potentially make 3D the next stage of the evolution of the silver screen. At the time we mentioned that, as with so many other cinematic features over the years - surround sound and widescreen, for example - 3D has the potential to move into the home entertainment sphere. Certainly, the consumer electronics industry seems as keen as Hollywood to see this happen, with most of the major players in the HDTV market having unveiled some form of 3D display technology within the last twelve months. The second part of this feature looks at these innovations, the questions of content and quality, the barriers that stand in the way of 3D making an impact in the home, and the ways in which these new technologies might get around them.
In a way, you can see 3D as the next natural step on from HD in the home, and just as HD needed three issues to be solved before it could take off, so the same is true of 3D. First, you need a display technology that can present high-quality 3D content, reliably and without discomfort, to a number of people within the same living room. Secondly, you need one or more 3D sources that can deliver 3D content to the display, whether based on physical media, IP streams or digital broadcast. Thirdly, you need the content itself. Hollywood and the success of Avatar, Pixar's Up and other 3D movies will play a huge part in this, but for 3D to be a success the industry also needs the traditional broadcast media to be making and distributing content in 3D. It's taken a long time, but HD now has all these things in place. It might take time for 3D to make the same sort of progress.
The display part is where most of the attention is being placed at the moment, and while there are various rival technologies from multiple industry players, they basically come down to three distinct forms of 3D technology.
There are several names for the first, but for current purposes we're going to call it sequential stereoscopic 3D. It's a technology based on the pairing of a screen that can run at a 120Hz refresh rate with a pair of active shutter glasses. The screen doesn't have to be anything particularly advanced or new-fangled - in fact, Samsung and Mitsubishi have already produced screens described as 3D capable based on existing plasma and DLP rear projection technologies. The important thing is a 720p or 1080p resolution, high-brightness and contrast levels and the aforementioned 120Hz refresh rate. The last is absolutely vital to the way the system works.