Whatever your thoughts about the movie, there's no doubt that the 3D Blu-ray of James Cameron's Avatar is an entirely awesome home cinema experience. Its 3D images are for us the crispest, most effective and just plain flawless yet committed to disc. But have you ever stopped to wonder just how that quality got from the silver screen of your local cinema onto a disc tucked inside your Blu-ray player?
It's certainly something we've found ourselves pondering while using the disc as a test sequence during our hardware reviews. So when TrustedReviews received an invite to visit the birthplace of the Avatar 3D Blu-ray, Panasonic's Hollywood Laboratory (PHL) in Los Angeles, it took all of a nanosecond for us to say 'hell, yes'. Especially as the Labs just so happen to lie within spitting distance of Universal Studios and their attendant theme park...
Arriving at the PHL is a surprisingly calming experience. The suitably modern building is remarkably unassuming for a town and an industry not usually associated with subtlety or modesty. And it nestles next to a thoughtful splash of nature in the form of a little pond surrounded by trees that aptly enough (given Panasonic's heritage) feels like an American attempt at a Japanese garden.
Entering the building quickly reminds you of its high-tech reality, though, as youre bombarded in the small entrance corridor by industry awards, 3D camera displays, and, inevitably, big cardboard cut-outs of Avatar's Naâ-vi characters alongside a big TV showing a testimonial from Avatar producer Jon Landau about why he likes Panasonic's 3D kit and the PHL so much!
From here we were ushered in to the PHL's rather impressive 3D screening room - complete with a 3D-capable digital cinema projection rig of ridiculously high quality - and shown a number of presentations to give us an understanding of why and how the PHL operates.
One of the first things to become apparent from these presentations is that we haven't just been invited to the PHL on a whim; in fact our trip has been arranged to celebrate the official opening of the PHL's 3D Innovation Centre. This has been created to cultivate relationships with the Hollywood film community; to develop "a synergy of products, contents and technologies based on PHL's compression and standardisation activities"; and to develop promotions with content creators. Stuff like 3D-based special events and the current bundling of Avatar exclusively with Panasonic 3D products.
This last point may make some of you wince given the controversy surrounding the length of the Avatar / Panasonic bundling deal. But interestingly, while we'd always assumed it was Panasonic that had created the deal, apparently it was 20th Century Fox that dictated the terms.
It becomes clear from the various presentations that there are three key tenets to the PHL's operations: format creation, content creation and product creation. These reveal just how extensive the PHL's remit is. For instance, in terms of format creation, it was at the PHL that Panasonic developed the full HD 3D picture quality standard now used on all new 3D Blu-ray discs, and honed its compression codecs for 2D Blu-ray images.
On the content creation side, the PHL offers a full authoring suite for 2D and 3D films, taking in the raw original film data, compressing it so that it fits onto Blu-ray discs, and even developing and implementing the onscreen menu structure if required.
As for product creation, this obviously applies to helping Panasonic's hardware division create products across all parts of the AV business - from cameras to Blu-ray players and TVs.