3D is an exciting new feature for the home theater market. For some dramatic movies or soap operas, 3D might seem out of place. But for sports, action movies, etc. 3D makes as much difference as color vs. black and white. And the new 3D technology is superior to the 3D system that has been used in theaters.
The commercial successes of recent 3D films like “Beowulf”, “Meet the Robinsons”, and “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, is sparking interest with the movie studios to produce more 3D content material. Disney, Universal, Philips, Samsung, Sony, Thomson and IMAX are currently exploring the potential 3D HDTV market. Disney said it would begin making all its computer-animated films in 3D. According to Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, all of the major studios have 3D projects under way. There will be over 2,500 theatre screens equipped with the Digital 3D technology by the end of 2009. All of this content will be available to the home theater market. The Big Question: will the 3D market be pervasive enough for major networks, especially the sports subset, to broadcast in 3D?
It will likely be the satellite TV companies like DirecTV and Dish Network that distribute 3D versions of HDTV programming first. 3D movies should take about the same bandwidth as other 120 fps (frame per second) high def movies. The satellite companies have enough broadcast bandwidth to support niche markets (the cable companies do not), and for now, 3D HDTV is a niche market.
“Satellite’s going to be constrained not so much by how many channels they can carry than by how many they can get,” said Bob Scherman, Satellite Business News.
By 2010, it is projected that 60% of TV receivers in the United States will use a satellite signal, up from 15% in 2002.
3D HDTV Home Theater Systems
Because of the high frame rate for 3D, and the need for synchronization, LCD screens are generally incompatible with advanced 3D. However, prototypes by Phillips have been demonstrated at upwards of $20,000, and this technology does not require glasses. The Phillips technology is optically very complicated. Unlike electronics, it cannot be assumed that the price will come down.
By the end of this year (2008), more than one million 3D ready DLP HDTVs, manufactured by Mitsubishi and Samsung, will have been sold in the U.S. The technology functions by supplying a 60 Hz signal to each eye (equivalent to 120 Hz total). These sets can display standard HDTV, and are compatible with 3D material. Some source material is available for download, and Blu-Ray 3D discs are becoming available. “Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert” was the first 3D Blu-ray Disc.
The Glasses: Field Sequential 3D
Special glasses are used with the DLP 3D system. The system is called “Field Sequential 3D” or HQFS (High Quality Field Sequential). This technology uses electronic shutter glasses instead of red-blue lenses we are used to at the movies. The effect is definitely superior. Our eyes see a slightly offset view of a scene. The two slightly different views are combined by the brain to result in our ability to see in 3D. Field Sequential 3D simulates this experience with shutter glasses. The shutter is not mechanical, but instead an LCD filter, that blocks vision when the opposite eye’s view is shown.
A HDTV set with 120 Hz refresh rate is recommended for 3D viewing. The 3D system uses half of the total information for each eye. If we use a TV with a total of 60 Hz refresh rate, it would supply only 30 Hz to each eye, and that refresh rate would be visible (flicker).
When designing a 3D system with previous 3D techniques, we have the choice of either sending two equal bandwidth signals with full information, effectively doubling the signal bandwidth, or sending the signal such that either the horizontal or vertical resolution is halved, one half for each eye. Doubling the bandwidth would be a problem since the HDTV signal bandwidth capacity is already at a premium. Using the same bandwidth as non-3D material means that we can utilize the technology with current HDMI or DVI interfaces.
The alternative to cut resolution is unattractive, since we have worked to so hard to increase our system to high definition, we don’t want to compromise. By using alternate frames for each eye, we see a high definition signal without flicker.
Two sets of wireless shutter glasses, with a control transmitter (InfraRed (IR), the same technology as the TV’s remote control) cost about $100.
“Hang-Ups” Holding up DLP
Many consumers have a fascination with the idea of hanging their new big screen HDTV on the wall, like a painting. It’s worth noting that most LCD and Plasma big screen TVs never actually get mounted on the wall. It is a significant challenge to mount something that weighs 60-150 pounds on the wall, and once installed, it’s a continuing challenge for maintenance (for example, a 50 inch Pioneer PDP-5070HD weighs 128 pounds).
According to the NPD Group, only 13 percent of current LCD TV owners and 25 percent of plasma TV owners have their set mounted on the wall.
DLP is very popular among those who want larger high picture quality screens at affordable prices. For the money, DLP easily provides the highest quality-size value. An LCD of the same size and price will not have the picture quality of a DLP. DLP is also available in larger screen sizes then LCD televisions.
However, a DLP rear projection TV is a few inches thicker than an LCD or Plasma screen. LCD screens are usually 7-10 inches thick; DLP sets are usually 12-17 inches thick. Because of the fascination with mounting their sets on the wall, this difference of a few inches becomes the deciding factor for many consumers’ purchase decisions.
Texas Instruments, who manufactures the DLP chips in a foundry in South Korea, sees renewed potential for the technology, which uses tiny mirrors on a semiconductor. The new LED Light Engine call “Phlatlight” (manufactured by Luminus) replaces the arc lamp and color wheel design of previous DLP HDTVs. Samsung has had their own proprietary LED lamp system for a couple of years. The LED Light Engine will need to be replaced infrequently (unlike the cold-cathode fluorescent lamps that had to be replaced every few years).
DLP HDTVs with an LED engine are more energy efficient than comparably sized flat panel displays, and the lack of a moving color wheel in the design means they perform with less noise. The DLP chip is faster than any other HDTV technology, with the mirrors switching on and off more than 15,000 times per second to deliver a picture without blur for fast moving images such as sports.
DLP HDTV sets are a very smart choice for most people, but be selective. Many of the HDTV sets in stores still do not have important technology, such as LED backlights.
The compatibility of the TV for 3D can be verified by looking for an input on the back of unit, marked “3D Ready”.
Home Theater Personal Computer (HTPC)
An important trend in the home theater is the integration of the personal computer (PC) with the home theater. Integrating a PC into your home entertainment center has many advantages in addition to enabling 3D video. Downloading movies is one of the advantages. The HTPC should have a graphics card with a DVI connector (Digital Video Interface). Both XP and Vista will support Microsoft’s product for the home theater.
HDTV and 3D video is computation intensive, meaning a high-performance computer. For 720p videos, a dual core microprocessor is needed; 1080p or 1080i videos require a quad core microprocessor for smooth playback. Video files are very large (!), so the larger the hard-drive, the better.
DirectX 9 graphics drivers (software) need to be installed, if they are not already present. To find your current version, Click “START” and then “RUN” from your Windows desktop. Type “dxdiag” in the “Run” box.
Software is available from several different vendors; “StereoPlayer” (Version 1.3.4) from 3DTV.at is available. Purchase of StereoPlayer is about $50. While you are at 3DTV.AT also download the GPL MPEG-1/2 Decoder. Alternatives to Stereoplayer include “Dynamic Digital Depth” (ddd.com), “Stereoscopic Player” and “Tridef Visualizer”.
3D technology has become a major force in Hollywood. It is probable that this trend will repeat in the home theater. CRT and DLP work best with 3D technology, though plasma systems are also available. DLP offers the better value for big screens using HDTV, not just 3D HDTV.
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