FORMAT WARS have been a staple part of audiovisual progress since the second film was made, but this time round it looks like the whole mess might be avoided.
While we all remember Blu-ray versus HD-DVD and most of can recall VHS versus Betamax and a handful might have been around when Cinemaxcope was battling against a wide variety of competitors, it seems that the current move towards 3D isn't going to fall into the same trap, despite the various emerging standards.
According to Bill Foster, an analyst at Future Source, although 3D cinematography has been around for over 100 years already, this time it's set to take off, predominately thanks to the present level of available technology.
While Foster predicts that there will be something of a content gap over the next year or so, his company predicts that 3D is set to take off and penetration of 3D capable TVs will grow to as much as two thirds of the market in the US and nearly a third across Europe by 2015.
While many might still contend whether this latest trend toward 3D will amount to anything significant, especially beyond the theatre, initial findings show that in the cinema takings are 70 per cent higher for a 3D version of a movie where it is playing side by side with a 2D rendition of the same title, which suggests that the appetite is there, or at least that the novelty attraction exists.
As to why 3D could well avoid a format war, Foster explained that there are two principle formats being adopted today, the first is frame sequential and the second is side-by-side. There are other formats floating around, but these are the two that seem to be picking up the most steam and both have various pros and cons.
In a nutshell, sequential sends out two full resolution images at 24 frames per second each, for a total of 48 frames per second and the glasses are used to ensure that each eye sees the left or right frame accordingly. This allows for a full resolution 3D image, but requires the hardware to do it and double the bandwidth. This is format included in the 3D Blu-ray specification.
On the other hand side-by-side puts both left and right images into each single 1080p frame, sent at 24 frames per second, which is split into two and stretched out by the display, effectively halving the resolution, but keeping the bandwidth requirements the same as a normal HD stream. This is the format favoured by broadcasters looking into transmitting 3D and has the added advantage that a lot of existing set-top-boxes can handle it with nothing more than a firmware update.
The advantage here, Foster explained, is that displays capable of displaying a frame sequential 3D input can also display a side-by-side feed, meaning that you won't need separate TV's or special set-top box converters to watch a 3D Blu-ray or a 3D transmission over the likes of DirecTV - basically if your TV is 3D capable, it can handle both formats.
There are some other issues around the devices, including the use of circular polarized and active shutter glass systems, as well as the type of display used, with some manufacturers opting for a reltively small increase in the production cost of the TV, but which need expensive active shutter glasses, and others going the route of applying an expensive 3D optical filter to the TV, which need glasses that cost just pennies to produce.
But while the devices sold by different manufacturers might be incompatible - that is, you may not be able to use glasses from vendor A with a TV from vendor B - the content should be able to work no matter what display mechanism you're using.
Regardless of whether 3D is indeed here to stay or just a flash in the pan, if Foster is right, and even he admits that nothing is set in stone yet and it could all change, it seems that the media industry has learnt at least one lesson in the many decades it's been around. µ
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