Reality fractures for a moment when I realize I’m looking at myself in 3D on television.
Tucked away in the basement of the Education Building, Panasonic demonstrates their latest 3D technology by pointing a prototype of one of the first ever hand-held 3D cameras at the small crowd and hooking it up to a 3D ready plasma TV screen. We each take turns trying on the active shutter glasses to look at ourselves in 3D.
The U of S Educational Media Access and Production (eMAP) program were looking at buying some high-definition production equipment from Panasonic, when the idea of holding a 3D demonstration came up.
“The 3D (demonstration) was an added bonus,” said Dion Sullivan, senior technician for equipment services. “The (HD) stuff was for our own group, but the 3D stuff we thought would be more interesting for other people on campus.”
And so a small group of eMAP employees and other interested parties spent part of the afternoon on Aug. 11 learning the science behind 3D and politely taking turns with the glasses.
While a learning experience for attendees, for Panasonic product manager David Craig, it was clearly an opportunity to sell the idea that 3D is the future of home entertainment.
“Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, 3G all want to do the same thing: sell 3D, sell more TVs.”
Craig said the current 3D boom is due to success of one movie. Love it or hate, it’s hard to deny Craig’s claim that Avatar brought 3D to the masses.
“And then Avatar came along and opened the Pandora’s box of 3D. It did something that 3D had never done before…. It made it look great.”
Craig added that the Canadian theatre company Landmark Cinemas have said they can’t build 3D theatres fast enough.
“3D was no longer this quirky little thing.”
Consumers are flocking to theatres to get an experience they can only get there. But the great technology companies of the world aren’t content to sit back and watch as the theatres reap all the rewards. Panasonic’s goal is to make the creation and production of 3D much more affordable than it currently is, and bring it into homes and schools.
The 3DA1 camcorder on display at the demonstration becomes available in September and will cost about $22,000. The price may sound steep, but it’s a lot cheaper than the $4 million needed for a traditional 3D rig with two cameras and a complicated set of mirrors.
“We’re proud of the fact that we’ve now brought 3D to the masses,” said Craig. “By Christmastime our consumer division will have a pop can camera that can do 3D.”
The consumer camera has a lens on the front that splits the image, Craig explained, so the image will be lower quality than standard HD, but this little camera will be significantly cheaper than the $22,000 3DA1. With the cheaper consumer camera combining with YouTube, which now allows 3D uploads, it’s very possible we’ll be seeing an increasing number of 3D videos.
But home entertainment isn’t the only realm 3D has the possibility of expanding into.
“There’s going to be some crap but then someone’s going to do something medical, engineering, documentary, entertainment and it’s just going to revolutionize it.”
Cathryn Robertson, Panasonic regional account manager and organizer of the event, pointed out that the light, portable 3DA1 will bring 3D to areas of the world that couldn’t have had it before.
One of their testers is the Vancouver Aquarium.
“They had it up on Triangle Island, a world ecological site (and) UNESCO site, off the north coast of Vancouver Island,” said Robertson. “(It has) notoriously steep cliffs and they just gave me the footage of filming a puffin colony…. It’s just amazing.”
There are some hurdles to overcome before 3D becomes truly mainstream. Price is certainly one hurdle. A 3D TV like the one on display with one pair of active shutter glasses can cost over $4,000.
Another is the need for viewers to be directly in front of the screen. This means no lying down on the couch to watch your favourite 3D flick, and if you have enough of the glasses to go around, friends sitting on the loveseat to the left of the screen won’t see it in three dimensions.
Still, the educational possibilities is what moved the U of S to host Panasonic’s presentation.
Bill Nixon, eMAP project manager, pointed out that doctors could benefit from watching surgeries in 3D as part of the training experience, and similarly, engineers could view an area they’re thinking of working on.
While the U of S is not currently looking to buy this kind of 3D technology, Nixon said it may be something they consider for the future.
“This 3D HD technology is brand new,” he said. “Hopefully what happens is that they walk away (today) thinking where is the application, how can we use this technology?”