CES: Stream TV Networks' Glasses-Free 3D

By: Ken Kerschbaumer, Editorial Director, Sports Video Group

Stream TV Networks made sure that 3D TV continued to have a presence at CES and during the press-event day. Stream TV Networks CEO Mathu Rajan took to the stage to show how the move to higher-resolution consumer sets (like 4K) are opening up opportunities for glasses-free–3D viewing via the company’s Ultra-D technology. More important, the company and a number of partners have made significant steps with respect to manufacturing and content deals that will ensure that the 3D format remains viable.

The big accomplishment in 2014 was turning 3D-processing technology into something that can be done via a chip within a set rather than requiring an external box.

Intrinsyc CEO Tracy Rees said his company became an investor in Stream TV Networks as the footprint of the technology moved down to the chip level. Headquartered in Vancouver, Intrinsyc specialized in working with the Qualcomm SnapDragon processor found in devices from such companies as Motorola, LG Electronics, and Sony Ericsson.

“When you want to get into mass volume,” Rees said, “you need something with a smaller footprint that can reduce the production costs, and we were part of a series of efforts to take the technology from a set-top box to something that could be embedded into the TV. We’re excited about the future.”

Rajan noted two important events in 2014 for Stream TV Networks: the building of a bonding facility in Wuxi, China, that can create glasses-free devices with the help of Pegatron, a $29 billion company that will oversee bonding as well as the supply chain for different brands. The use of 4K panels greatly solves some of the issues with respect to resolution and viewing angles that plagued glasses-free 3D on 1080p panels.

“We have been waiting for 4K panels as they have 8 million pixels and we can use those extra pixels to create depth and separation of images for glasses-free–3D viewing,” said Rajan. “The goal is to have glasses-free–3D viewing in sets as a feature and then to supply additional content for the consumer.”

Chinese 4K-set manufacturers Skyworth and Konka (Skyworth accounts for 70% of 4K-set sales in China) will roll out sets incorporating the Ultra-D technology, and Hisense and PDC, a joint effort of Panasonic and Mitsubishi, are also committed to the format. Izon similarly has committed to the format, and Inception Digital, a digital-signage company, sees potential as the format increases sales and viewer retention. Attention increases 45% in 3D vs. 2D, and there is also a 30% increase in sales when 3D signage is used, according to Inception Digital CEO Doug Mack.

“We are working with ad agencies every day and showing them the 3D digital signage, and there is tremendously positive feedback,” said Mack. Testing is ongoing with four of the top seven hotel chains in the world, two of the largest travel agencies in the U.S., six retail stores with 26,000 locations, and five restaurant chains with 2,000 locations. So, with respect to 3D digital signage, there could, in fact, be bullish days ahead.

Izon CTO Dominic Crain said his company began eight years ago doing 2D-to-3D conversions of theatrical movies like Gulliver’s Travels and Narnia.

Alongside 3D theatricals, there is a growing business around 3D in casino gaming, medical visualization, theme parks, and information kiosks.

“We want to support our clients technically, artistically, and sensibly,” Crain said.

In terms of creating 3D content, Bud Robertson, VP, business development, Stream TV Networks, said the company is currently talking to sports leagues and TV networks about tool kits that can allow  native 3D content to be more easily created and distributed than previous 3D-content efforts.

“They are excited because our format is not much bigger [in terms of bandwidth] than HD,” he said, “so they don’t need huge pipes or re-create the entire way they make content.”

An SDK for game companies, for example, allows games to be converted to 3D within 24 hours.

Duncan Humphreys, head of broadcast for the UK and Europe, Stream TV Networks, divides the content-creation market into two segments: live broadcast and postproduction. A key component for content creation is the SeeCube Pro Ultra-D encoder, which handles HD-SDI in and out and converts the 2D camera feed into glasses-free 3D signals, overlays 2D graphics onto the feed, and ultimately creates a signal for distribution.

Humphreys sees a transition in production taking place, beginning first with simple 2D–to–Ultra-D conversion in the broadcast plant and then expanding to the production trucks, where individual encoders can handle individual camera signals, and then, ultimately, to the point where some stereoscopic workflows can be layered in to enhance the experience further.

As for postproduced content, the SeeCube encoder can be used for automatic conversion within the postproduction facility.

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