3D + 4K = Glasses-Free 3DTV?
by Leslie Ellis // May 07 2012
In the stuttered timeline that is 3D television, a new potential intersection of technologies is giving engineers reasons to hope for an eyewear-free viewing environment.
The hope is this: That the extra resolution that comes with “4K” video could eventually obviate the technical difficulties associated with “autostereoscopic” 3D viewing on TV.
Translation: Autostereoscopic is tech-talk for no glasses. With apologies to purists and people who know Latin, it breaks down like this: “Auto” as in “matic.” “Stereo” as in “both.” “Scopic” as in “eyes.”
Those of us who spend a week every January pushing through the Consumer Electronics Show know that so far, autostereoscopic 3DTV isn’t something we’d really want to snuggle up to in our living rooms. Watching it requires keeping the head fairly still. Forget about horizontal viewing, like from the couch or recliner.
Refresher: Making 3DTVs that work sans eyewear is hard because what’s needed is more (lots more) than the two camera “angles,” one for each eye. And, each additional camera “view” divides the resolution. (Relax, purists. I have to do this in sub-500 words.)
3DTV experts have noted that living room-grade autostereoscopic 3DTV could require as much as 100 times the picture resolution of HD.
Enter “4K,” which emerged at this year’s CES as a complete visual stunner. In our coverage, we called it the “lustful, you-so-want-it” technology of this year’s gadget Super Bowl.
What’s four thousand about 4K is the resolution: Just about 4,000 horizontal pixels. State-of-the-state in mainstream HDTV resolution right now is 1920 x 1080p, where the 1920 is the horizontal pixels, and the 1080 the vertical pixels. So, 1080 rows by 1920 columns. (And the “p” is “progressive scan, as opposed to “interlace.” Another time.
Double the resolution is hardly 100x, but still. Progress is progress. Maybe the thing to do in the interim is to start rebranding that oh-so-sexy “4K” to something more 3D-ish. (Some people are already calling it “UHD,” for Ultra-High Def.)
This is all fun to imagine, of course, and timely because 4K was among the showoff technologies at the recent National Association of Broadcasters convention. Glasses-free 3D could easily refresh the category, if it looks as good as HD and doesn’t require a $50-$100 investment every time you sit down and hear a sad crunch of breaking plastic.
But then there are the other realities. Bandwidth comes to mind. Even using the best compression on the market today (which goes variously by H.264, AVC and MPEG-4), a 4K stream requires as much as 17 Mbps to convey, over wires or wireless, to get from where it started, to that glasses-free screen.
One! More! Time! Bandwidth is not unlimited, nor is it free. As it is, we as smartphone, tablet, and laptop users are chewing up bandwidth at alarming rates. “Alarming” meaning 45-50% compound annual growth, in broadband usage, everywhere.
That’s a marathon at a sprint pace. Suggestion: Go do something nice for your bandwidth planners.
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichannel News.