Archive for the ‘3D TV’ Category

The Velvet Curtain

September 19, 2011

One summer day in 1982 in a giant harshly lit too air-conditioned hall Lhary Meyer and I stood in front of a dark blue velvet curtain adorned with a large sign reading StereoGraphics Corp.  We stood behind a similar dark blue velvet cloth draped over a tabletop covered with our demonstration gear featuring a 19-inch CRT monitor that was big and murderously heavy to pack and unpack and to schlep especially in its godzillan case. We had the smallest booth money could buy and no seniority so we got stranded in a corner away from the main Siggraph action. We didn’t know it but we were showing flickerless 3-D images and the antecedent of CrystalEyes, the foundations of the electronic stereoscopic industry.  We were demonstrating tethered visors with electro-optical shutters through which one could see a stereoscopic image on that big monitor with a small screen.  Getting decent quality demo images was not easy because we did not have customers so we had to scrounge for stereopairs from contacts all over the country; we had stereoscopic weather maps and a random assortment of still images.

Lhary, our vice president of technology, was the first employee of StereoGraphics; there were only five or six of us then. Lhary (his spelling) was a good electronics designer who was self-taught without having gone to college.  He had been the youngest engineer to work at the ABC radio network responsible for the cross country feed. Lhary had a calm disposition and sonorous voice and he wore thick tortoiseshell glasses; although I do not think Lhary and I looked alike people would often mistake us for brothers.  The glasses and the beards were enough; just a couple of hippie anarchists spreading the gospel of 3-D.

We were alone in the hall; that is to say there were no other stereoscopic displays. Lhary and I waited for people to stop by and tell us what they thought of our wares.  Not all of them were polite; a number of people would say things like 3-D! ha! ha! pretty good for pornography or maybe you should have a giant gorilla sticking its hand out of the screen.

No matter what kind of crap was on display in the hall I cannot believe that it was greeted with outright disdain, disbelief, incredulity, and hostility; those reactions went on for years.  But after Silicon Graphics and Evans and Sutherland adopted our products we eventually had a large booth and because of the years of standing behind little tabletops we had seniority so our booth was adjacent to the likes of Silicon Graphics and Sun Microsystems. The mockery ceased. At one time I counted 40 booths in the hall at Siggraph featuring our products.

We looked like one of the big player, and in fact we had enabled a significant industry whose revenue could be reckoned at a few hundred million but we were only a $5 million company.  That was because many people were selling hardware and software-based on our products but we were considered to be a computer peripheral and we could not figure out how to properly monetize the value of our technology.

Lhary died a few years later but he did live long enough to see us gain acceptance.  I did scores of tradeshows after Lhary was gone but persistent into the beyond he stood next to me and calmly answered questions. Now the technology we developed is in use not only for cinemas but also in the home.  A couple of years ago I thought acceptance had come.  The stereoscopic medium was saving the film industry!  There were going to be 3-D TVs in every home! But now I am having bummer flashbacks behind the velvet (probably velour) tabletop once again flinching because of the barrage of articles in the press decrying the stereoscopic medium. It’s a seemingly unending stream of complaints about 3-D movies and television. The movies are dark, conversion is no good, the movies aren’t making money, 3-D TV is DOA because of the need for glasses and no content.

Today when I read what the skeptics have to say, so outspoken in their loathing of the technology, I have visions of the brothers Lhary and Lenny, standing in front of the velvet curtain, taking it on the chin for 3-D.

Remembering Chris Condon

January 3, 2011

I was manning the Super 8 Sound booth at a tradeshow (the name of which escapes me) in the mid-70s in Los Angeles. Set up in one corner of the booth were two Super 8 projectors mechanically interlocked showing 3-D movies on a small screen.  As people came by they put on cardboard glasses to have a look. The movies had been shot with a Super 8 rig of my devising. (more…)

The Decline of the Stereoscopic Cinema

August 9, 2010

The Decline of the Stereoscopic Cinema

My concern in these columns has been the stereoscopic cinema, and secondarily stereoscopic television.  (By “television,” I mean that device that sits in your home that plays Internet protocol TV, cable channels with video on demand, discs, and home movies and —oh yes! terrestrial broadcasting.)  I’m looking at the August 4th Display Daily, which is sent to professionals in the display industry.  It’s published by Insight Media, and this latest column called “Pushing Back Toward the Ditch” was written by the boss of Insight Media, Chris Chinnock, a paragon of conventional wisdom.  In the past month there has been a significant pushback in the press with regard to the stereoscopic medium, and I have to hand it to Chris for summarizing the current print media climate and for bringing me out of hibernation, since this is the first blog (gotta love a word that rhymes with smog and hog) I’ve written in a month.  (more…)


June 19, 2010

In 1980 or thereabouts, a change occurred to computer graphics technology.  It was an important one for me personally and for my company StereoGraphics because it allowed us to create stereoscopic displays based on raster graphics so useful for industry and science. Prior to that time high-end applications for computers outputted images that looked like wire frames or line drawings.  These were variously known as calligraphic, stroke or vector displays.  I remember playing an arcade game in 1981.  It was called “Tank Command,” and cast and crew on the set of Rottweiler Dogs of Hell at EO Studios in Shelby South Carolina got quite involved with it.  Between takes we played “Tank Command,” with its eerie green lines against a stygian background.  The farther away the object was, the dimmer were the lines – that was how depth was conveyed – that and perspective and relative size.   These displays had an electron beam that was steered to write lines on the inside of a green phosphored cathode ray tube and it built up an image that perceptually added up to one that didn’t flicker and appeared to be integral even though portions of it were written at different times.   (more…)


May 12, 2010

The future of the motion picture industry will be determined by the popularity of stereoscopic films.  This monstrous Caliban, ridiculed for decades, has been rehabilitated and taken to the bosom of the industry for the best of reasons; in the last few years a giant share of profit from motion pictures released in theaters has come from 3-D movies.  Although revenue is rising attendance is flat, and the additional revenue is attributable to stereoscopic movies.  This is good news for the studios, because DVD sales are plummeting and this makes up for that loss of revenue.  And it may well be that sales of 3-D Blu-ray disks are going to be a source of additional revenue.  So hooray for 3-D. (more…)


April 27, 2010

Five years ago when Disney decided to release Chicken Little in 3-D, they had to be thinking about a couple of things:  One, as a tactic, taking a movie like Chicken Little and releasing it in 3-D might be a good marketing approach.  It gave the studio something to talk about, and 3-D might create buzz.  Two, strategically, it was a way for the studio to further the cause of digital projection.  The studio hoped to accomplish two things:  Anti-piracy might be better enabled with digital; and digital distribution could reduce print cost.   (more…)

How Shuttering Eyewear Came To Be

March 18, 2010

Field-sequential electro-stereoscopic displays require a selection device to alternately occlude and transmit successive fields to each eye.  A sequence of images is  written  using  a technique  which  is  similar to that used for  planar  video  or electronic  displays. Today such displays are typically produced by DLP projectors or fast LCDs that are part of TV sets now arriving in retail stores. For a flickerless stereoscopic system, the images  need  to  be  written  at  twice  the  usual  planar   60 fields/second  refresh  rate, because  each  eye,  independently, needs  to see 60 fields/second.  Therefore, in most stereoscopic video or computer graphics systems the refresh rate is about 120 fields/second.  (more…)


January 28, 2010

I knew that the ultimate package would be one that would not involve any cables or wires, or a big controller the size of a hi-fi amplifier.  But how to fit everything into a pair of eyewear??  There were some big stumbling blocks.  We couldn’t get a high enough dynamic range out of a single cell all by itself.  If we had to stack two of these shutters together, as we did in our headband visor, we would be using more power and have more weight.  Not good for wireless battery powered eyewear.  (more…)


January 18, 2010

If you take a left- and right-handed circular polarizer and you lay them on top of each other on a light box, you will see that they will extinguish the light.  Do the experiment by using the filters from a pair of glasses from a MasterImage or a Real D show and put the polarizers together so that the retarders are facing each other (those are the sides of the filters that are facing the screen). If you rotate one with respect to the other you will see that the extinction varies.  What’s going on here?  It’s circularly polarized light and you would think that you wouldn’t get a variation in extinction as you do for linear.  But you do get a variation and you will see that the image will go from pretty dark to, depending upon the material you’ve got, a sort of amber color that transmits more light. There is quite a noticeable variation in both density and color with rotation. So the head orientation does matter, except that the falloff isn’t as great as it is for linear polarized light. (You can also hold the filters sandwich up to a light source – like a desk lamp.) If you flip the filters around the other way so the retarders are facing outward you have linear polarizers and you can try rotating them to confirm that they work as described earlier. You will note that even for the circular case you perceive the extinction to be at a maximum when the linear axes components’ are at right angles.  (more…)


January 15, 2010

A large percentage of light passes through when the filter’s axes are parallel and this is called transmission, and a smaller percentage of light passes through when the axes are at right angles and this is called extinction.  The ratio of the two is called the contrast ratio or the dynamic range.  For good linear (or as I said earlier, some people call it plane) sheet polarizers for stereoscopic applications, the materials used usually have transmission between 30 to 35 percent and the dynamic range is about 3000:1 for the lower transmission material. In other words, only 1/3000th of the light in transmission passes through when the axes of the polarizers are orthogonal (extinction).  For circular polarization the dynamic range is about a tenth of that for good linears.  (more…)