The centerpiece of the tour is Panasonic's TC-PVT25 series monitor designed specifically for 3-D viewing. The TC-PVT25 series monitor won the Best of Show Award at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas:
"By delivering a full 1080p-resolution image to each eye, Panasonicâ€™s Full HD 3-D technology offers consumers the highest possible visual experience."
3-D home video systems are "the-next-big-thing" in the entertainment industry, with industry heavy weights such as Jeffrey Katzenberg strongly supporting the new industry standard.
Three D Economics 101
An acquaintance at a St. Patty's Day party explained the economics of the "next-big-thing" like this.
"You could almost see Jeffrey Katzenberg doing a wee Irish jig at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, while touting home 3-D videos and gloating over the fact that they're impossible to pirate," he said. "He knows there's a pot o' gold a-waiting for him at the end of the 3-D rainbow. Look," he said.
And he drew the following diagram on a cocktail napkin:
3-D movies -> 3-D Blu-ray disks -> 3-D Blu-ray players -> 3-D HDTV monitors with 3-D glasses
"It's a food chain. And at every step in the food chain, someone gets a bite! 3-D movies get premium prices in theaters. Then the movie masters are burned onto 3-D Blu-ray disks (at full theater resolution, by the way, so you know they're going to cost more) which are then played on 3-D Blu-ray players using 3-D HDTV monitors with their special 3-D glasses. It's all 3-D! AND, it's all new equipment!"
"Can't you imagine Jeffrey Katzenberg doing his Irish jig on video, with his wooden Irish clogs kicking out of a 3-D screen just missing the popcorn bowl?" he said as he ambled off following the drink tray.
In reality, of course, Jeffrey Katzenberg did not do an Irish jig at this year's CES in Las Vegas, or even a two-step; but he did have reason to gloat; because, as Napoleon understood the grammar of gunpowder, Katzenberg understands the grammar of profit: Katzenberg's DreamWorks has been developing 3-D movies for over three years now.
DreamWorks is ready for 3-D and the industry is ready. There will be 3-D broadcasting, 3-D films, 3-D games, and 3-D home videos all coming down the pike to your house, via your wallet.
Consumer Consumption Fatigue
There is a plenty here to render even the most complacent consumer cynical about this new technology. Everybody in the food chain seems to be circling like sharks, waiting for the consumer to consume.
The question is will you, the consumer, be ready to spend a 25% premium above the usual high-end video equipment SRP to purchase 3-D home video equipment and partake in what Jeffrey Katzenberg calls "the single most revolutionary change since color pictures?"
On-line comments by potential consumers about this up-and-coming techno-surge generally range from focused rage:
"First they totally trash the US TV system that had worked so well for over 50 years in favor of what? A new Digital TV system that's riddled with weird bugs? Screen formats that make no sense? Letter-boxed movies on a letter boxed screen?
Like why did I pay for that extra 3-inch black border all around the screen?
And the bizarre blocky pixilation or weird sound dribble that you get with the least bit of signal interference?
So now, we're supposed to throw it all out again for this 3D-TV play-toy? Like we should throw out a $1000, year-old TV and they just happen to have a new one ready for purchase.
Interesting. It's all about money."
To jaded joylessness:
"Why should I waste money on a 3D monitor and expensive 3D glasses?"
The "Touch the Future Tour" in Hollywood
To investigate this new technology, the "Panasonic Touch the Future Tour" in Hollywood was visited. This is Panasonic's showcasing tour that promises to give consumers an opportunity "to see, hear, and interact with Panasonic's latest cutting-edge home entertainment products, including a chance to experience live the first Full HD 3D Home Theater system."
But First Some Techno-babble
To understand something about the technology involved, we need to know something about the visual process itself. We humans have two eyes that allow us to perceive depth. The process of depth perception goes something like this: Each eye views a scene from a slightly different perspective; this is called "visual disparity." The two eyes produce two different images of the same scene. There is an image for the left eye and one for the right eye. These images go from the eyes into the brain where they are "fused" together somehow, in the brain, giving us the illusion of depth (we are still not sure exactly how the brain does this).
The upshot of this is, if we can give the brain the correct image for each eye, we can trick it into perceiving depth. Avatar used the technology of circular polarization (one image is polarized clockwise and the other is polarized counter-clock wise) to separate the two images. Then the 3-D glasses made sure that each eye received the correct image. Using circular polarization, the perception of depth was very good; the color was good; and the images were clear. The audience could view a three-hour long film without getting a headache or feeling nauseous, which sometimes happens with other systems. In addition, the viewer could tilt his/her head without losing the illusion of depth. It is a good system; and it serves as a good basis with which to compare other 3-D systems.
For home 3-D viewing, Panasonic developed its own technology. Panasonic calls it Frame Sequential technology. In 3-D mode, the newly developed TC-PVT25 series monitors alternate the left eye images with the right eye images on the screen at the rate of 120 frames per second (60 fps for each eye). Viewers watch the screen through liquid crystal 3-D shutter glasses that are synchronized with the alternating screen images. The liquid crystal shutter for each eye opens and closes to allow the correct image in. As a result, a separate 1920 x 1080 full-HD image can be sent to each eye.
Panasonic engineered the display system to virtually eliminate crosstalk between the images (crosstalk occurs when some of the image for one eye bleeds into the other). For example, fast decay screen phosphors were developed to eliminate the bleeding of slow decaying afterimages into next image. At the same time, the 3-D glasses were adjusted and timed precisely with the screen images to minimize light leakage between images. According to Panasonic, these and additional engineering improvements correct the image quality problems and the blurring shortcomings common to other 3-D systems.
End of Techno-babble, and Cut to the Chase
Panasonic's Full HD 3D Home Theater system was demonstrated at the " Touch the Future Tour." There are other items Panasonic was publicizing on the tour, but the 3-D video system was the showpiece. Watching 3-D television on Panasonic's Full HD 3D Home Theater is spectacular. Panasonic's Frame Sequential technology creates sharp, crisp 3-D images. The images were very, very good. One did not get a headache after 20 minutes of viewing. The 3-D effect didn't disappear when the head was tilted. There were no ghost images, or crosstalk smears, or bleeding reds. The blacks were black. The colors were vibrant. The illusion of depth was wonderful.
Fish seem to swim inside and out of the monitor screen. When a "phaser blaster" swings around, it swings right out of the monitor to point straight at the viewer.
Panasonic explicitly redesigned the monitor, the 3-D glasses, and the 3-D Blue-ray player for 3-D home viewing. This is not an engineering kluge such as attempting to retrofit 3-D onto an existing "flat" system. It was an engineering effort designed to allow viewing 3-D videos in the home to be equivalent to viewing 3-D movies in the theater.
The Panasonic 3-D home video system, consisting of a 50-inch Panasonic Plasma 3D HDTV (model TC-P50VT25 monitor), one pair of Panasonic 3-D glasses (model TY-EW3D10), and the Panasonic 3-D Blu-ray Disc Player (model DMP-BDT350), will cost about $2,900 (with additional pairs of 3-D glasses costing an extra $150 each).
The predominate consumer questions seem to be, Does it really work? and, Is it really worth it? Will we really be able to see Jeffrey Katzenberg almost kick over the popcorn bowl? Or is this just another slick, hyperbolic-inflated sales pitch?
Does It Really Work?
Yes, Panasonic's system really works. The visual effects can be eye-popping. What is more, it may even work better than the theater 3-D systems.
As sound films replaced silent films, and CD's replaced vinyl, so will 3-D replace 2-D as a video standard. 3-D home video systems are here to stay; and the viewing quality for a home 3-D video system, as demonstrated in Panasonic's "Touch the Future Tour," can be excellent.
Is It Really Worth It?
Well... "Worth" is a function of performance over cost. The Panasonic 3-D Home Video system's performance is excellent. The sad news is that the Panasonic 3-D Home Video system costs about $3,000. Will the consumer find it "worth it" to plunk down $3,000 for another home video system? Especially after just having plunked down a big chunk of change for a "newer and better," but now out-dated, HDTV set? In a recession? Who knows? Would you plunk down the cash?
The good news is that other manufacturers such as Vizio, Sony, LG, and Samsung are also marketing 3-D systems. If the quality of their 3-D systems is as good as Panasonic's, then the competition will be fierce and prices will fall.
(The promotional tour is being held across the country. For more information, go to the site: http://www.panasonic.com/promos/touch-the-future-tour/ .)