From idea to 3Ality1 March 2010
3DTV Analysis – From its pioneering U2 3D concert film to initiatives to support Sky3D with stereo tools, 3Ality has stamped its mark on the burgeoning 3D business. Now it is readying for growth as the 3DTV market moves beyond the conceptual stage, reports Carolyn Giardina.
“The market for 3D in the home is growing exponentially,” says Steve Schklair, CEO of Southern California-based 3Ality Digital Systems, who has spent much of the past few years traveling the world in an effort to promote and educate about the promise of digital 3D. “There’s a massive push in the consumer market for televisions and a massive push in the distribution market for new channels and new content. It’s mostly sport right now — the major sporting events and equipping OB trucks.”
In America, ESPN3D is slated to launch in June and offer in the neighborhood of 85 3D events during its debut year, including some of the FIFA World Cup coverage. Sony, Discovery and Imax are preparing to pull the trigger on a 24/7 3D channel that would include a range of programmes. DirecTV is also formulating a 3D agenda.
But for the time being, 3Ality is only confirming work with BSkyB, in preparation for Sky 3D’s April launch. It should therefore come as no surprise that 3Ality might soon hang its hat in England.
3Ality offers production services and rig hire, yet its business model centres on developing new technologies — and the sale and licensing of those technologies — to the nascent market. For Sky, 3Ality is spearheading training while supplying its 3D camera rigs and stereo image processors as the broadcaster gears up for the new format and equips its first 3D OB truck from Telegenic.
A big part of the training component is learning by doing. “We did a few weeks of training with Sky and we are standing by whenever they need support,” Schklair says. “They are doing excellent work without us, which is exactly what the market needs, especially with two or three events a week. There won’t be 3DTV if content producers aren’t producing that much content.”
3Ality has been involved in a growing number of sport tests, most recently, golf. Schklair raced from the CES in Las Vegas to Hawaii to shoot the Sony Open in mid-January. Looking back, he suggests that 3D can add value to golf broadcasts.
Citing one example of how the format contributed to the coverage, he relates: “The camera is sitting behind the green on a short hole, zoomed in on the golfer as he tees off. The operator zooms in and follows the ball. As the ball starts to come down he starts widening for a great reveal with amazing depth. The ball drops onto the ground and rolls toward the camera.
“There are a lot of shots like that in golf. You can see the contour on the ground; you can see the depth in length of the fairway,” he adds. “Golf might be one of those (strong 3D) sports because golf is a game where you move the ball around in a huge volume of space. What better way to show the volume of space than with depth.”
Clarifying what he believes to be a common misconception, Schklair insists that 3D production doesn’t have to be significantly more costly or time consuming than an equivalent 2D shoot. Asked about pricing, he estimates that weekly rental of a high-end 3D rig/production package can range anywhere from $25,000-$45,000, depending on specific configuration needs of the shoot including the number of image processors. And he is quick to emphasise that getting the proper production gear will reduce the potentially larger expensive of fixing shots downstream in post production.
3Ality has been placing a lot of attention on its image processor, designed to offer an alignment mode. Schklair explains that the technology may be used to analyse the images and mechanically update the rigs continuously so that the cameras remain aligned. “That is why it is ideal for live broadcasting,” he comments, adding that the image processors may be set to support display sizes from an Imax screen to a television.
“Right now the technology is in place to do a lot of 3D broadcasts,” he contends. “The creative isn’t there — and the creative isn’t there because there is so little experience out there.” He adds that there are still many questions. “Is it always going to be a simultaneous 2D and 3D shoot? Editorially the files are completely different and two separate shoots are too expensive. Are there shared cameras? These are the creative discussions that are going on.”
Still, looking at the overall market, he acknowledges that more technical R&D will forward 3D production. “Number one is automation of the stereo settings,” Schklair says. “In the broadcast world, the idea of 10 convergence pullers doesn’t work. It’s too expensive and there’s not enough space for that many people… Automation of those functions is critical. There will also be a stereographer or stereo director, that is a new position. But the 10 convergence pullers, for live broadcast, have to go away.
“The next step for us is to automate the initial line-up so that the extra time spent in prep — even if it is only half a day — goes away. The technologies are pretty good … It’s about speed. The more automation there is, the faster the production will go and the faster prep will go. What is also still needed on the broadcast side is the graphic package.”
While the industry is increasingly putting 3D product in front of consumers, Schklair is quick to offer a word of caution, noting that this is the time to focus on digital developments and retire the notion of anaglyph for television. “I think anaglyph’s time has passed,” he insists. “I think it will be unsatisfying.”