04 March 2014

3-D is here to stay as it always has been

There is nothing new about the current downward trend in popularity / exposure of 3-D film.  3-D has been there from the beginnings of film: the first film camera built by the Lumiere brothers was a stereoscopic camera and the first photo cameras were even stereoscopic ones.  As is happening today, 3-D has known ups and downs throughout the history of film and photography.  It is a medium that is not going to go away - it never has because it has always captivated audiences and will continue to do so as long as humans have two eyes.

A modern Lumiere 3D camera: 4K

The now: 4K

4K is the current talk of the town and as a format it is a matter of Moore's Law for it to become a mainstream reality.  The doubling of computing power every year dictates the possiblility and therefore the assured technological drive to go up in resolution and framerate in digital cinema and television systems.  Eventually, prices of higher spec technology go down as chips are produced en masse with these higher resolution capabilities.  4K TV is an unavoidable format that will happen eventually as dictated by the purchase and replacement cycle of consumers - about every decade and a half as observed with the transition from SD to HD.  Yes, adoption speed of new technology has been going up exponentially throughout history but recession and growth cycles have remained steady since the introduction of the stock market.

The first commercial 4K Television channel has lauched: High4K, pretty much following the model of Sky3D and 3Net in that it is a subscription channel with endless reruns of the current limited number of 4K content, let alone the content licenced by High4K.  As the big networks switch to 4K - probably by compressing the image to death to get closer to HD bandwidths and also by sacrificing a few +1 HD channels - that unique market position will disappear. 

Youtube 4K
Don't forget the early adopted 4K abilities of Youtube; besides being 3-D enabled, Youtube is 4K enabled.  Bandwidth?  A huge issue.  The 4K content has to fit in HD bitrate limitations so the very reason for being 4K will be quashed.  The same thing goes for IPTV channels such as Netflix and Lovefilm.  4K on an HD shoestring. 

Of course the same goes for real-time TV-set upscaling of HD content to 4K: might as well keep that old HD screen.  Real, specialized post production 2K or 3K to 4K upressing is a different matter.  For the huge difference in quality between real-time and specialized upscaling, visit 4KRender.com

As there is no 4K Bluray standard yet, the wait is for rogue Mpeg5 discs to flood the black markets. 5 Bucks for a 4K Disc of a cammed movie?  Perhaps cammed with a Blackmagic 4K camera. OK, not likely but we're thinking ahead here.  Reality always turns out to be stranger than fiction.  Straight 4K dumps coming from mastering houses are the more likely condidates and those pirated copies will probably be distributed using the old Mpeg4 (Divx or similar) but at 3K sizes.

Blackmagic 4K 'budget' camera: the Cammers' future choice?

The future of 3-D

So where does this leave 3-D and its prospects for the coming future?  Is 3-D 4K a logical marriage?  Not at all: the bitrates become so enormous that a double quad-core processor and a 10 terabyte RAID array in a TV will still overheat.  Perhaps that's an exaggeration but 4K will develop further on a 2D path, not a 3D one.  The proponent of 4K 3D are either looking at Side-By-Side anamorphic 3D on a 4K frame as employed by the Sony 4K cinema projectors already or 4K 3D for autostereoscopic screens - because of the resolution quartering-effect of lenticulars. 

Looking at trends in 3-D's checkered history it is safe to predict a new 3-D boom peak in 2039, with the boom starting in 2033.  Why those years?  Because it takes a new generation of film makers and hardware manufacturers unfamiliar with the previous exploits of 3-D to try their hands at the revolution that never seems to happen.  Is 3-D the Devil's Candy?  Perhaps, and as with all things sweet, powerful and dangerous it really is not going to go away.  By 2033, however, Moore's Law will also dictate an availability of bandwidth and computing power suitable for holographic film.  So at that point, stereoscopy may very well join the fate of forgotten demons of Ancient times.  Locked up in the Tantalus of unfulfilled cinematic promise.

What's more safe and realistic is to predict a photogrammic future, where depth information is drawn in real time from two or more image streams, creating a colour point cloud.  The real time computing power will be available in the future and it is predictable that the bandwidth issues will remain (because who is going to put fiberoptics in the streets and overhead telephone cables and wireless 5G won't outperform cables in the real world), so taking a game engine approach is a most tempting solution.

XBox 720 Concept

Contact 3-D Revolution Productions for more media predictions and consultancy on the subjects of 3-D, 4K, HFR, HDR in animation and live-action for feature film and television production alike.


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