By Don Kaplan
IS your DVD player obsolete already?
Well, not exactly. But just as the price of video disc players are coming into range for nearly every home, now comes word that 3-D TV is here.
It’s not Buck Rodgers sci-fi stuff anymore.
The technology exists – and is starting to show up at electronic trade shows – for turning any existing film or video into 3-D.
The technology is light years beyond those cheesy paper-and-cellophane glasses that tricked moviegoers of the ’50s and ’60s. The first place you’re likely to find 3-D TVs will be in stores – as point-of-purchase displays, as attractions at amusement parks or for corporate presentations.
The reason is simple: the cheapest system right now starts at around $6,000 and ranges up to about $24,000 for bigger units.
Then again, there’s nothing yet to watch on 3-D TV. A Santa Monica, Calf.-based company called Dynamic Digital Depth Inc. has figured out a way to digitally convert any existing video or film – say, an episode of “Friends.”
DDD’s software creates a digital form of the film and then uses a computer to add an extra track containing data about the depth of objects on the screen.
“It’s a kind of enhanced television,” says DDD’s executive vice-president of business development Bruce Ettinger.
DDD hopes to introduce a system in the next year or so that would play specially-encoded 3D DVD movies for consumers.
The extra 3D feature on the discs will be available to consumers who have a special 3D system, much the same way someone with a surround-sound home theater can access better sound on the same DVDs that consumer without surround-sound uses.
Other researchers have different high-tech solutions for turning living rooms into 3D home theaters. And some of those ideas seem to be right out of “Star Trek.”
Ideas range from holographic projections ala “The Minority Report” and “Star Wars” to a chemical solution that’ll use solid crystals that behave similarly to liquid crystal displays used in digital watches and computer screens – but tweaked to project in three-dimensions.
“My group is trying to develop is a material that is a solid that you can cut or polish and the molecules within it would have the ability to act like the molecules within a liquid crystal,” says Miguel Garcia-Garibay, a chemical researcher at UCLA, who thinks his 3D TV solution might be ready within five to 10 years.
The big problem with 3-D TVs, say industry analysts, will be its costs.
“Five years ago when DVD players cost $500, penetration of DVD players in the consumer market was really low,” said Lydia Loizides, a senior analyst at Jupiter Research. “Now that they’re $150, everybody’s got ‘em.
“If it’s a really big leap, and a very expensive leap,” said Loizides, “it’s going to take much longer.