Dolby may be more known for its audio technology, but at CES 2013 the company was making noise on the video side as well with its Dolby 3D demo.
The company was showing usage of its technology, developed with Philips, that enables glasses-free 3D viewing, a feature that’s always been seen as necessary to the lasting success of 3D but one that has yet to be implemented well in the home (on the commercial side, glasses-free 3D is starting to gain momentum in digital signage). Dolby demonstrated its lens-agnostic 3D technology – the glasses-free part is known as autostereoscopic – in both personal and group settings with laptop, tablet and a big-screen TV to help note that it can be used across various video platforms.
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According to the company, main elements of Dolby’s technology include: frame-compatible full-resolution (FCFR) video codec enhancement for all H.264 devices; real-time (decoder-side) depth extraction (autoconversion) and multiview renderer; depth adjustment by user or automatic; and real-time 2D-to-3D conversion.
Dolby showed autostereoscopic 3D for laptop/tablet devices in a couple of manners, with the first being aimed at individual viewing and the second for more than one person. The former included a prototype head-tracking sensor that follows the position of the viewer’s eyes and adjusts the 3D accordingly depending on where you are located and where you are looking. This was a pretty effective way of illustrating the technology, because there was some delay as it would adjust if you moved around, but you could then see the resulting 3D begin to clearly take place.
Moving over to the tablet display, Dolby’s multiview rendering was extrapolating 28 different views for the device to produce the 3D imagery. The multiview algorithm can create up to 120 views or as little as nine, depending on the lens array of the device it’s being used for.
Of course, the big question is how the Dolby 3D technology could fare in a more typical group-viewing environment. For this, Dolby included a typical couch/flat-panel TV setting and in this case also provided a good instance to note that its technology potential is not only for TV manufacturers but content providers. The Dolby 3D demo for TVs at CES featured a few clips delivered through the download service Vudu, made possible because the technology ecosystem uses a low-bandwidth enhancement layer to upgrade half-resolution 3D signals to full resolution and includes the depth mapping and 3D post-production packaged together in its transport mechanism.
The 3D shown through clips like The Hobbit trailer and Transformers: Dark of the Moon did not represent over-the-top 3D imagery, but more subtle depth that had just enough punch to feel more immersive than a regular 2D image. “People have found this amount of depth pleasing,” says Roland Vlaicu, Dolby’s senior director, broadcast imaging, who added that numerous Hollywood directors were brought in during development to provide input and subsequently gave their stamp of approval.
“[Display manufacturers] initially thought of autostereoscopic 3D as being years away, but they’ve seen with Dolby 3D that it can happen soon, so they’re putting it on the road map,” says Vlaicu, who couldn’t share any specific manufacturer names but noted that Dolby was working to embed the technology into TVs. The demonstration was certainly more palatable I’ve seen in previous years where glasses-free 3D tended to be an eyesore, and in this instance managed to handle scenes filled with onscreen commotion. With the added resolution of all the 4K TVs on display at CES, don’t be surprised if we see a reinvigorated 3D charge from the manufacturers led by glasses-free (on top of passive polarized) technology in the very near future.