Exclusive Report: DLP Spearheads 3D Development

DLP Logo

You may have noticed a lot of 3D related news lately, and with good reason. 3D is poised to gobble up a sizable portion of the market. OK, well that may be an exaggeration now, but there is no denying that by 2010, 3D will be a fixture in features and, hopefully, in your homes and gaming systems. I recently had a chance to sit with some of the fine folks at Digital Light Processing, better known as DLP, a division of Texas Instruments. I got some hands on experience with some of the latest gadgets, watched some old favorites transfered into 3 dimensions, and got the low down on the future of this exciting new tool.

Today, 3D technology still appears to some to be nothing more than a gimmick. For some time, I myself was among that camp. Recently, with new technological steps forward and an exciting future looming, I’m switching camps and becoming a 3Devotee. DLP makes 3D possible with the aide of this, the digital micro-mirror device.

DLP Digital Micromirror Device

The DMD, often called “the chip” to make it simpler on the non-technological geniuses like myself, contains several hundred thousand tiny mirrors that are used to reflect light. Now I’m not going to pretend I fully understand the complete magic happening on that little guy, which is in your DLP enhanced TVs and front projectors, but I understood this: this baby is fast and powerful. So quick, in fact, that its the fastest and the market and operates at 120hz. How awesome is that, you’d be thinking, if you know what it meant. Well, your TV only has to spit out images at 60hz for your eye to recognize it as a full quality image. So in the same amount of time, this chip is sending twice the amount of information which is, uncoincidentally, the exact amount of information need to present a full quality, sharp 3D picture. Film, for comparison, is projected at 144hz.

This is cool on a lot of levels that I’m going to try to break down for you right now. First off, immediately, 3D. Any TV you purchase that has the DLP logo on it is already prepared for 3D viewing. It’s just a matter of the content becoming available. So there is that obvious one right off the bat. Not just for movies, either, but for games. You can play your favorite video games in 3D, provided developers continue to step up (more on that later). Or, how about this: dual screens. Or, more accurately, two completely separate images presented to two different people. Forget split-screen. Because this chip is sending out 2 full quality images, a special pair of 3D glasses can be set to filter out the second image. That means if you’re playing a video game, player 1 sees an entire screen of just his view, while player 2, on the same TV, gets a full screen view of his world. This eliminates both screen cheating and cramped viewing. But why stop there? If you split the audio into different headphones, that one day could be built right into the glasses, you could have two people on the same TV watching two different channels. “His and hers” as they like to call it. I was blown away.

I mentioned 3D gaming, well, its definitely coming. The Avatar game, to compliment James Cameron’s movie, is being created in 3D. NVidia has recently partnered with Mitsubishi to bring 3D into the home and to the home PC. Soon you’ll be able to pick up 3D ready monitors off of the shelf and blaze away at your favorite games in 3 beautiful dimensions. What’s the hold up? Primarily, content, though that may quickly become a non-issue. For 3D really to take hold in the world, it needs to generate money. To generate money you need product. It’s been said for years now that a film makes all its real money on DVD so it follows that for 3D movies to make real money, their DVDs must sell well. And who wants to buy a 3D movie that isn’t in 3D? Movie studios need to put their weight into 3D and release the DVDs in all their dimensional splendor. With Blu-Ray poised to finally and firmly take over the HD market, this becomes imminently more possible. One advantage Blu-Ray had was disc space and a 3D movie needs, logically, twice as much space on a disc to run. Blu-Ray and 3D – a match made in heaven.

To help this along we luckily have James Cameron, who nearly crapped his pants by all accounts after checking out the latest in 3D technology. Along with Cameron’s Avatar landing in 2009, by the year 2010 we’ll have a catalog of some 40 movies, notably also including DreamWorks’ Monsters vs Aliens and Thomas Jane’s The Dark Country. For Cameron’s release, the number of 3D equipped theaters should have risen to 4,000, which is enough to hold any Blockbuster release. In more production news, DLP also had a hand in helping Cameron watch his 3D shots on site. Previously, one would have to take the footage to a secondary location, load it up and view, which was obviously a timely process. By the time you noticed a mistake then, it’d be too late, you’d moved on. Now, with the ability to watch the shot immediately, any error or less than perfect angle in 3D can be fixed. Because two images are recorded at a time, the shooting of a 3D film becomes slightly trickier in regards to camera positioning, so this new development will aide future projects immensely.

All this home news is really cool, but I know what you’re primarily concerned with (hell, me too) is the big screen. Well, DLP is there too. Thanks to this beautiful blue box, movies are presented crisply and clearly in 3D. Where as the front projector available for your home houses one DMD chip, this bad boy holds three.

DLP Digital Projector

These digital cinema projectors are becoming more and more common in movie theaters across the nation. They take up a fair amount space but are a touch smaller than their film counterparts. In terms of workability, they’re a million times easier. Below you’ll find pictures of what makes this thing a breeze to work with. One picture is the removable hard drive, which stores the film and any trailers. A feature length movie clocks in at about 80gb after its gone through a little bit of compression. The whole unit is controlled by that touch screen, which is less complex than the menu register at a McDonalds. Touch the trailers you want and set them in front of the feature film, hit play, and you’re in business.

DLP Cinema Projector Control

DLP Cinema Projector Hard Drive

Now for me personally, perhaps the one downside of 3D flicks is the glasses. Early incarnations were somewhat uncomfortable and newer, more advanced real shutter designs have been heavy and a burden to wear. When I expressed this concern I was greeted with the future of eyeware, a new prototype that was very light and comfortable to wear. It was like putting on a thick pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarer’s or other similar sunglasses. Comfortable to wear and fully operational with future technology that would enable it to do the screen filtering we talked about earlier.

Before those glasses come along, theater goers will still probably slap on these RealD glasses that, even in their short life, have become lighter and more comfortable. You can easily wear them for more than 2 hours without a second thought.

RealD 3D Glasses

For the more tech-gear oriented folks, it’s worth noting that DLP is also working on a Blackberry that has a built in projector for displaying pictures, documents, and video on any surface. No word yet on when that will go three dimensional, but don’t hold your breath.

So as you can see, 3D is very quickly accelerating away from it’s previous gimmicky image. With sharp pictures, reliable technology, and trendy comfortable glasses, this technology is no longer a joke. It’s a viable tool that will allow filmmakers to bring a new depth to the filmed image and a new burst of fun to family films. I urge everyone to abandon any preconception about 3D and take it for a spin again. I know I’m very glad to have re-immersed myself into three dimensional images and I look forward to upcoming films and developments on this subject.

Your thoughts on 3D as art rather than gimmick?

Robert Fure is many things: horror expert, ruggedly handsome man of the world, witty prose composer, and writer of his own biography page. Beneath the bravado is a scared little boy, ready to grow into an awesome man and make lies about a scared little boy inside of him. Wait a minute...

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