Panasonic talks up future of 3D movies

"Content providers will change the way they film 3D"

Panasonic s Steve Lucas

When James Cameron needed a helping hand with the production of Avatar he called in Panasonic's 3D playback gear.

Panasonic believes that heavy 3D involvement with Hollywood has given the consumer electronics giant a significant advantage when it comes to producing consumer-friendly 3D kit.

It is the only brand making 3D plasma screens and 3D Blu-ray decks with dual HDMI outputs while its prosumer 3D camcorder could spawn a more affordable model that would put 3D creation in the hands of video-making enthusiasts.

Panasonic UK's product specialist Steve Lucas believes that Panasonic's home entertainment equipment delivers the 3D goods but thinks that movie directors still have much to learn in order to deliver truly effective 3D.

We posed him nine candid questions about 3D.

TR: There's been plenty of discussion about 3D viewing discomfort over the past few months. In the Panasonic 3D demo disc currently playing in stores, there's a scene in which rocks are flying towards you through space. When objects like these give the impression of being about to 'leave the screen', viewing can seem somewhat uncomfortable. Is this a limitation of all Home 3D?

SL: There's a limit when the image gets to the edge of the screen - that distance between you and the object can be adjusted in the 3D encoding process. I think that moviemakers and content providers are going to move away from that type of scene. What James Cameron proved with Avatar is that it's a lot more interesting to take people into the scene, rather than trying to send things out of the scene towards the person. Avatar really draws you into the whole world of Pandora, instead of merely throwing things at you. So content providers will change the way they film 3D and are making 3D effects.

TR: Every major consumer electronics company now claims to have had a hand in Avatar. Specifically what involvement did Panasonic have with Avatar?

SL: We work very closely with James Cameron's team and with Fox, but - specifically for the production of Avatar - Panasonic provided the playback equipment, so that Cameron could see the rushes in 3D. We also supplied a high-definition consumer camcorder for him to use on set.

TR: Panasonic's 3D prosumer camcorder has a price tag of over 15,000 euros. When do you think we'll see a consumer version?

SL: There are no plans to launch that type of product onto the consumer market at the moment. There's certainly going to be a big demand for it in the professional field, and we're hoping to launch that product towards the end of this year. It's getting a lot of interest right now! To break into the consumer market with a 3D camcorder is, I think, going to take a bit more development time to reduce the optics down in size and that type of thing. I don't think we'll see that this year anyway.

TR: Can you ever a time when regular folks will be able to (or even want to) edit home movies in 3D? Editing in 3D will presumably be completely-different (and more challenging) to editing in 2D.

SL: Yeah, editing is another thing altogether. It's all very well having a 'point and shoot' camera that captures everything in 3D, but how you edit it together is - I think - another skill set. It will start with the specialist - the semi-pro - who will give that a go before it filters down to regular camcorder users.

TR: Consumers are inevitably nervous about new formats. Just how safe a bet is buying into 3D Blu-ray? Are you confident that all 3D discs and machines from different vendors will be compatible?

SL: Yes. Our field-sequential Full-HD system was officially adopted by the BDA in December 2009 - it is now part of the Blu-ray spec.

TR: How come your 3D Blu-ray player - the DMP-BDT300 - has two HDMI ports, and other brands do not?

SL: We use one HDMI output to convey field-sequential video directly to a display; the other is provided for legacy AV receiver and amps that won't 'pass through' the 3D video signal to monitors.

TR. So if you're using such equipment, you would need two cables - one for the pictures, and another for the sound (DTS HD MA, Dolby True HD etc)?

SL: That's right.

TR: The key advantage of plasma, as far as Panasonic's 3D tech is concerned, is the very fast response time needed to reliably-implement a field-sequential display. But your rivals are pushing hard with 3D LCD screens. Will Panasonic launch a 3D LCD TV?

SL: LCD has such a large slice of the overall display market, but we won't be launching 3D field-sequential LCD panels this year. The refresh rate of the panel is very important for a clean and crosstalk-free 3D image - and, currently, LCD just isn't good enough in this regard. Where the 'right' image remains onscreen before it's refreshed with the 'left' image, the resulting crosstalk effect can completely ruin the 3D image. Until that's cracked, Panasonic won't be delivering a 3D LCD panel.

TR: How long do you think it will be before we see a practical 'solid projection' system. In other words, no glasses! And just with 'real' objects, your perspective of the scene would be influenced by where you're sitting. Currently, this is the province of sci-fi - but for how much longer?

SL: In the future, I guess we will have displays like that. I'm certainly unaware of any work that Panasonic is conducting on that front. I certainly couldn't put a timeframe on it!

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