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I am regularly asked lately about 3D TVs and whether my company offers video enabled for them. The answer is a simple yes and you will notice the sample above, which you can play back on any 3D enabled TV or even on your laptop or iPad screen with red/blue glasses via YouTube’s handy stereoscopic features.

But there really is so much more to explain with 3D and stereoscopic presentations....
3D TVs have been out for a while now and many movie titles, sports casts and TV programs are now featuring stereoscopic 3D. Most people confused by all the terms, especially when relating Archiform 3D’s traditional 3D with the new 3D viewing, which are similar in some principals far also very far apart.

To enlighten everyone in the most simplistic way possible, our 3D is the creation of scenes, images, buildings, effects and almost anything else in a 3D computer environment. Stereoscopic 3D, which is what you experience when you see a movie or TV show using 3D glasses, is the illusion of 3D depth from a flat image. That flat image can be derived from real video using a special camera with no computerised 3D enhancements at all. The two technologies are very different but are also intertwined.

We have been at the forefront of stereoscopic viewing for a long time and until recently with little success due to limitations in technology, poor quality and the need for people to put on glasses that they think are “uncool” and embarrassing. Strangely the biggest issue most people had with putting on red/blue glasses was whether they would look silly or not and if anyone could see them. Every breakthrough seemed to get us closer to a real solution but they always brought some kind of a drawback that was normally a “deal breaker” or not more than a cool gimmick that only worked in ideal situations.

The technology, when implemented properly, reduces down to the display of two images at once, one being for the left eye and the other for the right. The developments in technology changed the way the images are combined and how they are viewed but the fundamental requirement is the same. I have decided to spare you from reading the history of stereoscopy and the different types available but you can find a good solid article on it here on Wikipedia.

Is the viewing technology any good?

My opinion is that the latest technology of using passive stereoscopic glasses on inexpensive flat screens has enough “plusses” that it is now ready for mainstream.  The quality, price, availability and the readiness for people to put on the glasses has improved significantly. The “FPR” technology, which does not require the expensive “Active Shutter” glasses is now surpassing other displays in sales and bringing high-quality, cost effective viewing to everyone.

So how does this help our typical client? Boiled down, your product, presentation or idea can now be easily viewed both normally and immersively, anywhere in the world on what is becoming regular home TVs for little additional cost.

Should you advance to stereoscopic presentations now? The answer is not straightforward as it is very similar to the take up of 3D animation in the first place. When I began pounding the pavement selling my 3D services I met great resistance, as people were not convinced that they needed it at all. Over time the technology made it’s way into every field, movies, TV, advertising and science, so today people know what it is and don’t see it as whether they should get it but now ask how much of it they can afford for their project.

Stereoscopic 3D is sneaking in the same way with the two biggest advocates being the abundance of high-quality 3D movies in the cinemas and the wide, inexpensive array of 3D capable TVs lining the walls of retail outlets like Best Buy. The sales proportion of 3D capable TVs is exploding, even if people are just using them to watch normal 2D content. This is coupled with the growth in “smart TVs” and other devices like AppleTV that change the way viewing content is distributed and enhance what can be accessed. Mediums such as YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix and Hulu are taking on the audience by storm and these bring the ability to stream instant stereoscopic content.

The option to see a 3D stereoscopic movie in a cinema is no longer a gimmick – it is simply expected and rarely is there not at least one 3D stereoscopic movie playing. People don’t come back from a 3D movie anymore and express how awesome it was, they just expected to see it in 3D and feel sorry for those that didn’t. The public perception has changed completely and it is safe to assume that the barriers for viewing high-quality inexpensive 3D content are gone and the wheels of change are truly in motion, if not slowly.

The uptake of 3D TV has been slower than everyone had hoped. The expense in purchasing the TV was exacerbated by the cost of active shutter glasses. Couple that with the release of 3D TV being in the biggest downturn the economy has seen for a long time and there were a lot of screens sitting on the store shelves gathering dust. But, as I have suggested already, that has changed, both with the cost and the type of glasses. There is a significant progression towards 3D TV and the more that stereoscopic titles are released the more momentum the uptake will gather.

Current (April 2013) USA retail prices for passive 3D TVs range from $450 for a 42” model to a 60” smart TV for $1700 and then a big 84” smart TV for $20000. While you can get a car for the same price as the 84” model the smaller sizes are very affordable.

Do you get a 3D stereoscopic production or not?

So back to the question of whether you should go with Stereoscopic production today (2013), the answer is “yes” if you have a sales suite and a luxury product and “maybe” if you don’t fit into that category. The logic behind by answers comes down to budget and audience.
If you have a high-end product then you can also expect:

The additional cost for a stereoscopic production, of which I will get into soon, can be absorbed into your marketing budget;

Your audience will enjoy and appreciate the higher-quality presentation;

Your audience is more likely to have the ability to watch the presentation in true 3D in their own home;

You will get a boost from being ahead of the curve.

If you have a lower budget project then you need to consider that:

Your budget may be tight and you may not even be able to afford 3D animation, let alone the extra for stereoscopic;

Your audience may not be able to view the production in 3D at home.

If you go forward with stereoscopic 3D then you can present it inexpensively in a sales suite and host it online for anyone with the hardware to view it. Also keep in mind that with a stereoscopic presentation you also get a standard version for playback on older equipment.
For a sales suite wall mounting the 3D TVs is very easy and the 3D glasses are inexpensive (less than $2 for some) and reusable. The low cost of the TVs means you can have multiple screens playing different parts of the presentation, so you could almost have an art gallery setup that showcases your entire product range.

What is the difference in production and costs?

Being a 3D studio Archiform 3D has a unique advantage with 3D stereoscopic animation. Just like in the production of movies such as Avatar, that rely mostly on 3D computer generated 3D for the footage, our “cameras” are virtual, not real. This means that we can carefully think out each scene for a perfect stereoscopic shot and have no physical limitations, heavy equipment to deal with or location issues. For us the main difference is:

Each virtual camera must be set up and tested for a good stereoscopic image;

All animations take longer to process as there can be up to 4x the overhead in computational requirements;

The final video/movie must be edited twice so as to provide a normal and stereoscopic option.

There is good news in that none of the issues above match the effort required to set up a perfect 3D PhotoPerfect scene in the first place so the additional cost is not excessive. Archiform 3D is also unique in that we have our own large render farm, similar to a clustered super-computer, so the extra processing requirements are handled in-house and the costs are contained. You may only need to budget 25% to 30% more to cover the additional work and processing.
If you are dealing with a 3D studio that doesn’t have a large render farm then you will encounter a significant increase in fees to cover the cost of outsourcing the processing or a significant drop in quality to compensate. For some companies the render processing can account for 25% of the overall fee on a normal project so if they are to maintain quality and do a full 1080p production the overall fee may more than double.

My conclusion

Wrapping up, if you have a worthy project then just go stereoscopic. The technology is there, it is not overly expensive and you still get regular footage. If you are tight on your budget then maybe 2013 is not the year for your first stereoscopic production.

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