3D Revolution at CES
CES 2010 just wrapped up last night in Las Vegas, I can't remember when a new technology ever took an entire convention by storm like 3D just did at CES....
The exhibit halls were inundated with 3D product demos from every major video systems manufacturer. People were queued up everywhere trying to grab a pair of active glasses to view hundreds of demo displays being staged by Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Mitsubishi, LG, and many other big brands. The momentum building behind 3D technology, especially for home entertainment use, is absolutely enormous.
The tremendous success of Avatar is a signal that 3D may be here to stay this time, after prior attempts to launch the technology in the 1950's and again in the early 1980's fizzled. Coming March 5 is another blockbuster 3D sensation ... Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland with Johnny Depp will probably be seen by a relatively huge percentage of the population. Movies like these will push consumer demand for 3D movies and video gaming in the home to unprecedented levels.
The 3D demos at CES showed that consumer products will be able to deliver high quality 3D experiences in the home that match, or perhaps even exceed the visual experience of commercial theaters. Unlike the commercial theater 3D systems that use passive glasses, almost all of the 3D products being shown were using active LCD shutter glasses. Believe it or not, there were even several demos of 3D systems that requires no glasses at all. These were in early prototype stage, they were very low resolution, and not anywhere near the quality of the 3D experience afforded by glasses. But, they did prove that 3D viewing without glasses is possible.
Samsung was showing products that convert 2D sources to 3D. This will be a standard feature incorporated into a number of Samsung's 3D video display products coming out this year. However, 2D to 3D is a different smoke entirely. It does not render the same visual experience you get from a native 3D source. The difference is basically this: with a native 3D source, the image can appear as though it is coming toward you from the screen. A butterfly can be made to look like it is about to land on your nose. This effect does not happen on a 2D to 3D conversion. Rather, the picture looks incrementally deeper, but the entire picture stays behind the plane of the video screen. Visual depth is improved in the same manner that higher contrast improves the impression of visual depth on a conventional 2D image. So the "2D to 3D" conversion is a nice feature, but nowhere near as dramatic as genuine 3D (at least in the current state of the art).
As good as real 3D is getting, videophiles will still find plenty to complain about. Rapid motion in 3D can break up if the computer is not quite fast enough; elements in the extreme foreground can flash and break; there can be motion blur that you wouldn't see in 2D; color saturation can be reduced, and color accuracy impaired. Sometimes the picture looks like it has an oily sheen, like it is being viewed through a sheet of clear cellophane. Sometimes the picture looks like it is in hyper-3D, where the 3D effect is exaggerated to the point that it look absurd. Each of these flaws has the same end-result as artifacts in 2D display, which is that they distract you from the experience of the film/video image, and cause you to think instead about the technology that is creating it.
Nevertheless, despite its imperfections, a 3D revolution is clearly underway. Most people are going to love what they see in the new crop of 3D products slated to roll out this year.
There were not many new projector models being debuted at this show, but a few are worth mentioning. Optoma has a new personal projector, the PK301, that looks like nothing but fun. It is in the so-called “pico” or palm-size category, but it puts out 50 lumens rather than the typical 10 lumens that the current generation of these devices generate. It will sell for $399, and you’ll see it about April or so. My guess is that it will be a very big hit. Optoma also has big plans for low-cost 3D-enabled 720p models in the video gaming market, as well as multi-purpose 1280x800 resolution products. Watch for reviews of these units to begin appearing this spring.
Samsung was previewing the PG-F10, which is an LED-driven XGA portable rated at 1000 lumens. That’s brighter than any LED machine out there. No price was being quoted, and it is supposed to ship in May/June.
There was a chronically long line at LG’s booth all weekend—people were lined up to see the next generation of their SXRD-based 1080p model, with 3D capability and all. Once in the demo theater, there was no presenter, nobody to answer questions, nobody to tell you what you were viewing or what the source equipment was or when it would ship or how much it cost. The video simply started, ran for 15 minutes, then everyone left. So I am not exactly sure what we saw, but it was pretty cool looking. We’ll get some more info on this shortly.
LG also had a static model, the HX300, which should be out soon, but no date or price was being quoted. It is an XGA resolution LED miniprojector rated at 300 lumens. This is the sort of thing that is getting a lot of consumer interest these days, and we’ll be anxious to review both of these new LG models asap.
We used to see more HT projector releases at CES back when CEDIA was not such a big organization. But these days, the HT releases are all targeted for the September CEDIA show, while most of the new business/portable/conference models show up at Infocomm in June. So it is not unusual to see rather minimal projector activity at CES. But 2010 will be a transformational year for video systems, as everyone begins to embrace 3D with an enthusiasm we’ve never seen before.