Roland Vlaicu, Dolby, is telling the industry that full HD glasses free 3D does not need to wait, as the company pushes its platform agnostic, backwards compatible Dolby 3D solution
We interview Roland Vlaicu, Senior Director of Broadcast Imaging, Dolby, about Dolby 3D. The company, who are most famous for their audio solutions, recently received a glowing endorsement from James Cameron who said “There is room for improvement but this already good enough for the consumer market, you guys are the first to blow out the door” when viewing a Dolby 3D demo on a prototype Philips lenticular display at IBC this year.
There has been a focus of the potential of Dolby 3D for glasses free 3D solutions but it is a group of algorithms that would work with glasses based systems too. The company is currently talking to chip manufacturers, broadcasters and TV hardware companies to embed Dolby 3D codecs for the delivery of full HD 3D to any 3D display.
In this interview, we aim to discover how Dolby 3D can deliver a high enough quality experience and what evidence supports the notion that 3D will take off if the glasses could be chucked out of the equation.
3D Focus: What is Dolby 3D?
Roland Vlaicu: Dolby 3D is a joint project between Dolby and Philips Research to advance the timeline for glasses free 3D. Our point is tell the industry that glasses free 3D at a high quality level, ready for the consumer, does not need to wait for another three or four years; it’s ready now and can be put into products between one to three years time rather than three to four.
There are two components – the high resolution enhancement layer that we created on top of the H.264 protocol that packs the pixels that are thrown away in the process of creating a side by side signal. Our enhancement process packs those pixels into a separate enhancement layer that only requires an additional 10% of incremental bandwidth to transmit, deliver and distribute the full HD signal. At the same time, we are doing that in a backwards compatible way, so the basis is still a side by side signal as you have today but the enhancement layer contains the extra pixels which, in an enabled device, can be reconstructed to a full 1080P to each eye 3D output.
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3D Focus: How would a passive 3D TV be able to display full HD 3D to each eye when you claim Dolby 3D is platform agnostic?
Roland Vlaicu: In the case of an active glasses based television you will get 1080P per eye but on a passive system there is resolution decimation happening in a particular direction but in the future, with full HD passive panels, that will also go away. In the case of lenticular lenses we are showing the value of the full resolution signal in the case of a full HD panel behind a lenticular lens. The particular lens that we are working with in our prototypes is a fractional lenticular lens that is designed by Philips which really gives you back a much higher resolution impression than what you have seen so far. The combination of the two gives you the impression of full HD glasses free 3D video.
3D Focus: So right now, if Dolby 3D was transmitted within a side by side signal and watched on a passive 3D TV, it would be 50% resolution rather than 25% per eye?
Roland Vlaicu: It depends how you do the decimation. The passive polariser typically decimates vertically; the side by side signal is typically decimated horizontally so, in that case, yes you would get a resolution gain. If you were clever and decimated in the same direction as the transmission link seen on the display, then you don’t actually have a resolution lost but unfortunately that is not the case.
3D Focus: Tell us about the 3D ‘volume control’
Roland Vlaicu: The multi-view rendering algorithm that is needed to create the multi-view signal from the stereoscopic signal for glasses free 3D television, can be used for all sorts of things. Once you have generated several depth maps you can use that information to control the intensity of the 3D effect and you can use the same algorithm to control the effect on glasses based systems too.
3D Focus: Are you confident the Dolby 3D real-time stereo to autostereo conversion is high enough quality to go to market now? What were you showing at IBC?
Roland Vlaicu: At this point we are showing pre-rendered content because the FGPA implementation of our algorithm is not quite ready yet. It will be ready late in the year but it’s employing the exact same algorithm. The TV manufacturers are excited about that fact there is a consumer solution available right now that is backed by two significant companies.
3D Focus: How will you persuade broadcasters to use the Dolby 3D standard which is proprietary compared to the license free side-by-side system, when there is no clear evidence people want any form of 3D in the home, HD or not.
Roland Vlaicu: In our conversations with broadcasters it is very clear that they see the current side by side solution as the pragmatic first step but they are all looking at the next step which is full resolution. The question is, how do they best do this without compromising the existing transmission signal? There is the expectation that you will have to continue to transmit a side by side signal to your existing install base, but at the same time you will want to augment your 3D transmission to full resolution. We think our enhanced layer scheme is the right solution for this. There is hesitation by the industry, which is quite understandable, to implement a technology that is not standardised. You will continue to see solutions based entirely on proprietary specifications and they will continue to struggle in my opinion. Those that will go to a standardisation pass will ultimately succeed.
3D Focus: Do you think lenticular technology is fit for purpose with the viewing cone issues?
Roland Vlaicu: Firstly, Dolby 3D is platform agnostic but right now we think, for larger screens, lenticular offers the based trade-offs. Beyond that there is the notion of switchable lenticular where you can turn the lenses off and get full quad HD resolution for 2D viewing. Then, turned on, you get autostereoscopic 3D at HD resolutions – that is what the industry seems to be pursuing right now.
3D Focus: What hard evidence is there that 3D will take off with glasses free 3D technology other than people saying they don’t like 3D glasses? After all, the Nintendo 3DS or LG Optimus 3D did not require glasses but were not very successful in terms of 3D usage.
Roland Vlaicu: The amount of interest that we were able to generate at IBC, NAB and the 3D Summit has been really phenomenal. I have never seen so many people consistently packed around a booth like with our Dolby 3D demo. This was already the first indication that average viewers are really appreciating what they are seeing. They like the fact it is a very calming, pleasant 3D viewing experience. On the actual data driven factual side we are about to conduct some consumer research to really understand what in particular drives consumers to 3D or what it is that drives them away. We believe it is the glasses aspect but there may be some other ancillary aspects that we might be able to take into consideration to further improve our product.
Despite the glasses free 3D market being relatively small, there is growing competition amongst researchers and companies hoping to get a foot in the door of TV manufacturers and broadcasters. On the display side, lenticular display companies like Dimenco, Alioscopy and Tridelity are focussing on fitting lenses to higher resolution screens such as 4K, as well as reducing the jumps between viewing cones. Stream TV Networks are hoping their new optical based glasses free displays (due to be launched on the consumer market next year after striking a deal with Hisense and Pegatron) will blow away the lenticular competition with no viewing ‘jumps’ and a lower price point.
The other major challenge for making glasses free 3D video viewable is it requires multiple viewpoints. Filming a scene with eight or more cameras is not practical or bandwidth efficient so other companies are offering stereo to autostereo conversion solutions. Pre-pared content works well but the ultimate solution is a real-time process where a decoder can convert a side-by-side signal into multi-view images in real-time.
Triaxes Vision offer NetJet, a real-time solution built for this purpose, which generates two depth maps rather than one for enhanced quality. The autostereoscopic specialist have recently partnered with Sisvel Technology to offer broadcasters a HD glasses free 3D transmission solution that is fully backward compatible, naming the format Universal 3DZ Tile.
There may be big financial rewards for companies able to establish partnerships with broadcasters and consumer goods manufacturers, but the challenge will be convincing them that there is a demand and commercial opportunity for glasses free 3D in the home.
FULL AUDIO INTERVIEW WITH ROLAND VLAICU
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