By Stella Plumbridge, 3Droundabout
The UEFA Champions League Final 2011 took place between FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC on Saturday 28th May 2011. Why do I know that? Well I am not going to pretend that I am a fan of either team, or that I know very much about football, but I did spend the evening in a sports bar watching both the match and the audience. The location was the Walkabout bar in Covent Garden, London, and the reason was that iPONT International used the event for a very public demonstration of its autostereoscopic technology.
Walkabout Covent Garden is no stranger to showing 3D sport as it is already a Sky 3D-equipped pub. “The Walkabout brand prides itself on providing customers with an amazing experience and the best in live sport and entertainment with huge sports screens,” explained Dal Jones, bar manager of Walkabout Covent Garden. “Not only will we be the first bar in the UK to screen live 3D football without asking customers to wear 3D spectacles, but we’ll be bringing a totally new immersive experience to Walkabout.”
iPONT installed a commercially available 65-inch wide-angle glasses-free 3D LCD display with a prototype iPONT 3DTV Box. This proprietary set-top box supports Internet, satellite, cable and terrestrial services. In this case, it was streaming real-time 3D broadcast content from a Sky+ HD satellite decoder and was running pre-release converter software.
The surroundings for this set-up were not ideal. From where I was watching, the wall lights reflected off the middle of the screen, which was distracting and destroyed the 3D illusion if you focused on it, but from about 3-4m away the image was surprisingly acceptable. There were some artefacts, and anything close up in negative parallax had a tendency to look wrong, which mainly occurred for the presenters in the studio setting. Some of the graphics had problems too, as did the advertising banners surrounding the field. There was some blurring between viewing zones, but it felt like there were no fixed sweet spots and you could move about without losing the best position. Of course it’s very subjective and without seeing the same material on a 3D glasses TV, it is impossible to know whether some of these artefacts were due to the production or transmission, rather than the display.
The audience for this demonstration was made up of invited guests and journalists, as well as members of the general public. So what did the audience think? Well, while we were discussing the technology, the football fans just got on and enjoyed the match! For most of them, glasses-free 3D was a brand-new experience, and as one fan told us, “It’s one step closer to being there!”
Here are some of the comments that iPONT collected:
- Tom, London, “The 3DTV is great. Better than expected.”
- Barbet, London and Iran, “Without glasses is way better and far more convenient than with glasses 3DTV. Once Sky get more cameras it’s going to be amazing.”
- Lucca, Milton Keynes, “This is a great way to watch the match. I don’t think we could find anywhere better.”
- Sarah, Oxford, “I didn’t realise you could do this, but it’s amazing. It’s the future of watching TV. I wish I could buy one.”
- Gabriella, Spain, “It’s better than watching the match in your own home. I definitely want to watch more 3D matches. Great that it’s glasses free too.”
And here is a promotional video of the event which gives an idea of the set-up and some more feedback from the audience:
After the event, Matthew Young, director iPONT UK said, “3D without the glasses is the only way to enjoy 3DTV, and at Walkabout we’ve demonstrated that it’s possible to deliver an enjoyable immersive entertainment experience. The technology performed well tonight and will mature through the generations. Despite the viewing improvement provided by the technology, Manchester United supporters have been inconsolable – however, a few did say it’s been incredible to watch the game this way.”
More to come
Young stressed that this was a work in progress and that iPONT was working on the conversion algorithm to make it more capable and able to accept different content. He explained, “The pixel management is being fine-tuned to achieve clearer images for all cases. What we have really learned from the event is that the stereo cameras used in 3D production are not always set up well i.e. when there is a wide camera angle shot a person that walks close to camera distorts. In the future we will adapt our solution to work with all commercially-available, good-quality autostereoscopic screens, so customers have a choice e.g. parallax barrier or lenticular lens, wide viewing range or narrower, etc.”
A UK first, if not a world first
iPONT claims that this was the first time a UK bar had screened live football in this way. I have not heard of any other such public displays of live 3D glasses-free broadcasts, but please let me know if you have been involved in similar projects. In the confines of the NAB 2011 trade show environment, I saw the 3DFusion 3DFMax autostereoscopic 3DTV system displaying the live camera feed from a 3ality Digital 3D camera array as it captured a basketball game. The 3DFusion system also allows you to adjust the 3D depth impact to your personal preference, on the fly in real time. Russian company, Triaxes Vision was also at NAB showing its Netjet live capture, encoding and streaming application and DVB-T or IP Media Player set-top box working with a Dimenco autostereoscopic display.
Autostereoscopic display technology is developing rapidly and while I have not seen anything that is ready for mass market prime time television, these displays are good enough for many applications. The iPONT system certainly kept a pub full of football fans more than happy, even if some of them were disappointed with the final score. Major TV manufacturers, such as Samsung, have stated that it will be difficult to get glasses-free 3DTV to market within the next ten years, but a quick browse through the 3Droundabout news archive for autostereoscopic developments shows plenty of activity in this area. You already have a choice of glasses-free 3D PCs, laptops, gaming and mobile devices, monitors and TVs (in Japan), so maybe ten years is a bit too cautious.