By Santi Fort, Barcelona Media
The media industry knows that astonishing new experiences bring in big audiences and revenue. High-quality presentation of stereoscopic or immersive images in the home and in public entertainment spaces such as cinemas offers previously unimagined levels of vividness of the experience. Particularly, immersion seems to be key in providing audiences with the unique sense of being inside the projected environment: a panoramic screen comprising the complete field of view along with a 3D audio system turns the spectator into an invisible character taking part in the scene; not only as a presence but also experiencing a heightened emotional reaction.
2020 3D Media
The 2020 3D Media project is a four-year research project funded by the European Commission under the FP7 (7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development), and involves 13 industrial and academic partners, including Barcelona Media (ES), Grass Valley (NE), Technicolor (DE), Digital Projection (UK), DTS Europe (UK), Doremi Technologies (FR), Mediapro (ES), CreW (BE), University of Hasselt (BE), Fraunhofer HHI (DE), Joanneum Research (AT), University of Reading (UK), and Datasat (UK).
Since March 2008 the 2020 3D project, led by Barcelona Media, has been researching, developing and demonstrating novel forms of compelling entertainment experiences based on new technologies for the capture, production, networked distribution and display of 3D sound and images.
The ultimate goal of the project was to explore and develop novel technologies to support the production, post-production, networked distribution, and exhibition of immersive audiovisual content. The users of the resulting technologies are intended to be media professionals from film, TV and ‘new media’ industries. The project end date was 29 February 2012, and the project achieved its goals. Indeed, the 2020 3D Media project has developed a complete state-of-the-art end-to-end 3D spatial sound and visual system.
Spatial Sound and Vision in Action
The results were showcased on February 13-14 at Fraunhofer HHI’s Timelab, taking advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate results to attendees of the Berlinale Film Festival. During the 2020 3D Media project, showcase technologies developed within the project were demonstrated. The highlight of this event was the project’s experimental short film ‘Double Happiness’, directed by Eric Joris and Brecht Debackere, produced with the cutting-edge stereoscopic and immersive technologies developed in the project.
Double Happiness publicly demonstrated an immersive audiovisual experience based on the combination of 270-degree 2D video, depth-based 3D video, stereoscopic 3D video sequences and native 3D sound, exhibited in two different set-ups: the HHI Timelab and a home-like scenario. It combined the technologies developed for capturing omnidirectional moving images – a development of the University of Hasselt; 3D moving images; the 3D Trifocal camera rig – a collaborative development by Fraunhofer HHI and Technicolor; and Grass Valley’s Time of Flight cameras for depth estimation; and the capture of native 3D sound.
The post-production process included the 3D technologies developed by Barcelona Media to manipulate depth-enhanced video and spatial sound and University of Hasselt’s manipulation of omnidirectional video. Finally, the exhibition and distribution system included the architecture for public/theatre display with DPL’s projection technology, and the satellite-based distribution of 3D and immersive content developed by DTS and Datasat.
The 2020 3D Media project has also researched 3D and immersive narrative, and collected users’ impressions in order to better understand and assess how audiences engage, interact and adapt to this new content and means of exhibition. The preliminary results of the evaluation questionnaires show that professional users and end users rated the overall quality of the experiences during the Berlin Showcase as 7.5/10 on average. These are encouraging results considering that the home-like environment displaying the omnidirectional sequences in a 270-degree screen in synchrony with the 3D audio is a rather experimental setup. The bottom line is that, as proven in the 2020 3D Media project showcase, immersion is also possible in a home environment.
The Challenges Ahead
Currently, the 3D film industry roller-coasts its way to audiences: from astonishing visual effects to still too much poor-quality content; from heavily financed productions to yet even higher costs; from users’ high expectations to uncomfortable 3D glasses, dizziness and headaches. It is expected that immersive entertainment will follow a similar route, coping with technology time-to-market, penetration and content production. But either way, the 3D and immersive entertainment uptake seems to be an unstoppable trend. In the meanwhile, the 2020 3D Media project results, some of which are already being commercialised, are contributing to both the technology and the content production industry.
Santi Fort is the Innovation Manager for Barcelona Media. The Barcelona Media Innovation Centre is a technology centre dedicated to applied research in the area of communications and the media.