Back in the early 1970s I entered a $100 bet with a school friend to the effect that before we died some form of effective, commercial 3D TV would be available. A hundred dollars seemed like a lot in those days.

On the face of it, his bet (against the proposition) was safer than mine (for it). Our TVs were all CRTs. The only programming was free to air analogue: VHS had not yet arrived, let alone DVD or Blu-ray. He was more technologically knowledgeable. I had no idea at all how the technology might work. But I bet on this advance on general principles.

If we assumed that we had, say, fifty more years to live then we had a timescale by which to judge likely technological progress. Casting back fifty years would have taken us to the first half of the 1920s. Say, around the time that Philo Farnsworth was inventing the idea of using scan lines as a system for television. Certainly well before magnetic tape was invented. As far as I could see, if things moved that far and fast in the previous five decades, they could move just as far and fast in the next five.

So here we are 35 years later. Late last month Samsung announced that the ‘World’s first 3-D Plasma Is Here!’ (Link to come). Basically, this is a eye-glasses based system, I think with polarising shutter filters. What’s special about the TV is that it incorporates picture processing technology from Perth-based DDD (Dynamic Digital Depth) that allegedly turns 2D into 3D. I’m supposed to be looking at this TV in a few days. It also seems to support dedicated 3D material delivered via computer.

Today I received a press release from Philips indicating that it is demonstrating its 3D system at the Berlin IFA consumer electronics show. What’s interesting here is that in addition to various displays, the company will have a demonstration Blu-ray product. Its approach is called ‘2D plus depth‘, which is different to the more common stereoscopic approach. The Philips system uses a regular image, but there’s a second depth map delivered as well which can be applied or ignored, depending on the capabilities of the equipment. It’s analogous to the introduction of colour to TV, where the black and white image remained the same for backwards compatibility, and the colour overlay could be ignored by black and white TVs.

Presumably we will need a HDMI v1.4 to support this signal.

I’m certainly not claiming (yet) to have won that schoolboy bet, but things are moving in the right direction. It will be interesting to see how well this stuff works. Is it realistic? Does it work for a number of people in the room? At different viewing angles?

And if this technology becomes available, will 3D movie production become as ubiquitous as colour?

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