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The Vision Show: The Business of 3-D

Photonics.com
May 2010
May. 26, 2010 — May 25th is recognized pretty much everywhere as Towel Day. At least I think it is. I read about this day of observance on the internet – Wikipedia, for instance, seems utterly convinced of its actuality – but you never can be certain, can you?

Towel Day, the popular online encyclopedia went on to say, with a reassuring air of authority, was launched in 2001 as a tribute to Douglas Adams – author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series – who had died suddenly just two weeks before. (If you don’t know or understand the significance of towels to the series, I’m sorry, we can’t be friends anymore.) On it, fans of the books carry bath linens with them everywhere they go, as a celebration of Adams’ life and work but also as a reminder of the very important precept that he penned: “Always know where your towel is.”

This is more than just some screwball imperative. I can attest to that. Once, years ago, I found myself in Bruges, Belgium without my towel. The youth hostel in which I was staying was unable – or at least unwilling – to provide me with one, and the Canadian chap in the lower bunk seemed little interested in sharing his.

So I went a-searching. Oddly, only one store in Bruges carried towels. And then, as the store manager somehow conveyed to me (at the time, my Flemish was limited to “Please,” “Thank you” and “Seriously, where is this train taking me?”), I was ineligible to buy one. As it turned out, the towels were available exclusively through a convoluted promotion in which purchasing assorted knickknacks, gewgaws and bathroom accessories earned you points toward a china set displayed prominently at the front of the store. To participate, however, you needed to belong to a kind of club – sort of like carrying a Ralph’s rewards card, I suppose. There was no way to get a towel otherwise.

Word quickly spread that the unwashed American wanted to buy one of those glorified dishrags. Within seconds, it seemed, I was surrounded by an agglomeration of Belgian women chattering away in a language I did not understand. I’m pretty sure they were arguing over who would take advantage of my unenviable situation, for one of them finally grabbed my wrist and yanked me toward the cash register. I got my towel, she got her points. Everyone was happy.

Anyway, I celebrated Towel Day this year by attending The Vision Show (the underlined article is part of the name), which opened on Tuesday at Hynes Convention Center here in Boston. Sponsored by the Automated Imaging Association (AIA), this three-day event is a showcase of machine vision and imaging components and solutions and offers something for pretty much everyone: vision users, system integrators, automation integrators, machine builders, OEMs, and more.

After tracking down and purchasing a cup of coffee, I found my way to the room at the back of the hall where the keynote address was scheduled to be held. Robert Harris and Michael Bergeron of Panasonic Solutions Company were speaking on “The Business of 3-D,” and I didn’t want to miss it.

3-D is finally coming into its own, Harris said. After decades of fits and starts and short-lived fads, the technology has reached a point where 3-D movies can offer the truly immersive experience they have always promised. The herald of its arrival is of course the James Cameron behemoth Avatar – whose earnings, he noted, are almost twice the total worth of the pro video industry. With advances in polarized lenses and digital projection technology, and the apparent demand for the sort of experience they have enabled, look for a spate of new 3-D movies in the coming years.

And not just in theaters. More than one million 3-D-capable televisions will be sold in 2010, Harris continued, with roughly 12 million expected over the next three years. By 2013, 30 percent of all televisions sold in the US will be 3D-capable.

Panasonic is facilitating the move toward 3-D home-viewing by providing both the plasma displays on which to watch the movies and the Blu-ray technology that allows delivery. But the company also recognizes the need for additional 3-D content, without which consumers will think twice before plunking down the money for 3-D systems. For this reason, it is working with DIRECTV and ESPN among other providers planning to launch 3-D channels. At the same time, it is developing further end-to-end solutions: namely, an integrated twin-lens full-HD 3-D camera recorder.

Next up, Bergeron gave us an overview of how 3-D movies are made and outlined the various challenges filmmakers might face while operating a 3-D camera rig, including a vertical displacement between the two cameras and the two zooms moving at slightly different speeds. There are several approaches to correcting the resulting 3-D errors, he said – optical/mechanical, post-production and real-time processing – but these are generally difficult to implement, and always expensive.

The Panasonic integrated twin-lens recorder – the AG-SDA1 – helps to overcome these issues, by linking the lens control and enabling easy adjustment of the convergence point. It even alerts the operator when he or she has done something that could result in spotty 3-D.

Bergeron left us with a little something to chew on – a sort of apothegm for the new millennium. “If God had meant for us to watch 3-D movies,” he said, “he would have given us two eyes.”

Or even two heads. But I guess that’s a story for another time.




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