If holographic television were available today, would you go right out and buy it?
We’re more than four years into the widespread availability of affordable consumer 3D television and the viewing public hasn’t embraced it yet. My best guess is simply because they haven’t seen it yet, or they are basing their lack of interest on a poor viewing experience with 3D in a public theater. At borg.com, we’ve got no skin in the game–we don’t work for or with the studios–we’re just after the best viewing experience possible. And we’re completely sold on both 3D Blu-ray and the lesser discussed 2D/3D “upconversion” technology.
Distributors have been relatively slow at releasing 3D Blu-rays, the current standard for 3D home viewing. Many films actually produced in 3D, like Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit series, are very quickly released now in a 3D Blu-ray. Other films are converted to 3D in post-production, like Star Trek Into Darkness, and they are also released on 3D Blu-ray. Both films look far superior to standard films–you can’t even compare the quality. The distinctions between a true 3D film and a conversion are probably not all that noticeable to the average moviegoer with normal vision. But what we’re focusing on today is something different.
A different category of conversion, called 2D/3D conversion, is available on certain affordable 3D televisions today. This is a technology available to anyone with a 3D television that includes the upconvert technology and compatible 3D glasses. For films, TV series, or even real-time live or pre-recorded television, this technology manipulates the images to create a real 3D experience for the viewer. Sounds like a gimmick? It’s not. To test it, we tried 2D/3D upconverting on an episode of each of Star Trek, the original series, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. The result? We were blown away. We think if you try it, you too will ask: Why don’t we watch everything now in 3D, and why isn’t everyone talking about it?
If you’re waiting around for holographic TV, that’s pretty much what you’re getting here, too. You can even get up and walk around without the 3D image going away. The only thing you can’t do is walk completely around a floating object, which is what a true holographic TV experience should be. But this is the next best thing. We watched two acclaimed, classic Star Trek episodes, the original series episode “The Naked Time” and the NextGen series episode “Darmok” using a 3D television, a Blu-ray/DVD player and, for “The Naked Time” a remastered DVD version, and for “Darmok,” a remastered Blu-ray version. We then applied the 3D television’s upconvert and easily adjusted the various 3D settings, such as “Standard” or “Cinema” or “Extreme,” tint, and brightness/backlighting, to create the best picture possible for the room lighting.
The quickest way to see the difference in quality is by turning off the 2D/3D upconvert on your television after watching a few minutes with it on. The difference is obvious in an instant and quite significant way. Take “The Naked Time”–the classic original series primary colors and ample amounts of solid colors emphasize the contrast between background, midground, and foreground ranges. Even Sulu’s sword when he enters swashbuckling mode seems to stretch out of the TV screen. The frozen bodies in the opening scene float toward the viewer in a different plane from Spock as he approaches from behind. The folds of his orange hazard suit form their own landscape in a way you’ve never noticed before. The scenes of the planet below as the Enterprise spins in orbit around it create a sense of awe as if we’re really on a ship high above and far away from a celestial orb. And that planet is in 3D as we see it through a viewscreen that also sits back from our TV screen and the two crewmen who sit out in front of Kirk’s captain chair. Even the crew’s patches and shimmering wrist insignia have their own clear depth and clarity.
One of the best ways to be brought into an immersive 3D experience that we learned from watching Predator in 3D was how outdoor scenes really highlight the medium, with so many natural segments of depth, including the ground, the brush, the trees, the sky, and the clouds. When Captain Picard and Captain Dathon try to understand each other on the surface of El Adrel IV in “Darmok,” the viewer is marooned on the planet with them. Blades of grass in the foreground create this quick contrast to Dathon sitting at his fire several feet in the background of the scene. When Riker, Worf and Data are discussing their solution to remove Picard from the planet’s surface, the decision of the director in staging the actors’ placement takes on a more useful purpose now, as we see–and almost can feel–the difference in space between each actor.
So how does it all work?
We all look at two-dimensional pictures every day, including watching TV, and yet something tells our brains there is perspective and depth to what we see. These depth clues in the brain can see dimension using elements like color, motion, blur, and focus. The computer within the latest televisions can take these clues and create a greyscale map of objects and their relative distances between them. The view of a pair of three-dimensional stereo cameras can then be translated to data and adapted to the 2D mapping as if they are creating a scene in 3D, but again, using the 2D data. Remember the simplicity of Viewmaster reels? The technology is not all that different for the modern TV. The glasses–either inexpensive static versions (as we used) or higher end battery-powered glasses timed to sync with the TV–work with the screen image by ensuring each eye sees what it needs to, so that in your brain your eyes are working together to sense that the TV is providing the same perspective as if you were standing on the production set. You can literally see more from the screen than you could see before, with greater clarity.
For those wishing they could watch their favorite series for the very first time all over again… you can. Still waiting for Lucasfilm for Star Wars in 3D? You don’t need to. We’ll be checking out the original series Blu-rays soon in 2D/3D upconversion, too.
Along with highlighting the best to watch in upconversions, we’ll also be continuing our reviews of the best available on Blu-ray 3D.