Digital World: TV adventures in the third dimension

Among the highlights on display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas were a plethora of new, advanced 3-D televisions.

By DAVID SHAMAH
January 10, 2011 22:15
Samsung 3D television

Samsung 3D television 311. (photo credit: c)

The world of the small-screen TV will come to life sooner than you think. Among the highlights on display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas were a plethora of new, advanced 3-D televisions, as manufacturers begin a full-forward offense to convince consumers that 3-D TV is the next big thing. You may not think you need one yet – but then you haven’t seen the new 3-D TV broadcasts.

Yep – they’re on the way. Discovery TV and ESPN are already on board, and about 10 more players are set to begin broadcasts later this year, according to an expert in the field. And that expert, Noam Shalev of Highlight Films (www.highlight.co.il), is ready for the world of tomorrow with a new, better – and cheaper – way to develop content for 3-D TV broadcasts.

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In fact, he says, his company is already working on a deal to produce a 3-D TV series for a “large nature broadcaster than is going to begin 3-D broadcasts. The series will be filmed underwater, showing viewers a dimension of underwater life they have never seen before.”

Bet you won’t think you don’t need a 3-D TV when that series comes out! While you would think that 3-D technology – whether in the production of the technology or the content for broadcasts – would be an affair for Japan and Hollywood, it turns out that Israeli ingenuity has gained an important foothold in several aspects – hardware, software and even content – of the coming 3-D revolution. For Shalev’s Highlight Films, that foothold comes in the form of a better – and especially cheaper – way to produce 3-D content.


“The rule of thumb in the industry is that the cost of 3- D production is at least three times the cost of standard, 2-D production,” Shalev says, adding: “Through judicious use and unorthodox tweaking of the available tools, software and hardware, we’ve been able to reach the same professional results that large studios have at a much higher cost.”

Shalev, who has been in the movie production business for 19 years, both inside and outside of Israel, has been working with his head of production, Aviv Peres, to develop the unique work flow that enables them to deliver 3-D content for as little as half of what other major players in the field can.

“We deliver by far the best quality at a price no one can touch, from what I can tell, and I know the industry well,” Shalev says.

Besides the TV series on underwater life, Shalev is also producing a full-length 3-D movie on the Dead Sea, the first ever made about that body of water, which will be Israel’s entry into the New Seven Wonders of the World contest (www.new7wonders.com/en). It’s important to note, however, that Shalev hasn’t exactly invented something new; call him a technique innovator, instead.

“The cameras and software that go into making a 3-D production are very complicated, and new stuff is coming out all the time,” he says. “The only way to learn how to do what we do is to work with the equipment and software.”

While Shalev expects other producers to be able to duplicate his success eventually, he says by that time he’ll be ahead of the pack.

“Filming for 3-D is much different than filming for 2-D, and my camera crews are top-flight, so I would imagine that it would take awhile for competitors to catch up with us,” he says. Nevertheless, he is investigating whether his production methods are patentable.

Meanwhile, Shalev has begun producing promotional films and travelogues using his methods. The response has been great, he says, with TV channels and producers around the world expressing interest. You can view some of his movies on the Highlight Films site, although, Shalev says, the standard 3-D red and blue paper glasses most people will have as they watch on a small computer screen won’t do his work justice.

An Israeli company that has invented something new in the 3-D arena is Elrom Studios (www.elrom.tv), the people that put Hebrew subtitles at the bottom of your favorite movies and TV shows. And, says Noam Gal, director of the support department in Elrom’s Development Group, the company’s already popular ELR Studio package is even more popular, thanks to the addition of support for 3-D subtitles.

While there are no plans for 3-D TV broadcasts in Israel anytime soon, Gal says, there are plenty of other countries that need subtitling services and software for their 3-D broadcasts – and Elrom is ready with a simpler, better and cheaper solution, eliminating the problem of “sinking” subtitles in 3-D content.

“As the 3-D image deepens, the subtitles seem to move backward, so the viewer feels something is ‘off,’ even if they don’t know exactly what it is,” Gal says. “Our technology more precisely positions the subtitle, keeping it consistent with the video.”

It may sound like a minor technical fix, but it’s actually a very significant accomplishment in the subtitle business – an accomplishment that has been generating a lot of interest, Gal says.

And if you are someone who watches TV – or uses a video, camera, computer monitor, or any other device with a screen – you might as well get used to the idea of 3-D, Highlight’s Shalev says.

“The whole video industry is working on this, and they have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in it already,” he says. “It’s not just TV – it’s the whole array of video products.”

And while, for now, you really do need glasses to get the full 3-D effect, within two or three years we will begin seeing the first TV sets and screens that let you experience 3-D without glasses, he says. It’ll be a whole small world in – not on – the small screen, coming to a screen near you, sooner than you think!

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