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Friday, 01 August 2008 15:01

Telstra's 3D TV - more questions answered

I went to have a look at Telstra’s new 3D TV display, destined for advertising and use in retail, enterprise and government installations, and had the chance to find out how the 3D TV is displayed, and to get some more questions answered. Read on!

After I wrote about Telstra claiming an Australian first with a 3D TV installation in its Telstra “Executive Briefing Centre” in Melbourne’s CBD, in conjunction with its partner Prime Digital Media (PDM), I realised I had some more questions, so Telstra invited me to come and visit, take a look and get some answers.

As mentioned in the first story, 3D TVs aren’t new – they’ve been demonstrated for year at technology shows in two forms: models that require you to wear special 3D glasses, and models that don’t.

One thing I’ve noticed with models that need no glasses is the fact that the resulting image can look a little bit fuzzy, and I asked if the screen on display was a high-def screen, or not, and how it was able to create a 3D image.

The short answer is that the screen is indeed a 1920x1080 high-def plasma panel, called the “NewSight Multiview”.

I went to NewSight’s website for some interesting technical detail on exactly how the screens work, but I've summarised it below, with answers on how and why Telstra is deploying the technology in Australia on page 2.

Newsight explains that its “patented technology supports creation and display of three dimensional images that are viewable without glasses” and that they “use a proprietary technology with numerous patents in throughout the world covering 3D autostereoscopic display systems and software.”

Telstra’s representatives told me the plasma TV has 8 layers (a parallax barrier) atop the standard glass, with NewSight’s technical explanation being that it uses “parallax barrier technology allows the viewer to see the 3D image “naturally” in the way people are used to viewing normal 2D displays.”

The explanation continues: “The technology subdivides the LCD image into complex repeating segments that, when viewed and then integrated by human binocular vision, presents 3D views of scenes. The special parallax barrier is affixed to commercial-grade LCD displays in a precision assembly process.”

The parallax barrier causes the slightly fuzzy look, something that you don’t see with units that require 3D glasses, but given that you don’t need glasses and anyone can experience the 3D vision, the slight fuzziness trade-off is more than worth it.

So why is Telstra getting into the 3D TV advertising business, when telecommunications is what it does? Turns out the answer is quite simple... Please read on to page 2. On page 3 you’ll find more information on the 3D video creation process, as well as tech specs for the screens and screen sizes.

Telstra already supplies “2D” screens in retail environments at point of sale, and uses its Next IP network to keep the screens updated with new content.

Telstra partnered with PDM (Prime Digital Media, part of the Prime TV group) to be able to offer the 3D TV screens to retail, enterprise and government, in the same manner, along with more Telstra “Next IP” network tie-ins.

The screens can then be updated with new content on a regular basis or even in real time, from a central location. I asked if the screens could also get content sent via Next G wireless, and new video could be delivered that way too, if desired.

So part of Telstra’s motivation is to promote and sell its Next IP services to business, which is hardly surprising: it’s a big part of what Telstra does, after all, and this technology will be a driver of Next IP business for Telstra.

Telstra has already received interest from advertising agencies wanting to use the technology, and given Telstra has the manpower, the networks and its partner PDM with the know how to create 3D video, the business case becomes clear.

One immediate application that I thought of while seeing the screen would be for cinemas to use it to promote upcoming 3D movies.

Given the growth in 3D movie making, with IMAX 3D cinemas in Australia, and both IMAX and Real D cinemas in the US, and more movies being made in 2D and 3D versions, why not let cinema goers see 3D trailers in cinema foyers?

Of course, it seems like an obvious idea, so I was surprised when the Telstra representatives acted as though they hadn’t thought of it, but whether they had already thought of it or not, we’re all about to see a lot more 3D TV advertising screens around from now onwards, especially if advertising agencies are interested.

I asked if Telstra would install the screens in its “T-Life” flagship stores, and the answer was that they would very likely appear there, but that the next installation would be in Telstra’s “Experience Centre” at 400 George St in Sydney one of Telstra’s many Sydney CBD offices.

As for any moves to get 3D TV happening over at Foxtel, I was told anything like that would be a long way off.

So what is some more of the technical information behind the 3D video creation process that PDM would be involved in, and technical specifications of the screens themselves? Please read on to page 3.

Images of how the screens actually work to display a 3D image can be seen here.

The screens take DVI or VGA input, and are connected to PCs. Loaded onto these PCs in the “NewSight Media Player”, which we’re told “supports a wide variety of image and video formats. The most common format utilized is the NewSight eight tile format. Standard 2D content can also play with no problem on the NewSight display and can be interspersed with 3D content.”

Here’s more detail from NewSight:

“There are several ways to produce 3D content for the NewSight displays. The most common probably is using NewSights plugins for standard 3D content production packages like 3DSMax, Maya, or LightWave. They allow the easy transition for 3D content creators from the 2D world to the 3D world.

“In addition the NewSight Post Production ToolKit (PPTK) allows content creators to put the finishing touches on animations and will automate many of the standard tasks in the pipeline such as compression or special effects. This package is optimized to operate on all 8 views of video simultaneously. Furthermore we provide content creation and training services in Germany. 

“Maintaining updated and fresh content for networks of displays is done with a networked content management and distribution system and the NewSight Media Player Professional version provided by NewSight partners.

“These partners provide easy-to-use systems supporting our display systems within network configurations.  Each location is analyzed, provisioned for proper connectivity and connected to the content management and distribution partner's Network Operations Center (NOC).  Content flows from the NOC to individual locations for updates on a regular basis.”

You can also get the exact specs of the 8.4-inch, 24-inch, 42-inch and 57-inch screens, along separate with PDF spec sheets (in Germand and English) here. NewSight also say they've made custom-sized screens from 2-inches to a whopping 180-inches!

So, clearly PDM and Telstra are working with NewSight to make 3D TV advertising a reality across Australia. Over time it’ll likely be everywhere!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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