Friday, September 01, 2006

"I Gotta Get Me One Of Those!"

I think today I stumbled across “The next big thing”

If you’re not excited by this, you should check to see if your heart’s still beating. If you’re a technophile like me, it’s nerdgasm time.

I’m talking about the latest TV being released by Phillips.

Wait, wait wait! Come back! Come back!

I know what you’re thinking! “TV? Next big thing! Whatever, you British Moron. Go eat some tea and crumpets, ya limey bastard!”

Let me be absolutely clear on this. Let me be as clear as a morning dew-drop on the eyelash of a startled deer. This is no ordinary TV!

In all seriousness, this TV is the same kind of step forward that the first TV was when compared to the radio.

How? What’s so great?...Well, I’ll tell you! (While trying to refrain from giggling like a schoolgirl.)

The word here is 3D (Ok, technically, that’s an acronym for two words, but let’s not split hairs, here…stop being pedantic…or facetious…which ever word actually describes, what in my little fantasy world, you’re actually doing.)

To begin to explain this, I first need to explain how 3D works. We see the world in 3D, because, simply, we have two eyes. We get two slightly different pictures of the world, which allows our brains to ‘triangulate’ how far away something is. Two pictures that our brains convert into a single picture, get it?

(Experiment Time! Close one of your eyes, and holding your hand about a foot from your face, point at your nose. Look closely…then open the other eye. You’ll see it change from a 2D image to a 3D image…completely pointless, and you’ll look like a mental patient, but it shows you what I mean.)

Anyway, with regular TV, what we’re seeing is a flat screen. It doesn’t ‘come out at us’, because we’re viewing a single flat plane. We don’t see depth, because quite simply, there isn’t any.

So how does ‘traditional’ 3D TV work?

Basically, it’s those dorky red and blue glasses that give you a splitting headache. The screen shows the image from two slightly different angles, approximating the difference in angle between our two eyes. We can only see the blue image through the red-lens and vice-versa…which gives the illusion of 3D.

Now, while this kind of 3D is cool in a novelty kind of sense, it has major drawbacks. The fact that you can’t actually view a color picture for one…and the splitting headaches for two.

The only other option is ‘shutter glasses’. Basically, the screen continually flips from one angle to the other, and shutter glasses block each eye in sequence. When the view from the left eye is on screen, the right eye is blocked and vice versa. Again, this has major drawbacks, the image appears to flicker…and again, gives you a splitting headache.

Well, the Boffins at Phillips have come up with something truly revolutionary.

What they’ve done is fit tiny (I’ll even go so far as to say teeny-weeny) lenses to the screen, directly over each RGB pixel. (I won’t go into explaining what an RGB pixel is, check out wikipedia if you’ve no clue what I’m talking about).

What does this mean?

It means that the screen is capable of ‘projecting’ the image at 9 different angles, meaning you’re getting a true 3D picture, in color, that can be viewed from multiple angles. In other words, it works like 3D glasses, only you don’t actually have to wear glasses. All kinds of technological trickery means the screen only allows each eye to see the correct angle.

This has been done before, but previously, the viewer had to sit perfectly still in precisely the right position for it to work. With this TV, there’s a much larger viewing space. In other words, you can move from the left side to the right side of the couch, and still get the 3D effect.

I’ve just read a review of this TV, and the reviewer said that the effect is absolutely astounding. The demonstration showed a girl on the screen throwing a handful of flower petals ‘out of the screen’…and it was…screw it…I’ll got for the direct quote:

“I entered a conference room in Manhattan and a woman on the TV tossed a handful of rose petals out of the screen, where they floated in the air before my eyes.”

Can you imagine that? To be honest, I thought that any future 3D TV would be something like using lasers to project an image onto smoke. In other words, novelty value, but not something you’d actually like to watch all your TV on. This is Star Trek shit, bitches!

However, the best part (at least for me), is what this means for games.

You see, video games already have the depth-information necessary to make use of this technology. The game environments are created in 3D, and are then flattened to be displayed on a flat screen…and those crazy boffins at Phillips have already created the software that allows this depth information to be used with their display.

Time for another quote:

“Philips has developed hardware and software that can extract the original depth information from the game engine and use it to create 3-D images on a WOWvx display.

In New York, the company demonstrated the technique with the first-person shooter Call of Duty. It looked almost perfect, except for a little shimmering around the edges of objects, which Philips says will be fixed in the coming months.”

Ok, maybe not perfect but I can deal with a ‘little shimmering’, especially as this technology is still in its infancy. Picture this for a moment, even with the ‘slight shimmering’, explosions coming out of the screen at you, enemy rockets seemingly whizzing past your head!

I’ve actually had the experience of playing the old game ‘Descent’ using shutter glasses. What the 3D effect added to the gameplay was absolutely astounding. Without needing to use shutter glasses the effect would be amazing.

Of course, outside of gaming, the possibilities are almost endless. Especially when movie makers start to shoot movies in 3D. Fair enough, this may take a while, but the way I see it, it will be no bigger a step for them than when they first started to include a sound-track or switched from black and white to color.

Another thing that amazed me was this:

“…Philips is developing software to convert standard video to 3-D by analyzing movement to determine the original depth position of people and objects.

A standard laptop running Philips' software was able to convert the DVD The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King into 3-D in real time and display it on Philips's new 20-inch "3D 4YOU" LCD monitor -- a retail-kiosk implementation of the 3-D screen.

The result looked vaguely 3-D, though it was marred by some blurriness and double images.

"I think for consumers this is simply not good enough," said Philips executive Rob de Vogel. "But the progress in the past year is amazing."”

In this instance, I don’t think the conversion of standard movies to 3D will ever be perfect, but again, we’re talking about an infant technology…and if movie makers don’t grab this new display with both hands, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.

Of course, there is a major downside to all this, and in this case, it’s the price.

One of these TV’s will cost you just over $14,000.

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