By Neil Schneider
With all the talk of Nintendo 3DS and its autostereoscopic 3D screens, clearly there is a lot of interest in the 3D gaming markets by other players as well. We are joined by James Bower, President of MasterImage 3D. James will talk about his product lines and where he sees autostereoscopic 3D taking off in the near future.
1. Hello James! Thank you for joining us on mtbs3D.com. Before we talk about MasterImage 3D, I’d like to learn a bit more about you personally. How did you get involved in this industry?
Thank you for talking with us!
I’m the president of MasterImage. I joined the company in January 2010 just after it was acquired by Symphony 3D Holdings — a company which I co-founded. Symphony invests in companies that span the 3D entertainment and technology spectrum. Prior to MasterImage I was an executive officer at N4D, which provides solutions for stereo 3D content and technology. Before that I was president of an international trade organization called Tradebank, and I spent my early career in the telecom industry. I also co-founded a television shopping network that marketed items over cable, satellite and the Internet.
MasterImage was founded in 2004 in Korea and acquired in 2009 by Symphony 3D, as I mentioned. We’re now based in Burbank, California, and in May, opened an office in the UK, in Pinewood Studios. R&D and manufacturing are based in Seoul. The company provides stereoscopic 3D solutions for theaters, handheld devices and flat-panel displays.
2. Let’s talk about MasterImage 3D. I understand you work in the 3D theater and the consumer markets. In movie theaters, what is your core technology and how does it work?
MasterImage develops three different technologies: autostereoscopic 3D technology for mobile devices and flat panel displays; digital 3D systems for theaters and a 3D camera ASIC for dual-camera equipped devices.
Our digital 3D cinema system is the MI-2100. All six major Hollywood studios and many independent distributors support the MasterImage format for their 3D features and we have systems installed in 38 countries. At the heart of our cinema system is a circular polarizing solution that includes a patented wheel based on the latest research in circular polarization technologies. It delivers superior image detail, sharpness and color fidelity; the highest-quality S3D picture available. Like all S3D systems that rely on polarization, a silver screen is required and is purchased by our clients from screen vendors. MasterImage provides two options for glasses: multi-use and single-use/recyclable.
3. On the consumer side, you appear to be focusing on autostereoscopic (glasses free) technologies. We have seen lenticular and barrier based technologies. Which tech does MasterImage use? How does it work?
MasterImage uses a unique type of barrier technology — a cell matrix/parallax barrier solution — for glasses-free 3D viewing. There are other approaches including striped parallax barrier, stacking two thin-film Transistor (TFT) displays and lenticular, but MasterImage believes that our approach is superior.
4. Are all autostereo barrier technologies the same? Are you doing something different? What is different about it?
We don’t believe that all barrier technologies are the same. The key to the image quality we produce lies first in how we have optimized the design. Typically engineers face a trade off between brightness and noise. MasterImage found the optimum balance to yield a brighter image. MasterImage’s cell matrix/parallax barrier solution is also the only technology today that enables seamless switching between landscape and portrait modes. MasterImage’s autostereoscopic display solution can marry with nearly all screen technologies (LCD, OLED, PDP, TFT, etc.) and is optimal up to 5 inches, on smart phones, portable gaming devices, etc.
5. One of the biggest challenges with autostereo technology is cost, which is why it has been very focused on the professional signage industries instead of the consumer markets. Do you see opportunities for autostereo in the consumer space? Where and how soon?
MasterImage has looked at the cost issue carefully, and we’ve developed (and patented) a mass production process that is very precise, with +/- 2 microns tolerance for our autostereoscopic displays. We have an almost 100% production yield. As a result, we are able to sell our solution to business partners at half the price of the competition.
Because of that, we don’t see cost as the biggest issue. The limitation for autostereoscopic technology in the consumer market — in the home, particularly, is resolution. 2D displays can offer HD resolution. When you split that resolution across left and right images, the result is that consumers are looking at half of that resolution, and they’re not likely to accept less than what they already have. And that’s just for a single viewing point, which is also inadequate for the home viewing experience. The issue is exacerbated when you expand viewing points. For two viewing points, you need three images, and the overall resolution drops to 1/3, and so on. Until TFT-LCD technology reaches a point where it offers 7x resolution, we can’t have eight viewing points and HD quality display. Glasses-based solutions will still be dominant in the PC/monitor/TV market for another two or three years.
The same does not hold true in the mobile realm, and that’s where we see the biggest market right now for autostereoscopic solutions.
6. Why is MasterImage excited about the 3D gaming market? What are its advantages compared to cinema and broadcast?
The gaming market is large and global and there are lots of opportunities for 3D — for both glasses-based and autostereoscopic technology. Also, gamers are used to changing out their hardware rapidly and expect to invest to improve performance.
7. For autostereo technologies to take off in the gaming market, what needs to happen? Has it happened yet?
Better resolution and a wider viewing angle have to be there. Today they’re not.
8. I sampled some of your work at the 3D Gaming Summit. Tell us about the Hitachi Wooo! What are its features, and how is it selling?
The Hitachi Wooo H001 was the first commercial glasses-free 3D cell phone (it displays both 3D and 2D). Casio Hitachi Mobile Communications Company, Ltd. (CHMC) brought it to market in February 2009 in Japan, and it used MasterImage’s autostereoscopic 3D display technology. The Wooo was available for a limited time — about 6 months, and 300,000 units (all the devices manufactured) were sold. Today we’re gearing up to deploy autostereoscopic units with multiple manufacturers worldwide.
9. What content is available for the Wooo? Are there new 3D applications around the bend?
The Wooo was sold only in Japan, and MasterImage is working with a number of partners to establish a 3D mobile portal for the Japanese market. We recently opened an office in Japan, where we are currently setting up the technical infrastructure for this portal and engaging with content providers to make 3D content available through it. We’ll continue to expand our relationships to bring movies, original programming, games, sports and all kinds of 3D content to the Japanese market.
10. There are three divisions in the consumer space: mobile, HDTV, and desktop monitors. How much of a premium do you see for autostereoscopic 3D in these markets? Do you anticipate a big drop in price in the near future?
The mobile market is absolutely the most ‘ready’ for autostereoscopic 3D. Because of limitations in resolution and viewing angle, autostereoscopic in general is not yet ready for PCs or TVs. The industry is making great advances in developing multi-view technology, but to date, the negative impact on resolution has been a stopper. We don’t think consumers are likely to want low-resolution 3D displays. We’re not yet at the tipping point in home PC/TV viewing; the mobile market is the only one ready.
11. Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo’s portable 3D gaming machine, was revealed at E3 this week. In your opinion, what will determine its success or failure? What to you would be the fantasy 3D gaming experience that customers should hope for from this product and products like it?
We saw samples of this device and thought it was excellent. The challenge will be in maintaining that quality through mass production. It will also be interesting to see what game developers come up with to work within the limited viewing angle of autostereoscopic 3D.
Right now, glasses-based 3D is really the only option for consoles, TV and PC gaming. Even with glasses, performance considerations are still significant. 3D effects put double the burden on the platform and gamers get a performance hit. In the case of console or hand-held games, where the user is just competing against the platform, it’s not such an issue. But online gaming is another story. Gamers playing in 2D may very well have a performance advantage over someone in a 3D environment, and when it comes to competition, gamers will be reluctant to give up an advantage for 3D effects. In the US and Europe, where the console and hand-held markets are bigger, there’s more opportunity for 3D. But in Asia, 80% of gaming is online.
12. When it comes to autostereo technologies, what special considerations do game developers need to consider that they wouldn’t with glasses-based 3D technologies? Would it be handled differently somehow?
Limited viewing angles. Gamers like action, and it’s difficult to maintain the 3D effect with limited viewing angles. Developers have to consider the movement of users when they play the game.
13. I’ve been told that autostereo displays can’t handle out-of-screen effects the way glasses-based technologies can. Is there any truth to this? Why or why not?
That’s not entirely true. 3D hardware, whether it’s autostereoscopic or requires glasses, supports the same principle, which is that all 3D divides images into left- and right-eye images. That’s the only role the hardware provides. However, there is a difference in the degree of depth possible for an out-of-screen effect. Normally, glasses-based solutions can eliminate ghosting better, so they can have deeper popped-out images. The distance between the left and right images is bigger. Some autostereoscopic solutions have issues with ghosting, so they can’t pop images out clearly to the same degree.
14. Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), a Taiwanese company that demonstrated a 42″ autostereo unit, is predicting glasses-free 3D HDTVs by 2015 for consumers. What to you would qualify as a customer-ready autostereo product? Price? Resolution? Viewpoint flexibility? What defining factors and goals need to be achieved? Do you think our industry can beat the 2015 mark? By how much?
Resolution is the gating factor with autostereoscopic 3D televisions. The bigger the screen, the wider the viewing angle has to be. To support multiple viewing angles you have to apply multi-viewing technologies, which sacrifice resolution every time a viewing angle is added. In the case of autostereoscopic 3D signage, viewers are typically far enough away so that most people can’t recognize the reduction in resolution with multi-view display. People watch TV from three meters away, and they can easily recognize a drop in resolution. Consumers are familiar with the excellent quality of HD screens and won’t go for lower resolution. We don’t see autostereoscopic technologies making it into home viewing for several years. Maybe by 2015.
15. Ubisoft predicts 50% of titles will be 3D Ready by 2012. 50% of all games! Do you buy these numbers? Why or why not? Where does autostereo fit in the mix?
I think it’s very possible – especially for companies developing games for the console market. I believe we’ll see glasses-based 3D consoles launched along with glasses-based 3D TVs. Game makers will have content ready for those. autostereo has no role in that space within the 2012 time frame.
Excellent! Thank you for joining us James! Readers, please share your remarks below. Is Nintendo 3DS the tip of the iceberg for mobile 3D gaming?