twice connect

XpanD Exec Looks To A Simpler 3D World

4/04/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
NEW YORK — Following the announcement that XpanD 3D and Panasonic have begun licensing a new standard for active-shutter 3D glasses, TWICE sat down with XpanD chief strategy officer Ami Dror to discuss the standard and its implications on the 3D entertainment market.

TWICE: How did you get this coalition together?

Ami Dror: Most of the same companies behind the original HDMI standard are behind the M-3DI standard. The licensing starts [immediately] for the founding partners, and we expect other big-name companies to join very soon and start licensing the technology. The driving forces behind it are very strong, and it will make everybody’s life a little easier.

TWICE: This is an active-shutter standard only?

: We are naturally trying to combat the low-quality 3DTVs that we see in the passive world. We are trying to show a technical standard that is also a standard of high quality. M-3DI licensing will do two things — it will provide the licensed technology but there will also be test centers [one in the United States and one in Asia] so there is an inherent quality requirement. They will test every product, whether it’s eyewear, a TV, a PC, a projector ... everything that carries the 3-DMI logo will have an assured quality level.

TWICE: You said you are expecting people to also use these glasses in movie theaters. Does that mean you expect to see more active-shutter projectors in theaters?

Dror: We already have 4,000 cinemas around the world using XpanD active-shutter technology. It’s still a small market in the U.S. but if you go China, Japan and Western Europe, the majority of cinemas use active-shutter projection. We definitely expect a movement within cinemas in the U.S. into active-shutter because if you look at the cinema business model right now, someone is spending about $1 every time they go to a cinema and get a pair of passive glasses and they get trashed or they are recycled and had to be cleaned. So if you don’t have active-shutter 3DTV in your home, you can rent a pair at the cinema for the same dollar, but if you do have 3DTV, and we think more and more consumers will, then you can bring your own glasses and avoid the hassle and cleanliness concerns.

The current crop of active-shutter glasses use oneway communication — the glasses communicate to the TV. Now we have moved on to two-way communication technology where the TV or cinema projector can feed information to the glasses and the glasses can feed information back. You can tweak your personal preferences, such as transition time and dark time to optimize the 3D experience. That’s something that can only be done with active-shutter glasses.

TWICE: Do you expect your licensees to make their own glasses or will you OEM?

Dror: Both. We already OEM for many of our partners, and we would like to OEM for all of them but it’s not an important point. We want our partners to be able to produce the highest-quality 3D experience possible, and that is the important point.

When you demo a 3DTV for five or 10 minutes, quality is not all that important — your experience is limited by definition. But if you want to sit for two hours in front of a display and watch “Avatar” or a sporting event, if the 3D is not optimal, you will suffer, literally suffer from physical discomfort. We really want to educate consumers that active-shutter is high quality and that quality is vital to the 3D experience. Look at sunglasses — you can buy a pair of sunglasses for $5 but a large percentage of the population chooses to buy sunglasses for a couple hundred dollars, based on quality and comfort. Active vs. passive is a similar example.

TWICE: Do you expect passive 3D to fade away?

Dror: No, not at all. It’s a nice way to enter the market. Some people don’t really like 3D or they may only want to watch 3D for a special event, the big game, maybe the Super Bowl in 2013, the occasional movie. There is clearly a market for passive on the low end, but for me, devoting three hours to a 3D experience demands higher quality. With passive you are cutting the resolution of the picture in half. You’re actually watching SD quality, just to get 3D. With active-shutter you’re watching FullHD 3D content. That’s a huge difference.

TWICE: What are the licensing terms? Is it expensive to license 3-DMI?

Dror: No, the cost of licensing is very small, on the level of HDMI, a few cents per unit. We don’t anticipate that this technology will add anything to the cost of a finished product. But this is not a profit center. This is a group of companies who care about the user experience, who want to make things simpler for the consumer. That’s the only goal here, that, and educating the consumer about the superior quality of active-shutter 3D. That way we grow the whole pie and eventually everybody can make money.

TWICE: You’re obviously missing a few key players in the 3D market, namely Samsung and Sony. Don’t you really need them onboard to make this work.?

Dror: Definitely. Simply put, I expect them to join. By the way, we’re also missing some other companies, like Sharp for example. But if you look historically at licensing initiatives, this is really not a standard in the classic sense of the word. Standards are developed by committees. This a de facto standard because it’s the first one on the market, and historically with companies that develop de facto standards — like Panasonic with Blu-ray and HDMI — really drive the process and other companies typically join them as soon as they see it is working.

What I find most interesting about 3-DMI is that the Chinese companies were almost the first ones to join. Changhong is the second-largest supplier of TVs in the world. I think it goes back to the fact that when the Japanese and Chinese engineers first went to a cinema two years ago to see a 3D film, they experienced it in activeshutter. Being engineers they recognize quality and it’s what they know.

Look, when you were used to only watching SD, you were fine, perfectly satisfied. But as soon as you started watching HD and got used to that, watching SD again wasn’t so satisfying. For those guys, to watch 3D in lower- quality passive was not an option.

TWICE: What do you expect will happen with LG? While they’re pushing passive now they are also one of the leading suppliers of plasma screens that use activeshutter.

Dror: With LG, they have about a 25 percent share in LCD and that will almost definitely stay passive. With plasma to use passive, it’s ridiculous, it’s like having a Ferrari and driving it 10 miles per hour. But if you look at LG, they are using passive as an entry and position their active sets on the high end. They want a position in both markets and we respect that.

What’s interesting to me is that 3D is breathing new life into plasma. Plasma sets are getting better, getting smaller, offering features that didn’t exist until recently. And the you look to future and you go into OLED, then active becomes even more important. Jim Cameron has already said that “Avatar 2” is going to be shot 60 frames per second. Hopefully, one day OLED will fulfill the promise of superfast refresh rates and at that point, using passive makes no sense.

The market right now is still young, we are still educating, and our vision for growing the 3D pie as a whole relies on a quality experience for the user. We hope that by having all these companies working together we can disseminate and organize the information better and eliminate so much of the confusion and misinformation about 3D that exists right now.
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