3D-to-2D conversion

3D content that is properly mastered from both a technical and artistic viewpoint can be a seamless experience. It becomes part of the storyteller’s pallet. Part of the baseline experience of watching moving images on a screen.

If you think about it for a moment, you’ll realize that film and television are ‘3D to 2D’ conversions of the real world. The image has no depth. It has depth cues and visual techniques, such as creative use of depth of field, that the filmmakers have developed into a language and mastered through trial and error, and that the audience has internalized through regular viewing and familiarity with the convention.

Phil McNally recently noted that no one worried that too much television viewing would damage the development of depth perception in young people.

There has been concern voiced recently that 3D movies could negatively impact the development of visual perception in young people. There is ongoing research in this area, and more is needed.

But I am also reminded to the Alan Kay comment that technology is what was invented after you were born. Concerns about the impact of viewing properly mastered 3D content may fade through familiarity and generational change.

BigChampagne, The Long Tail, philosophy versus data

According to PaidContent , BigChampagne is about to release a study that shows that, far from driving the Long Tail, P2P file trading echoes the legal marketplace. What is popular in the legal marketplace is also popular in the “unencumbered” marketplace. PaidContent reporter Robert Andrews says that BigChampagne will claim that their data “refutes” the Long Tail. Mr. Andrews uses the study’s results to counter that position. Whilst the most popular tracks in this study were downloaded over 14 million times in a year, more than 13 million individual tracks were also swapped at least once – that sure sounds like a long tail, albeit a virtually inconsequential one…” He also correctly notes that the Long Tail took the entire web into account. It did not distinguish between legal and illegal opportunities to discover content.

“Inconsequential” and misleading. The Long Tail concept misses the key curve that (not surprisingly) invalidates it as a positive concept for inspiring and aspiring artists. While the curve illustrates that even obscure content may be found over a long period of time, it neglects to include the curve that shows that the amount of content available for discovery is increasing much faster than the curve declines. That means that while even ‘obscure’ music as a category has a long life, the odds of any particular song being found, and any particular artist benefiting from the discovery, decreases more rapidly over time than The Long Tail curve itself. Chris Anderson , who controls the major media whose audience cares about this concept (Wired and related sites/communities) may be able to propagate and sustain the idea that the Long Tail is good for individual artists, but the basic trends readily observable on the web don’t bear him out.

Fox, glasses, and the 3D value proposition

Fox executives have recently said that they are against paying the cost of the glasses handed out to ticket buyes for their theatrical 3D features. They argue that they have been down this route before and won’t get burned again.

They took part in the negotiations that designed the national digital transition from analog to digital broadcasting. They absorbed the cost of converting their production, post production, and distribution infrastructure. Consumer electronics companies sold lots of digital TVs and peripherals. But Fox did not earn one extra penny, they say, as a result of the huge investment.

Their position is that they will create 3D content for theatrical release. And they will license it at a higher rate to cover the added cost of production as well as to receive fair compensation for the added value of the 3D experience. But this time they expect the player that benefits from their product, the exhibitor, to absorb the cost of the portion of the 3D rollout that they control; the glasses that make viewing the content in their theatres a destination experience.

I am old enough to remember when airlines charged a fee to watch the inflight movie. In the beginning the headphones were hollow tubes that channeled the sound from the seat armrest to your ear. The attendants showed a preview then came down the aisle and collected cash from anyone who wanted to hear the movie. Everyone could see the movie, so there was a second buying frenzy once the feature began. The headphones were pretty useless for anything other than inflight use, so few people bothered to steal them.

When airlines converted their cabins to electric headphones, some of them used the same jacks/plugs in their armrests that were used in consumer electronics devices. Some people soon discovered that they could use their own headsets. This added a policing component to the flight attendants’ job for a while. They would walk up and down the aisles looking for people who were watching the movie without paying.

Soon the language and perception changed from ‘would you like to watch the movie’ to ‘would you like to rent headphones.’ The airline attendants gave up on enforcement. A growing percentage of people brought their own headsets. The movie became part of the in-flight experience purchased with the ticket. The airlines continued to collect extra cash from passengers for drinks, and more recently, food.

Today many groups, including my Consumer 3D Experience Lab at USC’s Entertainment Technology Center, are working to establish a pleasant purchasing and viewing experience for 3D in the home, on personal devices, and in public spaces. Consumers can already buy their own glasses for many of the 3D projection technologies used in theatres today. As designers come on board, these glasses may become trendy and cool.

Fox wants the exhibitors to absorb the cost of the glasses. They expect to maintain a higher licensing fee for 3D content over 2D content.

Has anyone done consumer research into what parts of the in-theatre 3D experience consumers feel is worth the extra price?

In all of my discussions with people at studios and networks, they assume that people value the 3D experience. I wonder what percentage of theatergoers think that the added cost covers the price of the glasses? Is that percentage growing? Do consumers feel that if they bring their own glasses to the theatre, they should pay a lower ticket price – say the price of the 2D movie showing in on the next screen in the multiplex?

On the flip side, is anyone organizing a marketing campaign to link the higher ticket price to the added value of the 3D experience? Is anything being done to bolster the studios’ position during content licensing negotiations that the added cost of production translates into added value for the exhibitor?

Or will consumers start bringing their own glasses to the theatres. Will ticket buyers begin requesting a discounted ticket price because they are saving the exhibitor money by not taking the theatre’s glasses.

Is Fox’s perfectly reasonable position something that will turn into something worse than their HDTV experience, because they had a chance to understand and shape the value proposition and didn’t?

If there is market research out there on this topic, could someone please point me to it via a comment to this blog?

The wisdom of a game developer

Bernie Yee, the head of game development at The Electric Sheep Company and a brilliant strategic thinking in the videogame industry, made three really interesting points at the recent Digital Hollywood conference.

He said to think about the “utility” of the game as you develop it; what do players really want to do, rather than what else can you develop to sell. His developers spend 90% of their time developing cosmetic aspects of their games that have no impact on game play, such as costumes and props. But that 90% supports the social dynamics that keep people invested in the game.

Social Networks play on all of the seven deadly sins (lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride), as well as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

The business of game development has four drivers; competition, commerce, creativity, and community. Successful games find a balance that works for all four drivers for an audience sizeable enough to make a profit and grow.

Variety – The Business of 3D


Buzz builds for home 3-D

Digital Cinema Summit looks beyond glasses


LAS VEGAS — Audiences are becoming interested in 3-D television, and the industry must satisfy that demand for 3-D movies to thrive.

That was the message from a series of panels Sunday morning at the Digital Cinema Summit held at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Phil Lelyveld, a strategy adviser for the Entertainment Technology Center at USC, hailed the momentum behind 3-D movies but warned, “If we don’t show visible progress now (on 3-D in the home), this momentum could die and move into a niche environment.”

Lelyveld led a panel offering the studio perspective on home 3-D. Others on the panel were Darcy Antonellis, Warner Bros. president of technical operations; Real D co-founder Josh Greer; and Nandhu Nandhakumar, senior VP of advanced technology at LG Electronics.

Antonellis said Warner has identified 40 titles in its library that are candidates for conversion to 3-D. “We’re working on both new titles and on trying to revitalize our library,” she said.

But that effort depends on being able to tap into homevideo revenues that aren’t available because 3-D TV is in its infancy, with multiple incompatible formats and almost no penetration of the home market.

“We want to move it into more of a ‘long tail’ experience,” Antonellis said. “It changes the whole economic model.”

At the corporate level, Warner has been somewhat reticent on 3-D as it is still negotiating deals for virtual print fees, but the studio had a surprise 3-D hit in “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”

Antonellis and other panelists agreed it is essential that the industry make buying a 3-D TV simple so that consumers know what they need, understand what they’ll get and enjoy the experience once they have it.

“I need to be sure,” Antonellis said, “and our marketing folks will ask this: Will the experience be the same across all devices? Will the features be the same across all devices? Those are reasonable questions to ask.”

She added that Warner expects to see “a fair amount of movement in (the 3-D TV) space” in 2010.

For now, homevideo 3-D releases such as Warner’s Journey” are going out in anaglyph format, similar to the old red/green glasses method that almost everyone wants to put behind them.

“I would call anaglyph a necessary evil right now,” said Greer. “For people who’ve never seen 3-D, it’s kind of like the gateway drug. It lets you know there’s a possibility.” However, he added, many viewers don’t like it.

3D Goes to College article


3D Goes to College
Mar 19, 2009
By John Rice

As 3D (stereoscopic) entertainment explores the potentials of cinema, broadcasting, and advertising, the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) at USC is opening new doors to explore, define, and “help accelerate the identification of what it will take to move the 3D experience into the consumer space,” says Philip Lelyveld, advisor to ETC.

On March 26, ETC will launch its Consumer 3D Experience Lab on the USC Campus. Intended to provide a showcase of products and services oriented to the consumer 3D market, the lab will also be a place where broadcasters, film studios, and manufacturers can demonstrate and test their offering and plans for 3D.

“The questions we have to answer are, How deep can the depth of 3D be for a comfortable consumer experience?, How do you cut from something really close to something really far away?, and What are the rules for creating the viewing experience and what types of responses does the equipment have to have in order to reproduce the original intent of what the event is that’s being captured?” explains Lelyveld.

The Consumer 3D Experience Lab breaks down into three distinct areas, or rooms. One offers a home environment for 3D viewing with an 8-ft. screen and consumer 3D projector. The second showcases a variety of consumer 3D products, including the variety of glasses being offered for 3D viewing.

“It shows that there is a need for some standardization or some convergence,” Lelyveld says. “Otherwise, the market won’t take off. You can’t author for all those things economically.” Offering side-by-side comparisons will allow people to “make their own judgments about what they like and what they don’t like. We hope this will lead to better understanding of what makes a really good, long-duration 3D viewing experience. We’re talking about multiple hours as opposed to five minutes.”

The third area is a market-research lab, where groups of USC students will be shown “some aspect of the 3D experience, and [we’ll] do empirical research,” says Lelyveld.

“Sports is one type of content that we definitely need to cover as we move forward,” he adds. “It has unique issues. For example, football is very horizontal. Basketball, surprisingly, is vertical.”

He says that different 3D systems and glasses being demonstrated and tested in lab perform at varying levels for different sports. “You see some effects work better on one [system] than on another. That’s something we want to smooth out. We don’t want that differentiation down the road.”

Founded in 1993, the Entertainment Technology Center is supported by most of the major Hollywood studios, broadcast networks, and manufacturers in the broadcast and consumer-electronics arenas. The ETC has a history of working on developing technologies and playing a role in adoption of those entertainment technologies.

“Its biggest development to date,” Lelyveld notes, “has been helping drive the deployment of digital cinema into movie theaters.”

He sees the role of the Consumer 3D Experience Lab as “broadening the markets for motion-picture companies and networks — the content industry — as well as creating whole new markets for electronic devices and service devices. Our focus is not just in the home but also personal devices and public spaces, including advertising,” he says, adding, “We’re still learning what makes a really good 3D experience.”

© Copyright 2006-2009 sportsvideogroup

3D Lab at ETC@USC article

Another Dimension in Technology Awaits



By Ariel Carpenter

Starting next month, a Home 3-D Experience Lab at USC will explore the promise of new innovations for the consumer.

If you’ve been to the movies lately, chances are your popcorn came with a pair of 3-D glasses.

U2 3-D, Bolt, Journey to the Center of the Earth and Under the Sea 3-D are among the slate of recent theatrical entries taking audiences into another dimension.

Now, with affordable 3-D-enabled consumer electronics products on the market and 3-D programming cropping up on television sets, will 3-D technology become a mainstay in the living room?

That’s what the Entertainment Technology Center @ USC hopes to explore with the launch of a new Home 3-D Experience Lab in mid-March.

“We’re acting as ‘Switzerland’ for the many constituents who have a stake in making 3-D work in the consumer market. We believe 10 years from now, high-quality 3-D movies in the home will be commonplace,” said David Wertheimer, executive director of the center. “A significant proportion of televisions – maybe even the majority – will come ‘off the shelf’ as 3-D capable.”

The entertainment and consumer electronics industry-funded lab will encourage collaboration between professional and research communities to develop technical standards and industry best practices for the use of 3-D technology. With the Entertainment Technology Center’s help, Hollywood will take steps to unleash the power of 3-D as an immersive entertainment experience and transform the technology from theatrical gimmick to consumer goldmine.

Displaying an evolving showcase of state-of-the-art products and services targeted to the consumer 3-D entertainment market, the lab’s 3-D products currently range from a $6,500 46-inch 3-D-enabled Hyundai screen to a $90 Webcam by Minoru that comes with 3-D glasses.

“3-D brings something new to the home viewing experience,” said Chuck Dages, executive vice president of emerging technology for the Warner Home Entertainment Group, an Entertainment Technology Center sponsor. “There’s a consensus that there’s a lot of activity around 3-D technology innovation, and we are trying to find out how it fits in today.”

Dages said he expects USC’s role will be to help industry players understand how to standardize 3-D technology for the home by tapping the expertise of students, technologists and “storytellers” on campus.

According to the Entertainment Technology Center’s Phil Lelyveld, the center’s 3-D lab also will help USC faculty study issues related to 3-D entertainment and evangelize the possibilities of 3-D technology across campus.

“3-D is hot,” Lelyveld said. “And we are trying to create a bridge between industry and university to help drive the market forward.”

Wertheimer said USC students will be invaluable to the process. Students from fine arts, engineering, cinema and business already are participating in forums with entertainment executives to discuss their experiences with 3-D technology.

In addition, the USC School of Cinematic Arts is investigating a curriculum built around 3-D technology at the undergraduate level, said USC professor Michael Peyser, a veteran film producer of 3-D content. “There’s a perfect opportunity here,” he said, “particularly around how to use 3-D for creative storytelling and narrative filmmaking.”

Wertheimer added, “The technology of 3-D, especially in the theatre, has reached the point where just about anything is possible; it’s now critical for students and faculty to focus on teaching the ‘art’ of 3-D to the next generation of filmmakers.”

So whether a decade from now, consumers will still need to don goggles to catch their favorite show in 3-D remains to be seen. One thing is certain: Unlike the glasses at the theatre, they won’t have to return them when the show ends.

Controlling piracy the consumer-friendly and artist-friendly way

A digital watermark is a small amount of data that is embedded in a known manner into digital video, audio, image, text, or other file type.  The mark is embedded in a manner that allows it to be detected, read, or extracted later when the file is accessed.  The more successful watermark technologies embed watermarks that are undetectable to most humans, yet can be still be detected by a digital processor after the file in which is resides has been manipulated and distorted to a point just short of being rendered useless for its original use.  The data in the watermark can be an instruction to do or to not do something.  If a watermark detector is present when the digital file is played or accessed, then the detector will read those instructions and pass the instructions on to the device it resides in.  If a watermark detector is not present when the digital file is played or accessed, then the watermark goes unnoticed.  It effects nothing.  The file is treated as if the watermark is not there at all.Tools like watermarks and DRM have been demonized in part because they were deployed to trigger restrictions without offering a clear consumer benefit that outweighed the impact of those restrictions.  They were implemented as an antipiracy tool and in some cases also as a means to limit the way the content could be used.  Without a counteracting benefit, all consumers saw was a restriction to be counterbalanced by their own self-selected and self-administered desired benefits; which most often was the ability to move, copy, remix, and share the content.  With that purely negative consumer proposition that the content provider offered, the paying audience had no incentive to not remove the DRM or prevent the watermark application from working properly. 

But the same watermark technology that can trigger an application to not do something can also trigger an application to do something.  A watermark can trigger access to bonus material, admission to an online community, delivery of a discount coupon, and any number of value-added activities that a consumer might want.  If these benefits are valued by the consumer and are regularly updated, then for a measurable number of people the desire to access those benefits will outweigh the desire to disable the same watermark technology because it is triggering other, undesired actions.  If the balance is struck effectively, the audience will seek out the content with the watermark along with the devices that respond to the watermark, helping the value-add content sources and devices attract and retain an audience for traditional and additional monetization opportunities.

Up until recently, watermark technology vendors have been marketing their technology primarily to the antipiracy market because they thought that market was where the revenue opportunities were.  But more recently the broader view of watermark technology described above has begun to be pitched by a number of the leading vendors  and associations .  As content companies explore this value-balancing approach to content management, I predict that the revenue potential of legitimately distributed content will increase, and the battle over content protection will retreat from the forefront of the debate over the future of digital content, fair use, etc. and slide into the background noise of an emerging marketplace.

BluRay as content gateway

Recently Kevin Kelly posted a blog titled Better Than Free .  (He essentially leveraged Clayton Christensen’s ideas from Innovator’s Dilemma.)  Kelly posited that “When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied.”  He went on to describe “eight generatives better than free”; immediacy, personalization, interpretation, authenticity, accessibility, embodiment, patronage, findability.  

BluRay disks are currently being marketed primarily for the high definition quality of their image.  Behind this, they are being loaded up with linear content extras that take advantage of the much higher capacity of the BluRay discs’ technology (blue laser) relative to standard definition DVD disc’s technology (red laser). 

At the JavaOne show in 2005, Java creator James Gosling suggested that the inclusion of a Java Virtual Machine as well as network connectivity in BluRay disc devices will allow updates to BluRay discs via the Internet; adding content such as additional subtitle languages and promotional features that are not included on the disc at pressing time (source: Wikipedia BluRay entry ).

My $99 standard definition DVD/VHS combo device has “angle” and “zoom” buttons of the remote that have never been made active by the content. 

BluRay disks have the potential of being more than huge data buckets; efficient delivery systems for large amounts on content.  By design in their technical specifications, they are capable of seamless interactivity, game play, and other stand-alone features that take them far beyond the capabilities of standard definition DVDs – or any of the mass market BluRay DVD disks that have been released to date.

But I would argue that loading the disks with content and building these capabilities onto the disc itself is neither the best business application nor the best creative application of the new technology specs to which the discs and the players have been designed. 

Per Kevin Kelly’s point, as long as content can be rendered visible/audible at playback, it can be captured and redistributed by someone else.  All content loaded onto a BluRay disc is a nicely packaged challenge to hackers. 

Per James Gosling’s comment, if the content on the disc can be updated through web connectivity and the storage capacity on the playback device, why not leverage that flexibility and connectivity to the artist’s and their rightsholder’s advantage.  Why not use that feature to help the artist direct their creativity in ways that help them monetize their work – or gain whatever other benefit motivates them (ex. attribution, attention, etc.) in a way that “promote[s] the Progress of Science and useful Arts”. 

I have previously blogged that the linear content should be viewed as the extreme end-member of a multimedia landscape that includes bonus content of all types, community, commerce, data, gaming, virtual worlds, enhanced reality, and a panoply of emerging and yet-to-be developed elements. 

Perhaps what BluRay discs contain should only marginally exceed – albeit in high def – what consumers expect to be on standard definition DVD discs.  Then, taking advantage of the connectivity and ability to accept data updates built into the design, the BluRay discs should be loaded with highly robust and renewable cryptographic keys to enable legitimate access to online resources.  This would be an more defensible, and an infinitely more monetizable, use of the BluRay infrastructure.

There are a growing number of online sites serving up HD content, including UGC HD content (ex. Vimeo), so compression problems, ‘pipe capacity’, and other technical obstacles to the movement of large data files over the internet appear to be falling away. 

The gaming industry’s global deployment and market adoption of MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games) has shown that real-time interactivity with minimal latency is possible for a very large market population.   

The disc should contain enough bonus material to distinguish it from SD DVD, just as the first music CDs contained a few bonus tracks not available on cassettes, in order to motivate consumer adoption.  But they should not contain so much content as to become a frontline in the battle between the hacker’s desire to liberate the content and the artist’s and rightsholder’s desire to gain benefit from the content and maintain the incentive to keep creating and/or funding creativity and innovation. 

Renewable BluRay technology could become the secure mechanism for establishing a legitimate content distribution and access environment that benefits BOTH the consumers / secondary contributors / repurposers of the digital media and the primary creators of the digital media.

From Sundance: On Professional, Indie, and UGC Content

I moderated the New Filmmaking Technology: What’s Now and What’s Next panel in the New Frontiers area of the Sundance Festival. It was an honor to moderate the first panel of the festival. Surprisingly, we had an overflow crowd for that lunchtime event on a sunny Park City afternoon.

Writer/Director Alex Rivera whose movie, Sleep Dealer, was developed here and premiered here, discussed how he was able to incorporate over 400 special effects shots to achieve his SciFi vision on a very limited budget.

Alex Buono, the D.P. on Bigger, Stronger, Faster, an excellent documentary on steroid use in America, sings the praises of Apple Color, a free application bundled in Final Cut Pro that he used in his postproduction work on the feature. He believes that if Apple Color is an acceptable program for a Digital Intermediate, it will completely change the finishing model for all independent films.

Mark Randall, filmmaker, hacker/inventor, and Chief Strategist for Dynamic Media at Adobe, explained how he does a complete videotaped walkthrough of his movies before he begins filming. This is how he storyboards, since he can’t draw (he says that even his stick figures don’t look like stick figures). For the videotaped walkthrough he doesn’t worry about lighting or acting or the set/background in the shot. But he sets up the shots the way he envisions them, has people who may or may not be actors act out the parts, and uses the captured material to create a rough edit of the film. (Mark developed a system that enables his cameras to record directly onto a harddrive.) This allows him, at very little cost, to get a true sense of the pacing of the scenes. It also allows his crew to discuss and alter setups to improve the quality of material shot for the final film. Then, as he shoots the story with digital equipment, he drops the ‘professional’ footage into the rough edit of the feature. His ‘storyboard’ is, in effect, the feature; just shot with very low production values.

In our Saturday Webolution! – Hollywood Adapts to the Web panel, Kara Swisher mentioned the issue of ‘professional content’ versus ‘user generated content.’

When it comes to storytelling, I believe this is not a particularly meaningful discussion; although it clearly is applicable to other areas, such as news coverage versus editorial and advocacy, and open source software development versus closed software development.

But in the area of storytelling, that dichotomy is based on budget and the politics underlying many discussions of the web. It is not based on factors that either the audience or investors care about. There are enough box office bombs to clearly illustrate that there is not a direct link between budget and quality, audience appeal, and return on investment. Similarly, while there are enough one-off and serial “UGC” successes to illustrate that the ability of the storyteller to engage the audience is not completely governed by budget or gatekeepers, there are also enough videos about kittens, puppies, and people being hurt or embarrassed to illustrate that the unfiltered delivery of content is not a pancea either.

As far as I’m concerned, the dichotomy that matters when it comes to storytelling is simply good versus bad storytelling. The budget indicates what resources the director/creator/author had on hand to achieve their vision, but not how successful they were at developing and realizing that vision.

Alex Rivera’s movie, Sleep Dealer, depicts a distopia in which the US/Mexican border is sealed, water resources are defended by the military, and US agriculture and businesses are able to exploit Mexican workers without allowing them into the US by hiring them to remotely operate robots from facilities in Tijuana via implanted neural and muscle connections. The story plays well, and more importantly, he has done an incredibly impressive job of realizing his vision on a very limited, independent film-level budget.

There is now a continuum between UGC and Professional storytelling (i.e. linear entertainment). Every creative person in Hollywood is creating User Generated Content. The output of skilled nonprofessionals using widely available tools can have Professional-level production values. What ultimately matters is the quality of the story and how well it can find and connect with an audience.