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3D, health issues, missing data, and PR

Monday, October 19th, 2009

When I started working with the USC Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) in January of this year, I thought the primary problems that stereoscopic 3D would have to overcome in order to become a mass market product were technical.  There were multiple formats for encoding the signal for distribution from a source to a consumer device.  There were competing display technologies in the marketplace, including active shutterpolarizedhead mounted displays, and autostereoscopic (plus the far inferior but cheap red/green anaglyph).

Nine months into this activity, I think those problems are going to solve themselves through market forces and individual company’s desire to have their products win in the marketplace.

The competing encoding formats will either shake out into one or two that organically come to dominate the market, or software that auto-detects the incoming signal and appropriately processes the image data will take over.  That translation tool will feed a signal that is appropriate to the display device.  Consumers will choose shutter glass versus polarized display based on personal preference, just as they decide between DLP, LCD, and Plasma screens today.  Each will have pluses, and minuses, marketing spin, and personal buzz to help inform the consumer’s decision.  But no matter what display technology the consumer chooses, all content will most likely play on all devices once those translators are deployed.

I now think the greatest possible problem facing stereoscopic 3D as it moves into the mass market is the lack of a rational, data-driven response to grass-roots emotional fears about and possible regulatory action against 3D content.  There is no data on the effect of viewing 3D content on a diverse, mass audience.

Vision scientists and practicing eye specialists have been gathering data from small target populations for decades.  The studies cover the ability or inability to see in stereotechniques and exercises for learning to see in stereo, back-of-the-eye / focal length flexibility, the eye-brain relationship, vertical alignment or misalignment of individuals’ eyes, and other topics.

What is missing are statistically valid studies that are directly applicable to the audience for 3D movies and content.  That audience ranges in age from 6 months to 100 years, and includes men and women, people with 20/20 vision, nearsightedness, and farsightedness, people who are stereo blind, people with excellent eye alignment, and people with vertical and horizontal eye misalignments.

We have plentiful data on the demographics of the movie-going audience.  But we lack data on their visual acuity.

The entire industry is unnecessarily exposed to a battle of opinions that it WILL lose without data.  Bloggers are already questioning whether viewing 3D content could be harmful to children’s development.  Some researchers I have spoken to have said that it could actually be good for the development of vision because it exercises the eyes.

At a recent major European media conference, a technical advisor to the European Broadcasting Union called for warning labels on 3D viewing experiences stating that they could be harmful to the viewer’s health. In a follow-up email exchange with him I pointed out that reading while sitting next to a window in a moving car can also be harmful to your health, but no one is calling for warning labels on car windows.  From a policy-making standpoint, the questions he should ask before making policy recommendations should include the severity of the risk and the size and scope of the risk among the general population.

But today there is no general population data.  Any policy discussion would be based on individual case studies, small non-representative studies, and anecdotes.

At the ETC I have proposed developing studies with defensible methodologies on the health impact of both short term (2-4 hours) and long term (weeks and months) 3D content viewing.  We have also proposed population studies on the distribution of people who experience eye strain while viewing 3D content.  These studies would be done on the wide range of people who would typically attend movies; both 2D and 3D.

As with everything the ETC does, the data would be gathered in a defensible, neutral manner, and presenting in its raw form as well as with some statistical analysis done to it.  But without judgment or marketing spin.  The ETC strenuously holds to its charter as a neutral facility, and not an advocacy body for any industry or group.

The  objective would be to be prepared with data when point/counterpoint opinion pieces and debates erupt related to the impact of viewing 3D content on the health of the audience.

I look forward to working with the members of the ETC and other interested parties to develop these plans and fund the studies.  It will be good to advance the consumer 3D experience and enter into debates with a foundation of data.

Twitter has two states – ambient and active

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

After watching twitter for a few months, I’ve come to the conclusion that it has two states. Twitter was built as a short message many-to-many social network. Email does one-to-many easily just by creating lists. SMS already handled short messages. Twitter’s value is its ability to easily form communities and have them interact quickly in a web of short bursts.

What twitter has become is a two state environment.

When nothing of interest to a large number of people is happening, it is in an ambient state. While twitter is ‘idling’, a small percentage of twitter accounts are doing two things; telling their followers what they are doing at the moment, or posting links to something interesting that they have just found on the web. The first group loses me immediately; but then I’m not the gossip girl demographic. The second, when they limit themselves to really useful information (yes, that is a subjective call), are performing a public service. However, too many people in this second group suffer from what a friend of mine calls the ‘ooohhh shiny’ syndrome, which I’ll now rebrand as linkurea – unusually frequent and excessive flow of links. They tweet 30-plus times a day about anything and everything they find interesting. I think it’s nice that they care to share. But the linkurea crowd needs to find some way of filtering themselves, otherwise the useful and useless combine to become background noise. Also, I made the mistake of having tweets go to my phone when I originally set up my twitter account, and was hit the next month with a $200 ‘twitter bonus’ on my bill.

A subset of these ambient twitterers are the entertainment twitterers. They include Ashton Kutcher updating you on his thoughts every 10 minutes, and people who tweet an aphorism or joke once or twice a day. This is an excellent use of twitter as a guerilla-marketing technique – they build and win over an audience through passive engagement, then can mobilize them as part of a marketing campaign or social initiative.

The second state is what makes twitter such a powerful resource as well as an interesting social phenomenon. When something of interest is happening in the world, twitter kicks into ‘active’ mode and is excellent resource for forming instant communities and spreading information. We saw this in Tehran after the election. We saw this after Michael Jackson died. We saw it during the recent fires in LA. When twitter is in active mode it informs large groups quickly, can suppress misinformation before it goes viral (unintended consequence – it can also rapidly magnify misinformation, making corrections extremely difficult), and it can go global fast.

Twitterfall is my favorite tool for watching Twitter in its active state. Twitterfall displays a cascade of tweets from all over the world that contain my search term. When there is a news event that I care about, I can input the search term and see what a broad cross-section of people are tweeting about it. It also has a “trends” list of the most common terms being tweeted at that moment.

A recent Harvard B-school study, which studied over 300,000 twitter users, found that “among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one.” The top 10% of twitterers account for 90% of the tweets; a much higher percentage, they found, than on other social networks.

An additional interpretation of their data is that when nothing much is happening, twitter is not yet integrated into the fabric of society to the point where it is viewed as a useful tool, the way email and instant messaging are. But when something is happening that a community cares about, people seek out Twitter, and it comes to life.

Gameworld: Hollywood sends 3D home — in videogames

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Disney’s G-Force for the X-Box and Playstation 3, and Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story Midway Mania for the Wii will both be released in 3D that uses red/green anaglyph glasses.  While the studios are releasing 3D games and the lesser 3D movie titles in anaglyph (Hannah Montana, Journey to the Center of the Earth), they have not released A-list animated films in 3D for the consumer market.  They are working with CE and media distribution companies to encourage the adoption of a better quality 3D stereoscopic viewing experience at a reasonable price point.   

 Ubisoft has developed a proprietary stereoscopic 3D technology for game platforms that “James Cameron’s Avatar” game will incorporate when it is released this Holiday season.   It reportedly relies on a polarizing display and polarized glasses.  Unlike anaglyph glasses, which strip out some of the red and green (or blue) spectrum in order to create the 3D effect, polarized glasses retain most of the original color.  It is a much higher quality viewing experience.  

James Cameron is quoted in this Reuter’s article as saying ”You just stick your head into the monitor and the world wraps around you. It’s the first time in a videogame that I was afraid…when the hammerhead enemies attack. It’s very frightening.”    

Gamers have an established record of buying peripherals that enhance the gaming experience and/or make new gaming experiences possible.  Both polarized glass and shutter-glass displays provide a far superior 3D viewing experience to anaglyph.  Both are available to consumers today (Japan is currently the main market).  As long as the consumer’s STB/console processor can handle the encoding format for the left-eye/right-eye data, the same content can be displayed on either the polarized or the shutter-glass display.

As I and many others have said before, it is quite possible that 3D movies and 3D televison programs will move into consumer’s homes and onto their devices by following a path blazed by gamers.

Mitsubishi, 3D TVs, and tracking convergence

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Mitsubishi announced last week that it would field a total of eight 3D-ready HDTVs – including what it termed the largest mass-produced 3D television, the 82-inch DLP Model WD-82737.  Much of the press coverage did not mention which of the five non-interoperable 3D technologies, some of which have non-interoperable subset technologies, the sets would use.  The 82-inch uses shutter glass 3D technology.

Is anyone aware of a research group that is tracking product launch and sales by 3D technology, so we can see if the industry is naturally converging on a consumer playback standard outside of all of the discussion groups?

(The five non-interoperable 3D technologies are: Spectral (including anaglyph, colorcode, and a few other two-color glasses solutions), Polarized (orthogonal and circular), shutter glasses, autostereoscopic (many different view-counts), and head mounted displays.)

Woot and Scarcity

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

To my great surprise, I ran into a Woot both at the E3 Convention yesterday.  Woot is the site that sells a supply of one or more items per day, at a fixed low low price, until their stock of that item is gone.   They have succeeded in forming a community, or rather multiple niche communities on the site that provide information and advice about the day’s product.Woot was at E3 exploring the idea of selling digital content through their site.  Jay Johnson, Director of Deals.Woot, said that they had not yet framed up what they wanted to do – physical media versus digital download, long form content versus short form content versus snippets versus image files versus….Woot’s entire ethos is built on the concept of scarcity.  Once their day’s supply of the product is gone, the store is closed although that chat keeps going until the next day’s items are posted.The internet, as a generation of advocacy bloggers will tell you, is based on unlimited supply.  They claim that the Tragedy of the Commons does not exist in the digital world because the original ‘good’ is not impacted by unlimited copying.  (I disagree on their interpretation of what that ‘good’ being enabled in the digital space is, but that is the subject for another blog.)It makes no sense for Woot to get into the digital download business because there is no reason for the sale to end.  The supply is never depleted.  Without depletion, Woot becomes just another store competing with iTunes, Amazon, and the rest.One of the items Woot is offering today is a USB flash drive with a UbiSoft game loaded on it.  Woot should stay in the business of selling digital content on limited edition physical media.  Collectibles, close-out items, warehouse sales, and the like are a solid niche market that will not go away anytime soon.  Even when they can get the content for free, there is always someone willing to pay for the physical media with the picture on it.

File Sharing, Market Search, and Open Culture

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Vuze, a leading HD video P2P file sharing network, yesterday released the highlights of a market research report.  The report compared the media and technology consumption/usage habits of file sharers (specifically Vuze users) versus those of the general internet population.  Vuze commissioned Frank N. Magid Associates to do the research.Digital Media Wire reported the story with the headline “Report: P2P Users Are Hollywood’s ‘Best Customers’.” In all the years of market research and claims from both sides of this file sharing debate, when I have been able to see the raw data itself I have not seen a study that did not have built-in biases. Questions have been worded in a leading fashion. Multiple choice questions did not include the option of an obvious answer that would provide data counter to the bias of the study’s sponsor. The group surveyed for the study had a built-in bias. Contrarian data was buried in ‘none of the above’ and ‘other.’In the material that they have made available, Vuze has listed all of the questions, but not all of the possible responses. They have posted selected results, but not all of the findings.Vuze may have conducted a valuable study, or they may have produced more advocacy results. It would be incredibly useful for Vuze to post the raw data, so that those of us who care about these issues can draw our own conclusions about both the methodology and the findings.

3D test/demo reel project – your input please!

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

I am working with a group of Hollywood entertainment technologists and stereographers to develop a test reel of 3D content. The ultimate goal is to produce a ‘Hollywood quality’ reel that can be freely distributed (no clearance issues).

I would appreciate anyone’s input on these 3 questions;

* What should the purpose(s) of the reel be? (What need(s) should it meet?)

* What 3D characteristics related to capture, processing, and display should some of the clips in the reel be designed to demonstrate or test?

* What keywords should be used to characterize the clips (asset management ‘data dictionary’ terms)?

To get you thinking, below are the notes from our first meeting.


What should the purpose(s) of the reel be? (What need(s) should it meet?)

* demonstrate the impact of various compression and display technologies on the 3D image quality

* showcase examples of “good” 3D technique

* provide material and a situation for testing different 3D eyewear performance characteristics (ex. Reflections from rear light sources)

* test the idea that ‘in front of screen’ works best for big theatrical screens and ‘behind the screen’ works best for small home screens

* provide a self-testing tool for consumers; ‘if you find watching this test reel uncomfortable, than you are among the small percentage of the population known to have difficulties viewing 3D and should avoid 3D movies, videogames, and other 3D experiences that involve viewing 3D for a long period of time.’

What 3D characteristics related to capture, processing, and display should some of the clips in the reel be designed to demonstrate or test?

* conservative versus extreme 3D stereography

* dominant scene in front of, on, or behind the screen plane

* small versus large depth budget

* transparent and solid images

* depth of field; background in focus versus background out of focus

* specular highlights (impact of sequins and reflective confetti on 3D effect)

* atmospherics (impact of smoke and fog)

* divergence

* “miniaturization” effect visible in some wide shots (humans look Lilliputian rather than distant)

* quick cuts that impact resolving the 3D image for some

* dark image vs bright image

* 2D-to-3D conversions of photographed images; roundness v cardboard effect

What keywords should be used to characterize the clips (asset management ‘data dictionary’ terms)?

Do lists of keywords related to 3D already exist?


Thanks for your help.

3D-to-2D conversion

Monday, May 18th, 2009

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.

Variety – The Business of 3D

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

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

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

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.”

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