Panasonic is proposing taking Blu-ray into the third dimension with a new standard to bring 3D content into the home. 3D content seems to be the next generation of theatrical productions, with more and more theaters installing systems from companies like RealD, and more films being shot in 3D. I’ve seen several RealD films in my local theater, and I have to say they really look great. A far cry from the old anaglyphic 3D systems with colored glasses.
Of course, the next step is bringing that content home. Several consumer electronics companies are working on systems for 3D in the home. The polarized glasses used in modern theater systems aren’t feasible in the home, they require a polarized image source. The leading candidate right now are LCD shutter glasses which flicker on and off in sync with the on-screen image, providing each eye with its own perspective. With 120Hz refresh screens each eye gets a full 60Hz refresh rate. And there are other systems, including some which provide 3D viewing without any glasses.
But we still need a way to get that 3D content into the home, and that’s where Panasonic’s proposal comes in. What they’re proposing is a modification to Blu-ray to provide 3D playback. And it is based on existing standards with relatively simple modifications. The content would be encoded using an existing two-channel encoding system already included in H.264. Instead of encoding each ‘eye’ individually as two channels, there is one primary channel and the second channel only has to encode the delta, or differences, from the primary. That means instead of 2x the data the result is only about 1.5x as large. Because the primary channel is still a full, viewable 2D version of the content this system could theoretically be backwards compatible. While 3D viewing would require newer, 3D capable players, older Blu-ray players could potentially play back the standard 2D version.
The Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) is hoping to officially consider the proposal before the end of the year, which could lead to adoption in 2010. 3D content would also require an updated HDMI standard to carry the content to the display, and Panasonic is also considering a proposal for that.