3D Production Gear Gains Depth — and Traction

Correspondent Carl Lindemann reports on product developments.

Rob Willox, director of 3D Biz Development for Sony, was cleaned out of business cards early on at NAB. That tells the story of the fascination with 3D that has swept the convention.

“I just didn’t expect this would become the focus of the show,” he says.

For Willox, the way attendees looked at Sony’s wall-size 3D LED display explains the run on his business cards.  “Usually, people glance at a display at NAB and walk on. Here, people watch for 20 minutes at a time. They’re fascinated, and it’s quite captivating.”

For now, the place of 3D production in the HD workflow remains a mystery to most. “The most common questions at the booth,” says Willox, “are do we need 3G for 3D? and how can I create a 3D island in my 2D workflow?”

Sony’s hot 3D item for the show is the HDC-P1, the first 3D camera built from the ground up.  “As good as the [HDC1500] is,” he says, “putting them into pairs [for 3D] is not economically feasible. The P1 delivers 90% of the 1500 in a rig-friendly form factor in systems that are half the price.”

According to Willox, the P1 will be the workhorse of the upcoming World Cup production, which will likely be a watershed for 3D production.

Integrated Camera Recorder
At Panasonic’s booth, the arrival of the AG-3DA1 3D integrated camera recorder attracted visitors. The camera was announced in February, and the arrival of production units for hands-on inspection had been eagerly anticipated.

“Because of economy, everyone’s looking for a sure way to invest for the next big thing,” says Robert Harris, VP, Marketing & Product Development. “$21,000 is a powerful price point for the AG-3DA1. It’s integrated, simple to use, and a way to get on top of how to make compelling 3D content without a $250,000 investment.”

The sight-unseen pre-orders for the camera have been extraordinary, he says.

While technically an entry-level camera, the AG-3DA1 also has one feature that sets it apart from the more expensive 3D cameras. “You’re not going to create Avatar with this,” says Harris, “but one person can go into an environment that you can’t get into with a full-blown rig.”

He expects that a wide variety of people will cut their teeth on 3D production with this camera.  “We’ve been getting thousands of inquiries for this. Local production companies can use this as a way to differentiate themselves, like projects for trade shows that break out of the noise. This should be big at film schools, too.”

‘Pixel-Perfect’
At an NAB dominated by 3D, 3Ality Digital has enjoyed a significant presence. George Taweel, a filmmaker and booth representative for the 3D specialist, says its reputation rests on end-to-end excellence. “To make 3D production work, you need to get things pixel-perfect the first time. 3Ality gets it right from the camera right on through, so you don’t have to fix things in post.”

3Ality Digital’s product introduction for NAB was the TS-5 miniature beam-splitter. Designed to create a compact 3D system, it works with a variety of cameras, including Sony’s HDC-P1 and Panasonic’s AK-HC-1500G.

Attention to technical detail is especially important in 3D because errors are quickly compounded in this production environment. “There are lots of engineering issues,” says Taweel. “For example, every lens is unique, and so pairing them is quite a task. But accomplishing that is how 3ality has established its place at the leading edge of stereoscopic production.”